Can a group of friends determine who the spy within their midst is before time runs out? Spyfall fires up players’ deductive and bluffing skills in one of the most popular social deduction games to come out in recent years.
We’ve got plenty of stealthy shenanigans to go over but first, let’s cover some technical information.
The Fiddly Bits
Players: 3-8 (Best with 5 or 6)
Play time: 10 minutes
Intended audience: 12+ (better at 16+)
Publisher: Crypotzoic Entertainment
Designer: Alexandr Ushan
Year Published: 2014
Quick rundown of gameplay
Each player is given a card. Most players are dealt identical location cards. The one player who isn’t dealt a location card is given the spy card.
The players who were dealt the location card (let’s call them hunters) know their location and are trying to find the spy. The spy doesn’t know where they are and they’re trying to hide or glean their location. Both sides are given an eight-minute time limit. If the hunters discover who the spy is, they win. If time runs out, the hunters pick the wrong player as the spy, or the spy guesses correctly where they are, the spy wins.
Players take turns asking each other questions to determine the spy’s identity. These questions are supposed to be specific enough, so other hunters will know another player isn’t the spy but not so specific that the spy can easily figure out where their location.
At any time, a player can accuse another player of being the spy. The timer is stopped, the players discuss their suspicions, and the group must vote unanimously that the accused is the spy (the accused doesn’t get a vote). If the vote is unanimous, the accused flips over their card. If the accused is the spy, the hunters win. If the accused isn’t the spy, the spy wins. If the vote isn’t unanimous, the player doesn’t flip over their card and play continues until the next accusation or time runs out.
Also at any time, the spy can flip over their card and guess the location. If they’re right, the spy wins. If they’re wrong, the hunters win.
The tabletop market is oversaturated with social deduction games, but Spyfall is one of the best. Because of their ubiquity and certain issues (I’ll discuss them later), I’m not a huge fan of social deduction games but I like Spyfall. I’d even say it’s one of my favorite spy games, let alone social deduction. It’s a simple concept executed well. It also doesn’t hurt that the artwork is fun and engaging.
Spyfall with the right number of players (five or six) can be a blast but it doesn’t scale the best for a social deduction/party game. The one thing social deduction games do is find ways to make the game work at multiple player counts. Spyfall is not such a game.
Too few players and the spy doesn’t have enough places to hide. More questions get flung at them and there isn’t enough suspicion to go around, so the spy typically loses. Too many players and the spy has too many places to hide. I played in a full player-count, eight-person game and the spy was asked one question the entire eight minutes. The question came late in the round so they had a good idea of the location. The spy almost always wins with higher player counts. Spyfall works best with five or six. So much so that I’m reluctant to play with 3, 4, 7, and 8 players. The game is too skewed one direction or the other.
All social deduction games have some level of metagame but Spyfall may have the most metagame of any social deduction game. Metagames are what happen from one game session to the next. So-and-so was the spy last week and said something goofy. They said the same goofy thing, so they’re the spy this time. The metagame leads to in-joke questions/answers. In-jokes aren’t a bad thing if you’re playing with the same group. They’re terrible if you’re playing with a mixed bag of players. People in the loop can clear each other as spies, while the rest of the table is scratching their heads. It leads to an us versus them mentality but it still isn’t that bad. Clicks happen with a lot of social deduction games, but it can backfire. Most in-joke questions have only one answer. What happens if a hunter asks the spy an in-joke? The spy gets erroneously cleared.
Social deduction games also require players to bluff and Spyfall adds to bluffing with its locations. Younger players won’t fare well, even if they’re over the age of 12. A 12-year-old may be able to grasp the rules but not the underlining strategy.
That’s a lot of negative. I like Spyfall so let’s get back to some positives. I love the timer. So many social deduction games drag on for hours because there isn’t a time-limit. Without a timer, social deduction games innately ramp up the tension closer to the game’s conclusion. With a timer, Spyfall turns frenetic.
It’s also easier to play multiple games of Spyfall and if you’re stuck with a less-than-desirable group of players, you’re only beholden to them for eight minutes. But if you have a lot of strangers at the table playing Spyfall, it’s a great way to break the ice. Other social deduction games can get mean. Spyfall can too at times, but it’s less likely.
I also like the theme. Spy games are plentiful just like social deduction, but Spyfall’s a silly game. The spy is at the same location as the other players. The only way they don’t know the location is if they don’t have use of their senses. The game is nonsensical on multiple levels. With the right group, Spyfall is a lot of fun.
Spyfall has warranted a sequel. Nothing much changed so I’m not giving Spyfall 2 its own review. Both games can be combined for more zaniness and the only change Spyfall 2 made was have decks where there’s nothing but location cards and a deck with nothing but spy cards. If the players can figure out what’s going on, everyone wins. If they can’t, everyone loses.
The changes in Spyfall 2 are in keeping with the original’s wackiness. Both games provide plenty of belly laughs.
Well, times up for this review. I’ll be hitting the gaming table, so until we meet again, thanks for reading.