Radio Review #79 – Spyfall

 

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(2014 – Cryptozoic Games, Hobby World)

 

“Who you are….you are who, who you are….”

 

As the board game industry continues to thrive and expand, it seems we’re seeing more and more first-time designers entering the arena, whether it be through self-published Kickstarter campaigns or simply from the result of publishers producing more and more titles each year. In just my last few reviews I’ve covered, Isaac Childres’ Forge War and Christopher Chung’s Lanterns, both first-time designers. Today I’ll be taking a look at another title from a first-time designer with Alexandr Ushan’s Spyfall.

Spyfall is a party-style game between 3-8 players, in which players will question each other in an attempt to figure out which amongst them is the Spy. The player who is the Spy however, will attempt to figure out the current location they are in before hiss identity’s been compromised. There are 30 locations in the game, and each deck consists of 1 Spy card and up to 7 location cards (depending on the number of players in the game). A card is dealt to each player, and all players but one will receive the same location card that identifies the current location. The Spy however, will simply receive a card that says “Spy”, and therefore has no knowledge of the location.

When a Round begins, players will go back and forth, directly asking an opposing player a question about the current location. Players that know the location must be careful not to give an answer in a way that will reveal the location (say for instance a movie studio) to the Spy player, but should give a sufficient enough answer not to cause doubt from the other non-spies that he may be the Spy. The Spy on the other hand must listen carefully and attempt to learn where the location is, hopefully not making a fool of himself when he needs to answer a question.

The Spy wins the Round if he can correctly guess the current location amongst the 30 available, or if the other players are not able to identify him correctly after voting. The non-spy players win the Round if they can unanimously vote correctly on the player that is the Spy. Points are awarded accordingly and the player with the most points after an agreed upon number of Rounds at the beginning of the game, wins.

 

 

 

Components:

– Spy Cards

 

– Location cards

 

– Plastic bags

 

 

 

 

Setup:

As mentioned above, there are 30 different locations in Spyfall. These can vary from a Casino, to a Service Station, a Pirate Ship, or even an Airplane. Each location has a set of seven identical cards with a picture representing the location. A Spy card is added to each of these location sets so that each set will now have a total of 8 cards.
Each location deck (consisting of the seven location cards and a single spy card) is placed into separate plastic bags, so that the sets themselves can be shuffled at the beginning of the game. At the beginning of a Round, one of the players will shuffle the bagged location sets and randomly choose one of them. The cards for that location set are then removed from the bag and the player will shuffle a number of cards equal to the number of players in the game (making sure to include the Spy card), dealing a card to each player.

 

After each player has looked at their card, the Round can begin. All players who received a Location card not only know which location the Round is taking place in, but also that they are not the Spy. The player who received the Spy card has no knowledge of the current location.

 

 

 

Gameplay:

A player’s goal in a Round depends on if he’s the Spy or not. Players will ask general questions to each other during the Round, in regards to the current location. The Spy’s job is to listen and figure out the current location without giving away that he has no idea where he is. The non-spy players will attempt to ask these questions in a way that will let the other non-spies know that have knowledge of the current location while attempting to oust the Spy (who does not know), but they must be careful not to reveal too much information about their location when asking their questions, thus benefiting the Spy himself.

The player who dealt the cards out for the current Round will begin the questioning for that Round. In future Rounds, the player who was previously the Spy will deal the next Round’s cards. There is no real turn order during a Round. The current player simply chooses to ask another player a general question about the location, and that player must give an answer. The player that has answered will then choose to ask another player a question, and so on. Each Round will consist of 8 minutes, though this can be cut short if a player has found the Spy or if the Spy has figured out the Location. Let’s now take a look at an example of a Round:

All players have been dealt a card. Players A, B, C, and D find that they are non-spies since they have each received a location card showing a Pirate Ship. Player E has received the Spy card. Therefore he has no clue of the current location. His goal is to pretend that he knows where they are, while trying to figure it out before the non-spies can peg him as the Spy.

 

Player A starts the Round and decides to ask a question to Player B, “What did you have for lunch?”. Player B, knowing the current location but not wanting to give it up easily to the Spy replies, “Same thing I always have. Hard biscuits and beans.”

It is now Player B’s turn to ask a question. He chooses to ask a question to Player D, “Where do you think we’ll go today?”. Player D, also knowing they are on a Pirate Ship replies, “Oh, I don’t know. Somewhere with nice, cool sand and clear, blue water.”

Player D now decides to ask Player E a question. Remember, Player E is the Spy and has no idea where the current location is, but he now knows that lunch consisted for hard biscuits and beans, and Player D hopes they go to a beach today. Remembering all of the possible locations, he thinks his best guest would be on an airplane. The food’s usually not great and the employees for the airline get to travel all over the world. Player D asks, “What do you hate the most about this job?”. Player E, hoping his airplane theory is correct replies, “Probably the crying babies….”

 

As hilarious as his answer comes across, it may not totally out him as the Spy. I mean, I’m sure pirates hear crying babies all the time when looting another vessel. And so the Round continues.

Each Location card also contains a specific “role” that players can choose to use. This doesn’t add any strategic benefit to the Spy or non-spy players, but it is definitely the most entertaining way to play the game. For instance, taking a look at the above Pirate Ship location cards, you can see that there are possible roles of a Cabin Boy and a Shackled Prisoner. When a player answers a question presented to them, they will answer acting out the role represented on their current card.

 

 

 

End of Round/Game:

There are multiple ways a Round can end, the first of which is after eight minutes has passed. Once the eight minutes are up, a voting process commences starting with the player who dealt the cards at the beginning of the Round. Players will want to discuss and convince each other of who they may think the Spy is before voting. Starting with the current player, each player in turn order will vote on who they think the Spy is. If all non-spy players vote for the correct Spy, the Spy player loses, otherwise the Spy player wins the Round.

Each player has the ability to stop the game, once per Round and pick a Suspect who they think may be the Spy. Once a Suspect player is chosen, players can discuss their suspicions and all players but the suspect will vote in turn order. If all of these players vote “yes”, then the Round ends whether they were right or not. If at least one player votes “no”, then the Round continues.

Finally, if the Spy player feels that they have figured out the current location, they can stop the game at any point in the Round, reveal themselves as the Spy, and then consult the locations listed in the rulebook to guess the current location. If they are right, they win the Round, otherwise the non-spies win the Round. It’s important to note that the Spy can only perform this action before any other player has chosen to stop the Round and name a Suspect. Once a player has done this, the Spy loses his chance to guess the location.

 

– The Spy will earn 2 Victory Points when he wins the Round. He will score 2 bonus Victory Points if an innocent player is voted as the Spy, or if he correctly guesses the current location.

– Each non-spy will earn 1 Victory Point when they win the Round. They will score an additional Victory Point if they were the player that stopped the Round, named the correct Spy as a Suspect, and all players voted “yes”, outing the Spy.

 

After five Rounds are complete, the player with the most Victory Points has won the game.

 

 

 

Thoughts:

Spyfall is a wonderful little party game, consisting of a simple rule-set and open gameplay. As with most party games, the entertainment value hinges substantially on the group of people playing. However, Spyfall encourages creative thinking, deduction, and careful questioning to assist with the level of interaction between players.

There’s a neat balance in attempting to answer a question as a non-spy without giving the current location away. At the same time, coming up with a question that won’t reveal it can be even harder. Rounds usually end before the eight minutes are up, with either the Spy revealing himself and guessing the location, or the non-spies agreeing to vote on a particular player. It can become harder to get the 100% vote with a larger group of people, but it seems the game is at its best with that larger 6-8 player count. Acting out the roles are definitely encouraged and are a great additional element to the game. For instance, in our first game, we were located in a Bank and as a non-spy my role was a Robber. Therefore all of my answers were from the perspective of a robber. “What clothes do you wear to work?”….”All black. My entire wardrobe.” Now some that knew the location might find this suspicious, because why would I need a fully black-colored wardrobe? It throws an extra wrench into the game that I found quite fun.

Overall, Spyfall went quite well with my group, although we found the game more enjoyable when not using the rule’s scoring system. The clever question/answering mechanic and deduction elements tied to figuring out who the Spy was and who wasn’t far surpass any Victory Point system. My favorite party-style games are the ones that allow player’s personalities to shine the most. Minimal rules, but a wide range of open play and improvisation. Spyfall works perfectly in this regard, and with 30 locations, it includes a wide amount of replayability. One of the best party games to release this year.

 

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