A new board game store had just opened up, and we sat somewhat awkwardly at one of the tables. None of us really knew each other; we were just a bunch of people that signed up for an online group meet-up and (surprisingly) showed up. Only one of us had the foresight to actually bring some board games - while games could be rented, there was a good possibility we’d be paralyzed by choice and wouldn’t play anything.
There were seven of us, so there was only one game we had that we could play: The Resistance: Avalon. It took a while to decipher the rules and the optional characters but, eventually, we got everything worked out.
Round one begins and the table falls silent. The lead player haltingly asks who wants to go on the first quest. There’s silence. Then, one person speaks up.
“I’ll go, because I can assure you I am NOT the Assassin.”
The table perks up and starts throwing in their opinions - chiefly, that only an assassin would claim they weren’t an assassin - but with that, the ice had been broken. That awkward air of people meeting for the first time quickly evaporated, replaced by everyone making a case for who they were and weren’t, deceiving and generally lying to one another as each team tried to win.
Most relationships are built on a bed of trust but, with Avalon, our group’s relationship began with lying. It couldn’t have started any better way.
Games like Avalon are perfect to play with new groups of people. If you don’t know someone’s tells, you can’t know if they’re lying.
The Resistance: Avalon is an Arthurian version of The Resistance, which focuses on social deduction. Social deduction games, like Werewolf and Secret Hitler, revolve around playing a role and, in most cases, bluffing and making sure that you’re not found out for who you really are. It can lead to either a very fun or boring time - if you know what your friends’ tells are when they lie, and they don’t realise, it can be easier (and duller) to win a social deduction game than intended.
Ironically, that also makes party board games like Avalon perfect to play with new groups of people. If you don’t know someone’s tells, you can’t know if they’re lying and must rely on their in-game actions instead. Essentially, you don’t have a reason to mistrust anyone until they give you a clue during the game itself.
Avalon is a game of goodies versus hidden baddies. The Knights of the Round Table don’t know who is working against them… Actually, that’s not true. Merlin knows who the villains are, but whoever drew Merlin doesn’t get to start the game by calling them out. Avalon’s win conditions are based on quest completion; three failed quest means that the baddies won, and three successful quests means Arthur’s knights can win, but there’s a twist. If the Assassin player can correctly identify Merlin, the knights lose and the forces of evil win.
This means the character playing Merlin needs to signal to the other good players that they are, in fact, Merlin and can trust their in-game actions, without tipping off the other team. It’s almost like an elaborate game of cat and mouse.
Avalon gets more complicated with additional characters. Percival knows who Merlin is, so that player can follow Merlin’s advice and, more importantly, create false leads as to who is playing the famous wizard. Morgana, on the other hand, acts as a false Merlin - a Percival player will need to figure out who is who before trusting their actions.
All this guessing and all this deceiving lead to some incredible moments. One of our first games had one of the players feigning ignorance, pretending like they weren’t getting a handle on the rules and leading the rest of the group to general write him off. Sure, he’s untrustworthy - but if he can’t remember whose turn it was, how bad of a threat could he be? The game ended with the knights losing, as that player wound up being the Assassin and used their bluffs as a chance to suss out who Merlin was.
In another game, I ended up being Percival and was able to figure out who Merlin was pretty early on. I spent the rest of the game loudly proclaiming I knew who the villains were with a firmness I hadn’t displayed in other games. No-one saw me shooting glances to the right and waiting until after a certain player went to make my actions. When it was time for the Assassin to pick Merlin out of the group, he picked me with overwhelming confidence… only to be very disappointed when I said “Oh, I’m not Merlin” and flipped my card over.
The games where our bluffs paid off were always the most fun, and ended in a lot of yelling and laughter. Four hours flew by in a snap, and the awkwardness of that dreaded ‘first group meet-up’ was long gone by the time we were packing the game up. Lying to complete strangers ended up being the best possible introduction to one another.