Most spies are portrayed in films, books, and other media as cunning and intelligent. Armed with silenced weapons, high-tech gadgets, and flawless disguises, they can subdue their targets with a single swift motion. And if that’s not the case, they can drop them with good looks and charismatic banter. In Spyfall, the spy has none of those things. As a spy in Spyfall, the only thing in you’ll have in your arsenal is your wits.
Spyfall is a social deduction game by Cryptozoic Entertainment for 3-8 players in which the players try to identify the spy, while the lone spy tries to determine the current location. In each 8-minute round, players are dealt a card containing a common location and a unique role specific to the location, except for the spy. One player will randomly receive a card with only a goofy looking picture of a spy and the word “SPY.”
Each round proceeds with the players asking each other questions in an attempt to catch the spy off-guard. The players answer in ways to suggest that they are present in the same location. On the other hand, the spy tries to collect enough information to identify the current location. During the round, players may unanimously vote on who the spy is, while the spy can reveal the name of the current location. At the end of the round, if the spy or the location has not been revealed, the players take turns to take final votes on who the spy is.
The box contains the rulebook, location cards, and SPY cards. Set-up consists of dividing the locations into their specific decks, adding one SPY card on top, and placing them in separate ziplock bags. The box has no inserts and at first this set-up may seem cluttered and unorganized. However, this system allows for all players to be able to shuffle the locations easily and deal the cards without revealing the location, but at the same time ensuring that one of the cards is a SPY card.
I love social deduction games and I was not going to let Spyfall pass me by — and I’m glad I didn’t. Since I bought this game in November, I have played over 50 rounds of it. The high number of gameplay owes it to Spyfall being very easy to teach, thus making it easy to bring to the table. I found that in trying to teach the rules to new players, I always end up just playing a practice round. The first practice round, 8 minutes long, is more than enough exposure for every player to pick up the rules and start playing. Can you ask a question? Can you answer in a way that doesn’t reveal the secret location? You’re all ready to play! Because of this, I have played with my parents, my gaming group, my cousins and nephews and nieces, and at big parties.
The first round can be frustrating, slow, and disappointing (hang on, keep reading). As a civilian (non-spy) you and other players may find it difficult to come up with questions to ask another player. It may take 30 seconds just to come up with a question only to realize that it might give away the location. For example, in the location of “School” our first instinct is to start thinking about school. A question like “Did you do your homework?” might pop up immediately in your head, but asking this question can be very leading. Similarly, asking “What’s in your luggage?” if you are in an airplane can quickly give hints to the spy. The whole process of coming up with the right questions can be frustrating, leading to slow flow of the game, and might make you feel like this game was the wrong choice. But finish one round, and play another. Trust me.
As a spy, your initial reaction might be of excitement and mischief. You might start brainstorming ways to be sly and trick everyone else. But unlike James Bond or Ethan Hunt, you don’t have high-tech gadgets or a group of hackers backing you in this mission. You won’t be assassinating anyone or sabotaging any grand plans. Your mission is infiltration. As a spy, you will have to infiltrate the minds of the other players in order to extract information to reveal the location. Instead of bullets, you’ll be dodging questions fueled by suspicions and the only defense you’ll have is a smokescreen of lies and guesses. So put on your best disguise, because you’re no Jason Bourne, and you’ll be lucky to come out of this like Austin Powers.
Looking at the contents of the Spyfall box, it’s nothing but a bunch of cards of locations — nothing too interesting. Spyfall comes alive with the players and the questions they ask. After the first round, and with subsequent games, you will soon find yourself getting better at asking questions. At the beginning, most players will find themselves asking yes or no questions. Soon, you’ll learn the power of extracting information from someone, and you’ll find yourself transforming your questions from “Are you allowed to wear a hat here?” to “What kind of attire is allowed here?” The 8-minute round is a good amount of time to allow players to ask enough questions of everyone in order to form their decisions. It isn’t too long or too short and reminds players to keep the game flowing. It gives all players a sense of urgency while gathering information.
After a few rounds, you may realize the value of information. Whether it is a question or an answer, whether it is open-ended or a simple yes or no, every interaction in this game is a clue. After several rounds, you will notice how deliberate word choice can be. You’ll get better at reading in between the lines and sensing body language. And it’s not just you who’s getting better, everyone is.
Soon, everyone will notice their characters and use those to their advantage, and you’ll find yourself back to square one. Spyfall is not just about the location, but also the unique roles of each character/player in each location. Asking a question such as “Am I allowed to bring a weapon in here?” referring to a bank might lead to incorrect conclusions. Though most regular people would not bring a weapon to a bank, some roles include the security guard or even a bank robber who, as part of their roles, are carrying weapons. Because of this, questions and answers have an extra twist that will have you confused, puzzled, and surprised at the results.
Take the above and mix them with a group that knows how to laugh, and you’ll have a fun night round after round. Whether you’re a civilian or a spy, you’ll find yourself forming your own judgements and conclusions on each person’s identity. Sometimes a person’s answer will make you say, “Yeah, I know she knows where we are. That’s a good answer,” while others will make you check your location card and wonder whether you are in the wrong location.
Spyfall is fun, portable, and easy to learn. It is a great light game to start off the night, in between games, or to wrap up the night. It also accommodates up to 8 players for larger game nights. I have played Spyfall with 4, 5, and 8 players. Though the game allows for 3-player games, I can infer that the deduction aspect of the game becomes a bit more limited and the 8-minute round might be too long. With 8 players, I have played a round without getting a chance to ask or answer any questions. I find the sweet spot to be at 5 players.
I added a couple of adjustments to the rules and components to make Spyfall play more fluidly. When playing with new players, especially with introductory/practice rounds, I have found it helpful to change the round timer to 9 or 10 minutes. This allows the players more time to think of questions.
The game will also flow better when everyone is familiar with all of the possible locations. The rulebook includes a centerfold page that has all of the possible locations. However, when playing on a table or with many people, it is difficult to give equal access to every player. This is a huge disadvantage for the spy because you don’t want to be caught staring at the location page deliberating whether you are in a casino or a space station. You’ll also avoid the spy giving totally incorrect answers or guessing non-existent locations like “The Prison” or “A Barn” — like one of my friends did. As a remedy, I printed and cut out a table of all possible locations. I inserted them into card sleeves with a random card as a back.
In closing, Spyfall isn’t really a game that comes in a box. It’s really a game that comes alive with the friends and family with whom you share it. It’s a great game of social deduction that will have you guessing, bluffing, and laughing at the crazy questions and answers people come up with. A round of Spyfall will have you thinking more than ever that “Knowledge is power.”
So check out Spyfall if you haven’t. If you have, share your thoughts and experiences.
If you find yourself having trouble playing as the spy, I will share a couple of my “Get out of jail free” questions and answers in a future post. Come check it out!