So here’s an interesting game. Some people in my gaming group are getting a bit tired of consistently playing The Resistance: Avalon, so we’ve started looking for a bit lighter fare. Currently we’ve been playing One Night Ultimate Werewolf pretty regularly, but we’re also playing a ton of Spyfall. While it has a lot of the deception and bluffing of ONUW and Avalon, it also has some specific differences that make it a pretty great party game.
For some pre-Setup backstory, I think there are a bunch of … not-spies and one Spy? And you need to figure out which person among you is the Spy. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of flavor text to this, which is actually fine. Let’s move on.
So, you might notice that you have a literally preposterous number of cards and ziplock (apparently that’s the generic term) bags. Every bag will eventually have 7 location cards, like so:
And 1 Spy card, that looks like this:
These are your various locations. It’s important that nobody knows what location is chosen for a round, because that’s how you figure out who the spy is! So, try to keep the locations fairly secret. It helps if you put the Spy card on top of the stack, so the card back is visible on one side of the bag and the Spy card is visible on the other side. All the Spy cards are identical, so this will make all the bags look identical.
Don’t worry, though, there are a LOT of locations:
Anyways, shuffle together X location cards and 1 Spy (so that X + 1 equals the number of players you have) and deal each player one card face-down. That means someone will have the Spy card and everyone else has a location card. Now, put some time on the clock (I usually recommend 8 – 10 minutes to start). Don’t start the timer yet; we’ll get to that in Gameplay.
So, gameplay is pretty simple. The non-spies need to figure out who the Spy is, and the Spy needs to figure out the location. This is done by asking questions about the location to other players, and gauging how suspicious they are based on their answers / subsequent questions. Since the Spy card has no information on the card, they should have no idea what the location is. This presents an interesting problem: on one hand, you want to leak a bit of information so that other players know that you know the location; on the other hand, you don’t want to let the Spy know what the location is.
You might notice that your location cards also have a role in the bottom-left corner. They’re a character you can pretend to be when you’re at the location. It’s a bit difficult for your first couple games and I find that it tends to make people think you’re the Spy, but it might also be fun to try. For instance, on the Airplane you might be the Flight Attendant, or in the Restaurant you might be the Waiter. Things like that.
In any case, play continues by having the person who was just asked a question ask a different player a question (not the same player who just asked them a question, mind you) until the round ends. Each round can end in one of three ways:
- The Spy flips their card, revealing that they are a Spy. They then guess a location. If they are correct, the Spy wins. If not, the other players win.
- A player accuses a Spy, stopping the clock for an accusation phase. Basically, a player announces that they want to accuse another player (“I’d like to accuse Jason.”, for instance). The clock is stopped and nobody is allowed to discuss or say anything, and the Spy can’t flip their card. Every player except Jason holds their hand out in front of them, and then reveals thumbs-up or thumbs-down at the count of three. If every player except Jason is unanimously thumbs-up, Jason is convicted. If Jason is the Spy, the other players win. If not, the Spy wins. If it’s not unanimous, play continues but the player who accused Jason can no longer accuse anyone until time runs out.
- Time runs out. When this happens, there’s a (brief, 1 minute, tops) discussion phase followed by a set of accusation phases. Starting with the dealer (usually previous Spy, decide randomly for the first round), each person accuses someone and the players vote. If it’s unanimous, that person is convicted. As in Ending #2, if they’re the Spy the other players win, if not the Spy wins. If it’s not unanimous, the next player gets to accuse. If nobody’s accusation is unanimous, the Spy wins. That really shouldn’t happen though, just saying.
- If the Spy wins:
- 2 points if nobody is convicted of being the Spy
- 4 points if a non-Spy is convicted of being the Spy
- 4 points if the Spy correctly guessed the location
- If the other players win:
- 1 point for every player
- 1 additional point for the player who successfully accused the Spy (leading to the conviction, not just in general).
The rules don’t include a number of rounds limit, so set your own guidelines in this, I suppose. I imagine you should decide before playing if you’re actually keeping score. Just saying.
One last thing, though it doesn’t say it in the rules, do not use specific details of the location cards in your questions. Sure, you could ask, “what color is the top right corner of the card?” and let them guess, but that’s really not the most fun way to play.
As with all discussion games (and honestly, strategy tips in general), your mileage may vary, but here are my thoughts:
- Try to provide a bit of flavor with your answers and questions. Don’t just answer “yes” or “no” to things; answer “Yes, but I need to stay here until the job’s done” or something that is a bit more immersive. If your answers are too vague, you come off looking like a Spy. That being said…
- Try to make sure that your questions and answers can apply to multiple locations. You don’t want to ask, “Do you know what routine the drill sergeant is going to make us run today?” if you’re at the military camp. That kind of gives away too much information. Now, while this can be played for laughs (We usually ask other players, “Would you say this is a … corporate party?” when Corporate Party is a location), you don’t want to seriously tell the Spy where the location is. This might mean asking, “tough day today?” at the military camp, or honestly if you’re trying to be clever and you’re at the day spa.
- Never ask the same question of multiple people. If they’re thinking, they should just give you the same answer, especially if one of them is the Spy. It’s just a waste of time.
- Puns are your friends. Puns are usually great because if you say them normally then you don’t necessarily give away that you’re making a pun, but people familiar with the location know what to look for. For instance, on the Passenger Train someone might ask, “What are you planning to do once you get home?”. A reasonable answer could be “Well, we crossed a few time zones on the trip, so honestly I’m going to have to retrain myself on sleeping.” This both sounds like it might be the airplane, but also has the re-train pun, so it demonstrates that you know you’re on a train. Probably. It depends on how much other players are paying attention, and how strong your pun game is.
- If you’re the Spy, try to ask questions that require informative answers. This way you can trick other players into telling you more about the location.
- Rather than keep track of who has been asked questions, try to keep track of which players you think are suspicious. This lets you ignore players that you’re positive aren’t the Spy and focus questions on more suspicious players.
- If you think you’ve been cleared, it’s not a bad idea to try and feed the Spy misinformation. If everyone thinks that you’re not the Spy, maybe you can ask the Spy questions like “Do you know where the pool is, from here? when you’re on the Space Station or something.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Short, timed rounds. It’s really great when someone asks, “how long does this take?” and you can say, “eight minutes”. It’s a quick game and I always appreciate that.
- More generative “bluffing” allows for more complex games. It’s actually a really solid game because you have to be more generative in your responses rather than just “no you’re lying I’m the X” (even when you’re not) in Avalon. It’s sort of the same thing as Dixit is for Apples to Apples. I hesitate to call it bluffing since you’re not REALLY lying — you’re just trying to act like you know more than you do.
- VERY easy to learn. Seriously takes like 5-10 minutes to explain, and that’s just because you have to explain how accusations work.
- Good for most ages. Doesn’t require a lot of reading or understanding, so it plays well with most ages as long as they understand the location and things about the location.
- LOTS of locations. Should have pretty high replay value, though I’d space out the games you play (see Cons).
- Came with ziplock bags for all the cards. Unlike some other games I own (Castles of Mad King Ludwig), this actually came with bags for all its components. I appreciate that.
- Not the biggest fan of the art. Just a personal preference, but it’s a bit exaggerated. The Spy’s appearances in the pictures are fairly humorous, though.
- Really not a big fan of the boxart.
- I kind of ignore the scoring rules. Like I mentioned with Lost Legacy (and Love Letter), it’s a bit more fun to just play round by round, in my opinion.
- If you play it too much, you will develop some “good questions” and “good answers” for certain locations. I usually suggest that this game, like Anomia, not be played every night possible just for that reason. You don’t want to burn yourself out on it, and there are only so many locations. That being said, it doesn’t seem difficult to make up new locations…
- I can’t really figure out how it plays well with three people. That just seems like far too few.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Honestly, this is a super fun game. High replay value, relatively low cost, and easy to learn? It probably has a place with most parties. Now, if you don’t like bluffing games you may still have a problem with this, but it’s a solid party game for reasonably sized groups. It’s especially fun if you get into the roles and aren’t afraid to be a bit silly with your responses. As a metagame evolves, you’ll also start to find that the utility of certain questions increases and you just get better at coming up with responses, so it also becomes more challenging. Overall, I think it’s a hit with my group and I’d highly recommend checking it out.