Critical Play #1

Name of game: Spyfall

Game designer: Alexandr Ushan

Platform: board game or PC online

Target audience: teenagers, adults

Formal elements:

Number of players: 3-8.

Player roles: one of the players is the spy, and the rest are non-spies.

Procedure: in each timed round, each player receives a card stating whether they are the spy or not. One of the players receives the spy card, and the rest of the players receive cards stating the same location. After all players have checked their cards, the game proceeds to a questioning phase, where the players ask each other questions. Non-spy players try to ask questions so that they can figure out who is the spy, and the spy needs to pretend to know the location and try to find out what the location is.

Ending conditions:
The spy, at any point of a round, can end the round by revealing their identity and guessing the location. If the guess is correct, the spy gets 4 points; if the guess is incorrect, the spy gets 2 points.
Any non-spy player, at any point of a round, can start a vote to vote on who the spy is. If all non-spy players unanimously agree that one player is the spy, the round ends and the indicted player has to reveal their identity. If the indicted player is the spy, then all other players gain 1 point each, and the player who started the vote gains 1 additional point. On the other hand, if the indicted player is not the spy, the spy gains 4 points.

Objective: non-spy players need to cooperate to figure out who the spy is without leaking too much information to the spy. The spy needs to pretend they know the location and gather information of the location from other players’ words. This is a game of outwit, where two player sides attempt to deceive each other to achieve their respective goals.

Conflict: conflicts come from the difference in goals of spy and non-spy players. Non-spy players face a dilemma of deciding how much information to leak is enough to find out who the spy is without telling the spy the location. The spy player does not know the location, so they also face a dilemma of deciding what to say to bring out the most information of the location without showing they actually do not know the location.
Is the game fun? Yes, it is. In my opinion, the most brilliant part of this game is it controls the freedom of the game very well. Players have the freedom to say whatever they want during the questioning phase, but it involves a decision-making process for the players to determine what to say. Each player has their own thought process, so what one player decides to be the best course of action might not be ideal for other players. It really tests the synergies between non-spy players and the deduction skill of the spy player.

One example moment that really shows why this game is challenging is when I played with my friends G and T, T was the spy. We were in the space station, and G said, “It’s really blue outside, isn’t it?” I thought space wasn’t blue, so I thought G was the spy, but actually, what G meant was Earth was blue, and that piece did not communicate well with me. T, being the close friend of G, immediately got what she meant and guessed the location. Close friends who understand each other really have an advantage in this game.

There are two modifications I might make to this game to make it better in my opinion. First, the unanimous vote requirement might be too restrictive for the non-spy players. I think it’s better to use majority voting rule, where the indicting is valid as long as over half of the non-spy players agree. Additionally, when there are more players, there can be more than one spy so that the game is spicier. The points need to be rebalanced to adjust to the fact that there is more than one spy.


Some screenshots:

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