The Resistance is a beautifully designed game that mixes probability and social interaction while being exceedingly simple. This is also Al's favorite game, so I'm going to try and ruin it.
For those of you that haven't played it before, go out and try it. It's awesome. In short, players take turns being the leader. Each leader chooses a team to go on a mission. All the players vote to accept or reject the selected group. If the vote passes, each player secretly chooses to pass or fail the mission. A single fail causes the mission as a whole to fail. If three missions pass, the Resistance (who form the majority) win the game. If three missions fail, then the Spies (who are an informed minority) win.
When talking about games, many people like to dissect them based on "Skill vs. Luck". While luck can certainly be a deciding factor in many games, a player's ability to minimize or play around "bad luck" is a skill in and of itself. Because of that, I prefer to look at games through a different lens: Math vs. Psychology vs Yomi. When talking about social deduction games in general, and Resistance specifically, it is especially important to understand the difference between the three.
“Math” (with the capital M) refers exclusively to the framework and rules within the game itself, isolated from the variables that humans bring to the game. I've also heard it called Logic, Game Theory, etc. This includes knowing which move/card/item is strongest, how they combine with other moves/cards/items, and other nuances of how the game functions.
- Knowing how to evaluate damage vs lifesteal vs penetration vs critical hit chance vs attack speed vs armor in a MOBA.
- Understanding how strong a card is in a vacuum or in combination with other cards in an environment in a TCG.
- Knowing the spacing, frame data, damage, and combos of a move in a fighting game.
"Psychology" (again, with a capital P) refers to the variables that humans introduce. It is important to note that this is “humans” in general, as opposed to “a specific human”. The generalizations and trends that most people bring with them belong in this category, and this is the head space you typically go to when you play a game with a stranger. It might be useful to consider Psychology as the rules of thumb that people come to a game with, or the meta that currently exists.
- The "ADC + Support Bottom/ Mage mid/ 1 Jungler/ Sustaining Top Lane" meta in MOBAs.
- The belief that card advantage wins games in TCGs.
- The concept of Tier lists and "the meta" in any game, from Smash Brothers to Magic: The Gathering (though, admittedly, these tend to have their basis in Math).
Blindly following these without knowing why they exist will put you at a disadvantage against players who do understand them. The most obvious examples are people picking the "best character" or the "best deck" without understanding how it works or why it is the best: Picking Metaknight in Smash Brothers Brawl without knowing how to actually play him, or people struggling to pilot a legacy deck in Magic the Gathering.
If you follow the Psychology without understanding why, then you can't possibly understand when the correct play is to NOT follow it. Players who understand the Math better will know when to deviate from the Psychology, and are more likely to win because of it.
The true value of understanding the Psychology of a game comes from how it allows you to better predict what people will do. You'll know which decks you are more likely to face in a Magic tournament if you know the current meta. You'll know which characters to expect in a fighting tournament, and you'll know which characters people will pick specifically to counter your character. With this knowledge, you'll know to focus on the Math you need to win in that specific instance... You'll focus on how your deck/character interacts with the ones you are most likely to come up against, and (hopefully), you'll know how to deal with it.
That's focusing on the macro. If instead, we focus on the micro, you'll begin to anticipate specific moves, choices, cards, etc that your opponents are more likely to use. This begins to shift us into Yomi.
That’s Yomi. Where Psychology helps you to understand what people will generally do, Yomi is all about your ability to read and understand your one, singular opponent.
- Any bluffing game (Poker, BS, Coup).
- Knowing when an opponent will block vs attack.
- Figuring out which cup your opponent put the poison in.
While Yomi is interesting and incredibly useful, it is easy to over rate it. As we discussed earlier, the Psychology is built upon the Math... Tier lists are based on the Math behind how each character performs when played perfectly, Meta's spring up based on what works the best Mathematically. Yomi is built on Psychology in exactly the same way. You approach any game with a baseline created by the Psychology, and you note when and how your opponent deviates from it, and you try to determine why they deviate. This allows you to better understand them, their playstyle, and what they are going to choose.
Yomi is built on Psychology. Psychology is built on Math. Getting better at the Math will make you better at the Psychology, which will make you better at Yomi.
I bring this up because in Resistance, it is really, really easy to ignore the Math in favor of Psychology or Yomi. Don't get me wrong... there are a lot of occasions where that is exactly what you should do, but like I mentioned above, if you don't understand the Math, you can't understand why the Psychology is in place, and that means you can't understand when to break away from the Psychology.
Rock, Paper, Scissors
Rock, Paper, Scissors is a great example.
Most people start RPS at Yomi. They believe that there is no strategy (ie. no Psychology), since no matter what they pick, they are just as likely to win as they are to lose (ie... it is a zero sum game and thus no Math). So, it all comes down to reading their opponent. They are wrong.
Math: It is true that all 3 have the same odds of getting the same results (1 way to win, 1 way to lose, and 1 way to tie), but not all of the actions have the same probability to occur. Part of the Math includes counting down (the "3, 2, 1 Shoot"), and each time you count down, you slam Rock into your palm. According to the World Rock, Paper, Scissors Society, this leads to a slightly larger percentage of Rocks being thrown compared to the other choices. Knowing what to expect moves us into...
Psychology: We know people are more likely to throw Rock thanks to the Math, but looking at the Psychology, we are able to determine that Scissors is the second most likely, and Paper comes last. In some experiments, men threw 37% Rock, 33% Scissors, and 30% Paper. Why? Well, there are a few theories to explain why: Rock reflects strength and power to our lizard brain, Paper represents something weak and fragile, etc.
So, knowing that we are more likely to run into Rock than anything else, we should throw Paper!
Yomi: Did your friend read this article too? Do they happen to be a member of the World RPS Society? Then they are probably going to throw Paper. Using Yomi to read your opponent allows you to recognize that, in this case, you should throw Scissors. Unless they know that you know that they know… Then they will probably throw Scissors to catch you off guard, which means you should be throwing Rock instead, since they know that you know that they know that you know that they know….
Once you get to Yomi, the answer can only be found between you and your opponent...
So, how does all of this tie into The Resistance? Like RPS, most people approach The Resistance looking at Yomi first. The Resistance is unique in that it is one of the few games you can win with almost no understanding of the Math or the Psychology behind it. If you are very good at reading them, you can win simply by identifying the Spies through tells and their actions.
When you find yourself in a situation where the Spies are able to hide themselves, however, the game can become all but impossible to win. That is where understand the Math and the Psychology can give you the edge, and is why the best players will often rely more on those two than on Yomi.
The Spies also benefit greatly from understanding the Math and the Psychology. By using (or bending) the Math and Psychology to justify their actions, they can lead the rest of the group, clearing themselves of suspicion or ensuring that other Spies get on missions.
I hope I've helped to give you a new way to look at Skill. Join us next time when we dive in detail into The Resistance. We'll explore how you should organize missions, when Spies should fail, and more!