When it was released, The Resistance became a pretty big deal. It improved on and solidified the social-deduction genre into something that gamers really enjoyed. The game is super simple, uses minimal components, and keeps every player involved in the game until the end (no “game master” needed). Several expansions were released containing all sorts of variations on the original gameplay, and some of these were put together in an upgraded but still quite simple package in the form of The Resistance: Avalon, with the theme of the game changed from Sci-Fi to Arthurian Fantasy. This is the version that I own and have played so many times; let’s take a look at what’s good and bad about it.
As far as theme goes, I don’t care that much, especially since it doesn’t really affect the game (as evidenced by the fact that they changed it so drastically), but I do like the knights/fantasy theme slightly better if only for the artwork. I don’t rely on the theme too heavily when teaching the game (the fact that the “king” changes every round is a bit strange), but it can help draw people in who otherwise might not consider playing.
Actually playing the game is fairly simple. Most of the players are “good-guys” (knights of the round table) who don’t know who anyone else is, and a minority are “bad-guys” (minions of the evil Mordrid) who know the identity of the other bad guys. There are five “missions” in every game; if 3 succeed the good-guys win, if three fail the bad-guys win. A designated player will select a group of players to go on a mission and everyone will vote on them. If the vote fails enough times the mission will fail, but if the vote passes everyone will get two cards that say either “success” or “fail.” Good-guys must put in “success” cards while bad-guys can put in either. It only takes one “fail” card for the mission to be considered a failure (most of the time). Players move from round to round trying to identify who the bad-guys are and exclude them from the later missions.
Even on its own this is actually a pretty fun game (and it’s basically all the standard Resistance game is), but things get much more interesting when some special roles get added in. The most basic and playable is Merlin, who knows who the bad-guys are. But if you play with him, the Assassin player is also added to the game, and if the good-guys win, the Assassin gets one shot to reveal Merlin and turn the tide. Additionally for good there is Percival, who knows the identity of Merlin, and for evil there is: Mordrid, who is unknown to Merlin; Morgana, who appears to be Merlin to Percival (thus he sees two Merlins); and Oberon, who does not appear to the other evil players (and is thus a detriment to them, not an asset). There’s even a few more variations such as the Lady of the Lake, which lets you see other players’ loyalty (and only really works in larger groups).
Together (Merlin is technically in the basic game, but I like to first have a “teaching” round without him for new players) these make an excellent package with all kinds of variations for all different player counts (5-10), and I have yet to play a game that did not go over well (except with me, which I’ll get to). The mechanisms are simple, but clever enough that players always have an exciting (and sometimes stressful) time puzzling out who’s who in time for that final, critical mission. There’s a lot of different things you can read into, from how they voted, to who they chose for a mission and whether a mission they went on passed or failed, and of course, if they’re your friends, you know how they play other games and what ticks they might have. Adding in the variations just spices things up that much more.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve played this game and had a blast; it’s tense and involving without being overly complicated. But I’ve started to get a little bit sick of it. It’s been a go-to game for when we have “new” players (or players who aren’t that into the “board” part of board games), when there isn’t much time, or with large groups of people (though this happens less often), and I have played it so many times, with so many variations. Things have just gotten repetitive, and the fact that most of my games have been played with 5 or 6 players doesn’t help that fact (I have a small game group). There is a distinct pattern: first round success, second round toss-up, followed by two (or one) successes and the assassin correctly fingering Merlin. Occasionally there is an upset and we go into five rounds, or the assassin is particularly bad, but still the pattern of the bad-guys winning “cheaply” remains. Attempting to change things up just gets me “Oberon isn’t fun” or a game that doesn’t quite work properly (in small games the Lady of the Lake is too powerful, the other bad-guys make it easier for evil, and even Percival doesn’t even things out). But that’s just me personally being burned out (I am the “game guy” and I’m the one with the copy we play every time), everyone else I play with has a blast.
If you are interested in the idea of social deduction games, if you like Werewolf and the like, or if you are just looking for a small, simple, and inexpensive game for a group of friends I would recommend this game. I have gotten way more than what I paid for in enjoyment out of it over the years, and the base The Resistance game is even cheaper. If you think you’re going to play it a lot and might get burned out like me I’d recommend getting that non-Avalon version and picking up some of the expansions along the way, there are options in those to make the game identical to Avalon gameplay-wise and a whole lot more (as of right now there are no expansions for the Avalon version). I would also recommend looking into card-sleeves. The game has bridge-sized cards, which are harder to find sleeves for, but you shuffle them A LOT, and Indie Boards & Cards has a habit of printing games where you shuffle a lot on relatively poor cardstock, this being no exception. The other components are all fine (the boards are basically card stock, but you don’t interact with them much and they don’t get damaged. And the tokens are all really nicely made), but be prepared for the game as a whole to get scuffed up from round after round of play.