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Employee Review: The Resistance

Posted by Matthew W. on Jun 29, 2013

Ever since we caught the TableTop episode of this game, it's been on our minds to play. Not just for for the game itself, but for the paranoid-inducing, potentially friendship-damaging, riotous interplay of accusations and counter-accusations the game creates in those who delve into its Machiavellian charms.

From the official description:
The Resistance is a party game of social deduction. It is designed for five to ten players, lasts about 30 minutes, and has no player elimination. The Resistance is inspired by Mafia/Werewolf, yet it is unique in its core mechanics which increase the resources for informed decisions, intensify player interaction, and eliminate player elimination.

Players are either Resistance Operatives or Imperial Spies. For three to five rounds, they must depend on each other to carry out missions against the Empire. At the same time, they must try to deduce the other players’ identities and gain their trust. Each round begins with discussion. When ready, the Leader entrusts sets of Plans to a certain number of players (possibly including himself/herself). Everyone votes on whether or not to approve the assignment. Once an assignment passes, the chosen players secretly decide to Support or Sabotage the mission. Based on the results, the mission succeeds (Resistance win) or fails (Empire win). When a team wins three missions, they have won the game. (From Boardgamegeek.com)

That being the basics, I can say that the play can be complex. There is a great deal of information that can help deduce who is and who is not a spy, including the players themselves. It can be a game of logic, but also of psychology. It is more enjoyable than Mafia or Werewolf style games because players are not eliminated.

In the first game that the group played, we were pretty quiet - I suspect that as we were all playing for the first time, we were still getting used to the overall strategy and less on how to seed discord and suspicion (Spies) or figure out who to trust (Operatives). But as we came to the 4th mission in that game, it all started to come out. As it happened, one player did not have her poker face on; we found her out quickly. As soon as the ice was broken, we went at each other. We dissected voting patterns, analyzed teams, and generally tried to trip each other up. Non-spies were accused by fellow operatives of being spies. Spies accused each other to put the other players off. There was the cacophony that only a truly fun game can engender. 

After a couple more games, it became clear who the more crafty and devious players were. We also expanded from 5 players to 7, which really changed the dynamic of the game. More players meant the addition of another spy (to three total) and the harder it became to know who they were, as the mission teams were larger and with more individuals to choose from.

We also tried out the variations which also offered different challenges. The variant Blind was a particular favorite; the Spies do not know who the other Spies are. Another variant allowed the leader to choose which missions to go on, instead of doing them in 1-2-3 order. 

The expansion deck (which comes with the basic set) includes rules for "The Plot Thickens" which include Plot cards that offer opportunities to discover other players allegiances, voting patterns and mission cards, and can also offer players opportunities to change leadership or veto mission teams. These cards can help ferret out spies, but can also help Spies win, even if they've been exposed.

One example from a 7-person game, had the spies exposed, but because of the Plot cards and the seating arrangement, the spies could move leadership (thus team makeup) to the Spies' side of the table, effectively sabotaging the Operatives' objective to keep teams only with non-Spies. It was something of a brutal game, but a very different experience from previous games where the Spies managed to stay hidden until after the game had ended.

One concern we had was the fact that the Spies kept winning. In fact, they beat the Resistance twice as often as the reverse. This could have been due to the players, however in two separate sessions with different players it was still very difficult for the Operatives to win. It became something of a joke; "Wow this resistance has, like, the worst recruiting EVER", and such. The Plot Thickens does create more opportunities for the Operatives to get the upper hand, but as we discovered, it was still possible for the Spies to win. In subsequent discussions, we could not really come up with a way for the Operatives to succeed more often, other than have less spies in the mix. We would want to try a series of 10 player games to decide if the ratio of Spies to Operatives is too uneven, then perhaps a series of games with 1 fewer spies.

This game also seems ripe for some fun home-brewed variants. Doing a quick online search, we found some house rules for Deep Cover (3 spies, 2 know each other, the 3rd is only known to themselves), and Shifting Loyalties (Leadership only passes to another player if a mission fails). It occurred to us that one variant could include Skillset cards that would be randomly passed out to each player, but kept face-up. Each mission could require a different combination of skills (driver, hacking, munitions, seduction, etc.), which might drive which players get picked for certain missions.

Ultimately, this has become one of our favorite games. It might be a stretch to suggest that some players might do well in Atlantic City, but it would be fair to say that after a few games you will be far more familiar with your friends' ability to deceive. Spies are everywhere!