Critical Play: Spyfall

Game: Spyfall

Creator: The creation of the Spyfall card game is credited to Alexandr Ushan.

Platform: Existed originally as a card game but is now most accessible via online versions that allow you to join rooms and will assign roles in the browser.


Number of players

The card game is listed as being for 3-8 players. However, in my experience today, I have found that 4 is the smallest number of players to have (trying to start playing with 3 felt too difficult to keep it interesting). 10 is also very feasible to play but beyond that it becomes to difficult to ask everyone questions and keep track of everything. 


Each round begins by all but one player being given the same location, and the final player being told they are the spy. A timer is usually set for between 7-12 minutes (depending on number of players) and players ask each other questions to determine if they know the location to try and uncover the spy (who doesn’t know the location). The rules around who can ask questions is specific. You may only ask a question if you just answered a question. You may ask anyone a question at any time though. 

At the end of the round, everyone votes for who they think the spy is. They must come to a consensus before they can move on, so lots of deliberation can happen here. Spyfall is unique in that even if the players correctly guess the spy, the spy can still win the game if they are at that point able to correctly guess the location. So, it’s never over until it’s over.

Player dynamics

The dynamics between the players change as the round progresses. It begins as multilateral competition, with everyone extremely suspicious of each other. However, as more information is uncovered and players provide good or bad answers, it becomes more unilateral as coalitions form between those players who deem themselves, and each other, as safe, and begin to target those who they think are suspicious. 


I think that Spyfall must be one of my favorite social games. Having played Mafia in class, also for the first time, I found myself comparing Spyfall to Mafia a lot and thought it was better in nearly every way. The game moves quickly with multiple people often talking at once, the questions being quickly passed from person to person, and much deliberating being done over the level of cryptography in each given answer. The ~10min rounds fly by and the series of final deliberations always turns up surprises and the spy often gets away with it. I believe it is crucial that the game is not too easy, for either party. It’s nerve-wracking to play as the spy, but equally difficult to win as a regular player trying to guess who the spy is. 

When I was playing with friends this evening, We began as a group of 4, then it became 8, then 10, then 14, then 8 again. 8 and 10 were the ideal numbers in my opinion. 12 was far too difficult to keep everyone involved – which is crucial for keeping it fun for all. It is worth noting though that I knew all the people I was playing with. If I was playing with strangers then fewer might have been better as I would have been struggling to figure out new personalities and names.


I only played it for a few hours but there was nothing that came up which made me think the game needed to be modded in any way. Someone suggested playing a version where regular players were assigned roles, as well as told a location. However, an argument broke out over the validity/usefulness of adding roles, so we dropped it as it didn’t seem like a clear improvement to the game.

Favorite moment

My favorite moment was in our final round, we were all intensely quizzing one player who seemed extremely suspicious. They were unable to convince us that they weren’t the spy and that we should instead vote for the person who’d been the spy last round (and had gotten away with it). We were satisfied with that person’s answers this time and also doubted they’d be the spy twice from an odds perspective, so we voted for the suspicious player. It turns out we were wrong and the person had in fact been the spy two rounds in a row, and gotten away with it both times.

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