Want to overthrow the powers that be? JR Honeycutt reviews Coup from Indie Boards and Cards. Vive la Revolution!
There's something to be said about only keeping the games you like most as part of your collection. Why have games you're not thrilled with cluttering up your shelves? Well, Coup is one of those games, for me at least, that would definitely be one I would own if I followed that line of thinking. It is my favorite hidden-role bluffing card game.
In Coup, players compete to survive and eliminate each other until one player remains. Players take actions each turn, most of which "represent" a specific role in the game. These actions typically serve to gain coins that are spent on future actions, or to use coins to eliminate other players. A player is eliminated when he or she is forced to discard their last card.
There are five roles in Coup:
Roles in Coup
There are seven possible actions in Coup:
Actions in Coup
Each turn, the active player chooses one action from the available actions, and announces it to the table. Every other player has the right to accuse the active player of lying, that is, of taking an action without having the associated role card in their hand. If the accusing player is correct, the active player must choose and discard one of their role cards. If the accusing player is incorrect, the active player must reveal the role card associated with their action, then shuffle that card into the deck and draw a new card. The action is carried out successfully, and the unsuccessful accusing player must discard a card face-up on the table.
If the active player is taking an action that affects another player (like the Captain or the Assassin), the player affected can "block" the action by representing the correct Role. Again, any player may call this bluff, and normal rules apply.
Strangely enough, the rules of Coup seem more complicated when written than when simply demonstrated. It typically takes a player a round or two to fully grasp the workings of the game, but fortunately a round of Coup typically only takes a few minutes to complete.
The guys at Indie Boards and Cards packed a lot of strategy into a simple 15-card game. The five roles both compliment and contrast each other well, providing interesting decisions for the active player as well as for the opposing players. (To bluff and take the best possible move, or to tell the truth and take a less useful move... or to bluff and take a less useful move, and throw everyone off your trail.) I've found that it's very difficult to "know" when my friends are lying, even though we've played Coup together at least a hundred times.
In Coup, there are a few distinct "paths" to victory:
1) Gather coins quickly by representing the Duke and/or the Captain, then using the coup action to take out opponents. This is typically a high-profile play and will usually draw a lot of attention. It's hard to win this way because it's pretty easy for players to gang up on a single opponent, and having a large stack of cash is an easy way to become everyone's enemy.
2) Collect coins slowly and Assassinate opponents occasionally or only when absolutely needed. The "slow" game is generally a more fruitful path, if you're the type of person who can lay low and avoid being targeted.
3) Use the Ambassador, Captain, and Contessa to block any and all attempts at hurting you, then try to bluff your way into enough coins to win in the end game. The Ambassador's action is the least threatening action at the table, and usually is one that no player will challenge. It's a great way to set up a useful defense and lay low for long enough to let the game shrink, making a single assassination or coup more powerful.
4) Tell the truth all the time and see what happens.
Coup is a wonderful game for many reasons, not the least of which is that players of all styles can enjoy the game together. I'm a brash, confident, loud game player, and I love to draw attention to myself and control the game when possible. I'm a fantastic bluffer (at least, I think I am), and I LOVE to get inside other people's heads in a game. Not surprisingly, I don't win many games of Coup, as I draw most of the attention to myself and get eliminated pretty quickly.
That said, sometimes I'll take the third strategy and sit tight with defensive cards, even to the point of lying about my role to make myself seem less threatening. Though it doesn't happen often. I've even gone so far as to allow someone to steal from me while I had the Captain, then used the Captain's action on my turn. Obviously players assume I'm lying, call my bluff, and then are rewarded with a lost card when I flip my goateed hero onto the table.
My absolute favorite thing to do in a game of Coup is to simply not look at my cards until a player calls a bluff. Some feel this is a breakdown in the game, but I think it's an interesting exercise in bragadocio and reading a table. Players are immediately put in a position to risk their cards to challenge me, and each player should instinctively know they have a decent shot at taking me down a notch. Still, it's a scary proposition for most players.
Coup fits perfectly in my collection as a short game for a maximum of 6 players that's incredibly fun (the most important thing!) and is a fantastic value at its $14.99 retail price (also helpful!). I rank it among the best hidden-role games that exist, regardless of length. As Coup is also among the very best "filler" games I've ever played, Jones' Theory predicts that it will be in my library for years to come.