#129 – Spy Club [Preview]

spy-club-cover

Borrowed from BGG until I can get an actual box photo. The box I have for this is a blank white box with “What’s Eric Playing?” written on it, so it’s not as exciting for photography.

Base price: $39.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: 30 – 45 minutes.
BGG Link
Check it out on Kickstarter! (Link will go live September 20.)
Logged plays: 9

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Spy Club was provided by Foxtrot Games. Please keep in mind that some aspects of the game will change, such as art (and various parts of the campaign), as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.

Everyone’s tried to solve mysteries before. Maybe you’re trying to solve The Case of the Missing Cookies (hint: someone ate them) or any of the myriad problems you might have run into when you were a kid. Most of us grew up reading stories that dealt with these concepts, ranging from Encyclopedia Brown to Nancy Drew to the Hardy Boys (or we watched Scooby-Doo and its multiple iterations).

Now, you can relive that experience with Spy Club, an upcoming release from Foxtrot Games featuring their new Mosaic System, allowing for a campaign mode that’s composed of multiple modules chosen by the players over the course of the campaign. It’s a unique experience almost every time, since you determine the configuration. Either way, you play as a group of local kids forming a Spy Club to solve local mysteries. The thing is, every time you solve one, you start to piece together evidence that this might be bigger than you suspected. Can you connect the dots to catch the culprit? Or will they get away?

Contents

Setup

So setup is generally the same either way, even if you’re playing the Campaign.

You’re going to give everyone a player board:

Player Boards

You should have space for four cards at two players, and three cards at three and four players. Just assemble the pieces until it works. Those are generally referred to as your hand. Give each player a Magnifying Glass in the color of their choice:

Magnifying Glasses

Have them set it under the rightmost space of their player board. Set out the Clue Board in the center of the table:

Clue Board

And now, shuffle up the three different piles of Suspect Movement cards: Morning, Afternoon, and Night:

Suspect Movement Cards

Remove one card of each type from the game and set the three piles on top of each other such that Morning is on top and Night is on the bottom. Now, shuffle up the Clue cards:

Clue Cards

And each player should get enough to fill their player board. The cards are double-sided; do not look at the other side. You’ll also have 1 – 3 cards adjacent to the deck in the sort of “on deck” zone:

Incoming Clues

Note that the Incoming Clues area is different based on your player count. Once you’ve done all that, pick a player to go first and set the Suspect Token above the right-most card on their player board (it’ll be referred to as in their hand, as well):

Suspect Token and Escape Marker

The other token is the Escape Marker; it can go on the Clue Board. Finally, give every player an Idea token:

Idea Tokens

Once you’ve done that, you should be about ready to start!

Setup

If you’re playing the Campaign: There will be cards you should draw that will tell you how to start. If it’s your first game, these will let you pick characters and such. I won’t show you anything since that’s a spoiler, but here’s the campaign deck:

Campaign Deck

Every game will have the same setup as the previous game unless otherwise indicated. Only return cards to the deck when you are instructed to do so. Good luck!

Gameplay

I’ll describe the basic game, here, as the campaign mode can introduce new rules and caveats as you progress.

In the basic game, you want to solve five aspects of the mystery:

  • Red: Motive (why was the crime committed)
  • Purple: Suspect (who committed the crime)
  • Green: Location (where was the crime committed)
  • Blue: Crime (what even was the crime)
  • Yellow: Object (usually some evidence or some relevant item)

Note that you’re kids, so the Crime is more often Eavesdropping or Lying and not “Doin’ Someone Up A Horrible Murder”. Not that kind of game, thankfully.

Intriguingly, there are six different types of Clue cards — the five I mentioned, sure, but also, Distractions! These are things that seek to turn your focus away from the case, like homework, chores, or worst of all, pizza. Focusing too much on these won’t help, but you might be able to distract other, more nefarious people with them…

As you know, you have double-sided cards on your player board — these cards are considered to be in your hand. Your goal is to solve aspects of the mystery by getting five cards of the same color to the center of the board. You can do this by taking three different actions on your turn:

  • Investigate – Flip any number of cards on your player board over, one after the other. You don’t have to flip them all at once, so you can stop flipping whenever you’d like. Note that you cannot normally look at the other side of your cards; this is the only way to do so legally. Once you flip, though, they stay flipped until you flip again. Try to remember what’s on both sides of your cards once you’ve seen them; they might be useful down the line.
  • Shift Focus – You may move your magnifying glass to any clue card on your player board. You gain 1 Idea for every clue card of that color face-up on your player board. Ideas are essentially the currency of the game, so this is a good way to rapidly gain more. If you Shift Focus to a Distraction, you gain no Ideas. So don’t do that.
  • Scout – You may pay ideas back to the idea pile to pull a card from the on-deck area to your player board. You can also pull the top card of the deck, but it’s the most expensive. If you don’t have room in your player board for the new card, you may discard a card from your player board. Check the Incoming Clues area for the cost of the card, but it’s usually 0 – 2 Ideas.
  • Confirm – You may move a card to the center (or swap with a card in the center). If you are focusing on that card, you may do this without paying any Ideas, but if not, it costs 1 idea / space on your player board away from your magnifying glass. So if you’ve got four cards in your player board, you’re focused on the leftmost one and you want to confirm the rightmost one, it’ll cost 3 ideas. You might want to Shift Focus to do that.

You may take up to three actions per turn, and you may take the same action more than once. Naturally, there are also bonus free actions, typically called Teamwork Bonuses. These are given to people who manage to focus on the same type of clue, as their focus allows them to easily work together to solve mysteries. Again, these are free actions, and you may do these as many times per turn as you want.

  • Trade Cards – You may freely exchange cards between your hands. Make sure that the other player is cool with trading cards, and make sure you don’t trade cards such that they’re no longer focused on the same thing as you! If you do, you can’t trade anymore.
  • Get Advice – You may attempt to convince someone else to share their Ideas with you and take any number of Idea tokens from them. Note that you can only take Ideas, not give them.

If you ever get 5 of the same color card in the center, face-up, you’ve solved that aspect of the mystery!

Solved Aspect

Check the Suspect Movement card for a symbol; that symbol corresponds to which Clue is the correct one for this aspect. For instance, the “Slingshot” is the correct Clue for this aspect, given the rightmost Suspect Movement card. Move that above the color on the center board and discard the other cards from the game.

Once you’ve finished your actions, your turn ends. Draw a suspect movement card from the deck and place it next to the previous Suspect Movement cards you’ve already played — it should indicate how many spaces the suspect moves. If there’s a set of footprints on the card, the Suspect moves one step closer to escaping! Move the Escape Tracker up one space. Either way, no matter what card the suspect stops on, an event occurs:

  • Red: Flip every card on every player’s player board.
  • Purple: Lose 3 Idea tokens (they’re removed from the game).
  • Green: The Suspect moves one step closer to escaping (mark it on the Escape Tracker). This may mean that they move two steps towards escaping in one turn.
  • Blue: Discard the rightmost two Clue cards in the on-deck zone from the game. Replace them.
  • Yellow: Lose 1 Idea token for every aspect of the case you’ve solved, so far. This should be 0 – 4 Idea tokens.
  • Grey: The Suspect is distracted and can’t mess with you, this turn. You generally want this to happen.

Play continues until you win by solving all 5 aspects of the mystery or you lose by any of the following things happening:

  • You run out of Clue cards.
  • You run out of Idea tokens. Note that when you spend ideas they go back to the Idea pile, but when you lose them to Events they’re removed from the game.
  • The Suspect escapes.
  • You run out of Suspect Movement cards.

If you make it to the end, you win! If you’re playing the Campaign, you may now choose which of these aspects you want to confirm as part of the Master Crime. This affects what part of the story you unlock next, so check the rulebook — it’ll tell you which cards from the campaign deck to draw.

Player Count Differences

The major differences are that at lower player counts trading isn’t quite as big of a deal as it is at higher player counts (at least with regards to getting aspects confirmed), but your individual hand gets hit more by the suspect, so there’s a larger emphasis on hand management (you’ll be trying to predict where the suspect goes, a lot). I have had a lot of fun with this at all player counts, which is nice.

Strategy

  • Generally, I try to confirm the motive first. It’s got the fewest cards of its type, so it prevents a lot of risk. Unfortunately, having the suspect land on a red Clue is pretty much the best thing that they can land on (other than Gray), so you remove a lot of those from the game. It’s a tough balance!
  • Watch your Ideas. You only need to have the Suspect land on purple 6 times to get rid of all 18 of your Idea tokens. That’s not that many. 
  • Try to manage the suspect’s movement. You can trade cards to try and keep the Suspect on “less helpful” cards so that when they move they move from a Distraction to another Distraction, thereby pacifying them. There’s still a bit of randomness to their movement, but sometimes it’s guaranteed, as the Suspect doesn’t always have three different options on the card.
  • That said, don’t junk up your hand too muchEvery card on your player board that’s a Distraction could be a Clue that you could confirm. Don’t forget that you’re on a few different timers, so merely slowing down the Suspect isn’t enough to win the game.
  • Shamelessly abuse card trading. We have done a lot of silly stuff to get our hands where we need them to be, and we usually do that by trading a lot of cards on turns. It’s a great way to set up megaturns for other people, prevent the Suspect from causing too much chaos, and also gain information.
  • Try to remember what’s on the other side of your card. Once you’ve flipped it, you can’t look again unless you use another Investigate action (or it gets flipped by the Suspect).
  • Don’t shift your focus to a Distraction. You can’t trade cards, you get no Ideas, you’re just stuck.
  • Sometimes you just have to bum rush it. We had a game where the next time we drew an Escape, we lost, and we had two ideas left between us. We still managed to win in three turns, and it was the luckiest thing I’ve seen in some time. That’s just … how you have to win, sometimes.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Really cool theme. I like it a lot! It’s super accessible for a variety of players and ages — meets kids at their level and invites a nice bit of nostalgia for the older players.
  • The art is nice, as well. It’s fun and colorful, at least, what I’ve seen of the finished art. Looking forward to seeing what else is on the Kickstarter.
  • Fairly diverse cast. That’s always nice to see.
  • Simple gameplay but complex challenges. “Line up 5 cards 5 times” doesn’t seem like it should be super hard, but … I’ve lost at least twice. For a simple concept it provides a lot of good tension during the game.
  • Not much wrong with a light co-op. It makes it easy to get into a game with friends and finish it quickly.
  • The campaign mode idea is super cool. I’ve played through an entire campaign and it consistently ramps up in complexity and difficulty towards the end. We only barely lucked out on the last game. It’s also nice that it’s reusable stuff, as you apply stickers to cards that you can cover again on subsequent playthroughs. You don’t shuffle the cards that you apply stickers to, either, so you avoid Mystic Vale‘s problem of “I wonder which of my cards is actually four cards — maybe the thickest one?“.
  • The campaign is a lot of fun. The new story elements and challenges and changes to gameplay are great. I’ve only played once through it, but it was an awesome time. I really want to try again once I’ve got a bit more free time.
  • The system’s got a ton of potential. I can only imagine how difficult it is to write a Mosaic system game, but, I could see this being really interesting for subsequent games, as you carry items obtained in previous games forward to the next game. I would love to see more games using this (and I imagine if Spy Club is successful, which it seems like it will be, that this won’t be the last one).
  • Honestly, the perfect lunch game. You could play this in a lunch, with friends, every day for a week and complete a campaign from scratch. It’s 30 – 45 minutes, pretty light, and cooperative. I can’t think of a lot of games that fit this niche better, especially given the 5-game campaign mode.

Mehs

  • For some reason I feel like it’d be great if one of the characters were a dog. I guess that breaks some of the grounded realism of the game, but … it seems like the right move. I’m going to place the blame for this idea on the years of Scooby-Doo I watched.
  • Some vulnerability to quarterbacking, but it’s not quite a perfect information game. Just worth mentioning that since everyone can see everyone’s cards, you could have someone try to make decisions for you. This actually worked to our advantage at the end of our campaign. It was 2AM, we were all tired, and we trusted whoever was the most awake to make the decisions. It worked out. This is a Meh and not a Con because generally there’re too many cards to remember the backside of all of them, so it’s not quite a perfect information game? You need to rely on other players to remember the backs of their cards.

Cons

  • The campaign mode is probably best saved for experienced gamers. I’m not sure if it was just because we were finishing up at 2AM or what, but the game got complex and difficult towards the end. It was awesome, but, man, it was hard. Then again, it’s not really a problem if you lose a bunch of games, as far as the campaign goes.

Overall: 9 / 10

In Progress

Overall, Foxtrot’s got a big hit with Spy Club. It manages to pull everything you’d want out of a good cooperative game (lots of social interaction between players, challenging gameplay, and stressful tension that keeps everyone engaged) and add in a campaign mode with an interesting spin on the current types of campaign games available. It’s a great, accessible theme and most importantly it’s just a super fun game. I’m looking forward to playing another few rounds of the campaign while I can, and I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for something new to hit the table that’s got mass appeal and a relatively short playtime. Seriously; it’s great.

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2 thoughts on “#129 – Spy Club [Preview]

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