Designer: Don Eskridge
Publisher: Indie Boards and Cards
There are good and bad qualities in every tabletop game, every beer, and every piece of pizza. For each of them, I am likely to lean towards celebrating the good and pass over most of the bad, which is one reason I stay away from the tabletop game review arena and focus on strategy. But with Avalon, even if I was a slandering, pessimistic cynic, I could not help but shower it in praise, because it is FANTASTIC! This has become my unquestionable favorite game to play at any game night, no matter how well I know the group.
There are two primary keys to success in Avalon:
Using deduction to determine who is good and who is evil and then retaining that information throughout the game.
Being good at deceiving other players.
The first one is easy to teach, but the second is not and can be very hard to overcome for some people. It always surprises me how quickly an extremely honest person can become at hiding their evil identity after playing a few games of Avalon.
The special characters are what set Avalon apart from the original game, The Resistance. It was a superb game, but Avalon has so much more replay value because of the additional characters. Each characters has goals, even beyond winning or losing missions. Being able to play towards your character’s unique goals without giving yourself away is what makes an elite Avalon player.
You must play with Merlin and the Assassin, but once you get a larger group of people together, especially those who are veterans of Avalon, you’ll want to throw more into the mix.
Loyal Servant of Arthur (Generic Good Guy)
As a generic, loyal servant of Arthur, you have no information about who is good and who is evil.
This is the most boring character in the game because you have no special abilities, but it is also a challenge because you are trying to tell who is good and who is evil with so little information. Your primary goal is to figure out who is bad based on, in this order:
Your secondary goal is to look like Merlin so that Merlin is not discovered by the evil guys.
Even though a common strategy is for evil players to succeed the first mission or two, loyal players still have to assume those who succeeded past missions are good and to put them future missions.
If a loyal player is not on a mission, they usually want to reject it, because the chances that there is an evil player are increased.
Minion of Mordred (Generic Bad Guy)
Your primary goal is to lose missions. Your secondary goal is to try to discover who is Merlin so that you can help the Assassin if you fail your primary goal.
A common strategy here is to slow play the failures, meaning to succeed early missions to try to get teams to trust you so you can fail later ones unexpectedly. I highly discourage this strategy because this is such a popular strategy that so little trust is gained by succeeding the first mission but the good guys are then well on their way to victory. If you fail early missions, you quickly add quest failures while still being able to sow distrust among good guys by accusing them of being evil. Failing early missions does put your feet to the fire, so the slow play strategy is good if you are unsure of your ability to cope with an inevitable barrage of inquisition. To defect it, you must cooly proclaim your innocence while carefully pointing out why the others on the failed quests are evil.
If you feel like the good players are starting to figure out that you are evil, start voting in their favor to throw off suspicion and get them on your side again. If you are suspected of being evil and keep doing suspicious things, you will not worm your way into any other quests.
The position of the evil players around the table is very important. If the majority of evil players are sitting next to each other, it can be an advantage or disadvantage because it is very hard to reject multiple teams in a row, yet if they are together near the end of the leader order, there can quickly be three successful quests before any of them get to be the leader. If evil players find themselves in this situation, they must create lots of confusion and accusations so that quests led by good players are rejected and the leader crown moves closer to them quickly.
Evil players do not want more than one of them on the team because if two fails pop up on quest, they are likely doomed to sit out the rest of the quests and have to rely on the Assassin to win the game for them. If it happens early on in the game, it is usually best to succeed in the quest to gain trust and hope to be split up later, although it usually happens that those who succeed in quests are put on many future quests. Someone will eventually just have to try a fail and hope the other succeeds.
Never give up saying you are good, no matter how lost your cause appears to be. It is never as hopeless as you think and putting the idea that you might be good into the good guys’ heads causes confusion and helps your team. And who knows, maybe you can even work your way onto the final team!
Merlin must steer the knights correctly without it being obvious they know who all the minions are, which means they must make deductions based on actions taken by players in the game.
The assassin will be watching to see who is able to vote correctly every time, so you may wish to throw them off by voting “incorrectly” at times when your incorrect vote likely will not affect the outcome. Although it is risky to accidentally swing the vote to the wrong side, sometimes you have to in order to keep your identity a secret.
You usually want to suggest that good people are bad to throw off suspicion that you are Merlin. At first you can be very vocal about this, but as people play with you, this can quickly become a sign that you are Merlin, so it very much depends on who knows your Avalon style.
How to gve yourself away:
Knowing too much about who is evil.
Calling an evil player evil when there is not much/any reason to call them evil.
Being more helpful to the good side than usual.
Never being confused or surprised.
Being Merlin can help the loyal knights figure out who is evil and can help approve quests with all loyal knights on them, but a poorly played Merlin can guarantee a loss of the good side because an obvious Merlin will surely be assassinated.
One of the best parts about being Merlin is that you get to watch the evil players pretend to be good, which can be EXTREMELY valuable during future games with them when you are not Merlin. Be very watchful of any “tells,” like a woman twirling her hair, excessive fidgeting with hands, touching the eyes or nose, more frequent blinking, lack of eye contact, looking down and to the side, generally looking uncomfortable, shaky voice, blushing, stalling to allow for time to think, deflecting when being asked a question or accused, or talking more than normal. Of course most of these things can be faked by a skilled liar, so they are not 100% accurate. Often times in this game, a loyal player must go out on a limb by guessing who is evil, and a combination of these tics can be used to find those darn minions.
Merlin votes correctly pretty much always so the assassin’s most important task is watching the voting to see who is able to do that. When you know the players in the game, you can often tell who knows too much, but when you do not, you often have to look to the voting results to deduce who is Merlin.
The Assassin must be extremely watchful of who knows too much information about which players are evil. They must be particularly observant of who votes correctly most of the time, who is never surprised by the outcome of quests, and which loyal player seems to be playing the most unusually than in past games. If Percival is in the game, it is often the most difficult to figure out who is Percival and who is Merlin, so also watch for who is trying to narrow it down between one evil player and one good player. If you can do that, it is likely they are Percival, and the good player they were unsure of is Merlin.
No matter how sure you are that you know Merlin’s identity, ALWAYS discuss with the rest of the evil players to make sure you agree. It’s possible they caught on to a definitive tell that you missed. Also, if you have Mordred in the game, look to that player to give you advice because Mordred is in the best position to determine Merlin’s identity.
Percival knows who Morgana and Merlin are, which is some information, but not nearly as much as Merlin. Your primary job is to pretend to be Merlin. Your secondary job is to determine who is Morgana so you can vote down quests in which they try to participate.
How you do this depends on who is playing. If you are playing with strangers, this may be using your limited information to pretend to know who all the bad guys are. With those you have played with frequently in the past, it might mean doing what everyone agrees Merlin is supposed to do. If your group has decided that Merlin must call out that a good person is bad throughout the game to remove suspicion, maybe you do that as Percival too.
Morgana should be added when Percival is also added to replace some of the generic good and evil characters and make it a little more interesting for the non-Merlin and non-Assassin characters. Percival knows who Morgana and Merlin are, but not which is which.
Morgana’s primary job is to pretend to be good so that Percival thinks Merlin is evil. This is a very challenging task. It’s very rare for Percival to not have identified Morgana within the first couple of quests. The best way to pretend to be Merlin greatly depends on how well you know the players, either by pretending to have a lot of additional information or playing the unassuming, quiet game.
Mordred helps the evil side because Merlin does not know his identity, but hurts in their ability to detect Merlin because he can’t always vote correctly anymore. Basically, adding him helps them win more often by just causing 3 missions to fail, but makes it harder to assassinate Merlin in the end. As Mordred, it is imperative that you recognize your unique situation because you will be able to watch the votes to see how everyone votes for teams to which the other minions belong.
If Mordred can convince the good players that he is good, they can easily get onto teams that are approved. HOWEVER, Mordred probably wants to wait until two other quests have failed before he fails the final quest because Merlin will be able to identify Mordred if a quest fails on which Mordred is the only minion.
Oberon is a secret force of evil that is unknown to the other evil players. He is a fun addition to a game, but makes it a challenge for the minions, so I recommend only considering him during a 7 or 10 player game. Adding him is a great way to spice up a game of veterans.
Having him in the game makes Merlin more powerful because he now has more information than the evil players. He causes havoc in the voting because the non-Oberon evil characters cannot play quite as perfectly and occasionally have to approve a mission without any of them on it in hopes of Oberon coming through with a fail card. Oberon must be very watchful and try to figure out who is evil and who is good so that two fail cards do not come up in the same quest and draw excessive suspicion on the questors. But, the safe bet for Oberon is to always put a fail card in the mix whenever they are on the quest because it will help the other evil players identify him, and Merlin already knows he is evil anyway. This does occasionally result in two fails occurring in a quest.
Lady of the Lake
The Lady of the Lake is optional, but it is another great way to spice up a game among Avalon veterans. After the second, third, and fourth quests are completed, the person with Lady of the Lake gets to exchange its ownership for that player’s true allegiance. It doesn’t give either side much of an advantage because either can use its power to their advantage.
In the hands of an evil player to start a game, they usually want to give it to a good player and tell everyone they are good because it builds tremendous trust with that player. In larger player games where there are at least three evil characters, it is possible for an evil player to give it to another evil player and call them good. The problem with that is that if that player is found out to be evil, the evil player who called them good is now known to be evil. I have seen this strategy sink a two player bad team more than once.
In the hands of a good player to start a game, they just want to give it to someone they suspect as evil. If there is no one they specifically suspect, they want to give it to the person who is the next leader of a quest.
In the hands of Percival, they may want to give it to either Morgana or Merlin if they have not yet distinguished which is which because finding out one means you find out the other. It does give evidence for others that could lead them to identifying Merlin though, so be careful. So if Percival is already fairly sure which is which, they want to avoid that because it is a strong clue that they are Percival, which means they are not doing a very good job of pretending to be Merlin, which is their primary goal.
Voting provides A LOT of information. It’s usually good to always vote to reject the first mission because you can use the votes others cast to help determine their identity. Once you play many games with the same people, this becomes less important because everyone catches onto this strategy and sometimes an evil person really needs the first mission to be approved.
As I mentioned, Merlin usually votes correctly, so if all voters approve a mission except for one, that is evidence that Merlin was the lone rejection vote. Of course, a wise Merlin will incorrectly vote to throw off suspicion, but they will still vote correctly most of the time.
Evil players know who all other evil players are, except for Oberon, so they will vote to approve most teams with enough evil players to fail it and vote to reject it otherwise. Again, a wise evil player will vote “incorrectly” sometimes to throw off suspicion. When everyone approves a team, it’s usually bad news for the good guys, but by then it’s usually too late.
Remember how votes were cast compared to mission results. If the mission succeeds and there were rejected votes equal to the number of evil playrs in the game, those players who rejected may be evil.
A final note on voting: You cannot get voting information from players who are new to the game because they do not know what they are doing.
To be successful in the long term in Avalon, a player wants to play consistently no matter which character they draw. Since this is very hard to do for most people, it is helpful to also do weird and crazy things occasionally and be known as the guy/gal who just does unexpected things sometimes. This might be talking or coughing during the eyes closed phase, arrogantly displaying how they are randomly voting for a quest for fun, vehemently accusing someone of being evil with no solid evidence, or being mute for a game. This kind of randomness will help cover up slip-ups in games because it can be shrugged off as, “but he/she just always does that kind of thing.”
Avalon has a way of stirring up certain emotions like no other game… paranoia, deception, helplessness, and desperation come to mind. It makes you think. It makes you trust. It makes you distrust. It makes you sweat. It is, and will remain for a long time, my favorite game.