Review: Spyfall

A few days ago I was at a restaurant celebrating a friend’s birthday party. A friend of mine, Jerome, asked me if there were any new board games out. I had told them that I recently was intrigued in a game called “Spyfall”. Another friend of mine, Saparco (I call him that because his name is my name too), elatedly said that he heard of the game and that it was available as an online applet, so we all grabbed our phones and tried it out. I guess the game was popular because the website had built a second server, since the first one  was lagging due to the overwhelming volume playing the game.

After playing that night, I really wanted the card version of this game for two reasons: (1) The artwork to the game looked pretty cool and (2) I don’t want to deal with the lagginess and glitchyness of the online version (unless this reason was due to the fact that I’m using my old iPhone 4, and Android users, don’t assume that this is ammunition for your cause). So after visiting my parents (because I do that every Sunday), I went to “Imaginary Wars” in south Calgary and picked up Spyfall. I am going to review the card game version that I picked up, even though I only played the digital versions. It’s exactly the same thing, and if you want the links, skip my review and scroll all the way down.

The card gamSpyfall 1e Spyfall was created by Alexander Ushan, and was developed by Hobby World. It is a hidden identity game. The premise is simple, identify which among your group of agents is the spy before the spy figures out your secret location. The rulebook says it best: “Observation, concentration, nonchalance, and cunning – you’ll need all of them in this game.”

The game contains thirty unique decks of eight cards each. The game also comes with thirty individual baggies to put these decks in. It does take a bit of time to put the cards in their own ziploc bags. I actually found it entertaining to try to find the spy somewhere in the image. The artists, Uildrim and Sergey Dulin did a really good job in creating the artwork for this game.

Setup for this game is really simple too; randomly select one of the thirty baggies in the box, making sure that no one sees the location. Then draw the number of cards equal to the number of players in the game, ensuring that the spy card is in this pile. Shuffle those cards and then deal one out for each player. On the card, each player either obtained a location card or the spy card. The location card has the name of the location as well as a role. The role is only used to make the game more interesting. The spy card just says “spy”.

Once the cards are dealt, the interrogations begin. You predetermine a set time for the round, usually eight minutes. In that round, one random player will start by asking another player any question that relates to the location and the player will give a response. Then this player will ask another player, except the player who interrogated him last, a different question. Here’s the twist: remember that the spy is the only player who has no idea what the location is. From the agent’s standpoint, you have to ask questions and say answers that don’t give away the location easily, as well as figure out which people are on your side. From the spy’s standpoint, it is

Thirty decks, thirty baggies.
Thirty decks, thirty baggies.

pertinent to listen, observe, be vague and even lie to avoid being detected and to deduce where the agents are.

The round will end in a few ways. First, if the spy has gotten enough information from the questioning, the spy can immediately reveal themselves and say what the location is. If they’re right, they win the round. If they’re wrong, the agents win the round. Secondly,  the agents can form a unanimous consensus that a specific player is a spy. If they’re right, they win the round. If they’re wrong, the player reveals their card, and play continues. Finally if the predetermined time has elapsed, each player makes one final accusation of being a spy and the other players must vote as to whether or not they are. If there is no unanimous vote, the spy wins.

Now I’m going to be honest. I used to be a fan of hidden identity games. There’s a sick satisfaction I get knowing that I am able to manipulate what people are thinking when I am one of the defectors. I also find enjoyment when I’m able to deduce whether or not the people around me are liars. However, recently I noticed the same pattern over and over again with these games. You make an accusation based on little or no information, which spurs a tornado of finger pointing, banter, and the occasional swear or two (or four or five when playing with me.) And for some games, when you’re eliminated, you wait, which feels like hours, for the remaining players to pick each other off until an outcome is achieved (I’M TALKING TO YOU ALL VARIATIONS OF MAFIA AND WEREWOLF!!). And then you have that one friend who says, “That was fun, lets play it again,” in which you and your group does because that was the only game someone brought to a party or social gathering. And since you’ve lied in a previous game, your so-called friends have no hesitation in voting you out in the first round, regardless of your role is, for fear of how you can spin things off in the game.

Couldn't find the spy at first...but then...
Couldn’t find the spy at first…but then…

Sigh. I guess I have a bit of resentment towards hidden identity games.

Needless to say, I was skeptical at first when wanting to play Skyfall. But this social game had one element that other hidden identity games rarely have, a sophisticated way to obtain information by basing it on the actions of other people. In my opinion, it is this aspect that is key in determining the success of any hidden identity game. I played the spy once, and it was like playing a mental game of “Guess Who” in my mind. The list of all locations is available to all players, and in my mind, every time a question was asked, I can immediately cross off certain locations in my head. For example:

Saparco: Jerome, what animals are found at your location?
Jerome: Whales
Mr. A: (hmm.. it’s either the polar station, the beach, or the zoo).

And when they asked me questions I had to blatantly lie:

Saparco: Mr. A, what colour to predominately see outside?
Mr. A: Well… I think it’s pretty bright, so I say I see a lot of blue right now.
(Everybody nods in agreement)
Mr. A: (Phew…that was close, and now I have more info)

The biggest positive of this game is its ability to make conversation. It’s an amazing social game in which talk is sparked by the answers to the questions. People said “hm” often, and I wasn’t sure if it was because I had answered the questions right, or they were on to me. And when the roles were revealed, players were going back to their list of questions and wondering about the reasoning behind the answers, especially when their accusations were wrong, generating even more after-play discussion. Definitely this is a game you want to have ready if you want to break the ice with a group of people you don’t know, or if you are introducing tabletop gaming to a group of people for the first time. And due to its simple set-up, this game shows promise of high replayability.

This game however, is specifically designed for a large group of people who are, in fact, willing to talk. I’ve tried to play social games with a group of shy and quiet people before. If you introduce this type of game to them, I anticipate a lot of one word answers, and a lack of willingness to play their roles, which means that this game won’t get a lot of play time. Also, due to the game being based on talking and conversation, this game is also recommended for groups bigger than three or four. The game is still good with three or four people, but the experience is enhanced when your incorporate more players in the game.

I can’t say a lot of bad things about this game though and I’m saying this as a skeptic of hidden identity games. This game was a lot of fun and I’m always a fan of games that generate expression and gab at social events. Now before I end this post, I had mentioned at the beginning that I played an online version of this game with a group of friends using cell phones. Below are two links to Spyfall:

http://spyfall.meteor.com/ (This version is what we played with at the restaurant. This version is a little slower, but allows you to play with more than the standard number of players, and each player can use their own device)

http://spyfall.adrianocola.com/ (This version I just stumbled on. This version is based on the card game. It has limitations on the number of players, but you only need one device. AND the coolest part, you can customize your own locations!)

If you are wanting a test drive of this game, or you’re super cheap, and don’t want to go out of the way in buying this game, simply click one of the links and you get same enjoyment as if you had obtained the card game.

Pros:

  • Amazing social hidden identity game, which doesn’t make you feel like hating on someone at the end of it.
  • Cool artwork in the card game version of it.
  • Simple rules and easy set-up. Great for gamers who are new to table-top gaming or veterans who want a good mind manipulation game.
  • Free versions online!

Cons:

  • Not good for those groups of friends who can’t or won’t talk. Conversation is key in this game.
  • The ziploc bags drawing of cards is a little primitive.
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