Social deduction games are very much in vogue, not only with the board game geeks of the world, but with the wider public. While The Resistance, released in 2009, is often credited with igniting the modern day boom of social deduction games, they have been around for a lot longer than that. In 1987, Russian high school psychology teacher Dimitry Davidoff developed Mafia as a method of teaching and researching. A decade later, Andrew Plotkin gave Davidoff’s experimental game a “Werewolf” theme and one of the most iconic party games of all-time was born – inspiring countless re-imaginations including The Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow and the Ultimate Werewolf and One Night series of games. It was also the origin point for The Resistance’s, which is a very clear evolution of Davidfoff’s concept.
Countless popular games have followed including Coup, Love Letter, Good Cop Bad Cop, Two Rooms and a Boom and – my personal pick of the bunch – Spyfall from Cryptozoic Entertainment.
Spyfall is the fantastically fun game of identifying the spies among you, with each player randomly dealt a card either indicating the location they are all in, or indeed assigning the role of the spy. Played against an eight-minute timer, players much quiz each other and answer cryptically to their location so they don’t alert the spy, who must try to blend in using all the deduction they can muster. At any point a spy can be accused, and if the majority agree then the round ends and the suspect turns over his card. If they are the spy, the rest of the team win and if not, then the spy wins.
Not only is it wonderfully simple and engaging, but the presentation and wackiness of the locations and roles really is the icing on the cake of a fabulous game that anyone with a sense of humour should enjoy. The artwork and style is also exceptionally good, as is the component quality.
This stand-alone sequel comes three years after the original and can either be played on its own or combined with the original. Not only does it contain 20 new locations – everything from a Library to a Candy Factory – it also increases the max number of players from eight to 12. Yet, the sweetest addition is the possibility for two spies in one round, which brings with it a wonderful new dynamic to tried-and-tested gameplay. Sure, it complicates the actual winning conditions, but for me, as with a lot of party games, whoever wins is irrelevant; it’s more the journey and experience.
Despite the huge demand for individual player aids with all the locations, this hasn’t been delivered in Spyfall 2 meaning that it takes time to memorise the locations, and staring at the rulebook mid-game is a sure fire giveaway that you may be a spy. Personally, for me it’s not really an issue. I think the confusion and bafflement of not having a clue what the locations could be at first makes for a more humorous game, that organically evolves over multiple games. However, I wholeheartedly get the logic and this will be a major gripe to a lot of people.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Spyfall is one of the best social deduction party games out there, but I have been left feeling a little underwhelmed by this sequel. Sure as a stand-alone game it is excellent – a little light on locations compared to the original, but that does make it easier to play while, at the same, time also reduces the shelf life somewhat. On the flip side, given all the traditional locations you could imagine off the top of your head were featured in the first game, this sequel has many more abstract locations which also makes it much harder for the spies, particular in the early games – but again also more entertaining.
It is definitely a case of every addition having an equally positive and negative outlook depending on how the individual breaks it down.
In my mind, it is actually as an expansion where it falls down. Given that the game costs the same as the original (around £22) it’s a little much for what is essentially additional locations. This is because if you want to introduce the double spies and increase the player limit then you will have to buy an additional copy of the original game so you have enough location and spy cards to accommodate. So if you want to play a ten player game with two spies, with all 50 locations, you will face an outlay of almost £70 – which is ridiculous. It simply doesn’t translate as an expansion the way I’d hoped.
For huge fans of the game, getting Spyfall 2 was a no brainer and for games with eight or fewer players and a single spy you now have a bigger, more varied, wackier game. However, the other new additions to the game are almost exclusive to the twenty locations. Definitely glad I own it, but I just can’t shake this sour taste of disappointment at being short changed.
Spyfall as a concept and a game is utterly mesmerising, and I urge you to get it – but before you do, ask yourself this question: how many people will I be playing with regularly?
If this answer is less than eight, buy the original. If it is more than eight, buy Spyfall 2. Don’t buy both.
Comparing both versions is very hard. There is no doubt Spyfall 2 offers more bang for your buck in terms of gameplay, yet the original has 50% more locations so has ultimately more variation. At their heart, they are the exact same game; different sides of the exact same coin.
I hope Cryptozoic will look to offer a true expansion to the series, bringing in more locations to Spyfall 2 or extra cards to Spyfall as I really feel as if a trick has been missed here. I also predict the campaign for player aids won’t go away anytime soon and was actually surprised they weren’t included in the sequel given the fanfare. This, along with the fact it doesn’t cross with the original as well as expected, leaves me to predict it won’t be as well-received as the original.
Disappointment aside, it still remains my favourite party game out there and I urge everyone to try it! Just not sure what version…
And later this year there will be a third version. Hot of the press with a big reveal at the ongoing New York Toy fair, publishers Crpytozoic have announced a new partnership with DC Comics and this popular party game will further expand with DC Spyfall later this year. Early details are thin on the ground with the game still in development, but as well as maintaining the core game play it will introduce the iconic DC characters all with unique special abilities in a host of well known DC locations. Naturally, we will see the amazing Spyfall art style applied to all the heroes and villains from the DC Universe. I’m very interested to see this – a true stand-alone game in the series rather than the Spyfall 2 hybrid, and with a very cool comic book theme to boot!
NEXT WEEK: I’m going to talk about an older, simple, abstract game that is quite possibly the most aesthetically beautifully game in my collection!