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I've played SOC several times but I've never actually been the traitor myself, so when I was, it came as a bit of a shock. I tried to think about strategy in the first several rounds while pretending to be perfectly loyal to give myself time to think. Ultimately, it came down to the big question of if and when I wanted to be revealed. Whenever I was loyal, we usually tried not to reveal the traitor until the final few rounds of the game to minimize their power. But what does this mean for for the traitor?

If I played completely loyally, doing everything possible to help the loyal knights for the entire gameI could earn black swords from the other players false accusations and my bonus 2 white swords to black at the end for being undiscovered. But this doesn't seem very traitor like as I'd just be another loyal knight who happened to flip black swords at the end. This seems somewhat like what a traitor might actually do.

If I made it blatantly clear that I was the traitor, literally doing everything possible to stop the knights before I was revealed (just moving around and never playing white cards, always choosing the progression of evil that would hurt them the most, etc.), the other players would choose not to reveal me toward the end because I would be able to do more damage when revealed. This seems like a good strategy, but its definitely the most boring for everyone.

If I took a middle path and tried to halt the knights quietly until the end, it would seem like I would most be following what the traitor is 'supposed' to do. But it also seems like the weakest strategy. Its very difficult to secretly stop the knights as they will be able to see all of the face down cards I play eventually, and if I do anything obvious the whole jig is up, they will choose not to reveal me to the end, and I'll end up going with the second strategy. It just seems like the traitor has virtually no options to plot quietly against the knights without revealing himself.

Which of these strategies is best in terms of stopping the loyal knights? Which tends to be best in terms of making the game fun? Is there anything important I'm overlooking about the abilities, choices, and overall power of the traitor?

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3 Answers 3

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Typically, being the traitor at Shadows is sort of like playing games where bluffing is involved. Success depends on you managing the table's personalities. Here are the rules I set for myself as traitor and I try to stick to them as much as possible:

Don't lie. This is the number one rule. (Technically speaking the rule should be "don't get caught lying", but I find personally that if I think that's the rule, I spend a lot of time worrying about whether a lie is worth making, whether I can get caught out, etc, etc, which drains away my ability to spend effort on actually playing the game to win as the traitor, so "don't lie" is easier, oddly enough, to follow and win.) The only question you're allowed to lie to (unless it's an official accusation) is speculation that you are the traitor. And you don't want that accusation to ever be made, so...

Refuse to engage in speculation and try, quietly, to defuse it. Don't fall into the trap of parties of speculation, or trying to "defend yourself by accusing someone else". This is a fool's game, because it puts the issue of accusation on the table as legitimate and once that's done, you're as good a target (better, in fact) than anyone else. Do everything you can to get people not to speculate about the traitor's identity or make accusations, which can lead to table management principles...

Be jovial and pleasant, almost carefree. Chit-chat. Encourage others to chit-chat. Be friendly, be funny; ask for the snacks, pass the snacks, enquire after others' desire for snacks, ask if anyone would like more snacks. In other words, as much as possible, try to put the other players in a friendly mental space where they're not thinking too much about the game other than the mechanical "optimal choices" they have to make on their turn, which leads to...

Encourage others to make "the best choice". Get the other players to avoid the conclusion that finding and accusing the right traitor is a wonderfully good thing for them to do; you can do this by focussing on optimal moves whenever possible. Whenever the discussion turns to strategy for an individual player turns, always encourage discussion about evaluating options that don't have to do with the traitor issue. This helps lull your fellow players into a mind-set that the game can be beaten without exposing the traitor, and that exposing the traitor isn't a legitimate strategic option to discuss. While this discussion is going on, try as hard as you can to not offer advice yourself: try to exclusively ask questions, and not answer questions (i.e. "What do you think we should do here?", "Do you think it's better to play a bunch of high cards here?", and so on). This makes you look like you're contributing, but relieves you of the burden of actually contributing to good choice making (and prevents you from being caught lying). Don't overdo it, because this can lead to being suspicious.

Make the others play your hand. This goes hand in hand with the previous point: rather than getting caught out making sub-optimal plays, as much as possible get the others to direct your play. Don't lie, but continually ask the others what they think you should do, how you should play your cards, and so on. You can't break the rules about card-talk, but you can set the others up to spending extra effort to think about playing your hand as well as theirs. Be very careful not to look purposefully dumb (especially if people know you're good at games) and be very careful not to lie (or get caught lying). But spend your thought-effort on figuring out how to damage the group's chances, and not on what the best play is for your own resources: your best play is always to strategically make it harder for the group to beat the game.)

When you have an opportunity to knife invisibly, be merciless. When occasions come up in the game where you can damage the group's chances, with not chance of being caught, do that. Quite often this comes up when you're allowed to examine action cards, defer action cards, re-arrange action cards (as long as you're sure no-one can notice this). Offering bad tactical advice is generally a bad idea (see "don't lie"), but putting the group in the position where they have to choose between a sort of bad thing, and a really bad thing (by quietly taking the good choice off the table) is awesome.

The game presents lots of opportunity for the traitor to submit the group to death by a thousand cuts, so do that every time you can. This makes it far easier for you to...

Stab overtly right at the end only when you're sure it makes you win. If you can make a masterstroke at the end that comes from lying or overt betrayal, do it, if you know the others can't avoid losing the game. This will be a LOT easier if you've submitted the group to the death of a thousand cuts policy: you want, as much as possible, to keep the game tense and tight at the end, because this means that even small choices you make can have correspondingly great effects. You want your masterstroke to be as small, quiet, and deadly as possible because you want to maximize your chances of not getting caught.

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Excellent answer. The only thing I'd add is "get the armor". Choosing one of two black cards is very very powerful. –  Neal Tibrewala May 22 '11 at 7:18

The best traitor players come across as "Loyal but inept"... just having bad runs of card draws. At the end of the game, holding onto all the 5's, for example.

Remember: all discards are face down... so if you have three 5's, spend them on a hit-point. Once the siege engines are out, alternate between them and the black cards.

Always play facedown black cards on Lance, the dragon, and the knight.

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Agreed. When you play with people you know, you have to be very careful not to appear more inept than they know you are (or are not). And you have to be careful not to declaim to be too unlucky, or be caught out in a lie (i.e. getting caught out making an obviously awful decision). Breaking up card sets by using them in ways that can't be easily verified (especially discarding them) is an excellent suggestion. –  Viktor Haag May 2 '11 at 13:08

First, let's keep in mind the losing conditions for the loyal knights, as well as a few facts. Loyal knights lose if:

1) there are 7 black swords at the round table. Keep in mind that 1 white sword becomes a black sword from a false accusation. 2 white swords convert to 2 black swords if you can remain unidentified as the traitor when a "victory" condition is met.

2) there are 12 siege engines surrounding Camelot. This gets very difficult to avoid when the Grail, Excalibur and Dragon quests are complete since those cards now mean add a siege engine. "Perhaps it wasn't such a good idea for the loyal knights to win that quest so quickly..."

3) all of the loyal knights lose all of their life points. This is practically impossible. I do not suspect there is any way to build a strategy around this losing condition. Just make sure that you do not die off, because if you do, you cannot do your Progressions of Evil and steal white cards.

4) The only way they win is if the majority of the (at least) 12 swords at the round table are white. If you remain hidden at this point, they will still win if they have 12 swords, 9 of which are white, or 13 (or more) swords, 8 of which are white. So the best thing for the loyal knights would be to win a bunch of quests as close to simultaneously as possible giving them one of the sword ratios above. This would give the traitor very little time to make false accusations and turn white swords to blacks, and not enough cards draws from completed quests to add more siege engines. Better for you (the traitor) is that they win Grail or Excalibur early on. Then you have a basis for strategy # 5 below and if you get called out, strategy # 4 should be easy.

My hints for good traitorous play:

1) Find ways to dump your good cards. It always seems suspicious when the cards have been shuffled but the Heroism card hasn't been used yet and there have been several quests that have been won. That is because you (the traitor) dumped it into the lake at the Excalibur quest, or discarded it as your white card penalty instead of losing a life point. The Merlin's Company expansion seems to have powers for the new knights that make this very easy. Warning: don't be too obvious and eager about opportunities to "dump" cards in this manner. "I'll dump three cards so you guys don't have to" makes you suspicious. Keep in mind that all discards (Excalibur quest, penalties from special black cards, and knight powers) must be done face down so the loyal knights cannot see that you just dumped your Reinforcements card, for example.

2) Notice how you play when you are not the traitor.
If your play (behavior/mannerisms) is similar/identical to how you play when you are loyal, it makes it more difficult to spot you doing something devious. Ex: I generally always make my first few Progressions of Evil as losing a life point in order to delay having to play black cards or place siege engines. If I started a game out and did not ever lose life points, the other players would suspect something right away.

3) Don't be a moron. Other players will know that you knew better. Ex: Fighting a siege engine with only 4 fight strength. "Well I thought I had a 50/50 chance." isn't going to cut it. Nobody is that desperate, and furthermore, that's only a 3/8 probability of winning (because you lose on ties). Likewise, travelling to the Grail quest with only 2 grail cards is not very smart. Travelling at all without the proper counters to the Travel Cards (Merlin's Company expansion) is also not smart. You fellow players will sniff you out really quickly if you try something so foolhardy. Remember, you are trying to remain hidden until they think they have won so you can switch 2 whites swords.

4) Expose the traitor early. An alternate way to play the traitor is to get out early on. It seems reasonable that you get exposed early in the game, to maximize the damage that can be done by your white card stealing, and minimize the "good" that you have to do while you are still loyal. This may only work once per playing group, but if you can convince them to ferret out the traitor early on, say, before you have even earned 1 white sword, they will waste many Heroic Actions with their accusations to expose you. You also, can waste your Heroic Actions making what you know is a false accusation, wasting some of your turns. In order to do this, there needs to be 6 siege engines out. Once you are exposed, you only need to get 6 more down to win, all the while you can be stealing their cards making it hard to them to finish quests (or even start one) or fight off the siege engines.

5) Falsely Accuse. Tip #4 above is great, but won't work very often when they see how devastating it can be to expose the traitor too early on. Wait till there are 2-3 white swords in play (and preferably 2-3 black swords as well), then start making some false accusations. This will convert the whites to blacks. Once you have 7, you win. This may force them to expose you sooner than they wanted since you keep turning all of their white swords.

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Note: Each knight may only accuse ONCE in the whole game, you can't make more than one false accusation, and normally this will get you accused straight back. –  Nick Jul 24 '12 at 12:54
    
Also note that the dragon quest repeats, it doesn't become siege engines. –  xorsyst Feb 13 at 11:33

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