Boxed Worlds: Avalon

Everybody’s got something to hide

Lying to your friends is surprisingly fun. Outside of a few explicitly co-operative exceptions almost every game requires some sort of deception whether it’s bluffing about your hand in a game of poker or misleading your opponents about your intentions in well anything else.

But there’s something special about a game that ups the stakes from half-truths and exaggeration to maintaining a single bald-faced lie from start to finish — where if you want to win you’re forced to stare your friends in the eye and say “I’m on your side” then stab them in the back again and again.

The Resistance: Avalon is my current favourite example. You are the Knights of the Round Table tasked with completing five quests because that’s just what knights do and the premise isn’t that important anyway. You’re all quite competent as far as knights go and your quests would be easy enough if it weren’t for the fact that you’ve been infiltrated by agents of Morgana who want nothing more than to see the good guys fall flat on their face.

The game play is simple enough: One player chooses a team to send on each mission and if the other players approve each team member gets to anonymously decide whether the mission succeeds. If even one of them votes to sabotage it the mission fails. Fail three out of five missions and evil triumphs presumably sending England into an eternal dark age or at the very least giving a couple of your friends bragging rights.

Avalon isn’t the first traitors-in-your-midst game by a long shot. Mafia and the highly Halloween-appropriate The Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow both pit innocent civilians against heartless killers and Battlestar Galactica turns that show’s Cylon menace into a surprisingly compelling game. Those games can all be fun but they tend to make you too reliant on social cues when you’re making accusations — there’s almost no other information to go on. The twist in Avalon is that one player is secretly Merlin and knows from the start who the traitors are. He can’t tip his hand too obviously though because if the villains can figure out who he is evil still wins.

That one twist changes everything. It means the game isn’t just a case of three liars against five heroes. Everyone has something to hide and something to learn. Merlin wants to give out information without revealing himself to the traitors. The traitors want to discover Merlin without revealing themselves to the other knights. And the knights are stuck in the middle deciding who to trust while also trying to deflect attention from the real Merlin. Everyone has a reason to lie which means no one is at an advantage.

Although one of the interesting things about this sort of game is the realization that telling the truth is almost as hard as lying. You can profess your innocence all you want but odds are someone isn’t going to trust you and a few well-timed accusations can linger for a whole game. Eventually you start second-guessing yourself changing your inflection to try to make the truth a little more believable. Or maybe you give up on the truth and toss out a few unfounded accusations yourself.

After all what are a few flagrant spite-induced lies between friends?