Web of Spies Game Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review.


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The Basics:

  • For ages 7 and up (publisher suggests 14+)
  • For 2 to 4 players
  • Approximately 1 hour to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Lead your network of spies to control the world

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek rejected!
  • Parent Geek mixed!
  • Child Geek mixed!

Overview

There are two worlds. The first is the one that everyone knows. You see it on the television, hear it on the radio, and wake up to it every morning. The second is the world between the noise and motion. This is the world of spies who lurk in the open, but work in the shadows. You know this world well and now command your own network of spies. Information is both currency and weapon here. You send your operatives to collect assets to strengthen your shadowy hold over governments and further your personal agenda. But there are other organization with the same goals as yours and you must put them down in order to succeed.

Web of Spies, designed by Cole Medeiros, will reportedly be comprised of 1 Map board, 40 Starting cards, 68 Asset cards, 4 Player mats, 2 standard six-sided die (1 black, 1 white), 3 Asset markers, and 20 Spy tokens (in 4 different colors, 5 per player). As this is a review of a prepublished game, I will not comment on the game component quality.

Spinning the Web

To set up the game, first place the game board in the middle of the playing area and give each player 5 Spy tokens of 1 color, as well as a Player mat. Any Spy tokens not used are returned to the game box.

Second, give each player their initial hand of Starting cards. Each player will be given 7 “Basic” cards, 1 “Black Car” card, 1 “Secret Identity” card, and 1 “Silenced Pistol” card. Any Starting cards not used are returned to the game box.

Third, determine the starting location and regions for the players’ spies. This is done by all players taking turns rolling both six-sided dice. The player who rolls the highest then rolls 1 die to determine the region. Regions are shown on the Map board as large white squares with “pips” (dots). Then, in turn order sequence, each player rolls a six-side die to determine in which city their spies are located. All 5 Spy tokens are placed on the city number that matches the die value rolled. Alternatively, players can just take turns placing instead of rolling the die, but the spies must remain in the same region regardless of which method is used.

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Fourth, shuffle the remaining cards to create Asset deck. Draw the first 2 Asset cards and place them face-up in the “Public Asset 1” and “Public Asset 2” spots located on the game board. Draw 1 more Asset card, but keep it face-down, making certain no player sees the face of the Asset card. Place this card, face-down, in the “Secret Asset” spot. Place the Asset deck next to the Map board, face-down.

Fifth, roll the white and black six-sided dice for each Asset marker, starting with “Public Asset 1”. The white die value indicates the region and the black die value indicates the city location in that region where the Asset marker is placed.

That’s it for game set up. Each player takes their Starting cards, shuffles them, and draws 5. The remaining Starting cards remain face-down and to one side of the Player’s mat. This is the player’s draw pile. Discarded and played cards will be placed on the other side of the Player mat.

The Exciting Life of Living Dangerously

Web of Spies is played in turns with no set number of turns per game. A player’s turn is summarized here.

Step 1: Play Cards

Web of Spies is a deck-building game of sorts. As such, everything a player can and wants to do is based on the number and type of cards the player currently has in their hand. Through creative card plays and smart card acquisitions, a player’s deck of cards will become personalized and reflect how the player wants to interact with their opponents in hopes of winning the game. Players can do the following with the cards in their hand, but it should be noted that playing cards is always optional.

Move

Spies move from city to city and region to region using the movement paths. The paths indicate which points are connected. To move 1 Spy token to a connecting location along a movement path, the player needs to discard 1 card face-down in front of them. If a player uses a card’s Special Ability to move more than 1 space, they play the card face-up.

Acquire

There are 3 assets available to the players during their turn. Two of them are known and the third is secret. Players can acquire these assets and add them to their deck for later use. In order to acquire the asset, they must meet the following conditions.

  • The player MUST have at least 1 Spy token in the same location as the Asset marker.
  • The location cannot be contested. “Contested” means there are an equal number of Spy tokens from 2 or more players in the same location. If the player is the only one in the location or has more Spy tokens in the location then all the other players combined, the location is considered “uncontested”.
  • Discard a number of cards equal to the cost of the Asset card. The “Secret” Asset card always costs 2 cards (which might or might not be a good deal). The cost must be paid in cards from the player’s hand. These can be of any type and are played face-down in front of the player.
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Three cards might not seem like a lot to pay, but keep in mind that is over half of the player’s hand!

Once the Asset card has been successfully acquired, it’s taken from its spot on the Map board and placed face-down on top of the player’s discard pile. The Asset marker is then temporarily removed.

Attack

A spy’s work is dangerous and their lives are in constant jeopardy when they are working out in the field. Spies to do not venture forth unprepared, however. They are highly trained and efficient warriors when they need to be. Of course, so are their opponents, which makes it kind of a wash. The deciding factor that determines which spy lives and which spy dies is foresight and the ability to quickly adapt.

A player can attack any other opponent’s Spy tokens if they are in the same location as the player’s Spy token. Combat and its outcome is determined by playing 1 card at a time.

  1. The active player places 1 card from their hand, face-up, in front of them. This card must be an “Attack” type (“target” symbol).
  2. The defending opponent now has a choice. If the opponent does decide to defend, they must play a “Defend” type card (“shield” symbol). However, it’s not simply enough to defend. The card they play must have at least 1 combat symbol that matches the attack. Combat symbols include “Binoculars” (which represents surveillance), “Folders” (which represents information), and “Pistols” (which represents brute force).
  3. The active player can now attack again using an Attack type card, but it must have at least 1 combat symbol that matches the previously played Defend type card.

In this way, players go back and forth attempting to outmaneuver each other. Thematically, the attack is not just two spies shooting at each other. Combat is waged in the shadows using secret surveillance, information gathering, and assassination.

Here is an example of an attack.

webofspies_attack

If the defending opponent cannot play a card or chooses not to during combat to block an attack, their spy has been captured. The captured Spy token is removed from the game board and kept by the attacking player as a trophy.

Special Ability

Cards can also be played for their special ability. Most of the time, cards played for their special ability are played face-up and will be discarded. However, some special abilities have the keyword “trash” which indicates the card is removed from the game. Using a card’s special ability is always optional.

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Example of two different Special Abilities

Step 2: Discard

After the player has played all the cards they want to or can, any remaining cards in their hand and all played cards in front of them are placed in their discard pile. The one exception are cards that were “trashed”. These are out of the game.

Step 3: Draw

The player now draws back up to 5 cards. If the player’s draw pile is ever exhausted, the discard pile is shuffle and becomes thew player’s draw pile.

Step 4: Place Assets

If any Asset cards were claimed during the player’s turn, they are now replaced with new Asset cards. Draw as many Asset cards are necessary to fill each empty Asset position on the Map board. The “Secret” Asset should remain face-down. Then find the new location of the Asset markers for each new Asset that was placed by rolling the dice. Do not relocate or replace Assets that were not claimed during the player’s turn.

This completes the player’s turn. The next player in turn order sequence now goes starting with step 1 noted above. If cards were played out-of-turn to defend against an attack, the player does not draw back up to 5 cards.

The Last Spy Master

The game continues until all the spies belonging to 1 player have been removed from the Map board. The game now stops to determine if their is a winner. If one player has more spies than all the other players, they are the winner of the game. If there is a tie, the game continues until another player has lost all their spies. Then the game stops to determine if there is a winner again. This continues until a winner is declared or only 1 player is left.

To learn more about Web of Spiesvisit the Kickstarter campaign.

Final Word

Some of the Child Geeks enjoyed Web of Spies, while others did not. The deciding factor was not the game’s theme or the game’s play length. What determine if the Child Geek enjoyed the game or not was their understanding of how a deck-building game worked. All players start out on equal ground and by acquiring assets players begin to build up their strength. The younger Child Geeks were more interested in fighting each other, which really didn’t lead to anything but frustration and boredom. According to one Child Geek, “I can’t do anything in this game! I hate it.”  Older Child Geeks, as young as 8-years-old, who understood deck-building games loved Web of Spies. They moved about the Map board intelligently, collected assets, and only fought each other when necessary (mostly when acquiring assets). According to on Child Geek, “What I like most about this game is everything you can and have to do. You have to send out your spies and be everywhere you can. I really like that.” When the games were over, Web of Spies was given a mixed approval from the Child Geeks.

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My 8-year-old frowns, realizing he cannot reach and pay for the Asset card in one turn

The Parent Geeks all understood deck-building games, but the group was once again split. According to one Parent Geek, “I like the game’s concept, but not how you have to go about playing it. I’m spending way too much time traveling to collect cards when I just want to get the cards and move on.” Another Parent Geek said, “This is a new twist on a deck-building game. I like it. I don’t mind the move action, but I don’t like how many cards it takes.” The Parent Geeks raced to each Asset marker in hopes of claiming it first, which was funny to watch and a bit traggic. When the asset was claimed a new one was placed on the opposite side of the Map board, you could feel the room temperature drop. But the game is more than just traveling around. One Parent Geek was very pleased with the game’s combat system. According to them, “I really like how combat is played out. It’s not about counting numbers. It’s all about attempting to out play your opponent while at the same time not leaving yourself too open to another attack. I really liked that.” According to all the Parent Geeks, combat felt balanced and was smooth. Not enough to win everyone over, however, and the game was given a mixed approval as a result.

The Gamer Geeks were also not fans about the traveling, but did not see it as a game detractor. More of an annoyance. They rather enjoyed the idea of moving their spies and placing them in strategic points around the glob to quickly snatch assets. Combat only occurred at certain points on the map that were ideally located for asset acquisition. Which, thematically speaking, makes perfect sense. According to one Gamer Geek, “At first, I didn’t like that we had to move everywhere. Then I realized we didn’t have to. We just need to be at certain spots and make little moves as needed. That’s pretty cool.” What the Gamer Geeks did not like were the random locations the Assets moved to. They thought it would be better if the Assets followed a pattern so you could plan ahead. According to one Gamer Geek, “How can I possibly make strategic and tactical choices? I can’t. That’s no good.” Finally, and the killing blow for the game, was the spy elimination. One Gamer Geek said, “Once you lose a spy the game becomes hard. Lose 2, and the game is very hard. Lose 3, and it’s impossible.” Not impossible, but it’s difficult to traverse the Map board and collect assets if you have a small number of spies. Which, again, feeds into the movement requirements and the ever-shifting locations of the Assets markers. When all the games were over, the Gamer Geeks found too many faults that they didn’t like. As a result, the Gamer Geeks voted to reject Web of Spies.

Web of Spies is interesting. It starts out slow and movement feels horrible at first. The momentum picks up, but not by much and movement only slightly improves as the game progresses. While a player’s turn is pretty quick, it takes some time to travel, collect assets at points that keep relocating, and getting yourself organized. This is most certainly a deck-building game, and a challenging one at that, but it’s not a fast or forgiving one. For some, the inability to quickly start building their “machine” with cards was an annoying distraction at best and an absolute deal breaker at worst. For others, the game’s length of play allowed for careful planning, scheming, and setting up for the big kill. Which was exactly what some players wanted.

Personally, I would either reduce the number of locations on the Map board or add more Assets. There are always 3 available to the player, so they won’t be shorthanded, but the Assets might be out of reach. This is especially true when players start to lose spies. Each Spy token represents a pivot point for the player. Lose too many, and the player loses their ability to effectively collect Assets. Once that happens, the player is out of luck and the game quickly becomes tiresome. If you are familiar with the popular deck-building game Dominion, you know that you can only acquire new cards if you have the money and the buy actions. In this game, money are the cards in your hand which are spent to move and your buy action is always limited to 1 Asset due to the high probability that no two Assets makers will be close enough together. By reducing the number of times a player must travel and adding more Assets on the Map board, I believe this game would have received much more favorable reviews from our groups. More cards in the player’s deck allows for more things to do and more player interaction.

Ironically, there are cards in the game that address all the issues and pain points. Which you would think is great, but these Asset cards must be drawn at random, moved to, and then purchased. Which is part of the ongoing issue. What it boils down to is simply excepting that a deck will not be built quickly and you must fight for every card you obtain.

Overall, I’m lukewarm towards the game at this time, but I’m not left disappointed. There’s still work to be done before it’s completed, but the foundation is solid and the prototype was fun to play. This is not going to be a game for everyone, especially for those who like fast-paced deck-building games. For those who enjoy the challenge of outmaneuver and unthinking their opponents, Web of Spies is sure to catch their attention.

This is a paid for review of the game’s final prototype. Although our time and focus was financially compensated, our words are our own. We’d need at least 10 million dollars before we started saying what other people wanted. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek which cannot be bought except by those who own their own private islands and small countries.

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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One Response to Web of Spies Game Review (prepublished version)

  1. tungstenflux says:

    I’m a big fan of this game. I was enjoying the print-and-play version but have the published version now. It’s one of the most popular games in my gaming circles.

    I prefer the standard game as opposed to playing with the mission pack expansion. Some cards in there are worth 3 and 4 points and it feels like it brings the game to an abrupt end (at 10 points) without much conflict which is what makes the game fun. Of course, you can play with a higher victory condition, but I’m considering trying it with all cards only being worth 1 point, no matter the mission.

    Due to your comments, I might also try it with a 4th asset on the board. This should speed up acquisition, but it might also take away some of the fun of the conflicts created by contesting assets. There’s also an optional rule to deal out 3 cards to every player. I think this might go far in addressing the slow start, though I haven’t felt it’s such a problem.

    Now that the game has been published, do you plan to update your review? Or, have you and I just haven’t seen it? I think the biggest change is that in the standard game, there are no points and the tie-breaker is now sudden death. This small change increases the fun of the game by a surprising margin! In every game we play, who the leading agency is changes as the players attack the leader to even the field and give themselves a shot at victory.

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