I’ve often likened Coup to that card game BS that I used to play as a kid. In BS, your goal is to lie about what cards you’re putting down with the goal of eliminating all of the cards in your hand. In Coup, your goal is sort of the opposite: to get rid of all of the cards in your opponents’ hand by murdering them outright or catching them in the act of lying. It’s a ruthless game that encourages lying and a bit of deduction that swirls about as you’re playing Coup. But the best part of the game is that it’s easy to get into for new and old gamers alike. So with that, here’s a video that will teach you how to play. If you’d prefer it in text form, read on below!
In Coup, every player starts out with 2 coins and 2 cards. The two cards represent your agents and your lifeline, so to speak. Lose both cards by getting them killed and you lose. After setting up, each person takes a turn by picking one action and performing it. The actions you can take depend on what cards you have. The card below actually summarizes the game and the available actions really really well.
First off, there are 3 actions that are available to all players. If you choose the “Income” action, you simply take 1 coin from the bank. Coins are pretty useful because it gets you closer to being able to kill people. However, every player can also choose the “Foreign Aid” action. Foreign Aid is substantially better than Income because it allows you to get 2 coins from the bank! Unfortunately, if any player has the Duke card, they can keep you from being able to perform the Foreign Aid action successfully by blocking you.
Finally, you can perform a Coup. When you Coup a player, you pay 7 coins back to the bank. The targeted player then has to flip one of his cards face up for all to see. The player can no longer perform actions associated with that card. There’s no way a player can defend against a Coup.
However, depending on the players’ cards, they can also perform actions specific to that card! As I mentioned earlier, if a player has the Duke card, they can prevent other players from taking the Foreign Aid action. On top of that, on the Duke player’s turn, they can take 3 coins from the bank instead of 1 or 2 coins! That’s a pretty powerful move.
Next up, you have the Captain. The Captain is a bit of a devious character in that he allows the Captain’s player to steal 2 coins from another player! That might seem pretty strong until you realize that there are two cards that can block the Captain from being able to steal those coins: other Captains and the Ambassador. So if someone is trying to steal from you, and you have a Captain and/or Ambassador, simply announce which one of the cards you have and add that they cannot steal from you.
Finally, you have the Ambassador. In addition to stopping the Captain’s thievery, the Ambassador allows you to look at the cards in the deck with the remaining cards. Simply declare you’re using the Ambassador’s skill and if no one challenges you, draw two cards. You may then choose to swap both of your current cards (if you’re at the full 2 lives) or just one of your cards (because you either have 1 facedown card left or because you simply want to swap just one card). If you make that swap, just announce that you’re doing so.
The two remaining cards are the Assassin and the Contessa. For the low low price of 3 coins, the Assassin will be able to kill any other player in a manner similar to the Coup action. However, that might not always be successful: if a player has the Contessa, the Contessa can foil the Assassin’s action. That’s all the Contessa can do, but it’s useful in a pinch. Note that when you use the Contessa’s ability, you don’t need to reveal the Contessa. Just saying you have a Contessa is all that’s needed.
So I’ve gone through the cards that other players might use to perform actions on their turn. Here’s the catch: you don’t necessarily need to have those cards to be able to perform those actions. Have an Assassin and a Captain in your hand but desperately need 3 coins? Pretend to be a Duke anyway by declaring that you’re a Duke and will help yourself to 3 coins! If no one calls your bluff to contest you? Great! You get 3 coins and keep them.
But get caught lying and you lose a life. Whenever a player performs an action related to the Duke, Captain, Ambassador, Assassin, and Contessa, any other player can challenge that action. A challenge might go something like, “I don’t believe you’re a Captain. Prove it!” Then, the player who declared they were a Captain must either reveal a Captain card or sigh because they were caught lying and choose an existing card in their hand to kill off. And if that was their last card, then they are out of the game. Lie prudently, and you may yet find success.