Instant Game Night
Instant Game Night Reviews: Spyfall
“Is Spyfall a good game to bring to game night?”
Year Published 2014
Designer Alexander Ushan
Artists Sergey Dulin, Uildrim
Publisher Cryptozoic Entertainment, Hobby World (various others)
Age Range 13+
Playing Time 15-60 Minutes
Spyfall is a social deduction card game in which players take on the role of special agents attempting to identify the spy that has infiltrated their ranks. The special agents must communicate with each other carefully, with enough detail to trust each other's identifies but not so much as to allow the spy to hone in on their exact location.
Below you will find a brief summary of the game play along with our thoughts on whether or not Spyfall is a good game to bring to your next game night get-together.
Please note: We do not intend this review to be a thorough explanation of the rules of a game or how to play. Rather, our reviews are aimed to provide you a basic overview of the game play along with our thoughts on how suitable a particular game is to bring to a game night with family or friends. If this is your first time reading an Instant Game Night review, please click here to read about our review format and rating system.
Once the game cards have been divided into separate Ziploc bags according to the rulebook instructions, players will choose a dealer and begin the game. Spyfall is played over a series of short rounds. At the beginning of each round, the dealer will randomly choose one Ziploc bag of cards, keeping them facedown. The dealer will select the top-most cards from the deck and will select as many cards as there are players. The dealer will return all remaining cards to the bag facedown. The cards in play are then shuffled and one is dealt to each player.
Players then examine their card. If the shows a location (such as a Corporate Party or Move Studio) this means the player is a secret agent this turn. They will carefully examine the location card and its artwork, along with their hidden role, which might be a janitor or a security guard. Throughout the course of the round, this player will want to ask and answer questions from other players with the location and their role in mind (the janitor at a police station, for example).
If, on the other hand, the player's card says “Spy”, then this player is the spy this round and will need to try to blend in with the other players. The spy has no knowledge of the location and roles of the other players, and will need to answer questions in such a way so as not to raise suspicion.
If the spy asks a question that does not pertain to the location, or answers a question in a way that does not fit with the location, players will begin to become suspicious and may stop the game to accuse this player of being the spy. If the majority of players agree with the accusation, then the spy will lose that round. If, however, the spy manages to avoid capture and is able to determine the location the secret agents are in, they will win the round.
Once players have examined their cards thoroughly, the dealer sets an 8 minute timer and the round begins. The dealer first will ask a question to any other player by calling them by name. For instance, the dealer might say “So Julie, the weather is interesting today isn't it?”. There is no limit to the format or the content of a question, however, a good agent will avoid asking closed questions and will pick questions that relate to the current location enough, but also not so much that would allow the spy to guess the location. Equally, the answer to this question can take any form but again, striking a balance between a specific enough answer to show you have knowledge of the location and an answer that is vague enough that the spy will not pick up on any hints.
Once the player who was questioned has answered, they then proceed to ask any other player a question of their own (except the one who just questioned them). This back and forth interaction will continue until the end of the round.
During the course of a round, the typical back and forth interaction can be interrupted between questions for two reasons:
1. The Spy believes they know the location of the special agents: In this case, the spy will stop the game, reveal themselves as the spy, and state the location they believe the agents are in. If the spy is correct, they win the round. If they are incorrect, they lose the round.
2. A special agent believes they have identified the spy: In this case, the agent will stop the game and accuse a player of being the spy. All the other players (except the accused) will vote yes or no. If players cannot unanimously agree on an accusation, then players will resume playing the round and the accusation has failed. If there is unanimous agreement supporting the accusation, then round ends and the accused player reveals their card. If they were a spy, the agents win this round. If the accused player was a special agent, then the player who was actually the spy wins that round.
If the 8 minute timer runs out and neither the spy nor the special agents haven ended the round, then players will enter an accusation round. Beginning with the dealer, players will each take a turn accusing one of the other players or being the spy. Since the round has now ended, players can openly discuss their suspicions and why they are accusing one player over another. Once an accusation has been made, players will vote. If the vote is not unanimous, the next player will make an accusation, and so on. If all players have made an accusation and none were unanimously supported, then the spy has escaped and wins the round.
If the spy won this round, they will earn points based on the outcome of the round:
If no player was convicted, the spy earns 2 points
If a non-spy is convicted, the spy earns 4 points
If the spy stops the game and successfully guesses the location, they earn 4 points.
If the special agents won the round, each agent will earn one point, and the player who successfully convicted the spy will earn an additional point for a total of 2 points.
Play continues until a predetermined number of rounds have been played (the rulebook recommends 5). Once these rounds have been completed, players will add up all the points they've earned and the player with the most points wins the game.
Spyfall is a wonderfully simple yet challenging social deduction game. In fact, there are only a handful of actual rules throughout the entire rulebook. This allows players complete freedom in the questions and answers that they come up with. Sure, you could ask a completely boneheaded question (“When will we make bail?” in the police station, for instance) but if you do, the spy will immediately win the round. So players must think on their feet and ask really pointed questions that don't give away the location. Equally, players will be answering questions based on their role and the location. The way in which you answer questions can either give others complete confidence in your identity, or immediately raise eyebrows sky high!
Our family generally doesn't enjoy social deduction games as a rule, but Spyfall just feels different. It has such a low barrier to entry but yet is one of the most strategic deduction games we've played in quite some time. The simplicity of the mechanism combined with the high level of interaction make Spyfall a wonderful game night game for experienced players and newcomers alike. We haven't laughed this hard playing a game in quite some time!!
Our rating system:
G rabs your attention
E asy to play & teach
N ewbie friendly
G ood rulebook
H olds attention
! our experience
Spyfall Rating Breakdown
Grabs Your Attention
The art in Spyfall is very eye-catching, however, when the game is “set up” it is just a bunch of Ziploc bags full of cards and a rulebook laid out on the table. While this set up is extremely practical, it does not make Spyfall a particularly eye-catching game or one that would garner a lot of second glances. Which is sad because it is such a great game. I almost wish they had included a board of some sort to give the game a bit of table presence. As it is, we can't really give Spyfall any points in this category.
Once the initial set up of the cards is completed, Spyfall involves no set up whatsoever. Removing the bags of cards and rulebook is the extent of set up. It can take a bit of time to explain the game to players, but that is mainly due to the round structure and how scoring works. The concept of the game itself is very straightforward and can be explained quickly. Finally, the gameplay itself is speedy since each round is controlled by a timer. If a particular player takes a long time to think of a question, this doesn't extend the length of the game but rather limits the number of questions that can be asked. And in many cases, a round will end well before the 8 minute mark with either the spy revealing themselves or a successful accusation. All of this adds up to a game that is as agile as they come!
Spyfall is a game that proven to be very memorable for us. I think a lot of that has to do with the card art, which is beautiful and portrays many hilarious scenes of spies poorly attempting to hide in plain sight. The other reason the game is so memorable is thanks to the interactive nature. The intense arguments about who to accuse and why someone would answer a question the way they did resulted in so much fun and laughter. And this makes Spyfall a game that is hard to forget.
Easy to Teach and Play
As mentioned above, teaching and playing the game is incredibly simple. The biggest hurdle to teaching is helping less experience players come up with ideas for good questions and answers. I always will pull one of the bags of cards out of the box and show new players the location cards and Spy cards and give them several examples of questions and answers and how a spy might be able to listen closely to determine the location. This usually clicks even with new gamers, and I'd be surprised if it took more than 10 minutes to get a game of Spyfall started, even with all new players.
Spyfall is a very accessible and newbie friendly game. There are no complex rules to remember or particularly difficult decisions to make. It is simply a game build around critical listening skills along with asking and answering questions. We liken this game to Dixit in terms of the relative ease of getting new players into the game. Of course, as with all social deduction games, you can get players who are uncomfortable with being the spy and having no information. Having a bad spy in the group can really limit the amount of fun everyone has, so as always, we encourage you to consider your audience and choose a different game if you don't think social deduction will go over well.
Besides the initial examining of the location card, Spyfall is 100% interactive from start to finish. Even if you aren't asking or answering a question, you are constantly making awkward eye contact with others and carefully watching for clues as to who might be the Spy. There is this heavy feeling of tension in the air and it makes the interactions and getting invested in our roles and the location a really fun shared experience. We enjoy taking a few minutes after each round to compliment good questions or answers and to analyze what happened and why. Spyfall is pure interaction, and this is one of the main reasons we see it as a great game to bring to game night.
Good Rule Book
The rule book for Spyfall is excellent. It does a great job of walking through the initial card set up, explaining the flow of the game and how the flow might be interrupted by accusations. It also have a beautiful two page spread of the various location cards in the game as a reference for the players. Overall, we found the rulebook to be comprehensive and well done.
Each round of Spyfall is so short that it is hard to lose attention, especially when you are carefully listening to each question and answer to try to determine who is the spy or what location the agents are in. Spyfall does an excellent job of keeping all players engaged with the game the whole way through.
Spyfall feeling incredibly thematic, which is impressive for a game consisting only of cards. But there is something about the tension of this game and the great art that just make you feel like you are that security guard at the university or the bartender at the night club. Somehow, this card game has a nack of transporting us into a different world and really keeping us invested in the game.
Finally it's time to tell you about our personal experiences with Spyfall. We played Spyfall many times with the same group of 5 players and that felt like a good player count. Any less and the game would have felt too narrow. On the flip side, we felt that with a full compliment of 8 players might have allowed some people to get a bit bored waiting to be asked a question.
That being said, I really do consider Spyfall to be a social deduction game for people who don't like social deduction. As I've mentioned before, my family generally aren't huge fans of deduction. But because Spyfall doesn't take a lot of critical thinking or deep strategy, it is a dedication game that just works for anyone.
The last comment I'll make is that Spyfall is a game that seems to get better the more familiar players are with the game, particularly the locations. It can be really tough for the spy if they aren't fairly familiar with the locations in the game. To get around this we allowed everyone to review the rulebook prior to looking at our cards, but this is something to keep in mind. After 4 or 5 plays though, we had a good idea of the various locations and this became much less of an issue.
Overall, as a game night experience, we would rate Spyfall up there with the best. It is highly interactive, full of tension, and provides so many laughs for all involved. If you haven't checked it out yet, we highly recommend you do! Score: 1/1