Critical Play: Spyfall

Game, creator, platform: Spyfall created by Alexandr Ushan on

Target audience: I believe that the target audience for this game is young teenagers to young adults looking for a quick Mafia-like game to play with friends

Notable elements: This game requires a minimum of 4 players, where one of the people out of the group is a spy and all the others are not spys. The non-spys receive a randomized location that they need to keep secret from the spy, but also need to discover the identity of the spy within the group. The randomly assigned spy does not receive the location, but needs to guess the location from a list of possible locations while keeping their identity hidden. There are no rounds and players directly question each other about the location to discover who the true spy is, and the spy tries to remain hidden while gathering information to make an informed guess about the location.

Compare the games: This game is very similar to Werewolf, Mafia, and Secret Hitler, where there is one adversary chosen from the group to which we need to figure out the identity of. In these games, the larger group is trying to figure out the identity of the enemy before the adversary either kills everyone (Werewolf and Mafia) or discovers the hidden location (Spyfall). Deception is a key theme displayed throughout these games, and needing to obscure your own identity is of utmost importance. The barrier to entry for Spyfall is much lower than that of the other games, where they have a larger system at play. For example, in Werewolf there exists Seers and Doctors, while Spyfall simply has two roles: spy and non-spy. Spyfall is better suited towards people looking for a Mafia-like game without needing to explain too many rules – it’s very simple and not convoluted. However, this comes at a cost. Since Spyfall is very simple and accessible, it also lacks in complexity and engagement – it’s quite one-dimensional compared to the other games within the category.

Was the game fun: I think the game was quite fun once we got the hang of it. I would have definitely preferred playing a more complex game like Werewolf, where many other factors were at play. However, I can definitely see the appeal of this game for a party-like environment and/or a game with many other people.

Moments: I think the best moments while playing the game were when we got much deeper into a round and it really was vague who the spy was. As the game progresses, the spy gains much more information about the location to allow them to blend into the group. However, in the early start of the game, it is much too easy to figure out who the spy is because they have absolutely no information about the location.

Things you would change: The number one thing I would change is the minimum player count – we played with 4 and found that it was too easy to guess who the spy was. By having more players, it’s much more likely for the spy to be able to blend in and gather information about the location before they are selected for questioning. I also think that adding more roles to the game would be effective – there should be two spies that can work together to confuse the larger group. There would be much more interesting dynamics in deception and teamwork to confuse the non-spys. The main problem we found was that if the spy was asked a question first, they would be immediately found out, which is not fun nor engaging. All in all, this game has a lot of promise!

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