Critical Play: Spyall

Name of Game: Spyfall

Creator: Alexandr Ushan

Platform: Web

Notable elements:

Players: unilateral competition, with players aiming to discover one hidden individual

Resources: a list of possible locations is shared between players

Procedures: questions are asked between players. At the end of the round, players vote on the spy.

Outcomes: spy win or players win


One Night Werewolf: In Spyfall, players are not assigned specific roles unlike in One Night Werewolf. In my opinion, this makes the game less fun because there is not as much interesting complexity created. However, the because some roles in One Night Werework are also less engaging, the equality in Spyfall leads to more freeform social discussion.

Another difference between Spyfall and One Night Werewolf is the notion of a “hidden location”. The discussion in Spyfall centers around determining the spy based on their knowledge of a hidden location. This difference creates a social dynamic where players’ identities are intertwined with their experience with certain locations, rather than what they would do in a certain role as in One Night Werewolf.

Was the game fun?

In the first stage, people were still understanding the rules, and we had to go a couple rounds of practice and restarting so players understood the procedures. This stage was not fun because of a lot of confusion. In the later stage, once everyone knew the rules and could play around with social dynamics and trickery, the game was fun. Over time however, I was getting a sense of the types of questions people were asking, and the game became less novel and less fun. Another dynamic that would have helped make the game more fun is counting the score. We only considered each round individually, so there wasn’t as much a sense of competition which would have made the game more fun. I think it’s also more fun being the spy, because it’s a very nerve wracking but rewarding experience if you can succeed.

Moments of particular success or epic fails

One great sucess was when I was the spy, when the true location was a school, and Ciera asked me if I would find a lot of people under 5 feet here. I had an intuition I should respond with no (why would someone ask that and expect yes?!), which then also revealed to me that the location was likely the school. Me answering that question correctly also led me to be able to preserve my identity the whole game. It’s moments of nerve wracking improvisation followed by success that make one feel really rewarded in a game.

Things you would change to make the game better

Currently Spyfall is based on choosing from a list of locations. I think some experimentation could be done on a different set of items to guess from – like celebrities, countries, buildings. The questions asked regarding particular locations became repetitive after a while – “is there water?”, “do kids go here?”.

Furthermore, there could be multiple spies, and another mechanic added – for example, the spies know each other. That would lead to increased depth and strategy, and also make the game less stressful for the sole spy.

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