- Designers: Brett J. Gilbert, Matthew Dunstan
- Publisher: Pegasus Spiele
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 8+
- Time: 30 minutes
- Times played – 3 with review copy provided by Pegasus Spiele
Spy Connection is a new release from Gilbert and Dunstan, a design team which I have come to rely upon for solid family weight games, and when I read about this one, I was immediately intrigued as I generally love route building games. In this game, each player controls a network of spies which are deployed around Europe. The goal is to complete missions which require you to have a presence in different cities around the map.
To start the game, place the board on the table – noting that there are two sides, a lighter basic side and a darker advanced side. Each player gets 15 Agent discs in their color and a starting Mission and drafts a second one. Then, each player puts one of their discs on the city highlighted in red on their starting mission. To the left of the board, there is an area for a display of four mission cards. Place one card face up in each of these slots.
On a turn, players will take one action (out of three possible) – take a mission card, move to a city in your network or connect to a new city and move to that new city.
To take a mission card, you take one of the four available cards from the left of the board. Based on the location of the card in the column, you may have to put one or two agents on the card as a cost of acquiring it – the higher the card is, the more it costs. Then all cards are slid down as far as they can go, and a new card is placed at the top most location. You can only have 3 Mission cards in front of you, but you can discard mission cards at any time if you want.
You can connect a new city to your network and then move to that new city. At the start of the game, you have a single spy on the map. You can connect to new cities by placing spies on each of the route spaces between two cities to establish contact with a new location. If the path space is empty, you only need one Agent disc. If an opponent is present in the space, you need to place 2 discs in that space. As the game progresses, all of your agents may be on the board. In order for you to connect to a new city, you can freely remove previously played agents in order to move them to new locations. While you do this, you need to make sure that your agents remain in a single network. Now, move your meeple to the new city. Check your mission cards at this time, and if you have any unmarked spaces for this city on any of your mission cards, you can mark them with Agent discs as well.
You can also move your meeple to a city already connected in your network. Generally, the only reason why you would do this is if you have acquired a new mission card since the last time you connected to this city – and when you return to the city, you can now mark off any unfilled spaces on mission cards for this city.
Once you have taken your action, check to see if you have completed any mission cards. If so, return all the Agent discs on this card to your supply (both on the cities as well as for the purchase cost of the card), and then add the card to your score pile. The red number at the bottom of the card tells you how many points you will score for this completed card. If there is a green plus sign on the card, you immediately get to take another action.
Play continues until the end game is triggered – this happens when a player has completed their 7th or further mission (as it’s possible to complete more than one card per turn with the green plus bonuses). All other players get one more turn, and then players calculate their score. You score the points on each of your completed mission as well as one point per covered objective on your incomplete cards. Ties go to the player later in turn order.
My thoughts on the game
Spy Connection hits a lot of my sweet spots in a game. I have always like route building games, and the amoeba like network of spies here gives you lots of opportunities to fill your mission cards. There is a bit of an efficiency puzzle here – you have a fixed supply of 15 Agent discs which have to be split up between your position on the board (with double agents on spaces that were occupied when you went there), the filled spots on your mission cards and the costs paid to acquire cards from the market. While you can always remove Agents from the board (as well as from city locations on your mission cards), keeping a larger network on the board will help you move around easier and reach your goals easier. It will also serve as a good defensive mechanism because your opponents will have more spaces where they will have to place two agents to coexist with you.
Getting mission cards which work together well with your other cards will help you also be efficient as a single stop of your meeple could lead to multiple city spots being occupied on a single turn. Of course, you may have to pay a premium in agents to get the card you want, but sometimes it’s worth it to wait it out and see if you can get it for cheaper in order to save your discs. Otherwise, pay the premium, get the card you want, and then figure out how to make it work with a temporary reduction in your workforce.
Once you are used to the game, you can make it a bit more difficult by playing with the reverse side of the board – on this side, there are higher costs to acquiring Mission cards, and this further restricts your ability to move/grow your network. If this is too much challenge, the rules also recommend taking a single Agent disc away (so that you play with 14 instead of 15 ) as a way to make the game slightly more challenging.
Component wise, the map is clean and easy to read as are the Mission cards. The game does come with a sheet of stickers to mark the different colored discs, but they are not necessary for gameplay, and we have chosen not to stick them onto the discs at this time. (Perhaps they are needed for colorblind players?!)
The game plays super quick as each turn only involves a single action, and many turns can be planned out in the downtime between turns. Our games have routinely been 30 minutes or so (for 3p games), and this is a great timeslot for this level of complexity. There are still a number of places to make important strategic decisions, but the game is easy enough to be taught to novice or non-gamers. I’m always on the lookout for “gateway games” and this one could be a new entry in my game collection in that niche.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
James Nathan: I really liked this one. It was sort of a cross between Caravan and Wunderland: a game where you have an amorphous network that shrinks and grows and moves across the board, just needing to hit certain locations at any point in time. And it’s an efficiency puzzle, as it won’t be only linear movement and you’ll need to make some branches, but can you keep enough of your network intact to do so efficiently. Oh, and it’s a shared-component game, as those same discs that you need to layout your network are the ones you use to mark your progress towards points! It’s a clever little game with a lot to enjoy.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y
- I like it. James Nathan
- Not for me…