Base price: $18.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: 15 – 20 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 4
Full disclosure: A review copy of Spicy was provided by Flat River Games.
It’s always weird, writing reviews as a year changes. On one hand, there’s the desire to check out all the new games that have come out since the holidays, but there’s also the desire to look back and cover things from the ol’ backlog that you hadn’t gotten to yet. I’ve still not quite found the balance, yet. It almost makes me wish I had a podcast or something where I could do the Top 10 List and the Gift Guide and all the other stuff I have bouncing around in my brain but lack the time or patience to edit. Maybe some day. But in the meantime, I’m going through a bunch of games I played at OrcaCon, and since I haven’t had time to write up the fabulous Mists Over Carcassonne yet, I figure I’ll give you the rundown on some other games I played! One in particular was a popular game at the con, so let’s talk about Spicy!
In Spicy, players take on the role of big cats, having grown bored with fighting to become the best cat. Instead of fighting, they reason, why not try something a bit more dangerous? A spice-eating contest! Here, the cats will take on the challenge of climbing the ladder to the hottest spices possible and proving their mettle to each other. Unfortunately, these cats aren’t known for their honesty, so there’s bound to be a bit of cheating and lying during the course of the game. You’ll have to keep each other honest, or as honest as liars can. Can you successfully identify the liars and make your way to the top of the cat hierarchy? Or will this competition be too spicy for you?
First off, shuffle the cards to create a deck. Deal each player six:
This part is fun. The World’s End card should be held up next to the deck and inserted into the deck at (or near) the spot indicated on the card that corresponds to your player count.
The three Trophy Cards should be played next to the deck.
You don’t need to use the SPICE IT UP cards in your first game, so you can set them aside unless you’ve played before (then use one!).
You’re ready to start!
Spicy is a game of bluffing and boasting until you can’t take the heat! Every turn, you’ll either play a card or pass. If you pass, draw a card. If you play a card, things get interesting!
You can play a card of your choice from your hand. If there’s currently no stack, you must claim that your card is a 1 / 2 / 3 of a spice of your choice (Chili, Wasabi, or Pepper). Note that I never said the card has to be that value. If you’re playing a card on top of the stack, you must claim that your card is a higher value of the same suit. After a 10 is claimed, the next card claimed must be a 1 / 2 / 3 of the same suit. If you … claim the wrong card, you take your card back, pass, and we all feel a bit of weird shame on your behalf.
So, you can claim any card you want, but that’s just the thing; you could be lying! If any player suspects you, they place their hand on the stack and say “wrong number” or “wrong spice”, and then the top card is revealed! If the named aspect is incorrect, you lose the challenge; otherwise, they do! Note that if the named aspect is correct, even if the other aspect is wrong, your opponent loses the challenge. The winner of the challenge collects the Spicy stack, keeping it as points. The loser draws two cards and starts a new Spicy stack.
If any player plays their final card, they must indicate to the group that they’ve done so. Then, any player can challenge them. If nobody does (or if the player wins the challenge), they collect a trophy, which is worth 10 points at the end of the game.
Play continues until any player has collected two trophies, all trophies have been collected, or the World’s End card is reached. Each player scores 1 point per face-down card in front of them, and loses 1 point for each card still in their hand. The player with the most points wins! If a player has two trophies, they win immediately.
The SPICE IT UP cards introduce fun variants, like letting you take the stack when you play a 4, letting you stuff additional cards under a 5, or letting you declare 6s as 9s (and vice versa). Have fun with those!
Player Count Differences
Not a ton, since any player can challenge another player’s play. If that weren’t the case, then player order would matter a lot (and having more players would present its own challenges). That said, I really like Spicy at two, where it’s a purely cerebral game of just lying to another person’s face. You can go try and memorize the card counts, but there are enough cards in the deck that that will be completely useless with two players. You’ll have seen and lied about so many cards that you won’t even know what’s in your hand, at a certain point, and I love that. With more people, you run the risk that another player has a better read on your opponent than you do, and they start making successful challenges and taking points that would be yours if you were better at calling bluffs. It doesn’t feel great when that happens, since that’s a scoring opportunity that has nothing to do with you. At two, it’s either you or your opponent, every time. I find that thrilling. It’s honestly a large part of why I prefer most games with two, and while I quite enjoy Spicy at any player count, two is probably my favorite.
- Be careful how predictable you become! Generally, predictability in a bluffing game is bad. You see this pop up in games like Pocket Paragons, where reading your opponent is critical to winning. Here, it’s not as bad, since the challenge has to be a lot more specific. Even then, it’s not great to be predictable. You need to try and shake things up every so often so that your opponents don’t start getting a sense of when you’re bluffing.
- I generally don’t recommend what I’d call a double-bluff, or playing a card that’s a different suit and a different number from the card you claim. So, do it sometimes. Anything I say to do, don’t do it consistently. Anything I say to avoid doing, do it sometimes. That’s the beauty of a bluffing game. That all said, playing a random card and claiming it’s the 7 of Wasabi is risky, since any challenge means you lose. Playing a 7 Chili or a 2 Wasabi is safer, since that means that if your opponent doesn’t choose the correct thing that you’re bluffing, you still win the challenge even though you played an illegitimate card.
- Bluffing the last card in your hand is extremely risky, but if you pull it off, you have my respect. Everyone at the table gets a chance to call your bluff, but since everyone does and it’s such an aggressive penalty for bluffing, players might be less likely to actually challenge you, and you can get away with it. If you do, I mean, feel free to gloat (within reason), but it’s still a very risky move.
- Honestly, people [that I’ve played with] tend not to call you on 1 / 2 / 3 of a spice; you can use that to set up your hand. I think people just assume that you won’t lie about the first card you play, which is definitely their mistake. Lie constantly! Don’t lie at all! Whatever you feel like will benefit you in the long term. I usually lie about the first card I play when I’m trying to set up a combo, so that my hand is more aligned.
- More generally, you do kind of want to have a hand of cards of the same spice type; it makes bluffing easier. Generally, if you have cards that are all the same spice, you can play all of them and only be somewhat bluffing. This gets tricky if one of your opponents challenges the other one and the spice type changes, but hey, if you were already planning to lie, just order your cards by number and try to lie about the spice, rather than the number. Stay flexible.
- Keep in mind that you’re not just challenging a player for bluffing; you need to correctly choose if they’re bluffing color or number. This is the trickiest part of the game; you need to know if someone’s lying about the number they played or the color. You might be able to read it on them, or you might have to try keeping track of certain cards. I don’t envy you; I struggle with challenging for this reason. I just can’t always tell when someone’s lying.
- If the stack starts getting large, start trying to bait other players into calling you on bluffing so you can score those points. What is a bluffing game if not interactive performance art? My favorite technique to use here is trying to pretend to surreptitiously look at my card again, as though I’m not totally sure what it is. That usually will get a player to call me once a game, which can be pretty valuable. Whatever you think suffices as your “tell”, try to do that. If you didn’t bluff, you get all the cards in the stack, which can be a huge bonus. So try to bait your opponents!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Thematically and artistically, this is one of the strangest games I’ve seen in some time. Love a weird game. Cats? Yes. Cats eating? Why not. Cats eating hot peppers? Wild. Strange. Print it. The art is particularly strange, as well; it’s almost a bit scary in how abstract and bold it is. More on that later. I just really enjoy a game that goes hard on its own theme, and Spicy is a wild concept that executes in a fun way. Even better if you can make the player that loses a challenge eat a hot wing, but that’s not really in the scope of my reviewing.
- That said, the art style is impeccable; a truly striking game. What a beautiful game. Jimin Kim is on the artwork here and their work is so cool. I’ve never seen a game that looks like Spicy looks (which makes sense, given that Kim has only done the art for one board game). It’s a game that you won’t soon forget when you look at it.
- While they’re going to be an enormous pain to photograph, the cards are individually beautiful, as well. Reflective stuff is always my nightmare when I’m doing photography; it’s an area of growth for me. I should ask another photographer what they do, because nothing I do quite does the right thing in showing y’all how shiny and impressive the cards are. But the backs have a reflective gold to them, which is again, super distinctive and super striking. I love the way this game looks.
- Highly portable, which I always appreciate. It’s just cards, so throw that in a Quiver. Even if you don’t have one of those, the box is small enough that you can fit it in most things. I stuffed this, Hungry Monkey, and Sweet & Spicy in a suitcase with 30 other games for a con and we had a blast.
- The individual SPICE IT UP cards are a great way to shake the game up for experienced players, as well. They can really mess with some of the strategic elements of the game, if you’re not careful to think about it. They’re wild, but not so wild that they undermine the core gameplay, which I appreciate. Just a nice way to add a bit of flavor to a game I already quite enjoy.
- This is a beautiful bluffing game, ingeniously designed. You not only need to know if someone’s bluffing, but even if you do, you need to be able to figure out what they’re bluffing about. This is, I think, what makes the game so brilliant. Cake Duel, a similar bluffing game, presents its core bluff as a combat-based bluff. You might bluff your attack, but your opponent might just as easily bluff their defense. Spicy’s core bluff is that you might only be half-lying, and you need to be sure about which half is a lie. That’s good stuff. The best thing is when you flip over the card and realize if you had claimed “wrong number” instead of “wrong spice” you would have challenged them perfectly, but instead you’ve just given them a ton of points! You need to be sure when you challenge.
- I just enjoy a bluffing game, more generally. Bluffing is fun! It’s just trying to give off the impression that you absolutely believe in your bones that the card you played is legit. There’s a reason that Cake Duel is one of my favorite games.
- There’s something nice about every player being able to call a player who is out of cards. It’s a really beautiful confluence of every player flipping off the player who’s about to make a big score, which is community-building at its finest. Granted, only one player actually assumes the risk of the challenge, but giving everyone a shot is beautiful in its way.
- I love how they determine how many cards to use at various player counts. I just think that’s a fun, clever, and low-tech way to do it. I hate when games make me count out sixty cards or something silly; this is brilliant. Who cares if you’re off by a card or two? It won’t meaningfully change the game. This gets you playing the game faster and spending less time on the setup, which is always a smart move.
- The little UNO rule of “you must declare your last card” is a tiny bit clunky (in that it has a needless penalty); just have someone say “that’s their last card” and let players consider whether or not they challenge. I don’t really understand it, I think; it seems like everyone would notice and there’s no point in trying to pretend like you’re not playing your last card. I think the rule is to prevent someone doing that and then saying “oh that was my last card; let me take a trophy”, but that’s an absolute weasel move and we’d never allow it.
- Oh, yeah, having a chili pepper and a pepper mill be your icons / suits (“chili” and “pepper”, in game) is confusing. I see the chili pepper and think “that’s a pepper”. I see the pepper mill and think “I’m not sure what that is”. This leads to some mild issues where someone may not necessarily know what to call the thing, since both are plausibly “pepper”. I think it’s necessarily challenging to come up with three different visually distinct spicy icons, but it still leads to a lot of player confusion.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, I think Spicy is a fantastic card game! I’m a fan of bluffing games in general; it’s fun to lie and bamboozle your friends about the cards in your hand, and I think that Spicy is an elegant step up in complexity past the games of BS that I used to play in my youth. It hits around the same place as Cake Duel, another favorite of mine, and I think that’s largely in part to how clever it is for its size. Granted, the art helps a lot, too; it’s a particularly striking game, and the kind of game that will stick in your mind long after you’ve played it just on art alone. Spicy is kind of incredible, in that regard. What sets Spicy apart from your standard, run of the mill bluffing game is something so simple, you’d wish you’d designed it: when you challenge a card, you have to state if you’re challenging its suit or its value. If you challenge the wrong thing, even if the card is invalid, you lose the challenge! That and the penalty for losing is just enough to tip the scales of risk back towards the challenger, which keeps the game interesting. My favorite kinds of bluffing games are games where you know someone has lied, but you’re not sure when, and Spicy is constantly hitting that bullseye, for me. It’s not without its areas that I wish were improved, of course; the decision to make “chili” and “pepper” two different suits leads to some word-mangling confusion during the game (which is why I assume they changed the suit for Sweet & Spicy, the next game). Beyond that, though, I think there’s a lot to love with Spicy. It’s quick, it’s interactive, and the bluffing remains a lot of fun; there are even modules to expand the base game once you get good at it! If you’re a fan of bluffing games, you’re looking for games that are just particularly evocative examples of board game art, or you’re a fan of your own hot pepper-eating contests, you’ll probably enjoy Spicy! I’d highly recommend it.
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2 thoughts on “Spicy”
Thank you for your review and your enthusiasm!
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