Sunday 26 October 2014

Templar Intrigue

Plays: 8Px8 rounds.

The Game

Templar Intrigue is a 10-card microgame for 7 to 10 players. It is a hidden identity team game, similar to Bang, The Resistance, Werewolf and The Message: Emissary Crisis, but with one important difference - everyone knows which team everyone is on from the beginning. On the Royalist team you have the king himself and some Benedictine monks, and among the monks there is one Templar archivist, who is secretly on the Templars' side. On the Templars team you have a Grandmaster, some Templar knights and one or two traitors, depending on the number of players. The traitors are, of course, loyal to the king. So this is just like the movies Infernal Affairs and The Departed - both sides have an undercover agent (or two) on the other side.

The objective of the Royalist team is to have the king successfully identify both the Grandmaster and the archivist. The king can only make one guess. The Royalist team wins if he is right. Else the Templars win. At the start of a game round, every player is dealt one card and looks at the card. You can only look at your own card and not those of others. The card backs differ by team, so you already know who's on which side (at least on the surface). The tricky bit is no one knows who the undercover agents are yet. Before the round starts, the king reveals his card to identify himself. His identity is known because he will be the one running the show. Next, the Templars within themselves will learn who the Grandmaster is, without the Royalists knowing. This means the traitors among the Templars know who the Grandmaster is. Finally, the Grandmaster and the archivist identify each other without anyone else knowing. So the Grandmaster is the only person who knows who the archivist is. Once these are done, the round starts.

The card back of the templar cards.

The top row are the Royalist cards. Starting from the left: card back, the king, a monk, and the Templar archivist. The bottom row are the Templar cards - the card back, the Grandmaster, a Templar knight and a traitor.

The game round is very free-form. There are no turns. Everyone can speak and accuse and point fingers at the same time. The king has the right to perform a number of inquisitions. For each monk in the game (including the Templar archivist pretending to be one), the king may, for once only, ask him to look at the card of one other player, and tell him what it is. Naturally the real monks will want to help the king and will want to tell the truth, but the archivist may not be telling the truth, and the king doesn't know yet who the archivist is. Once all inquisitions are completed, the king must make the attempt to identify both the Grandmaster and the archivist. That's basically it.

When a round concludes, players on the winning team gain 1pt. Once someone reaches 3pts, he wins and the game ends. I didn't play with this scoring though. I just played each round as an independent game.

The Play

I played with eight, so on the Royalist team we had one king, two monks and one archivist, while on the Templars team we had one Grandmaster, two Templar knights and one traitor. The king is burdened with an important task, so we took turns playing king. In our games I found that most of the time the Royalists won. I think this was because this faction is easier to play. For the Royalists the important skills are logical thinking and deduction. You can discuss openly and try to work out how to make use of the three inquisitions that the king has at his disposal. You can, as a team, try to catch any suspicious statements or behaviours of other players. The Templars, on the other hand, must rely on lies, deception and misdirection. If you are a poor liar, you will have a hard time. You need to be prepared to lie, in order to lie convincingly without blinking an eye. You need to create misinformation to confuse the king. What's even more challenging is you need to lie in tandem with your teammates. Sometimes you need to tell consistent lies so that it's easier to convince the king. Sometimes you need to tell conflicting stories and pretend to be enemies to further confuse the king.

In our games the traitor tended to speak up early to point out who the Grandmaster was, and the traitor was usually able to convince the king. This made things much easier for the king. In hindsight, the other Templar knights or even the Grandmaster himself should have been more proactive in pretending to be the traitor, and giving the king false information. Due to how things went in our game, three inquisitions was quite sufficient for the king to tell who his targets were. Our archivist had to resort to telling the truth, so that the king could not easily tell who was who. There were two other monks, so from the king's perspective whenever two monks' statements conflicted with that of the third, then the third one was surely the archivist. So the archivist had to be careful with what he said and how he acted. I think despite this danger of making conflicting statements, the archivist still has some manoeuvre space to lie, as long as his lies cannot be easily disputed by the other monks. Also if he is third to get asked to make an inquisition he can consider the statements made by the previous two monks and determine whether, and how, to lie.

Wai Yan (left) was the king - her character card was face-up, and everyone else was trying to confuse her.

Jeff thinks better with one hand on his head.

I have not yet tried to mathematically work out whether the number of inquisitions the king gets is definitely enough for him to identify his targets. If it is, then the game becomes pointless. You just need to follow logic and a fixed strategy. My gut feeling is the Templars can create enough conflicting possibilities to force the king to use his inquisitions inefficiently, provided that they are smart enough in lying and in putting ideas in the king's mind.

Lying convincingly is a job requirement for the Templars. In one game, Wai Yan was the archivist pretending to be a monk, while I was the traitor on the Templars team. Ivan was the king. I loudly proclaimed who the Grandmaster was, urging Ivan to mark him as such. Wai Yan disputed my claim, so Ivan knew that likely one of us was on his side and not the other. So he asked Wai Yan to execute an inquisition on me. She looked at my card, and then paused. And then we all started laughing. That short moment of pause had let the cat out of the bag. She needed to lie, but was caught unprepared. Ivan successfully identified her as the archivist.

The Thoughts

Templar Intrigue is a fun party game. It's a good filler too for game nights, since it's so short. Rules are minimal. It's all about the psychology among the players - the lying, the misleading, the misinformation, all trying to confuse the logical deduction that the king needs to do. You need to be prepared to lie. There is a technique to it. You have to be clever about it. It's a bit more challenging to play the Templars when you are new to the game, but once you grasp the logic and the tactics the two sides should be quite balanced. This game will work with casual players in a party setting. Since the game is so short, players and easily swap in and out so everyone will have a chance to play drama queen.


Paul Owen said...

I have always been fascinated by hidden identity deduction games. I prefer Resistance to Werewolf, because I don't like player elimination. So I was very excited to pick up Templar Intrigue when it Kickstarted, although I haven't had a big enough group together to play it yet.

From your account, I'm a little worried that the game may be half-broken. If the Templar Traitor exposes the Grandmaster at the start of every game, the King can focus his inquisitions on those two people immediately. That means that the Archivist must be very careful so as not to reveal his identity, which essentially means he will be bound to tell the truth most of the time. My fear is that in a game of skilled players, the King will easily determine the Grandmaster but will have to guess as to the Archivist. But perhaps, as you say, skilled liars among the Templars can convolute the logic sufficiently to redirect the King. And I know some skilled liars...

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Indeed I think the key is that the Templar players need to beat the traitors to volunteer false accusations. Or at least do it at the same time so that the king will get confused. I have read comments that in 10 player games where you have two traitors, it will be tough for the Templars.

When my friends and I played, we discussed whether the game may be biased (aahh... the things gamers do...), but we were not able to reach a definite conclusion. I'll be interested in what you think after you get a chance to try it.

Chen J. Y. said...

Hello Mr. Hiew,

I have been reading your blogs for quite a while and mostly enjoy your writing. As you have brought up a game in which lying is a major part, I would like to take the opportunity to ask you for your opinions about a dilemma.

I played card and board games with cousins, with a wide range of ages – some much younger than me (e.g. 3-7 yrs old), some up to 10 yrs older than me. A common problem, esp. with younger children, whether something simple like the UNO card game, or more complex stuff like the Dune boardgame, is the issue of lying, in one way or another. I must say that I myself (and I guess many young children) was brought up to be truthful. Yet, many games I have enjoyed, practically required you to lie, misled, hide the truth, e.t.c. to have any chance of winning.

Younger cousins tend to struggle with the idea of being normally truthful, and yet, must learn to lie convincingly in games. You will note sometimes, gamers of any age tend to take playing seriously, even if we say, "It is just a game.” Over time, my young cousins get better at games, and (this is important) start to question the role of lying in real-life. They start wondering if, and when is it OK to lie.

Older cousins tend to mock the idea that children should even be brought up to be truthful. They even argue that if anything else, children should learn how to lie and when is it OK to lie or not. They point out that, even in nature, lying is part and parcel of real-life. E.g.

(By the way, the "broken wing act" is pretty funny.)

Again, in sports like basketball, football, mixed martial arts, e.t.c, successful feints are not just approved but actually loudly celebrated. I admit I am at a loss at refuting my older cousins’ arguments.

Once, one of my elder uncles deadpanned that he lived through World War 2 by lying. Every child should be honest but also should learn to lie convincingly because one day, it will not just a matter of morals - it may be a matter of life and death for yourself, your family, your friends, etc.

To summarize, what are your opinions of lying in various games and real-life?

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

J. Y.,

This is one long and complex topic. :-) Let's start with lying in games.

My view is if the rules allow it, or the spirit of the game allows it, it's fine. Anything goes. The "spirit of the game" bit can be tricky, because that can depend on how the players interpret it. It's a social contract between the players. E.g. in an innocent game like Ticket To Ride I can lie that I don't have any red cards, and then on my next turn I use my red cards to block one very crucial path for my opponent, which he would have protected had I not lied to him. The rules don't say you can't lie. If playing in a casual / family setting, such lying is bad form. If playing in a competitive atmosphere, then the players should be aligned that this may happen. I think what is important is to be aligned on expectations up front. If you play Diplomacy, expect betrayals and getting ganged up on. If you play Chicken Cha Cha Cha with nephews and nieces, don't trick them into flipping a wrong tile! Now this is not about cheating, e.g. peeking at cards, manipulating dice, stealing money. Cheating is definitely out for me, unless the game explicitly allows it (I think there are such games, but not many).

In life, my personal policy is not to lie. Humans live in communities, and communities are built on trust. Well, at least I want to live in one which is. If lying / cheating becomes a habit, you lose trust, you lose friends, and you distance yourself from family and friends. You won't build meaningful relationships. Trust when broken is hard to mend. Also, I find it easier to not have to lie. It's just too troublesome to keep track of lies and to try to stay consistent. I can imagine many situations where one needs to or should lie. I can also imagine jobs where people tend to lie. In my view, usually lying is a short-sighted solution to avoid punishment or to get away with not doing one's responsibility properly. In the long-term, when people start to distrust you, or see through your lies, it's bad for you. You lose credibility. You lose reputation. Maybe I'm a little naive. That is my world view. I grew up in Sabah, Malaysia, and I now live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Things may be very different for another person from another place or another time.

When educating children, I think it's wrong to explicitly teach them to lie. Lying can be easily abused and misused by children. We should emphasise teaching them values like empathy, good manners, sacrifice for others. In some situations when we need to lie for a good reason, we do so. E.g. a very ill child asks you whether she looks ugly. It is the values and the reason behind the lying which are more important to teach to children, not the techniques in lying themselves. I think for lying techniques they can learn from day-to-day experiences. No need to encourage lying explicitly and teach it as a core value or core skill.

Chen J. Y. said...

I rather like the idea "It is the values and the reason behind the lying which are more important to teach to children". Food for thought. Thanks for your reply!