Coup: Is That A Contessa in Your Pocket?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015
The beautiful box art for Coup. Source:

I delight in devious boardgames. I've played tons of strategic games from Risk to Diplomacy but The Resistance has been my go to for sneaky tabletop play. It and the followup Resistance: Avalon have boiled down the complex rules of games like Diplomacy to their ruthless heart, but it can still be difficult to gather the minimum five players needed for a game. That's where Coup comes in. The sort-of-sequel to The Resistance is all about political dealings, lies and intrigue and can be played with as few as two players.

Coup pits players against each other as members of a political council, each vying for total control. Players exert their influence through the two character cards they are dealt at the beginning of the game. The two cards are the agents the player has at their disposal but also represent their health (known as Influence). If both of a player's cards are eliminated, they are out of the game.

There are five characters in the game, each with their own abilities that can aid in defeating the opponents: the Duke can take extra coins from the treasury (coins are used to pay for some actions), the Captain can steal coins from other players, the Ambassador allows a player to swap characters cards from the deck, the Assassin can eliminate a player's influence and the Contessa can block assassination. At this point it seems that the game would certainly go to the player dealt the best combination of characters, but it isn't that simple.

Because each player keep their hand secret, anyone can claim to have any character at any time in the game. It's up to the other players to determine in they are telling the truth or not. Any player may challenge a claim made by another; the loser of any challenge loses an influence card. Losing Influence is especially damaging since there is no way to get it back. Lying is an intricate part of the game but trying to operate with only one character card is really tricky. Opponents are more likely to question the actions of someone with a single cards, especially when the player changes those

The basic setup of the game, with all characters visible. Such beautiful art.

Many of the characters in the game have abilities that can counter the actions of another character; the Captain and the Ambassador can block stealing attempts, for example. Learning the appropriate counters can cut another player short but can still land you with a challenge if they think you are bluffing. In the numerous games we've played since buying the game, I've seen people feign ignorance of the rules, pretend drunkenness, play up their confidence, and fake a tantrum just to convince the others of what they did or didn't have. The probability end of the game can be fun, but the social manipulation really takes center stage in Coup.

A typical game of Coup can be played in as little as ten to fifteen minutes (with 4 players). The pace is fluid and fast, the rules are easy  to pick up and the setup is pretty minimal. It makes a great pub game, especially if people are coming and going. As much as I love The Resistance, Coup is so much easier to play on a moment's notice that I'll pack it before the former on any trip I make in the future. If you're at all prone to delusions of subterfuge, Coup is just the thing to sate your hunger for power.

P.S.: If you play with less than four people, we recommend removing one of each character card from the court deck. It makes bluffing a little trickier and gives more power to the Ambassador.