Critical Play: Spyfall

I played Spyfall, an online game created by Alexandr Ushan. The target audience is people aged 13 and up, and the game is for 3-8 players. At the beginning of a round, the program selects a player who will be the spy, and everyone else is given a location from a list. Within a time limit, all players ask others players questions about the location, aiming to discern who is the spy. When time’s up, everyone votes on who they think the spy is. If the spy is not found out, they win. If the spy is found out, the spy gets the opportunity to guess the location based on what they learned during the round. If they get it right, the spy wins. If not, everyone else wins. The mechanic that allows the spy to guess the location and win inhibits the non-spies from asking and answering questions in obvious ways. This is a forbidden action objective. The spy needs to pretend to know the location and trick the rest into thinking they know, so the spy has the objective of outwitting. The non-spies also should try to get the spy to reveal themselves by asking pertinent questions, so non-spies outwit as well. Spyfall involves unilateral competition, with one spy playing against the rest, but the non-spies don’t know who their opponent is. 

Spyfall is similar to games like Mafia and One Night Werewolf. Like those, Spyfall involves a secret bad guy and everyone else tries to discover them. However, I prefer how Spyfall is a knowledge-based game. Mafia and One Night Werewolf involve more narrative and fantasy. Players step into the boundaries of a fictional world, take on assigned characters, and make up actions. I enjoyed that in Spyfall, we could use our existing knowledge to deduce the spy and ask/answer questions about the locations. When we answered questions, we answered as our real selves. Also, in Mafia, a game is made up of multiple rounds, and someone gets killed each round. I like how in Spyfall, the game is complete after one round, and no one needs to sit out because they got kicked out. 

The game was somewhat fun because I was never the spy (by chance). Personally, I don’t enjoy deceiving others and having to pretend/lie in front of others. I enjoyed my role as a non-spy. It was challenging to come up with questions to ask others, but not so challenging that the game was boring. During our first round, however, we realized the allotted time for questioning was far too short. We had to adjust the time for us, so that was a fail on the game’s part. I would make the question round longer. Another fail was that in one round, our group could not agree on who to pick as the spy. The game required us to come to a consensus, but we were in a deadlock where 2 people voted for one person, and 2 for another person. We also did not want to reveal too much information about the location while discussing who the spy could be, so that slowed our discussion further. Another criticism we had is that one of the locations was “crusader army,” and we were not familiar with the term so we had to take extra time to do research. Noticing other players doing research on their devices also gave away that they were not the spy. Crusader army also isn’t a location. I would make the locations more well-known and clearly locations. A moment of success was the times when we were able to deduce the spy and all agree.

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