BGG Rank 68 – 5/23/2017
Since the 1980’s, social deduction games have been riffing off of the same winning formula: a knowing few versus the uninformed majority. In these games, players have hidden roles, and the ‘good guys’ simply need to organize and wield their voting majority to win. The one problem is that there are a few ‘bad guys’ in their midst, unbeknownst to the masses but known to each other.
The Resistance: Avalon and its predecessor The Resistance (aka “vanilla Resistance”) both follow this same script, with one significant feature: rather than voting players off one at a time, these games instead have players vote to elect a mission team. The mission team then votes on the success or failure of the mission, with just one vote for failure usually able to sabotage the whole mission. This process repeats five times, and three missions must succeed for good to prevail over evil.
It’s a clever take on social deduction, and it does a good job of dealing with the problem of player elimination. While it can be fun to spectate, some players may feel bad about involuntarily being made to sit out the majority of the game, particularly the typically climactic ending. This is the very reason that when my friends and I first discovered vanilla Resistance, one game of it (or two, or three) was never enough. It was addictive, fast paced, and intense – a fantastic party game.
So when Avalon came out, I was naturally excited. It was vanilla Resistance with a Camelot theme, and some intriguing roles added into the mix. The central roles of Avalon are Merlin and the Assassin. Merlin flips the trope of social deduction on its head, because he’s a good guy who knows the identity of the bad guys. Meanwhile, the Assassin keeps Merlin in check, having an opportunity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat if she is able to correctly identify Merlin at game end. There are a handful of other optional roles, all riffing off of this same Merlin-Assassin dynamic:
- Percival is a good guy who knows the identity of Merlin (and can thus work to deflect suspicion)
- Morgana is a bad guy who also appears to Percival as Merlin
- Mordred is a bad guy who is unknown to Merlin
- Oberon is a bad guy who shares the same goal but acts alone, unknown to his team and without any knowledge of who is on his team
All of this sounds awesome, right? I certainly thought so. But here’s the thing: Avalon is like a car with wings glued onto it. It seems like a great idea until you actually take it out for a spin and realize that in practice, it’s a bit awkward and half-baked. Here are the two primary flaws with Avalon, in my opinion:
1) The Roles Force Some Players Back to the Sidelines
In giving so much power to Merlin and the Assassin, the outcome often rests on the actions of these two players, and what is done by the others matters relatively little. Avalon claims to accommodate 5-10 players, but at the lower end of that range, the Assassin’s chances of winning on a complete guess are way too high (33% with 5 players; 25% with 6-7; and 20% even with 8-9). This essentially dismantles the core element that made The Resistance so good: giving every player a chance to influence the outcome right up to the end.
The other four roles add a level of intrigue and agency for those players. Mordred and Morgana can certainly help their team to an outright win. When Percival is played well he can deflect suspicion from Merlin, but I’ve found that he just as often tips Merlin’s identity, particularly when Morgana is in the game. While these roles are interesting, they’re like controlling a rook or bishop while someone else gets to move the queen. But they’re still far better than being assigned one of the generic roles, which is like controlling a single pawn.
2) The Final Product Lacks Polish
For a game whose selling point is that it’s the new and improved version of a previous title, Avalon has a surprising lack of polish. The character images and dashboards are great, but beyond that the components are bland and seem to lack a consistent theme. I think this was a missed opportunity, as the re-brand was one of the two selling points for people who already owned the original Resistance (the other being the new roles).
As for the box art– why not display some of the central characters, instead of just picking out one generic servant of Merlin with a low-cut top?
One other area where the publishers could have added some value is through a companion app to perform the narration phase. One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a prime example of a game in the same space that is significantly improved by such an app.
Look, I should make clear that while Avalon has its flaws, it’s not a terrible or broken game. Clearly, popular opinion about the game is positive enough that it’s well within the BGG Top 100, which is no easy feat with the quality of competition out there.
However, in my personal opinion I don’t think it’s an improvement over the original Resistance, and I wouldn’t recommend it. There are a lot of really great social deduction games out there and while I think the idea of an ‘constrained informant’ put forth in the Merlin/Assassin dynamic is quite clever, I feel that it doesn’t translate to a more fun experience.
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