Monday, October 27, 2014

Game Stories: Coup

Brace yourselves, because I'm back with more thoughts and opinions and explorations of another boardgame. Well, card game. But cards are really just tiny boards. Whatever. Bear with me. We've got another game on our list of games that have interesting story-ish things! This time around, it's Coup, a game about deception, lots of backstabbing, and deception. Also, knowing when to lie through your teeth and when to be perfectly innocently truthful.

Coup is a game where you play as shadowy manipulators of a futuristic government. You have influence over some of the members of this government, and each member of the government gives you a different ability. This influence is represented by cards that players secretly hold: if you have the Countess' card, you can use her ability. (Of course, you can also lie about the cards that you have, but that's an entirely different part of the game.)

What's most interesting is the fact that each character gives you such a distinct ability: there are no all-purpose characters. Also, some characters have specific interactions with parts of the game. These abilities and interactions provide interesting little bits of story to think about and draw you into the game's world.

The Captain can steal money from other players, and can also prevent other players from stealing money from you.

The Ambassador can switch out your cards (changing your influence), and can also prevent other players from stealing money from you.

The Duke can heavily tax, giving you more money than your typical options, and can block Foreign Aid, which is the most profitable way to earn money that doesn't involve characters.

The Assassin can sever a player from one of their cards (destroying their influence over that character), if you pay a fee.

The Countess can protect you if someone tries to use the Assassin against you.

So it's often useful to rotate between claiming different characters, and as you play the game, the roles are clear enough that you can begin to use character names as a shorthand. It works well, because there's a tiny sort of story behind each one. You don't get any explanations, but you can just about see how each one fits into the setting.

Some of them are obvious. You pay the Assassin money, and she goes to take care of your chosen target. The Duke has domain over financials, so he's able to levy taxes and enact embargoes.

Some of them take some thought. The Captain steals and blocks stealing because he's the overseer of trade, so it's no problem for him to shuffle money from one place to another (or obstruct it). The Ambassador is good at talking to people, so he can figure out how to shuffle your influence around.

The Countess...uh, I dunno. This one takes a little more storytelling on my part. I figure that the Assassin isn't killing major people, she's just killing the people who you're using to influence characters. Having the Countess on your side means that she can repair those connections, negating the Assassin's effect.

So there's a bit of a spectrum. In each case, though, there's an implicit link that you have to tease out with your mind. You have to figure out how the name/role of the character relates to that power. It's a very engaging bit of micro-storytelling that you could snowball into something bigger, if you wanted. I'll touch on this again when I bring up Love Letter, which has an actual backstory and justification for its cards.