Not a game about housing chickens (I’d thoroughly recommend Pickomino if that’s what your after!), Coup is a quick card game of bluff and intrigue. Based on the world of The Resistance and designed by La Mame Games, Coup takes the idea of deception and deduction and puts it in a neat little package.
A short game of bluff with a surprisingly steep learning curve; a rule set that can be daunting at first, but is easy enough once learnt.
Short gameplay coupled with constantly changing Influences means this game can comfortably be played several times in an evening. Once learnt, rules set is simple and robust meaning anybody, including non-gamers can learn to play.
Games of bluff inherently suffer with some decisions coming down to pure luck. Rules can be tricky to learn without someone who has played it before.
The game is very small, featuring a deck of 15 character cards and coin tokens, plus the rulebook and character crib sheets. Each player is dealt a pair of cards at the start of the game; these include the Duke, the Contessa, the Captain, the Assassin and the Ambassador. The players place the cards face down in front of them, keeping which characters they have a secret from the other players; it is these characters that the player ‘Influences’ (more on this later).
Each of the characters are linked to a specific Action and Counteraction. The Duke for example can take 3 coin tokens as his Action (Taxation) or can prevent someone else taking Foreign Aid (see below) as a Counteraction. This is important as each time a player uses an Action or Counteraction, they must declare that they have Influence over the corresponding character. This is where a great Poker face comes in handy, as you can say you Influence anybody you like, even if neither of your facedown cards match what you say.
So why doesn’t everyone simply lie throughout the whole game? Well, something the other players can do is either Counteract you if you are targeting them directly, or call your bluff if they don’t believe you have the Influence you say you do. The difference is that people can also call the bluff of the player using a Counteraction, since this also requires the player to declare ‘I have Influence over the Duke, so nyuh-nyuh!’ If you call the bluff and get it right, the lying player loses an Influence, turning one of their cards face up and no longer being able to use it. If the player instead turns over the correct Influence, the bluff-caller loses an Influence; the honest player then gets to draw a new random character card, so they always remain unknown to the other players.
On top of the character Actions, there are also a set of ‘safer’ Actions which any player can take without having to announce any Influences; these are (generally) unblockable by the other players, but yield less reward. These include the aforementioned Foreign Aid, which nets you two coins, or a Coup, which automatically causes your opponent to lose an Influence at the cost of seven coins.
Clear as mud? The rulebook is actually written very well, but in the case of Coup I would recommend grabbing someone who has played before as it can be a bit confusing at first. That said, the play time is only around ten minutes a go, so a practice game or three won’t take you all night. Once you’re rolling the game is simple enough, but with a steep learning curve as you puzzle out the best tactics to keep yourself from becoming a target and not get found out! Do you go for money straight off the bat and risk revealing your Influences too quickly, or take the safer unblockable Actions, keeping your cards unknown but losing precious turns to slow money making.
Coup does suffer from one weakness, and unfortunately this is integral to the game play; I often felt that luck was actually more important than bluff. Unless you’re an astute reader of people’s tells and ticks, making the call against your opponent is generally a shot in the dark. I wouldn’t hold this against Coup, since you need to accept this before playing. Personally, I find the randomness of bluff games an irritant, but Coup just seemed so much lighter than others I’ve played, making it fairly accessible even to those who don’t like this style of game.
Being a micro game, Coup is very small and possibly more importantly, cheap to buy! This hasn’t meant scrimping on quality though! The card stock is decent and the artwork is superb, plus the coin tokens feel solid and robust. This is a game designed for ten minutes and repeated playthroughs, and the designers have made sure the game will stand up to the punishment. Player crib sheets also help to smooth out game play, so no constant flicking through the rulebook or checking your cards before you make each Action.
In summary, Coup is a light and fast game of deception and intrigue which is accessible for most, but with surprising tactical depth for a small game. Of course, having a better Poker face than Lady GaGa would be a bonus!