Critical Play: Spyfall

Game: Spyfall

Creator: Alexandr Ushan


Target audience: younger internet users who like to play online games with others

Notable elements:  

  • 4+ players
  • One player is a spy, the other players are not spies
  • The spy is randomly assigned
  • No one knows who the spy is
  • Players ask each other questions to determine who the spy is
  • There are no rounds
  • If the spy guesses correctly first, they win
  • If the non-spies find the spy first, they win
  • All non-spies vs. spy



This game is like Mafia, Werewolf, and Secret Hitler. In each game, there are a small number of hidden enemies that are competing against the normal people. The group works together to find the hidden opponents before the opponents win. Since the identity of the players are hidden, deception is a key factor in all these games. This game is different than the others because its premise is much simpler and the barrier to entry is lower. The rules take seconds to explain, and the game can be played on your phone. This means that anyone, anywhere can pick up a game of Spyfall easily. On the other hand, Mafia, Werewolf, and Secret Hitler take a lot longer to explain and Secret Hitler requires a specific board and cards. While these features make Mafia, Werewolf, and Secret Hitler less accessible, they also increase the complexity and therefore the fun of the games. Because it is so simple, Spyfall was significantly less engaging than games like it.


Was Spyfall fun?

I did not find Spyfall very fun. It was too easy to find out who the spy was and too hard to successfully deceive players that you are not the spy. It didn’t feel like enough of a challenge. This is because the process of asking questions to other players would almost immediately produce the spy’s identity. This issue is could be attributed to the size of the game. I played with a group of four. In such a small group, it was very hard for the spy to hide their identity. Maybe in a larger group the game could be more fun because it would be harder to identify the spy and easier for the spy to hide.


Moments of success/failure

We played three rounds of Spyfall and in each round identified the spy in 1-2 questions. This felt like a failure on the game’s behalf. It was very easy to tell who the spy was by asking pointed questions at anyone who seemed suspicious. If they did not give the correct answer, we automatically knew they were the spy. Likewise, when you are the spy and have no information, it’s nearly impossible to correctly answer a question from the other players.


Things you would change to make the game better

I would change a lot of things about this game. I would increase the minimum number of players to give the spy more people to hide in. I would also make it so there are two spies as opposed to one. This way, the spies can team up to create confusion by asking each other questions and correctly answering them. Finally, I would add a better protocol for determining who the spy is. Right now, it only takes one good question for the group to find the spy. Having more complex procedures that help the spy hide would make the game a lot more fun.

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