Dale Yu: First Impression of 2 Games from Russia – Spyfall and Moscow to Paris

 

Spyfall

  • Designer: Alexander Ushan
  • Publisher: Hobby World
  • Players:3-8
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: ~10 minutes/round
  • Times played: 2 with review copy provided by Hobby World

 

Spyfall

Spyfall is an different sort of social deduction game.  The game is played over a number of rounds, and in each round, one player is designated as a spy while all of the other players are not.  The game consists of 26 mini-decks of cards.  Each of these decks corresponds to a different location – one card in this mini-deck is a spy card (and all it says on it is “SPY”) while the rest of the deck tells you the location as well as your “role” at that location.

Examples of locations include:

  • Airplane
  • Beach
  • Circus Tent
  • Crusader Army
  • Embassy
  • Hospital
  • Military Base
  • Pirate Ship
  • Restaurant
  • Space Station
  • Submarine
  • University

As you can see, the list is quite varied!  In each round, a location is randomly selected, and the cards are set up so that you always choose the Spy card from the location.  The cards are shuffled and then dealt to each player.  Everyone is given a minute or so to think about where they are and what their role is.  Then, the round begins in earnest.  The goal is for the non-spies to figure out who the spy is… and the goal of the spy is to make it through 8 minutes of questioning OR to figure out what the location is.

spyfall cards

The dealer picks any player and asks them a question.   That player answers the question as best as he can.  Once that is done, the answering player now gets to ask a question of someone else.

For example, let’s say the location is at the beach.  The dealer might ask another player: “Jim, what did we eat for lunch today?”, and as long as Jim is not a spy, his suitable reply might be “Remember – we had ceviche”.  This would certainly hint at the beach – but it could also be something found at any number of other locations – say the restaurant, airplane, or maybe even casino.   Jim then turns to Gary and asks him “What are you going to wear tomorrow”.  If Gary is the spy, he probably still doesn’t know where they are and he might say that he is wearing his tuxedo – which would be a giveaway that he’s the spy!

The round continues until one of the following conditions is met

  1. If the time limit is reached (usually 8 minutes) – a vote is triggered. Each player in clockwise order from the dealer verbally votes for who they think is the spy.  If all non-spy players vote for the spy, then they win.  Otherwise, the spy wins the round.
  2. A non-spy is suspicious and declares the round over and names who he thinks is the spy.  The time is stopped, and a vote is immediately triggered.  If all non-spies agree with the accusation, the round ends.  The non-spies win if the accusation is correct, and the spy wins if the accusation is wrong.  If there is not a unanimous vote on the accusation, the timer is restarted and the round continues from wherever it had been stopped…
  3. The spy can stop the game at any time by revealing his SPY card.  If he can correctly name the location, he wins the round, otherwise the non-spies win.  Note that the spy cannot exercise this option if the round has already been previously stopped for a vote.

Once the round is resolved, there is a little bit of scoring

If the non-spies win, each of those players gets 1 point.  Furthermore, if someone stopped the round early to trigger a successful vote, that player gets an extra point.

If the spy wins, he gets 2 points.  If the spy is able to stop the round early and correctly name the location, he gets an additional 2 points. Finally, if the round was stopped for a vote, and the non-spies weren’t able to find the spy on that vote, the spy gets a bonus 2 points.  (The maximum a spy can score in a round is 4 points!

The game continues for whatever agreed upon number of rounds, and at the end, the player with the most points wins!

My thoughts on the game

Well, I should start by saying that I’m not a big fan of social deduction and party games.  That being said, I still took on a copy of this one because it sounded so different from Werewolf, Mafia and the other sorts of games that I’m not a fan of.  Thus far, after two games, it’s turned out to be a decent little game, and one that I have liked more than I thought I would.

The key here is being able to think quickly to both devise good questions as well as vague-yet-possibly- specific answers to questions posed to you.  As a non-spy, it’s fun trying to answer a question that will tell the other person that you share knowledge of the location without making it so easy for the Spy to figure out where that location is.

Timing is a big part of the round. If you are the spy and you are unlucky enough to be chosen first or second in a round, you’re often screwed… You haven’t had enough time to hear other answers to try to come up with something that sounds similar.   We tried the game once with 4 players, and we found that the rounds ended up ending quickly as the spy was often discovered right off the bat each round.  In my next try, we played with the maximum 8 players, and this turned out to be a much better experience as there were many rounds where we went deep into the timer because the spies weren’t immediately discovered.

In order for this game to be fun, you have to have gamers that are willing to roleplay a bit, and you have to have a fairly intelligent crew.  The game is really a bit more cerebral than you’d think – if you’re not able to craft your questions and answers well, the game falls apart because the rounds will end too quick as either the spy will be able to quickly deduce the location or the non-spies will know who the spy is.

Your group also needs to decide if they are going to play with the roles as indicated on the cards.  The rules say this is an optional thing – but it probably helps you with the theme and framing good questions and answers.  For example, in the Crusader army scenario, one of you might be the commander, while another is a knight and yet another is the squire.  Whether you follow the roles or not though, it doesn’t affect the scoring of the game – it’s just to help you get a mental framework for participation.

 

While I like the idea of the game, it may not make it to the table much around here.  First, I do think that it needs to have close to the max number of players to shine.  Second, you have to have players that all want to play this style of game (and are able to think fast enough on their feet to ask/answer the questions).  Those two things will limit how often I play Spyfall.  It will likely be something I’d throw in my bag when going to a large game day or convention, but it probably won’t be played much in my weekly game group.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers:

Jennifer Geske: (5 plays)   Like Dale, I like the concept of Spyfall, and think that it’s a great game at conventions (I have only played this game at conventions so far). It is nuanced enough that a group of strangers playing the game may not have an optimal experience. For example, one player in one of the sessions managed to utterly confuse the rest of us that all the non-spies were convinced that he was the spy in the first game we played together. However, after the one game, the non-spies decided to avoid asking that player questions (not sure how we all arrived at that conclusion at the same time) so that we managed to suss out the spy as the person who didn’t get the memo. The game can also benefit from a player aid listing all the locations/roles so players don’t have to remember everything up front. When the game works, it is a great deal of fun, and even when it doesn’t (new players, bad luck of spy not getting any info before being interrogated, etc.), the game is short enough that you can either try again or move on. I am secretly hoping that enough of my friends play and like the game enough that it becomes something we’ll play together at conventions (much like Hanabi).

 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Jennifer G
  • Neutral. Dale Y
  • Not for me…

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Moscow to Paris

  • Designer: Evegny Nikitin
  • Publisher: Hobby World
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Hobby World

Moscow to Paris is different take on the set-collection game.   I am not sure if this is Mr. Nikitin’s maiden game or not, but it is the only game found in the Boardgamegeek database with him as a designer.

moscow box

There are two separate decks of cards in this game – one deck of train car cards, predominantly comprised of 8 different colored cards as well as a smattering of special action cards and one deck of city cards.   The City cards are shuffled and a column of 4 city cards is placed on the table.  Each city card has the name of the city on it, the country flag, a VP value and the number of cards it takes to collect that card.

Players are dealt a hand of 5 cards from the train car deck and the game begins.  On your turn, you have four action options and then you see if you can collect a city card.

1 – Play a car card from your hand onto a city card on the board

You take a card from your hand and play it to the left or right of a city card.  The card played must be a different color than previously played cards on that city.  The maximum number of cards that can  be played on that city is found in the lower right corner of the city card.  After you play, draw a new card so that your total card count is 5 (between your hand and the table).

2 – Play an action card from your hand

There are 5 different types of action cards – they allow you to swap cards between cities, discard columns of 2 or 3 rail car cards, or you can even discard an entire city card and the car cards that go with it.  Play the card, follow the action, and draw a new card so that your total card count is 5 (between your hand and the table).

3 – Play a car card into your personal play area

Take a card from your hand and play it on the table face up in front of you.  You do NOT draw a card when you do this – as the total number of cards in your hand plus the number of cards on the table in front of you will always equal 5.

4 – Return a card from your personal play area to your hand

Take a card from the table and place it in your hand.  On a later turn, you can play this card elsewhere.

After you have taken an action, you look to see if you can collect a city card from the table.  In order to do this, the city card you want must have the maximum number of cards next to it.  Additionally, you must have colored cards that exactly match the colors of the cards next to that particular city card.  If that is the case, you discard all the matching colored rail cards (from the table in front of you as well as next to the city card) and you take the city card into your scoring pile.

moscow city

A new city card is drawn from the deck so that there are always four to be played on.  The game continues until you cannot draw another city card from the deck. At that moment, the game ends and scores are tabulated.

You score the face value of each of the city cards that you have collected.  Then, you discard one city card from each country and score 1 VP for each card that you still have.  The player with the most points wins.

My thoughts on the game

This is an interesting game as it gives new twists on the usual set collecting mechanic.  In this game, not only are you trying to collect the right colored cards to score points, but you are also determining which color cards need to be collected in the first place!  As you can only do one thing each turn, it takes a bit of planning as well as a dash of good fortune to have the right cards at the right time.

Being able to use Action cards at the right time seems to be the key to the game, and it’s pretty much up to lady luck whether or not you get those cards in your hand.  There are 104 total cards in the rail card deck and 16 of them are action cards, so there is a decent chance that you’ll get them – but will you get the one you need at the time you need it?

You will likely have to make difficult decisions about whether or not to hold onto an action card for the best moment to play it – as you are always limited to a total of 5 cards, keeping one or two slots in your hand for action cards makes it really hard to collect the colors you need to get city cards!  You can definitely make a quick play on a city card by swapping a color card with another city (or player’s play area).  The cards can be a bit targeted because the swap cards allow you to swap or steal cards from another player’s area – but the game is quick and there are enough similar action cards to allow you to return the favor later in the game.

The VPs are hard to come by in the game, and the bonus points offered for city cards from the same country may affect which city cards you go for – you will have to decide whether you’d rather just get as many city cards as possible or whether you’d rather wait for the ones that match countries with your current collection.

The card quality is a bit thin, but the cards have held their shape through 3 games thus far.  I’m not sure how they will look after 10 plays, but we’ll worry about that when we get there.  The artwork is functional.  I actually very much like the city cards – the artist has done a good job at capturing a notable city landmark on each card and that adds a great deal to the travel theme as you play the game.  This is, however, balanced out by the drab watercolor-y look of the rail cars which are not as appealing to the eye.  Additionally, a few of the shades of the color cards are similar in dark lighting (Especially the two blues) – so you have to be careful that you’re playing the card that you want!

moscow train

This makes for an enjoyable filler, and continues to show that there are some good gaming ideas coming out of Russia.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Jennifer Geske (1 play): Again, I like the concept of the twist on set collection and the sometimes difficult trade-off decision of playing a card in one’s tableau or in a row to claim a city card, but in my one play, the game dragged on and outstayed its welcome. In the initial setup, there were two 1-point cities, one 2-point city and one 3-point city. The battles for the 2 and 3-pointers were so fierce that it was not worth playing any card in those rows since they likely will be removed or changed before your next turn. It didn’t help that my starting hand had 3 action cards (2 of which I could not play). After the slow start the game did become more interesting but again it took almost twice as long as the advertised game duration on the box. It’ll probably be a game that I’d play if someone else wants to play but not one that I would suggest, even as a filler.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it.  Jonathan F
  • Neutral. Dale Y, John P, Jennifer G
  • Not for me…
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About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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