There’s this social deduction game that some of my friends and I play called Avalon (formally, The Resistance: Avalon). It’s a really fun game, but there’s a huge problem with it.
Specifically, the literal first objective.
The premise of Avalon is that there’s a good team and a bad team, and each team is trying to pass or fail quests (we’ll get to quests later).
Most of the good guys don’t have any special knowledge. They’re just there to pass quests and figure out who’s bad. I’ll be calling default good guys ‘loyals’.
There are two special good guys, though. The important one is Merlin, who knows the identities of the bad guys. The catch is that if the good guys end up winning, the bad guys get one chance to shoot Merlin – so Merlin can’t just call the bad guys out right away.
To help Merlin out, there’s Percival. Percival knows who Merlin is, so through the course of the game, Percival can give the good team useful information by paying close attention to Merlin’s words and behavior.
The bad guys, on the other hand, simply want to fail quests and confuse the good guys. (There are special bad guy roles, but they’re not important right now.) What is important is that the bad guys know who each other are, and therefore have perfect information about who’s good or bad.
So those are the teams. As for the quests, there are a total of five, with a predetermined number of people going on each quest (which varies depending on total player count).
(For example, in an 8 player game, 3 people would go on the 1st quest, 4 people would go on the 2nd and 3rd quest, and 5 people would go on the 4th and 5th quest.)
Everyone votes on a proposed quest, and if the majority approves, it goes through. If not, the next person picks their questmates.
When a quest is approved, each person on the quest is given a fail and success card. Good guys put success cards, and bad guys put fail cards. (Bad guys can, and usually do, put success cards, but that’s not important right now.)
If there are any fail cards on the quest, then that’s a failed quest. A quest only succeeds if every play card is a success.
To recap: good guys want to pass three quests while hiding Merlin’s identity, and bad guys want to fail three quests while actively looking for Merlin.
So what’s the problem?
Let’s say you’re a loyal.
Someone proposes the first quest, and for whatever reason, you’re not on it. (I’ll be referring to quests you’re not on as “offquests”.) Now, the only thing you know for certain is that you are good. And since you are not on the quest, it has much lower odds of succeeding. So you plan to downvote.
(By the way, someone did some math and concluded that in an 8 person game, there’s only a 16% chance that an offquest passes.)
Anyways, on 3, everyone shows their vote. 1, 2, and 3: the three people on the quest upvote the quest, which isn’t surprising. You downvote because you’re not on the quest, but then you look around and see that everybody else not on the quest also downvotes. Huh.
Okay, the quest doesn’t go through. The next person chooses their quest, and unfortunately you aren’t on it again. Following the previous round’s logic, you still don’t know anything except that you’re good, so you decide to downvote the offquest again.
1, 2, 3: again, the three people on the quest upvote, and everybody else downvotes it.
What’s happening here?
What’s happening here is that the special roles are trying to hide their identity. You, as a loyal, and your fellow loyal teammates, have nothing to hide. But Merlin does. Percival does, too. And so do the bad guys. If any of them are outed, the game tips heavily in the other sides’ favor.
So how do these special roles hide their identity? By acting like a loyal. They know that a loyal should downvote any offquest, so they too downvote offquests as well.
Because here’s the thing, right. Let’s say a bad guy is picked on the first quest. His teammates would obviously love that quest to be approved. But if they both approve the offquest, their votes would stick out like sore thumbs, literally. Because why would you approve an offquest as a loyal? Statistically, it doesn’t make any sense.
And on the flipside, let’s say that someone luckily picks a perfect first quest with three confirmed good guys. Merlin is ecstatic, but he can’t just blindly upvote the offquest either, because remember, if the good guys win, the bad guys get to shoot someone. And you can bet that the bad guys will remember the person who “randomly” decided to upvote an offquest that “happened” to have no bad guys on it.
Now you have this seemingly impossible predicament. Optimally, everybody should downvote the first offquest, but then you don’t get any information from proposed quests. And if any role card tries to interfere, they risk outing themselves and hurting their team’s chances of winning.
So, the million dollar question(s): how can you upvote the first offquest without it seeming suspicious?
1. Random Voting
One of the most important aspects in Avalon is being consistent. You don’t want to be super talkative as a loyal but then super quiet as Merlin, for example, because (good) players will pick up on that. The same goes for voting behavior.
Part of why it’s usually hard to upvote the first offquest is because you’re probably downvoting it whenever you’re a loyal. So if you do upvote out of the blue, the table will presumably think that you have some special information.
To counter this, you could, as a loyal, start randomly upvoting offquests. This way, you create a player image in the table’s mind as “that guy” who just randomly upvotes offquests. Now, having established this player habit, you have leeway to tactically upvote offquests as Merlin, Percival, or a bad guy without it seeming too out of the ordinary.
The only problem with this strategy is that it’ll be harder for people to tell if you’re good or not based on your voting. If you’re always that “random guy”, then people may feel less inclined to trust you – and gaining trust is a huge part of the game. But still, random voting is a viable enough strategy to entertain.
2. The (Instant) Hammer
Rather than addressing the question of how to vote on offquests, this solution is more of an attempt to bypass this atrocious first quest altogether.
Basically, in Avalon’s ruleset, there’s a condition that says if five consecutive quests are rejected, then the bad guys automatically win. In practice, this translates to the fifth person’s quest automatically being approved. We call this fifth consecutive quest maker the “hammer”.
Usually, you don’t want a quest to get to the hammer, because they could very easily be a bad guy who now gets to fail a quest for free, or a loyal who will statistically put a bad guy on their quest.
Naturally, to prevent the quest from getting to the hammer, everyone automatically approves the fourth person’s quest. But all that’s doing is making the fourth person the hammer. So then you automatically approve the third quest — but again, you’re basically just making the third person the hammer. You see where this is headed.
So, a potential solution is an instant hammer. You let the first person’s quest automatically go through, and then let the game proceed from there.
Again, this solution is just trying to speed the game along to where it actually gets interesting. But it’s not ideal, because it now creates a metagame where special roles start vying with each other to make the first quest to gain an upper hand.
And that leaves us with my favorite strategy.
I’ve experienced stupid first rounds where everyone inexplicably upvotes the offquest. Or rounds where everyone, even those on the quest — even the person making their own quest — downvotes the quest. Or rounds where our group randomly decides fuck this one guy in particular for the whole game and it turns out they were Merlin. Or Mordred (a bad guy who Merlin doesn’t see at the start of the game. Insanely powerful, obviously).
Yes, winning rounds where my team logically pieces together information is extremely satisfying. But I’ve personally found those silly and random rounds to be more fun and exhilarating — because at the end of the day, it’s all just a game.
This variance, this unpredictability is what initially drew me to Avalon in the first place. Each game, different people get different roles, who play those roles and interact with everyone else in unique ways. The banter, deductions, and reads in every Avalon game are rarely static or predictable.
Honestly, I don’t find any of my proposed solutions entirely satisfactory. But I don’t see any clear cut answer.
I think it’s really unfortunate that this first quest, when played optimally, is such an extreme bottleneck, because the game gets exponentially more interesting afterwards. I would still highly recommend Avalon to anyone (or any group of ideally 8+ people) who wants to try it, but keep in mind that this first quest is an obstacle you will eventually encounter.
Like I said earlier, my favorite method for getting over this problem is to not take the game that seriously all the time. So mess around, clown your friends, and try something new then and now. I think that’s probably the best way to maximize what we’re all collectively trying to get from Avalon: a fun time.