spyfall cover

Critical Play: Spyfall

Spyfall — the original version

This article is a critical play analysis for the social game — Spyfall, which was initially designed by Alexandr Ushan and published by Hobby World, in 2014. It originated with a card game format but now it has a website version.

The target audience of Spyfall is aged 13+, according to its card version. Meanwhile since a set of locations make up the core part of the game, players aged 13+ should be able to understand the game with little trouble.

Formal Elements

Basically — Spyfall is played over several rounds, and at the start of each round all players receive cards showing the same location — except that one player receives a card that says “Spy” instead of the location. The core mechanics of this game is straightforward and easy-to-understand, since it contains only 2 major elements: Your identity (including the designated location for non-spys), and a set of locations. However, the quality of game experience would depend on the detailed design of the game itself (will be mentioned in the following parts).

Type of Fun

As spyfall could be defined as a social / party game, one of the main types of fun should be the joy brought up by playing and communicating with each other in a group. Besides, since it requires identity hiding thus some strategies, the skillful thinking behind either success or failure can also bring players happiness.

Memorable moments

One of my friends drew the “spy” in two consecutive rounds. He failed for the first round but won for the second. And he even came up with some “tips for spy”, e.g., ask some non-exploratory questions; ask the other person back after being asked…

Another thing is that this game indeed demonstrated its social attributes, at least to me. I reached out to a few old friends for this and I’m more than glad to see that everyone’s enjoying & sharing their recent updates.

Things to make it better

As mentioned above, the details can really determine whether a game is successful or not. For this web version in particular, we’ve come up with some modifications that optimized our gaming experience:

  • Although it may already be well-known, the web page should also contain a basic introduction of the gameplay. Thus we googled & spent some time discussing the rules.
  • When asking questions, each player is only allocated one minute. But in fact, with everyone’s time to communicate and think about questions, the designated time is insufficient. Thus we prolonged the original time until we came to consensus.
  • The list of locations wouldn’t change thus, after certain rounds, players can possibly find some patterns. We came up with a solution as to enable players to customize the word list, including the category (e.g., food, drinks, animals, kitchen utensils…) and the words. Reference: Skirbble
  • The official rules indicated that players ask questions in a fixed order. However according to the 2-round-spy, this could be so painful since the player who asked him questions was so harsh that she always threw sharp questions… We came up with an idea to randomize the sequence of question-asking.
1. Gathering players
2. Scroll for identity
3. Identity released for a non-spy player. For a spy-player, there’s only “You are the spy” displayed
4. Questions are asked player by player. The spy-player tries to figure out the right location & not to be detected, meanwhile the non-spy-players try to give little hints to the spy-player & find him/her
5. Vote for the “spy”
6. Result released
7. The spy-player can make a guess on the right answer

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