Review – Spy Alley

When I wrote about Fallcon a few months back, I had mentioned that my friend Sarah and I were at the event’s annual auction. We were bidding on games that we could get for a very cheap price. So when Spy Alley came out onto the docket, both Sarah and I were bidding on this board game. We were outbidding each other to the point where we were the only two bidders left. Sarah backed down and I got it. But was it worth it?

 Spy Alley is a hidden identity logic game created by William Stephenson. You and your friends play as international spies from different countries. To win the game,  players must obtain a set of four of their own country’s items: a password, a code book, a disguise, and a set of keys before heading to their embassy in Spy Alley. A player can also eliminate his or her opponent  if they can correctly identify which country their opponents are secretly working for, but will be eliminated themselves if they guess incorrectly. Any player can get any country’s items as well as their own. Strategically, this means that players can fool their opponents by getting these other items.

Gameplay is fairly simple. Roll the die and move the number of spaces indicated on the die then perform the action on the spaces. These actions include purchasing items, getting special move cards, which allow you to move a certain number of spaces without rolling the die, getting free gifts, stealing an opponent’s items, or getting an opportunity to guess an opponent’s identity for free under the condition that the player is in Spy Alley.

 Now when the Friday Night Gamers played this game, I felt that the early stages were a bit slow. This is the problem with many games that feature a board where players move on a circular track (I’M TALKING TO YOU MONOPOLY!!) Players now have to rely on die rolls in order to obtain certain items, and it took what felt like an eternity getting things that you needed. It was slowed down even more so by the fact that you wanted to divert attention away from your own identity.

The game began to pick up in the late stages, when players finally had enough information to make accusations. Once people made those accusations, whether or not they were true, it gave players more intel about the identities of each player. Also, a player’s actions gave more of an indication of what their identities would be. For example, if you saw a player using a card to get to the Russian Password space, there may be a good chance that the player is the Russian spy since they’re purposefully wanting to get there. On the flip side, this also allows players to become highly deceptive. Players could be obtaining items that diverted away from their own identity, making it more difficult for their opponents to establish who they are.

 When I evaluate this game, I’m comparing them to the many other hidden identity games out there. Spy Alley, although has some creative elements in deceiving and manipulating players, is not at the caliber of other hidden identity games. The game takes too long in establishing any information about different players. It’s only when players make accusations that the game gets interesting, but this can only be done for free if players are entering Spy Alley. There seems to be no motivation to go to this area until players are fully certain they can win the game. In addition, there is nothing protecting players from blind guesses. You could potentially be eliminated by an opponent who has no information about you. The whole point of any hidden identity game is to use the clues that players are providing both deliberately and subconciously, and make a judgement about who they are. It would annoy me if I was eliminated due to a blind guess.

At the end of the day, this game wasn’t one of my best purchases. There are many other hidden identity games out there that you can choose from that offer a lot more excitement than Spy Alley. Although you are using your wits to identify which spies your opponents are, it’s clouded much by the fact that you have to rely on die rolls to obtain the items, making deception even more difficult when you have very little control in where you land. And the boredom of playing this game prevents conversations from happening, which is vital to the game’s success.

I guess I can look at it in a positive way. I helped Sarah avoid a game that would take up space in her collection. I’ll admit though,  I should have put the paddle down sooner.

Pros: 

– Due to its simplistic nature, this game is great for younger kids who need a way to kill time.

– Accusations become more interesting in the later stages of the game.

Cons: 

– Landing on key spaces becomes difficult when relying on die rolls and this frustration is compounded when moving on a circular track.

– It looks like the components were created with a lack of effort.

– Game lacks any way of encouraging conversations with people, which is essential in hidden identity games.

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