Review: Spyfall

spyfall_boxAt the end of last year, I suddenly heard a ton of buzz about a party game called Spyfall, by Alexandr Ushan. I found this strange for a couple of reasons. First, it’s very rare for a party game to be such a big deal among hobbyist board gamers. Second, it was published by Hobby World, and my initial two impressions of their games were middling (World of Tanks: Rush) and terrible (Berserk: War of the Realms). Despite that, Spyfall has now reached U.S. shores, thanks to Cryptozoic Entertainment (which was also a surprise). Does it live up to the hype? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine  the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

 

spyfallcardsComponents: The only things in the box are the rules, and over 200 cards, with about 30 corresponding plastic baggies. Playing the game involves taking one baggie of cards and dealing one out to each player, and there are no components otherwise (you need a timer of some sort, but just use your phone). I sort of like the fact that it comes in such a little box (the same size as recent two player games like Patchwork, Targi, Lost Cities), since it helps keep the MSRP down to $25, but on the other hand, I had every intention of sleeving the cards, but there’s no way they’ll all fit back in the box if I do that. I do have one large complaint about the components, and that’s the fact that there’s no list of locations for each person, which is a necessary part of the game. Beginners are going to catch spies just because they’re eyeing the rulebook to try and guess the location. After you’ve memorized most of them, it’s not so bad. I’ll probably print off reminder cards, but since this edition has extra locations, I’ll have to wait until someone makes a new set for this edition. This could have been easily solved just by having the backs of the cards have the location list instead of just saying “Spyfall”. That’s a huge oversight, but otherwise, the components are just fine.

 

Accessibility: Well, this is a party game, and it’s easily explained. A random deck is pulled out, one person is dealt a card that just says “Spy”, and everyone else is dealt the same location card – so everyone except the Spy knows where we are. Players take turns asking each other completely freeform questions, trying to suss out who the Spy is, while indicating that they know the location without giving it away. Each round lasts at most eight minutes, so it’s very easy to just play a few learning rounds. The rulebook has a convoluted scoring system that we don’t use and never will – it’s more fun to just play round after round, almost like how we never keep score in Telestrations. Our only point of confusion was when someone stops the clock to accuse, if the Spy can “interrupt” and make a guess if he thinks he’s about to be caught (we ruled you can’t, which I’m pretty sure is right). I don’t think it’s even unclear in the rules as much as it was one of our desperate Spies trying to sneak. This is perhaps one of the simplest games I’ve ever played in terms of rules – however, it does require some creativity to play well, and people who can’t think and respond quickly might have a hard time with it.

 

Depth: No other party game is this challenging! But it’s not a taxing, difficult kind of challenge – just one that requires cleverness and sneakiness, and it’s hilarious when someone messes up, so you never feel like the game is “difficult”. However, there are all kinds of strategic moves, both in how you ask questions (hint: “yes/no” questions are pointless), how you decide what to do as the Spy (I had a game where I was totally in the clear and made a bad guess when I think I could have stayed hidden), and much more. The closest is maybe Dixit, but this requires you think much more quickly. I’ll also mention that in terms of both theme and depth, you should absolutely use the roles on the cards. Sometimes we had players shifting between a made-up persona and thinking about their own real life experiences, which got confusing – but embracing the role on the card makes it more strategic, and also more thematic and fun.

 

Theme: This is actually somewhat role-playing, I suppose, or as close as I’ll get to it. In that sense, it’s highly thematic, although maybe a bit nonsensical that the spy doesn’t know where he is. And as mentioned above, embracing the roles also heightens the theme in the game greatly. I really enjoy the spoofy, cartoony artwork also, although a few of the cards are a little risque (but if that’s a problem, you can just remove those locations). The more I’ve played, the more a different kind of theme has developed: there’s been some hilarious meta-gaming as questions are reused in funny ways from round to round and game to game. I love it!

 

Fun: Despite my complaints about the components, this is easily one of the best party games – in fact, one of the best games – I’ve ever played. This is on the same level as classics like Telestrations, Time’s Up!, and Say Anything – and perhaps even past those. It took maybe an hour to go from me introducing the game to laughter-induced crying, more than once. I don’t know how long it will last, but for right now, if I want to play a party game, this is the one I pull out. I’m even tempted to bring it out over playing classic hobby strategy games, which is atypical for me. It’s just that good.

 

Spyfall is easily the best party game that’s come out in years, and right now is my pick for the best game of 2015.
Rating:

5star

5 out of 5

 

2 comments to Review: Spyfall

  • Bo

    Worth getting over just the web game? (for reference: http://spyfall.meteor.com)

    • Derek Thompson

      I played the game that way several times before release and it was still great, however, apart from the obvious part of wanting the designer to get paid, I think the physical game is better. You spend a lot of time on meteor staring at your phones, and you are missing a huge part of the fun of the game, which is eye contact. Staring people down, trying to suss people out, can often be as hilarious as the actual responses.

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