“Look me in the goddamn eyes Peter”
Inching closer to where Peter is sat, Flynn’s voice drops to a low stern grumble. A once charming Kiwi accent gives way to a violent confrontational tone.
“No one says anything until Peter answers this question…So Peter, what would you do at our meetup location if all of your friends were wearing ear buds? Would you put some on? Would you?”
Ambivalent, Peter looks around the room, subtly reminding us that a vague answer is of the utmost importance. If not only to avoid revealing the true location to the spy, his answer is also potentially an opportunity to confuse the spy.
The true spy is the only member of our 6 person group, who, when we were assigned roles, was told they were a spy instead of being given the group meetup location. In this case the meetup location is World War II.
The spy’s goal is to determine what the mystery location is without being ousted as the spy. The other players have the singular objective of rooting out the spy, leveraging their shared knowledge of the meetup location. A delicate balancing act ensues, where the location attendees try to decipher who knows what, all the while being as subtle as possible.
So as Peter looks around, possibly trying to indicate his innocence, or possibly trying to read the correct answer from our eyes, the room grows suspect.
“Well what is it Peter? What would you do?!?! Would you wear ear buds Peter?!”
“I’d also put them on! I’d also put them on!”.
The room erupts with cheers and anger, knowing that was far from the correct answer. Peter’s hands find his face as he realizes his defeat. Through ruthless questioning the spy has been uncovered, and with just seconds left on the clock. A massive victory for the other 5 of us.
The game being played is called Spyfall and it was created by Alexandr Ushan in 2014. Today it can be played as a card game, or online at netgames.com. By my estimate, the target audience for this game is young teens through to much older. It is a game whose fun is decidedly impacted by the energy level and commitment of the group, so with those two intact, the players’ ages could vary wildly.
The rules I described above, each represent one round of Spyfall. The roles, which we had revealed to us on our laptops, reset with each round. Since each round is as many minutes as there are players, our group of 6 ended up playing tens of rounds over the course of multiple hours. This gave everyone plenty of experience as the spy, and a whole lot more experience finding the spy. The way this game improves in parallel to improvements from the players made it an incredibly fun venture, that only grew more and more sophisticated as the rounds went on. The non-spies learned it’s not just enough to ask each other questions and confirm someone isn’t the spy, it is also crucial to speak as subtly as possible to avoid the true spy figuring out the location. For there was no more frustrating experience than trying to uproot a spy who firmly knew the secret location and was able to blend in as well as any other innocent player.
The story above came in one of our final rounds playing Spyfall. Tensions had grown inexplicably high, and the group’s investment in the game was peaking. Vague questions, with even more vague answers had become the norm. So an opportunity to truly pin down someone as the spy using a trick question, was an electric moment that bore suspense, anger and impossibly pure relief.
Of course the online version of the game we used as the game master did have room for improvement. Firstly, the minutes of the round were set, and so even if we exposed the spy in the first two minutes, there was no way to simply end the round and move on by voting, instead we had to entirely restart the game. Then, since the game knew who each of us was, it would have been incredibly fun to see some form of persistent scoring to see who had the most success as the spy over the course of the entire evening.
Clearly Spyfall with a great group of friends, is an incredible experience. It managed to be exciting, stressful, frustrating, hilarious and joyous all at different times. I believe I may have started quite the Friday night tradition of gaming with this Critical Play endeavour, and my only complaint with this first game is that I worry no one will want to try anything else.