Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the Kickstarter campaign’s success. 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 game’s website or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review.
- For ages 10 and up (publisher suggests 13+)
- For 2 to 6 players
- Approximately 30 minutes to complete
- Active Listening & Communication
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Strategy & Tactics
- Risk vs. Reward
- Hand/Resource Management
- Bluffing and Misdirection
- Child – Easy
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- To complete your mission, you’ll need the right items, but these are awfully hard to come by…
- Gamer Geek rejected!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek approved!
English actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, said “I’ve always wanted to play a spy because it’s the ultimate acting exercise. You are never what you seem.” In this game, it’s self-evident who everyone is: spies and backstabbers all. The goal is espionage, bluffing, and sabotaging. Players must be ruthless but never lose their cool or wit. Play your cards right, and you’ll win. It’s all about balance in a game that is intended to unnerve you.
Spy Sabotage, designed by Brandie Searle and to be published by Flying Iguana Games, will reportedly be comprised of 24 Mission cards, 40 Item cards, and 156 Bid cards. As this is a review of a prepublished game, I cannot comment on the game component quality. However, the artwork on the cards at the time of this review is very minimal. Not a lot pops out at you, but the cards do a good job of clearly communicating to the player what they are.
Prepping for the Mission
To set up the game, first have each player select a color and then take all the Bid cards of their color of choice (26 Bid cards per player) and one matching Sabotage card. These cards represent the available starting cash available to them and their ability to cause some havoc. Each player starts with $55 in total available funds and one wrench to throw into the proverbial machine. All of these cards go into the player’s hand.
Second, shuffle the Mission cards and deal one card to each player face-down. Players should look at their Mission card but keep them hidden from their opponents until later revealed during the game. Each Mission card shows the three Item cards the player needs to collect during the game for their mission to succeed.
Third, shuffle the Item cards and place the deck face-down. This is the Item draw deck for the duration of the game. Immediately draw several Item cards, as determined by the number of players in the game. Place these drawn Item cards in a row and face-up next to the Item draw deck. These are the items up for grabs for the round.
That’s it for game setup. Determine who will go first and begin.
Spy Versus Spy
Spy Sabotage is played in rounds with no set number of rounds per game. Each round is separated into two phases. These phases are taken in sequential order.
Phase One: Bid
The available Items to be had during this round are displayed and visible to all the players. These items may or may not be important to the player, depending on what is listed on their Mission card.
Starting with the first player of the round and continuing in turn order sequence, each player will complete one of the following actions:
- Place one Bid card of any value they like next to one of the row’s Item cards. The player attempts to win the Item card by having the greatest value Bid cards in play for the round. Bid cards are always played face-down. Players do not need to place a Bid card on the same Item card each time. They can place their Bid cards wherever they like on any visible Item card in the row. When bidding on an Item card that already has a bid, players should place their Bid card on top of the previous one. In this way, the last player to bid on an item always has their card on top of the bidding stack.
- Place their Sabotage card in the same manner as a Bid card; however, the player has no intention of winning this Item card. Instead, the Sabotage card is meant to ensure that no players will get the Item card shown as available.
- Pass, and by doing so, the player does not place any card, nor can they place any cards for the round’s duration.
Once a Bid or Sabotage card is played, no players can look at the cards under each item. So remember what you bid on or are sabotaging!
After every player has taken their turn and taken one of the three listed actions, the first player of the round goes again. This continues until all the players elect to Pass as their action. If all the players except one have passed, the remaining player may only play one more card (meaning they cannot play cards indefinitely).
This completes the bid phase. Onward to the reveal phase!
Phase Two: Reveal
Starting with the first Item card closest to the Item draw deck, take the pile of cards for the bid and turn them face-up so the very first card played to the Item card is showing. Now reveal each card, one at a time, placing similar colored cards together, resolving the outcome to determine the fate of the Item card.
After all the cards have been organized, one of two actions will need to take place.
- If a Sabotage card was not played, the player with the highest total adding up their played Bid cards wins the Item card. This card is placed face-up in front of the winning player. If the player wins the Item card but doesn’t need it, they can discard it to to the bottom of the Item draw deck and then draw the top-most card from the Item draw deck as a replacement. The player must keep this card.
- If a Sabotage card was played, the Item card is immediately placed at the bottom of the Item draw deck.
In the rare case that two or more players bid the same amount for a single Item card, the tie is broken by each player placing one more card. Then, the item goes to the highest Bid card played. Or, if the card played is a Sabotage card, the Item card is discarded.
Regardless of the outcome, all Bid and Sabotage cards associated with the Item card being resolved are discarded.
Continue to the next Item card and reveal the cards in the bid pile. Do this for each Item card in play until all the Item cards have been either collected or discarded. If an Item card doesn’t have any bid, discard it to the bottom of the Item draw deck.
Staring a New Round and Ending the Game
A new round begins after all the Item cards and their associated bids have been resolved. Draw a new row of Item cards and start the bidding again. Unfortunately, players do not get their previously played Bid and Sabotage cards back, meaning they must continue using fewer cards in their hand. Bid wisely, my friends.
This repeatedly continues until one player has collected all the needed Item cards noted on their Mission card. Once they do so, they should wait until the round is over. Then they announce their victory to the table, reveal their Mission card, and bask in the soothing sounds of their opponents crying in dismay.
Ah, music to your ears…
If two or more players complete their Mission card at the end of the round, ties are broken by first seeing which players have the most money in Bid cards (the Sabotage is considered $10 when breaking ties), then the most Items won.
Up to six players can enjoy Spy Sabotage, but if you only have one friend around who is available to play, there is a special two-payer game variant available. Instead of completing one Mission card, each player is racing to complete as many Mission cards as possible. After completing a Mission card, reveal it, and draw a new one. The game continues until one player runs out of Bid and Sabotage cards. The player with the most completed Mission cards wins the game.
You can play Spy Sabotage in teams instead of trying to go about it alone. To do so, you’ll need two copies of the game. Because we didn’t, we cannot do anything more than mention it’s a possibility.
The Child Geeks enjoyed the game, finding it exciting to try to outbid their opponents through what they believed to be clever plays and a lot of table talk. While the Child Geeks have always excelled at speaking a lot at the table (even when they aren’t supposed to), it was the card plays that always left them feeling a little befuddled. According to one such Child Geek, “I keep playing too many cards when the game first starts and not leaving much to play with at the end. I am still learning how to play my cards, but I think the best way to win the game is to go slow.” Another Child Geek said, “I liked the game because you always had to think about what card you wanted to play to either win a card or have the other players spend all their cards. The best part is when you reveal, and you see who wins!” When all the spies were safely back in their home territory, the Child Geeks took a vote, and all agreed to approve the game.
The Parent Geeks found the game entertaining and light, with just the right amount of bluffing and secret card plays to make each round a fun experience from the first card to last. According to one Parent Geek, “It’s like a race, but instead of running, you cross the finish line by being the best silent bidder. The best part of this game is not knowing who is betting on what, but making sure everyone thinks you do!” Another Parent Geek said, “Fast and fun with just the right amount of time at the table. We all enjoyed it and would love to play it again.” The Parent Geeks played Spy Sabotage with their families and their peers, finding the game enjoyable no matter who was at their family gaming table. This resulted in the Parent Geeks fully approving the game.
The Gamer Geeks were not impressed. According to one Gamer Geek, “Too simple and repetitive. It’s a game about winning cards by playing cards blindly, hoping that you don’t get outbid and no jackass drops the sabotage. In theory, the game sounded like fun. However, in practice, I was bored and never felt like I could ever improve my chances. Really, the only objective is to bid on what you need, but the trick is making sure no one knows it. This was entertaining at first, but when you know everyone is doing the same thing, it becomes commonplace and not very interesting.” Another Gamer Geek said, “I think this would be a great game for families, but for a gaming elitist like myself who loves games that give you information, the ability to adjust and shift your tactics, this game never once provided what I hunger for. I’ll let the younger and casual players enjoy it. I’ll leave it alone.” When the last spy was caught and tried, the Gamer Geeks left Spy Sabotage to rot in its cell.
The game is light and fun, and yes, repetitive. Each round is the same. The Mission card never changes, only the available items. But, when it comes time to bid, you do have to think it through. This is not a game you can just casually walkthrough if you are looking to win. What you play and where does matter. The problem is, and this is what the Gamer Geeks were eluding to, you don’t know if your clever plays are truly just that until it’s too late. At which point you get to know but cannot do anything about it. Knowledge is provided without any opportunity to benefit from it. Which is a shame, but also not what this game is about.
Spy Sabotage is meant to be light. It’s meant to be fast. It’s meant to challenge you to consider your resources and spend them wisely while at the same time trying to trick your opponents. Of course, bidding is compulsory. The bluffing is not. If you don’t want to bluff, you don’t have to. There is nothing in the game rules to suggest you need to. But believe me, you want to. The table talk in this game will either make it or break it. If you don’t have a group eager to bluff with words and actions, you won’t experience this game to the fullest. So do gather about you a group of like-minded individuals who enjoy a good bluff and are really, really good at holding their Poker face.
Overall, I liked the game well enough to play it with my family. However, I believe it falls flat with more experienced players looking for games with a slow burn and enough runway to allow players to adjust their approach to the victory lane. No such maneuverability here. Once you start, it’s all downhill, and you only pick up speed as the game progresses. This makes it great as a casual game and should be considered as such. Give it a go for yourself and see if this game completes its mission to entertain you.
This is a paid-for review of the game’s final prototype. Although our time and focus were 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 private islands and small countries.