Playing Avalon on Zoom

How a virtual board game keeps us connected during quarantine
Sept 2020
Bright
Y.
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Many of us feel lonely during quarantine times, especially international students who are now outside the US, such as myself. To stay mentally healthy through this pandemic, it’s important to stay connected with friends back at MIT. So recently, we reconstructed a favorite Friday-night ritual of ours -- playing the board game Avalon -- on Zoom.

The Resistance: Avalon is a hidden role and social deduction board game similar to Werewolf or Mafia. A group of friends are randomly assigned roles on two opposing sides and must interact with each other to find out who their true friends and foes are. 

On a Friday night, I joined the Zoom call with six other friends to try playing Avalon online. Using a built-in Avalon plugin for the popular messaging app WeChat, we each got assigned a hidden role that only we know. 

I am Merlin: the most powerful character of King Arthur’s (Good) side, with a clairvoyance that enables me to sense exactly who the Evil characters are. 

However, I must take caution in conveying this information to other Good players -- my friends Ben, Sophia, and Jiang -- because (1) they may not trust that I really am Merlin and, more importantly, (2) there is an Assassin on the Evil side (played by one of my Evil-side friends, Bowen, Yang, and Rui) who could assassinate me and thus triumph over the Good side if they figured out that I am indeed Merlin. So I must pretend to be clueless while stealthily steering my Good team in the right direction, and I must do this on Zoom -- without the ability to even make eye contact with anyone! 

The game begins. We each take turns proposing a team to retrieve the Holy Grail. If any Evil players sneak into the team, they can choose to sabotage the Grail mission. The Good team wins by deceiving the assassin and successfully completing three missions, while the Evil team wins by sabotaging three missions -- whichever happens first. 

Sophia proposes first. Her role is likely a clueless member of our Good side; starting with no information, she unknowingly chooses Yang -- an Evil player -- as her teammate on the mission. My heart sinks a little. We now go around discussing the choice. 

We know each other well, all of us friends and veterans of the game. Nobody speaks too much: it’s only the first round. Someone suggests that we vote down this team, since it’s only the first round and we get 5 chances to propose teams. I blend into the discussion and casually agree in order to avoid an Evil-infiltrated mission. To my relief, this and a few subsequent team proposals get voted down. 

I am careful not to always vote correctly on teams. I know that the 3 Evil players are looking for clues that I know more than I let on. 

Suddenly, Ben performs his signature move of distraction. He lets out a huge burst of laughter in the middle of our discussion, derailing it and puzzling both sides. 

Bowen, likely playing Morgana (leader of the Evil side), stutters a little when explaining a questionable voting record. 

Chance! I pounce, subtly passing my confusion about Bowen’s line of reasoning to the group. Sophia, my teammate, picks up something from my peculiarly confident tone. She declares her suspicion that Bowen’s on the evil team. 

Bingo. I just convinced one of my three Good teammates. But Ben and Jiang still aren’t sure. Crucially, one of them is probably Percival, the knight on the Good team who knows that Merlin (leader of Good) and Morgana (leader of Evil) are Bowen and myself -- but doesn’t know which of us is which character. I must convince Percival that I am in fact the undercovered Merlin, and that Bowen is Evil’s Morgana.

This is all made harder on Zoom, where the Good team lacks crucial discerning information like body language and posture. Yet, after a few rounds of questionable logic by Yang (Evil player), the tides are turning. 

We’ve failed two out of three missions so far; we must form every remaining team with only Good players. Yet, Rui -- the most unpredictable and convincing player on the Evil side -- remains unsuspected. 

I sweat a little: the fourth round is do-or-die. But Jiang (Good player) seems to have been successfully framed by the Evil team. I step in, and quietly vote my support for him. Did that do it?

Yes. At last, Sophia’s convincing performance sways the tides. She convinces Ben and Jiang that we are the Good side. Rui seems to believe that she is Merlin. He reveals his card: he is the assassin. And he chooses, incorrectly, to assassinate Sophia instead of me. 

 I, Merlin, survive. The Good team wins. And the Zoom call erupts in emotions. The Evil team is in disbelief, but they go on to congratulate us for a well-played game.

The clock strikes 12; the game has taken us the better part of two hours. We catch up a little. Having finished the difficult game of deceiving each other virtually, we find the genuine discussions that follow as smooth as if we were right next to each other. 

After the Zoom call ends, we crawl back into our socially-distanced shells with renewed energy. 

 

(To protect their privacy, some names of players appearing in this blog have been replaced with pseudonyms.)