Spy Guys Game Review

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The Basics:

  • For ages 7 and up (publisher suggests 8+)
  • For 3 to 6 players
  • Approximately 30 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Memorization & Pattern/Color Matching
  • Cooperative & Team Play
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Bluffing and Misdirection

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Be fast, be smart, and be crafty to become the Master Spy!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek rejected!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

The infamous Edward Snowden said, “I’ve been a spy for almost all of my adult life – I don’t like being in the spotlight.” Which is to say, spies don’t like to be recognized or be watched. In this game, players will need to discover secrets and keep information hidden as best they can. The winner is the first to accomplish their mission, which will require memory skills and a penchant for hindering opponents. The trick is to stay underneath your opponents’ radar while remaining visible to all.

Spy Guys, designed by Tovarich Pizann and published by Victory Point Games, is comprised of 64 cards. The illustration by Michael Irizarry, Jr. are simple, not overly impressive, but do an OK job of representing the card’s subject matter.

Getting Ready to Spy

To set up the game, first determine which Spy cards need to be removed based on the number of players. In a 3-player game, only Spies with a “3” in their top-left corner are used, in a 4-player game, only Spies with a “4” in their top-right corner are used, and in a 5-player game, 1 Spy is removed (dealer’s choice or randomly determined). Removed cards are out of for the duration of the game.

Second, find and set aside the 3 Mission Objective  and 1 Contact card for each Spy card in play. Set these cards to one side of the game playing area. For the Spies not in play, remove the associated Mission Objective and Contact cards, returning them to the game box.

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Third, find the 2 Escape Plan cards and place them with the Mission Objective and Contact cards set aside for the players’ Spy cards (not the ones that were removed from play).

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Fifth, give each player a Symbol Decoder card. This is used by the player to help reference card symbols and their meaning. Any Symbol Decoder cards not used are returned to the game box.

Sixth, shuffle the remaining cards and deal 4 to each player, face-down. This is the player’s starting hand.

Seventh, add to the deck the set aside Escape Plan, Mission Objective, and Contact cards. Shuffle all the cards together and then deal them face-down to the table to create a grid. The grid should have an equal number of cards per row and column as possible. The dealt cards should not overlap or be stacked in any way. Have each player place their Spy card face-up on the closest border of the grid.

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That’s it for game set up. Determine who will go first and begin.

The Subtle Art of Espionage

Spy Guys is played in turns with no set number of turns per game. A player’s turn is summarized here. When playing, there are 3 universal rules that are always followed.

  • Card actions are triggered when they are taken from the grid and revealed. Any cards in the player’s hand cannot be played for their action.
  • The total number of cards a player can have at the end of their turn is 4.
  • When directed to play a card to the grid, this can be the same card the player revealed and took into their hand. The only time this is not allowed is when the player reveals the Wrong Turn card.

From the grid, the player must flip over 1 face-down down if possible. This can be any card the player likes. The revealed card is then taken into the player’s hand and resolved. This is where the player’s Symbol Decoder card comes in handy. Each of the card actions are summarized here.

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  • Bomb: Three cards from the same row as this card are taken by the player, placed in their hand, and then the player’s hand is shuffled. Three cards are then drawn from the player’s hand and placed face-down back to the grid to replace the cards originally taken. The Bomb card remains face-up in the grid. This ends the player’s turn.
  • Draw: The player takes any card they like from the grid (either face-up or face-down) and adds it to their hand. Then the player takes any card from their hand and places it face-down in the grid in the same position. This ends the player’s turn.
  • Informants: When revealed, all opponents (not the player) must reveal 1 card from their hand. The Informant card will list either “Contact”, “Escape Plan”, or “Objective” (if it’s an Objective, a specific Objective type must be specified, as well). If an opponent has 1 of these types, they must show it to the table now. If the opponent does not have the specified card, they can reveal any other card of their choosing. Afterwards, the player then takes the above mentioned Draw action.
  • Escape Plan: If an Escape Plan card is face-up in the grid, the player can reveal their winning hand (see below) and declare victory. If an Escape Plan card is revealed and the player cannot declare victory, the player then takes the above mentioned Draw action.
  • Negotiation: When revealed, the player selects 1 opponent and asks them to give them 2 cards from their hand. The cards given can by any the opponent likes. The player takes these cards, selects 1 to keep, and returns 1 of the original cards given by the opponent and 1 additional card from the player’s hand. Both players should have 4 cards in their hand. This ends the player’s turn.
  • Pickpocket: When revealed, draw 1 card randomly from any opponent’s hand. The player then passes 1 card from their hand to the opponent, replacing the one taken. This ends the player’s turn.
  • Quid Pro Quo: When revealed, select 1 opponent and swap hands. The player and the opponent now select 1 card from their swapped hand to keep, handing back the 3 they do not want. Both players should have 4 cards in their hand. This ends the player’s turn.
  • Wrong Turn: When revealed, the card is taken into the player’s hand. The player must then select any other card in their hand and place it face-down in the grid. The Wrong Turn card must be placed back in the grid or given to an opponent at the first opportunity to do so. This ends the player’s turn.

If the player elects to take a face-up card, the action associated with that card is NOT triggered. In all cases, the player’s total hand size cannot exceed 4 and if a card is taken into the player’s hand, the card taken from the grid must be replaced with another card which is placed face-down.

Once the player has revealed a card and resolved any actions, their turn is over. The next player in turn order sequence now goes.

Master Spy

The game continues until a player puts together their “winning hand”. Each Spy card lists a specific Contact and 3 Mission Objective cards. If the player gathers these 4 cards into their hand and uses the Escape Plan card in the grid on their turn, they win the game.

Game Variants

Two game variants are available for those who like to play the base game a bit differently. Each variant is summarized here.

Chaos

This game variant shuffles in the Mission Objective and Contact cards into the deck before 4 cards are given each player to create their starting hand. This means a player could have 1 or more required cards for victory right from the start, the player’s opponents could have their cards, or the cards are located in the grid. This game variant gives the players more to consider and makes looking at an opponent’s hand all the more worthwhile.

Spy Partners

If playing with 4 or 6 players, Spy Guys can be played in teams of 2. To win, a team must collect the required cards for both their Spies, but a teammate is out of the game as soon as they complete their Spy card’s requirements. At which point, the other teammate continues to play the game without a partner.

Teams sit opposite of each other. When a revealed card instructions the player to draw from the grid, the player can instead pass any card from their hand to their teammate who passes a card back, including the one just given. Teammates cannot communicate or hint at what cards they need. However, table talk is permissible, meaning sneaky teammates could speak to each other in code.

To learn more about Spy Guys, visit the game’s web page.

Final Word

The Child Geeks really got into the game and quickly. Spy Guys is exceedingly simple to teach and the objective is very clear. So clear, in fact, that it’s  staring the players’ in the face right from the start. The difficult part is finding the right cards without letting your opponent’s know you have the cards you are looking for. This greatly pleased the Child Geeks and they all felt like the game’s theme and narrative was very much part of their enjoyment. One Child Geek said, “I feel like a spy traveling all over the world trying to complete my mission.” Another Child Geek said, “You have to be sneaky, remember information, and attempt to outsmart your opponents. That’s exactly what I think a spy would do every day at their office.” If spies had offices, sure. When all the games were over, the Child Geeks voted to approve the game.

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My oldest flips over his card while his brother looks on in hopes of learning something new, too

The Parent Geeks were not that excited when I told them they would be playing a Memory game. Most (not all) Memory games are not that entertaining to Parent Geeks and tend to be very easy for them to play. To a point where the Parent Geeks sometimes feel they must “dumb themselves down” in order to give their Child Geeks a chance. When played among peers, the game play feels watered down and uninteresting. When the Parent Geeks started playing Spy Guys, they had this to say, “This is more than a Memory game.” Yes it is, and the Parent Geeks started to catch on quickly. Another Parent Geek said, “Memory is still important, but there is more to it than just remembering where cards are. You have to watch you opponent, you can steal from you opponent, and your opponent can steal from you. Which means you have to bluff. I like this game!” As a matter of fact, all the Parent Geeks liked Spy Guys, finding it to be a fun, casual, and engaging game that could be played with friends and family. This resulted in the Parent Geeks fully approving the game.

The Gamer Geeks liked what the game was doing and how it was going about it, but did not think it was a game worth their time. According to one Gamer Geek, “I think this is a great example of a game that introduces new players to different game ideas. Much like a gateway game. It’s easy to learn and challenging to play. Great for new players, but not a game I would ever be interested in.” All of the Gamer Geeks agreed. They found no fault with the game play or what the game was about, but didn’t feel like Spy Guys was a game they would ever enjoy. Another Gamer Geek said, “Neat idea, good execution, but ultimately not a game that engages my interest.” When the Gamer Geeks were done playing, they all agreed that Spy Guys was a game they would play if asked, but would never purposely bringing to their elitist gaming table.

To suggest that Spy Guys is just a “Memory game” is incorrect. Yes, certainly, memory plays a significant role in the game in order to obtain victory, but it’s not the single driving force in a player’s decision making process. A player must also consider how the other player’s are acting and what cards to keep, what cards to expose, and what cards to shift around. What the player remembers and what they think they know helps drive decisions, but how player’s interact drives the game play, too.

Even more interesting is that players are not in direct conflict with each other. While the objective for every player is the same, the necessary cards to claim victory are not. This means players will find themselves semi-cooperatively helping each other take another opponent down, but such alliances seldom last. Then there is the player interaction itself. Some actions are just meant to hinder, but most are meant to gather information. Just the like real world of spies and espionage, what you know can lead you astray or right where you want to go. More importantly, what your opponents think you know will get you in trouble. Staying under the radar is necessary in this game, but you have to keep everyone else well pegged so as not to get skunked.

Great stuff.

I was most pleased with Spy Guys. It played quickly, had a lot more player interaction than I expected, kept me guessing, kept me wanting to learn more, and left me feeling very satisfied. The vast majority of our players enjoyed their time with the game, with the only negative points being frustration in getting cards and the lack of game depth for those who wanted a bit more. For everyone else, this casual game of deduction was a winner. Do sit down and play Spy Guys when you get a chance.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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