Critical Play: Bluffing, Judging and Getting Vulnerable

Game Chosen

I chose to look into Spy Alley, a bluffing and deception board game designed by William Stephenson and published by Spy Alley Partners LLC. The game is meant to be played by people 8+ and there is no upper bound on the age, it is a “fun for the whole family” type of game.

Formal Elements

Spy Alley requires at least 2 players to be played (although 3 seems like a better minimum) and can accommodate up to 6 at a time. Each player is randomly given a nationality at the start of the game and their objective is to collect all the required resources associated with their character without allowing anyone else to guess who they are. On each turn, players roll dice to move along the board and take actions based on where they land. These actions include buying resources for their characters (each player needs a codebook, disguise, key, and password), guessing other player’s identity or collecting money (used to buy their resources). A player might win by collecting all their resources or by eliminating opposing players through guessing their nationalities. There are definitely some elements of fantasy involved in taking on a different nationality and also some narrative in how the game progresses as people collect their resources. Everyone is out to win (individually) so there is a multilateral individual competition going on, which seems to be quite common for deception games where each character has their own agenda.

Interesting Components

I think part of what makes the game fun is that there is a luck element involved. Every player will move around the board and perform certain actions depending on the roles they get. Meaning that even if a player wanted to give away their identity from the start, they would not be able to rapidly complete their assignment without some luck. Similarly, the randomness aspect of the game encourages deception. No player knows whether an action was taken because a player needs it for their objective or because they just happened to land on a given cell. Similarly, it is perfectly possible for some player to get completely eliminated because of a lucky guess, which infuriates some players but keeps the door open for anyone to win or lose instantaneously.

Another aspect I found quite fun is that the deception has to happen out in the open and players are forced to reveal more and more information as the game goes. In many other deception games, the trick is to say the least as possible to prevent others from being able to read you. In this game, everyone has to collect resources to win, which creates an interesting dynamic where people buy excess resources to throw other people off, which is something I have not seen often.

Comparison & Improvement

This game reminds me a bit of Clue, which I would also call a deception/strategic game. Compared to Clue, in Spy Alley, players need to deceive through their resources but not with the information they gather. It would be like using your inquiries in Clue to guess about places, people or objects you already have information on. I personally like this game better since the board limits your ownership of your decisions but also does not give an unfair advantage to people who randomly started in a better location on the map.

One small issue I have with Spy Alley is that players get eliminated from the game as their nationalities are discovered. The problem with this mechanic is that often times at least one player is outed from the game extremely early on which leaves them wondering around waiting for the 45+ minute game to come to an end. This can be extremely annoying if the player gets eliminated early on. I would probably add some protections to avoid people getting eliminated from the game until some condition is met to ensure they play the majority of the game. That way, we can avoid the negative experience of someone being eliminated early.

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