The unnamed and generic Italianish city-state is in turmoil, and the people are looking for a new leader to fill the void of power. There are many influential characters in the city-state, some nice and some not so nice, and they are willing to help you.
But if you can make the people–and the others striving for the crown–think that you have these powerful personages in your employ, you may be on your way to a glorious reign.
Someone’s got to rule. Why shouldn’t it be you?
How It Works
Coup is a social deduction/bluffing game for two to six players in which players vie for control of an unnamed Italian city-state. Players claim influence over various characters to tip the balance of power in their favor, but they must be sure the other players believe the influence they claim. The last player standing wins.
Coup comes with fifteen character cards (three each of five characters), fifty coins, and a player aid for each player. At the start of the game, each player receives two random character cards (which represent powerful people under a player’s influence), two coins, and a player aid. The characters are kept face-down, and players only know their own characters’ identities.
Each turn, a player must perform one action. There are three basic actions (which do not require any special influence to perform). They are:
- Income (take one coin from the bank)
- Foreign aid (take two coins from the bank, but can be blocked by the Duke)
- Coup (pay seven coins to destroy one character)
In addition, players may take any action associated with a character by claiming they have that card in front of them. These actions include things like getting extra coins, taking coins from other players, killing others’ characters for cheaper, or blocking certain actions of other players. However, any action associated with a character may be challenged. If a challenged player does not have the appropriate character in their influence, they lose one of their influence. If a challenged player does have the appropriate character, the challenging player loses an influence and the challenged player shuffles the revealed character into the deck, drawing a new one. Once a player loses both influence, that player is out of the game.
Play proceeds clockwise until only one player has influence. That player is the winner.
Coup is a bluffing game distilled. In most games where bluffing is incorporated, bluffing is one mechanic among many. In Coup, the entire game is centered around this one question: is so-and-so telling the truth? And while a simple game like Coup wouldn’t be compelling if it lasted an hour, in its super-compact, fifteen-minute timeframe, Coup packs quite a punch.
Coup is a very simple game. It reminds me of The Resistance, and not just because The Resistance also involves bluffing. The Resistance feels like a distillation–an excellent distillation. Battlestar Galactica, for example, is fun, but it’s on the outer rim of games I’m willing to play. It takes a long time, there are lots of rules to remember, and consequently the barrier to entry is high. It’s not a game I’d introduce in casual company. The Resistance clears away the clutter of a game like BSG to get to the essence of what makes it fun: wild accusations, the hint of treason, and trying to determine who is who, and it does this in a short timeframe with a small package.
Coup has that same distilled flavor, only in a slightly different genre. It’s Poker without having to know hand hierarchy. It’s the alliances and attacks of Cosmic Encounter without so much reliance upon asymmetrical player powers and luck of the draw. Admittedly, it’s not as simple as some other bluffing games (I think of BS, the euphemistic name we used for a bluffing game involving a standard deck of playing cards), but the additional aspects make the game richer for it. (Also, the player aids are excellent and help players to remember what options are available on their turn.)
Coup’s simplicity is the direct cause of the game’s best feature: the social play it fosters. Players may have to consider their moves in their first game or two, but once players have familiarized themselves with what few rules there are, the game’s social aspect takes center stage. The rules melt into the background as players actively engage one another in an effort to see who is lying and who is telling the truth. Players try to remember what they’ve said, which characters they’ve claimed to have influence over, and try to lure opponents into making false accusations against them. They also try to tease out which characters opponents really have in their pockets.
The game allows laughter, especially when you discover that so-and-so, who is so obviously lying, has been telling the truth all along. Or when it’s revealed that another so-and-so, who has been so confident in declaring his Duke for the entire game, is really holding an Ambassador. The catharsis of revelation makes this game a blast to play, even when you’re not winning.
Of course, the game changes a bit depending on how many players are at the table. With fewer people at the table, games are quick (super quick–five to seven minutes, even), so players can be more cavalier in their challenges and accusations. With more players, there’s a bit more of a lag time between being eliminated and game’s end, so players are more cautious in accusing their fellows. (Thus, it might be a little easier to pull one over in the larger game.) In my group, it took us a few games before we were willing to bluff with any regularity, but the game is best when players are comfortable doing what’s outside the bounds of the abilities granted by their influence. But players must also be careful, as too much bluffing can be the fasttrack to the sidelines.
But even a long game of Coup is short. The first time I taught the game, there were six of us playing, and even with the rules explanation, we finished three games easily within our lunch hour. The next lunch hour with four of us we played eight games. This is a great strength–in a game with player elimination, the shorter a game is, the better–but it’s also one of the big weaknesses of Coup. Coup is very fun for three or so games. Any more than that, and you might begin to wonder where the main course is. But really, this is expected with any of the shorter, “filler” games, and Coup is great for what it is.
The components for Coup are very spartan: a short rules booklet, six player aids, fifty money tokens, and fifteen character cards. The rules are simple to grasp and are conveyed well in the booklet. The money tokens are a little on the cheap and flimsy side, but they get the job done. The player aids for Coup are excellent, conveying all necessary information in a quick reference that will certainly help players through their first few games, and I love the art on the cards. While the theme in Coup isn’t very strong (or necessary), I like the Italian-style artwork.
My only complaints about the components involve the box and cards’ size. First, the box is bigger than it needs to be. There aren’t many components in it, and these components could have easily been condensed into the Z-Man-size card game box, which fits within a pocket. Coup is just the kind of game you want to carry around in your pocket since it’s quick and easy, but the box prevents this (which, again, is a bummer, because the components are so few that they slip and slide in the box anyway). I suspect the box is as big as it is in order to house the large player aids, but I would have preferred smaller player aids if it meant having a smaller package. As it is, the components move around in a box that is bigger than it needs to be.
Coup’s cards are also an odd size. They are the “top trumps” size, which are about the height of a 7 Wonders card but skinnier, like a Dominion card. In a game like Coup, marked cards are a big deal, which points to sleeving the cards right away. However, with the odd card size, I’ve not been able to find appropriate sleeves for the cards. (They are currently swimming in too-big 7 Wonders sleeves.) Both of these components issues are nitpicky, I know, and they aren’t that big of a deal. The only reason these issues are disappointing is that the game is so fun that I want to share it with everyone. If it means throwing the game in a backpack instead of a pocket, so be it. I just wish for the pocket.
All told, Coup is an excellent filler game. It’s very social, offers good opportunities to bluff your friends, plays fast, and despite the player elimination keeps all players involved for the whole game. (Yes, it’s fun to spectate, especially since games don’t last too much longer than the first elimination.) Coup will not be for everyone. There is bluffing involved, and those who cannot keep a straight face (or who do not want to mislead other players) may have a problem with the game. Similarly, players looking for a meaty experience won’t find it here: while the game is interesting enough to merit attention and engagement the whole way through, it’s not the kind of game you’d call a gaming event for. It does get old if played too much in a row. But if you spread out your plays, Coup is a short gem of a game.
Note: Coup is currently only available from All About Games. Purchasing from All About Games ensures that a portion of the sale goes to the Game Loft charity, an after-school program intended to help disadvantaged teenagers with social skills.