Long post incoming
First, let me just say that we need to learn how to play with neutrals. By neutrals, I don't mean village- or elim-aligned neutrals. I mean true neutrals. The kind who can help anyone and still win. Aman was the only villager vocal about a pro-neutral strategy from the beginning of the game. All the other villagers were content to either ignore us or antagonize us by wanting to control us because they refused to even attempt to work civilly with us. Both of these are terrible neutral strategies. Really. They're bad. Why are they bad? Let me count the ways.
Just because someone doesn't share your alignment doesn't mean you can't work with them. Especially if their alignment is neutral. And keep in mind: working with someone does not mean that you trust them. Paranoia is healthy in these games. Well, to a certain degree, but I digress. The point is that just because you are ignoring them doesn't mean your opponent is ignoring them, and if you ignore them and your opponent doesn't, the neutrals will end up helping your opponent. Not because they don't want to help you, but because they don't know how to help you because you're ignoring them! From their perspective, it's like they don't even exist to you. How are they supposed to help someone who acts like they don't exist? And why would they feel the compunction to help you either?
Nobody likes to feel controlled. When you antagonize someone, if they have a chance to work against you without you learning about it, they'll jump on it. Without hesitation, usually. Therefore, antagonizing neutrals is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The very act of trying to control them because you refuse to work with them without exerting power over them makes them more likely to help your enemy because now they're just pissed at you. Not exactly ideal.
So, what happened this game?
Well, early-game, we obviously wanted to be in contact with both sides, so we knew how to help both sides. Making deals and what-not. The elims took a bit to reach out to us, though, and when they did, they really sent the wrong person to do it. I mentioned this already, but Yitzi wanted leverage (aka blackmail) over the neutrals they worked with. So...control. Given the anti-neutral sentiment in the thread, we were fairly on edge already. And we were already thinking that Rand was evil (which was wrong, obviously), and now with another anti-neutral admitting to being an eliminator, it sure looked to us like the eliminators were taking an anti-neutral stance in the thread to antagonize the neutrals against the village and make us more likely to help the eliminators.
This actually isn't a bad plan, assuming the neutrals don't realize what's going on. And if they're the type of players to cave to leverage. Unfortunately, this particular group of neutrals was definitely not the type of players you approach and try to get leverage on. Joe, Orlok, El, and I do not respond well to blackmail (and I think everyone knows that you shouldn't try to blackmail Stink ). Indeed, our reaction to Yitzi reaching out to us and the belief that Rand was evil was that we didn't really have any desire to help a Rand/Yitzi team. We wanted them dead, and fast. Orlok and I decided that even if it meant we lost, we wanted to make a point that antagonizing neutrals was not the way to do things.
We approached Aman and Rae and briefed them on what was going, asking if they wanted to know the name of the eliminator trying to get leverage over us. Aman was hesitant, but ultimately told us to tell him, because allowing players to control other players isn't cool. He'd already expressed suspicion of Yitzi, and was able to play off his knowledge as just that suspicion growing. Sorry, eliminators, for giving up Yitzi. Really.
Then both Rand and Aman died the following night. This was unfortunate for three reasons: one, Aman was going to be the driving force for a Joe lynch in exchange for El protecting Rae that same night, two: Aman was the most vocal pro-neutral villager in a game filled with anti-neutral villagers, and three: Rand wasn't evil. Oops.
But surely Len is. He's also been anti-neutral, and the original N1 kill on Ecth doesn't make sense, unless Len is evil and remembers the last time they were on opposite teams, when he had to drop out of the game because he'd seen Ecth in the evil doc. Very meta. Also very wrong. Sorry, Len.
It was at this point in time that the neutrals went quiet. I don't really know why the others did but for me, I just kind of lost all motivation to be involved. PMs stopped going up nightly, so I didn't have that connection to the other neutrals, and the only anti-neutral player alive was Drake and it was obvious that he was village. Everyone else was content to just ignore us. No one tried to engage us in the game. And the game started to falter and drag, until Joe finally came in and voted on himself in an attempt to drive discussion.
And this is where things really shifted for me. Obviously the village didn't know that we'd given up Yitzi, but multiple villagers had commented up to that point that I at least had been a very pro-village neutral. Which was true. Yet now the village is suddenly very anti-me. Heaven forbid I try to get my win con when I've tried to help the village and now the remaining villagers refuse to help me win unless I help them more. Some people said that a mislynch would be terrible for the village, and while that was true, we'd suggested a Joe lynch earlier in the game, but it was shot down because everyone wanted information lynches (which all turned out to be mislynches, mind you). So am I just supposed to lose because the village wants to handle their own mislynches on villagers? I think not. Also, most of the village was saying "We've only lynched one eliminator so far; we can't lynch someone we know isn't an eliminator! Help us find another couple eliminators and then we'll help you lynch Joe!" and you have no idea how close I came to being like "Guess what? The only reason you've even lynched a single eliminator is because of me." But that wasn't the deal we'd made with Aman, and it undoubtedly would've ticked the elims off and probably would've resulted in Orlok dying in the night, so I showed some restraint. So Orlok dealt with that.
That said, I did understand that the living villagers had no reason to just accept our word for the help we'd already given the village, which is why I hinted at some more information I could give the village in exchange for that lynch, since the counterlynch to Joe was the original N1 kill before the switch. I figured that information would not only help with Joe's initial point - driving discussion in an attempt to get a different lynch - but would also get the village behind the Joe lynch. But no one caught that offer.
Araris contacted me N6 when PMs came back up, asking me to vote for Flash D8. I agreed. Not only had I given my word, but I'd had a feeling Araris was evil, and I liked the idea of working with him. I mentioned this PM and subsequent request to Orlok and El, and while we discussed this, I realized that I had no desire to help the village now (sorry, Rae and Aman. Especially Aman). While some of them kind of helped with the Joe lynch, they'd made it extremely difficult and despite the outcry against that lynch, no one really talked about other suspicions. It was all just "We can't lynch Joe!" So it didn't really feel like they were even trying to solve the game.
The next day, I mentioned the information offer from the day before, and finally Flash caught it and started asking about. But it was a little late. By the time I saw his question, 3 hours after he'd asked it, it was 4-5 hours before the end of the cycle. I didn't want to screw with the mislynch that turn because that's just mean, so I looked at the votes and who they were from. 6 votes and I was pretty certain 4 of them wouldn't be online before rollover to change it. So I revealed the info about N1 and Ecth, partly to kind of troll the village just a bit.
Araris contacted Orlok the next night with his "blackmail" PM, but Orlok had given permission for it, as it was the only way to get out of the agreement he'd made with Seonid. And then PMs went down once again for D8. The day I'm supposed to vote for Flash.
Problem: Flash was gunning for Araris. While Araris had assured me they had control of the lynch, I know they had to be feeling a little bit of pressure, and then I had a brilliant idea: confessing that the eliminators called me debt in and then voting for Araris, making it seem like the eliminators asked me to vote for Araris, and therefore, Araris is village. I actually soundboarded it off Aonar, because I wasn't sure I should actually do it. I knew it would liven things up and would at least cause Flash to second guess himself heavily, which is all ultimately why I did it. I wanted a good last cycle, and trolling Flash would be hilarious for me (sorry). So I did it.
I was genuinely worried too, because PMs are down and therefore, the eliminators have no idea what's going on in my head. Nor do the other active neutrals. But I was more worried about the eliminators. I basically realized that I was betting heavily on Araris knowing that I wouldn't go back on my word. It doesn't look like he mentioned that in the doc, but he did know that I was trolling, which is the most important thing. And Stick, you played on that beautifully. Araris kind of hit the "Flash must be evil" bit a little too hard, but your responses had me dying. It was so funny. And then Orlok and El joined in, and it was just great. I accused them of blatantly trolling, saying that I wasn't doing any such thing, which was true. I was subtly trolling.
Drake's post, though, was the cherry on top for me:
It's not bad logic. It just....assumes that I'm not acting of my own volition, which I was. Also, I was telling the truth. I never said they'd told me to vote for Araris. Not once. Go back and look. As for following the terms of the deal to the letter.....hm. I think so? Though it's "to the letter and plus some." Worth it, though, for a confusing finish. I'm content with that end.
A few final comments:
In glancing over the evil doc, I noticed that in my attempt to phish out Yitzi, I was 3 for 3 in contacting elims. For the villagers who don't know about this, Yitzi contacted Joe and wanted to know my role, and Joe PMed me asking permission to tell Yitzi. As I was writing the PM giving him permission, Yitzi PMed Joe, saying he wanted leverage, so Joe replied to me, saying that he'd changed his mind because he'd be Yitzi's leverage and he didn't want to be anyone's leverage. I understood, but I wanted to know who the eliminator was in contact with Joe. So I looked at who was online, knowing that that PM took place in the last 10 minutes. And I narrowed it down to three people: Yitzi, Stick and Arin. I'm fairly amused now...
First, I was neutral. I don't need to be obliged to do anything, certainly not for someone who was so pointlessly anti-my-alignment. If this were Aman, sure. Or even Rae. But none of the other villagers did a single thing to make me be obliged to do a single thing for them, least of all you. Oh, also: Yitzi. You're welcome, Rand.
Second, what you define as "optimal play" I define as "suboptimal" because in the grand scheme of things, true optimal play would change the metagame enough that it would be toxic for 17th Shard and this subforum would be promptly shut down. There are many forums where Win First Above All Else playstyles are the norm, and those who play to win can have uber amounts of fun. Forums that focus on casual and fun play where everyone can have fun regardless of if they are winning or not are far less common. Be careful what playstyles you promote as the "best ones" for people to use, because it has a larger effect than you might think. You're not the one who will have to go to the admins to shut the games down when they get too toxic. I am. I don't want to do that.