Retooling COUP for two players

It is the future. And with the Resistance steadily gaining a foothold against the ruling forces, it is a time of much turmoil. Into that turmoil YOU step – head of a wealthy corp-family. If you can use your wits to cast off your rivals’ influence, you can rule it all when the dust finally settles.

Nothing says future like elaborate shoulderpads.
Nothing says future like elaborate shoulderpads.

Not quite war, but regardless – what is it good for?

COUP’s provenance lies in a long line of bluffing and social games: the sort full of hidden information and unstable alliances. What is particulary good about this design is that there is no need for one player to facilitate the game in the way that Mafia or Werewolf or any of their italian-lupine children require: there are no overt teams, which means that the game can play with as few as two. This is rare for a bluffing game, where normally you require more players to enable the bluffs.

What’s up?

Although even a five-player round of this game is quick, playing the game with two players is lightning-fast. Too fast to allow the meat of resource-progression.

A huge part of the game is the ability to lie about your influence and use the traits of characters you might hold. However, in a two-player game, being called on your bluff is tantamount to suicide. That in turn is likely to turn you away from bluffing – which should have been a big reason you’re playing this game.

What nobody knows is I've another assassin beside the lost one.
What nobody knows is I’ve another assassin beside the lost one.

How do I fix it?

My houserule for two- or three-player rounds of COUP is a simple fix. It doesn’t add any intellectual complexity, but it allows for greater tactical (and statistical) depth. Each player begins with three cards of influence. This also promotes the ability to bluff and call people on theirs: by removing the immediate death that can come from a false call, you are less wary of playing in that shadowy realm of mistrust.

Which is why you’re playing COUP over dice games in the first place.

Retooling COUP for two players

Service offered: Interactive Narrative Consultancy

This is something I’ve been doing off & on for a while, but realised it would be worth formalising the concept.

I would like to offer my services consulting on interactive & genre narratives.

“From experience, I can assure you that Sean has both a serious interest and a deep insight into game mechanics.”
Magnus Hedén of Spiritmask RPG

Whether you’ve got an RPG adventure you’re running or a ruleset you’re writing, whether you’re writing a horror novella or a sci-fi play, I could help you eke out the greatest narrative resonance from your story.

Who is this clown?

Well, I’m not actually a clown. But I am a magician.
That means I spend a lot of time thinking about what each audience might expect and how to achieve & manipulate that.
It means I’m used to thinking about objects & the interactions between them in different ways. No-one thinks about cards like a magician does.

I’m a writer: primarily speculative fiction, like cyberpunk or noir. I like building from and subverting genre expectations. I’ve written about the similarities between roleplaying and medieval oral culture.

I’m an interactive narrative & games designer, from building silly games to modules for published systems. I’ve consulted with mindreaders about card games for oracle cards, written specialist GM advice for indie behemoths and spoken on villainy & antagonism at a monthly videogames conference.

What can I do for you?

  • I can solve problems you have with interactive or static narratives.
  • I can help you understand the core conflict within your narrative.
  • I can highlight & clarify the emotions your game mechanics will promote.
  • I can simplify & refine unwieldy systems or stories.

What do I care about?

I like players & characters to have agency – the ability to visualise & enact narrative consequence.

I like brevity & clarity.

I like people to be social & to promote their ability to tell stories.

What is my fee?

I’m taking a leaf out of the book of someone I greatly admire. My standard initial consultation fee is the price of a cup of caffeine. Buy me a coffee & we’ll talk through your needs. If you envisage needing a longer conversation, you can buy me lunch. If you’re in a different country, we can do PayPal & Skype.

From there onwards, we can arrange further services according to your needs. But for many people, that little nugget of insight will be all you’ll need.

Email me today at SEAN at BOOKSEANSMITH dot CO dot UK & we can arrange a coffee.

What are people saying about this?

“Thanks for all of your advice, and your assistance. You’ve been a huge help, and it really helped me re-structure a lot of the rules, explanations, and organization of everything. Your feedback was invaluable.”
David Schirduan on Mythic Mortals

“I think these [ideas] are, no contest, the best feedback I could get from this project. Thanks :D” —Sangjun Park

Service offered: Interactive Narrative Consultancy

FARSKY MAPPERS: a free cardgame of space-time profiteering

This game came about as the product of having run out of battery on my phone and having no lapspace on the tube. Oh, and misremembering the rules to Hand Patience. I hope you like what it brought.

It is the future. Space-freight is a multi-zillion space-pound industry. But space-shipping mega-tonnes of space-materials & goods is a time-consuming business.

Until one space-day.

Using advanced scanning technology & a largely unexplained ability to fold space and create stable wormholes, the FARSKY MAPPERS reinvigorated the space-freight industry.

YOU are a FARSKY MAPPER. Armed only with a packet of cards, you must create the shortest routes through space to sell your services for the highest space-fee.


  • One pack of regular playing cards, without jokers
  • Not even any table space (you can play the whole thing in both hands, like a space-pilot)

Aim of the Game

Fold away (discard) as much of the pack as possible.

  • No cards remain? Perfect route! Top score!
  • Three cards remain? Strong map!
  • Eight plus cards remain? Um, see if you can sweep this beneath the space-carpet.

Playing the Game

It is possible to either play the game on a space-surface, in which case you should have a distinct pile for your stock, a pile for your folds and a fan or row for your route; or you can play between your space-hands, in which case you hold the stock face down in your left hand, pile your folds face up beneath these and fan your route on top of the stock.

  1. Shuffle the pack of cards.
  2. Turn up a card from the stock & add it to your route. Continue doing this until you are able to make a fold.
  3. Folding: if you add a card to your route that matches a value with a card behind (two 3s, two Js, &c.), you may fold space between them – remove all cards between these two & add them to the folds pile. If these cards also happen to match colour, you can also fold the matching cards away because of space-efficiency.
  4. You don’t have to fold space just because you can. However, you can only fold space between the top card of your route and cards behind them.
  5. Because everybody looks the same in space, you can treat court cards (J, Q, K) as the same value for the purpose of folding. To achieve space-efficiency, the cards should be identical value or identical suit.
  6. Continue building your route until you run out of cards from your stock.
FARSKY MAPPERS: a free cardgame of space-time profiteering


I’ve not said much recently on my longer term projects.

(As an aside, my novel is getting closer to completion. It’s not around 56k handwritten & I imagine it’ll bottom out at 70k. I’ve recently had to write the first proper realisation of the utter horror, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write. I had to go and sit down for a while afterwards.)

Recently I finally finished the rules for CLINGFILM NOIR – a hardboiled storytelling game that’s a mix between exquisite corpse & gamebooks.

Trouble didn't call anymore. Trouble just turned up on my doorstep and mooched off my cigarettes.
Trouble didn’t call anymore. Trouble just turned up on my doorstep and mooched off my cigarettes.

If you’re interested in a copy of CLINGFILM NOIR, throw an email to SEAN at BOOKSEANSMITH dot CO dot UK & I’ll get a copy back to you asap.

The other game I’ve on offer is in very early stages yet. It’s called ETHERED TAPE and is a game where you play either a BADASS OUTLAW WIZARD trying to escape the city or the STUFFY BUREACRATS set out to trap them. It’s based off of the old hunt game, Hare & Hounds (or the French Military Game), played on a grid of shuffled magical powers.

Hare & Hounds setup
Image taken from where full rules can be found for Hare & Hounds

I’m writing up the how-to-make-your-own set at the moment. If you’re interested in taking a look, please say so in the comments.


TROLL&GOBLINZ – an orcun drinking & gambling game

Sometimes I get odd little mechanics stuck in my head and they sit there a while until eventually coming to fruition. This summer just past, during a bout of frustrating insomnia, I finally locked together a few things and came up with a little dice game.

TROLL&GOBLINZ is written in collaboration with Buttgust, an orc. It’s a quick game for two or more players, where you bet on the outcome of a symbolic bout between a troll and two goblins. You’ll need to get a pair of four-sided dice and one eight-sided dice, but the game itself is completely free. Better than that, it’s been written by Buttgust himself and spares no detail.

If you want to play TROLL&GOBLINZ, you can download the PDF for free here.

You'll clearly just have to download a copy.
See, Buttgust is very polite

If you like the ideas behind that, you should really check out CON’S PRIAL. It’s a collection of three somewhat silly storytelling games with cards. The collection is three pounds for as many games – CONJURORS! where you play turn of the century magicians, CONSTITUENTS OF R’LYEH that combines the Cthulhu mythos with political machinations, and CONTEMPT FOR THE OGRE-POET that became a finalist in Game Chef 2014.

You can download CON’S PRIAL in PDF form immediately upon purchase.

Let me know what you think.

TROLL&GOBLINZ – an orcun drinking & gambling game

Three reasons you should play cards with a mindreader.

On Monday 13th October, I have another show at the Phoenix Artist Club. It’s called MIND GAMES*.

Would you play cards with a mindreader?

This is why you should.

Monday plans start the week right

Most people hate Mondays – but having a plan to do something that evening really takes the sting out of it. Your Monday will be more productive because of that: that’ll set up your most successful week this autumn.

You’ll learn some new games

If you’re anything like me, you burn through games fast. Things stop being fun when they’re no longer a challenge. I’ll teach you two brand new games you can play with your friends**!

I’m really excited for the finale

I haven’t been this excited about a card trick for about six years. And the last one made a guy run off.

MIND GAMES starts at eight on Monday 13th. It’s first come, first served on the door so you should buy online to guarantee your space. Tickets are £5.

* A title that everyone seems to be using at the moment.

** They will remain friends during at least one of those games.

Three reasons you should play cards with a mindreader.