Description and Theme
Avalon, a King-Arthur-themed variant of The Resistance, is a deductive reasoning party game in which 5-10 players are secretly assigned roles between the side of Good (Arthurian knights and Merlin) and the side of Evil (Mordred, Morgana, Oberon, and the minions) which makes up 1/3 of the number of players rounded up. The side of Evil tries to disrupt the larger group from working together, while the side of Good tries to root out the deceptive Evil players who are sabotaging the larger goal.
In the existing gameplay of the original The Resistance, players are randomly assigned character roles to play as Good or Evil. For each of the 5 rounds (“Missions”), players are voted on and sent on 5 Missions, where players can individually “succeed” or “fail” the mission (Good people must always succeed, Evil people can choose either). At the start of each round, a Leader token is passed counterclockwise in a circle of players, and the player who holds the token is the Leader. The Leader selects a team of players for a given Mission with discussion from the larger group on who is trustworthy enough to be sent or deliberately removed, and the team is sent on the Mission with majority vote; after five rejected mission proposals in a row, that Mission is automatically failed. At least 3 out of the 5 missions must succeed (which means no failures, or no more than 1 or 2 failures depending on the number of players sent on the mission), or else Evil wins.
The Avalon variant adds the character of Merlin, who knows all the Evil people from the start of the game, but Evil can win by assassinating Merlin if this player is too overt in assisting the larger group. This can be counterbalanced by a Mordred who is not revealed to Merlin at the game’s start, a Percival who at the game’s start sees two players who are potentially Merlin (one is actually Merlin, while the other is the Evil Morgana), and an Oberon who is Evil but does not know the other Evil characters and they do not know them (meant to throw circumstantial suspicion on the Evil side if Oberon wreaks havoc).
Fun for the Player
The fun manifests most through through Fellowship, Competition, and Challenge, and somewhat through Expression. This game is a Competition that pits two sides of Good and Evil against each other, where Evil players (besides Oberon) know who each other are from the game’s start, and have the Challenge of using subtle cues or seemingly logical arguments to try to gain the trust of the Good players, while ensuring that as few Evil players are placed on a Mission as possible for plausibly deniability (if both Evil players are placed on a mission, they might both fail, which casts significant suspicion on them).
Meanwhile, the Good people (besides Merlin) do not know who are the other Good players, and must carefully examine each person to check if they are also Good or actually an Evil player in disguise. Their Challenge is to lure the Evil players without being too suspicious and accidentally becoming marked as Evil, as then they may be removed from a mission team and an Evil person may go in their stead. They must also systematically find other Good players by logically deducting who would be Evil (perhaps players who try too hard to convince others that they are Good, or are quick to shift blame) and engaging in Fellowship and teamwork to majority vote against teams with suspected Evil players so as to ensure the success of at least 3/5 missions.
Likewise, aided by the role cards inspired by Arthurian lore, players may Express themselves via their deceptively or truly Good roles, as the bulk of the game is in the players attempting to prove and claim that they are Good and should be sent on a mission to succeed. During gameplay, this can manifest in setting traps (“oh, you voted against player X on the mission, are you Merlin?”) or offering logical arguments for the benefit of the larger group (“every mission with player Y has failed, player Y is suspicious”). The group vote and discussion on which players go on the mission is the only place to influence the final mission team and also either root out the Evil players or deceive the Good players. Thus, this game rewards those who can keep track of how others voted, which missions failed, and who seems “suspicious,” along with those who can lie and convince effectively.
Unfortunately, this game does have a larger potential for abuse than for example the team make-believe of Charades, due to its social deception elements in which good liars (or persuaders) will most succeed. Though this social deception element is meant to invite player expression and discussion, and players’ deductive pattern recognition on who is Evil, and who is Good (and/or can be persuaded to believe that an Evil player is actually Good), it can be very tempting to draw on existing knowledge of the players. This also biases the Fellowship fun towards perceptive people who already have closer bonds with the other players. Players more familiar with the other players may also recognize subtle facial cues and target their weak spots (one friend may squint when they are lying, or another friend may have the tendency to stutter and “look suspicious” when pressed for information, even when they are telling the truth), as has unfortunately happened before in my prior experiences playing this game.
Very enthusiastic, self-assured players in the pursuit of winning may take advantage of such weak spots and in the height of their excitement unfairly target, perhaps even attack, other players with their words and seemingly “logical” arguments by drawing attention to those facial cues as evidentiary proof. Such incentives for some players to lie and lure also increases the risk of anxiety triggers and reminders of insecurities for others. This turns this “fun” game into a hotbed of potential exhaustion for less self-assured players who may need to distinguish an in-game attack from an actual personal attack, even while all players juggle the mental load of meeting their Good or Evil group goal, maintaining their disguise, or distinguishing Good from Evil players.
Design Decisions / Relevance
Thus, as much fun as this game can be to play with a group of trusted friends whose deception and lying is strictly limited to the “magic circle” of this game, with its potential for abuse (especially for groups with less trusted individuals), this game may actually risk harming friendships than building them, at least compared to more neutral games like Charades. Drawing on Daniel Cook’s talk on Game Design Patterns for Building Friendships, it is important not to treat the players as “interchangeable, disposable, or abusable.” Due to how this game incentivizes lying and strongly worded attacks to lure or deceive others, this game may inadvertently result in hurt feelings or doubt in the usual trustworthiness of a player who may have used one of a player’s facial cues to disproportionately target them. Players who are thus less talkative or have obvious facial cues will then be less likely to have command over the conversation or Mission decision process, and may be unfairly distrusted and then excluded from the Mission teams. While learning how to persuade others is one of the possible learning goals of this game, once again, it does limit the audience of this game to only players who can already strongly trust each other.
Instead, for my group’s project 1, we aim to strictly build and enhance friendships by having group goals and individual goals that can only be met through collaboration and fruitful discussion and interchange with each other, emphasizing the positive elements of Fellowship and Competition while disregarding social deception. As much fun as play-lying can be, without the proper incentive structures, it risks friendships more than it can create them.