Designer: Rikki Tahta
Publisher: Indie Boards and Cards (2013)
Coup is the victim of a stream of hype perpetuated by fans of social deduction games and worsened by the fact that the first edition was difficult to get a hold of, and thus more hip to own.
“Pfft, you haven’t played Coup?”
“No. You want to measure gaming dicks? I’ll slap you in the mouth with a mint Queen’s Gambit, bitch.”
The hipster version with Troyes-like artwork.
OK, maybe our prospective gaming scenes are a bit different, but it doesn’t change the fact that this game has been built up as the ultimate bluffing game. Having enormous expectations for anything in life is never a good thing. Chinese Democracy, Avatar, Duke Nukem Forever; the list of vomit inducing excrement is miles long. Is Coup another Roll The Bones?
Mechanically, Coup, is elegant and solid as its core focus on facilitating bluffs, as well as calling players out, is centralized and present in a non-intrusive way. Each player is dealt 2 role cards from a common deck that contains 3 copies of each card. Cards provide special powers such as stealing coins from another player, assassinating lying pricks, and pilfering large sums of money from the bank. On your turn you can either take a small amount of coins from the bank, or claim the power of one of the roles. Anyone can immediately call you out as lying, in which case you reveal the proper card if you have it, or one of your two cards are lost if you don’t. If you were telling the truth the player who failed at reading your body language loses a card instead. Players are eliminated when they’ve lost both their cards and play proceeds until one player remains. In addition to losing cards from accusations and assassinations, you may Coup a player of your choice if you amass 7 coins – which means they lose one of their cards. This is the main way players are eliminated as everyone builds up wealth and begins cutting down their friends like a rather ordinary Game of Thrones episode.
The Indie Boards and Cards version boasts a slick Resistance theme.
What’s particularly interesting about this micro-game is the constant back and forth passive-aggressive checking that takes place, culminating in swift executions as players are eliminated. One key facet is that most powers can be countered by another card, and players may lie about having the card which counters you. So not only can players bluff when they are active on their turn, you can also bluff in response. This makes for a satisfying yet unsettling game state which you have to track via knowing what cards you have and what roles players have claimed. Unlike Mascarade, which appears to be heavily influenced by Coup, here you can call people out even if you’re not involved in the action. This is what places the bluffing front and center as the opportunity to deceive as well as the opportunity to hang a bastard for being a cheater are always front and present.
No, Coup is not another Geddy Lee rapping travesty. It’s delicious, cut-throat, and quick. It’s as if Rikki Tahta, whose name is so goddamn fun to say, played Love Letter and said – “I can do this better motherfucker.” Coup takes the best parts of Love Letter, including the quick yet tough decisions as well as the obfuscation of one’s card, and ups them to 11 in a way Nigel Tufnel would be proud. The minor bluffing of Love Letter is brought to a boil here and provides a touch of depth the former wishes it had; in nearly every way it’s just a better game.
Coup, It’s like Love Letter cranked to 11.
Coup absolutely would be the pinnacle of bluffing games if not for a couple of discolored and hairy warts on its tight and beautiful ass. The main issue is that the game can often devolve into an end game where there will be a clear winner. You get down to the final two or three players and the winner is foregone depending on the game-state. It’s difficult to switch up your lies at this point and if you don’t possess the proper role combinations to generate the best economy, you will lose as it devolves into a war of attrition as Daniel Plainview drinks your milkshake, sucking all of the fun and chaos off the table. I find myself often craving the early and mid-game of Coup in combination with the often stressful end sequence of Love Letter. This is why I ultimately prefer Mascarade to both of these given the proper player count as it simply nails the pacing and provides a more even experience.
Despite the aforementioned flaw, I am a huge fan of the game. Coup is a leap forward in design and is razor-focused on its core mechanic of bluffing. It delivers an interesting and deep 10 minute game that will leave you craving more. I can’t see myself reaching for Love Letter anytime soon, which is an achievement in and of itself. Simply due to its rock bottom cost, you should already own this game. If you don’t, pick the bastard up immediately so that you can finally profit off those years of practice you had lying to your parents and significant others.