There is a pile of new board games fresh from Spiel 2010 in Tuonela’s Game Club. I had the privilege to play few of them, and one of the most eye-catching games for me was Spy.
The package was the first thing to pique my interest. It was a small box made from clear plastic, and had a simple paper inside with a graphic of some planets. The contrast with large cardboard boxes featuring full art was curious.
The box said ”Spy”, a game of diplomacy and deceit. Having aquired a newfound taste for diplomacy and rethoric, I knew I had to try it. The minimal components were feeding my appetite; A small pack of cards and some glass beads, along with the most mysterious thing: The game was for 5-20 people.
So I read the rules. The game’s purpose was easy to learn: Every player represents one planet. There are two to five planets in the game, and each round one player is eliminated. When the only players left are from the same planet, that planet’s players win. Every player also has one special card that can be used once per game to do something. For example, to look at one player’s planet card, protect someone from elimination et cetera. Quite simple.
But the game mechanics are exremely refreshing. Every player has one planet card, representing his or her allegiance. At the beginning of the game, every player secretly looks at someone’s planet card. Then the President is chosen for the round. The president oversees the round and wields some power in the elimination phase. After the president is chosen, he or she opens the Diplomacy phase. In this phase, players openly discuss their allegiances or who should be eliminated, and possibly use their special cards. The president can end the diplomacy phase whenever he or she likes. Then the players use their poison pills to poison some player either publicly or secretly, as the president chooses. The player with most pills is eliminated and the president title is passed forth, beginning a new round.
I have played only one game (which I won, incidentally) and I enjoyed it. The decision mechanic was wonderfully incorporeal. There are no rounds, no exact methods. The players sort the game out themselves, using only their wits and charms. Such an approach is quite refreshing. It reminded me of larping. And surprisingly, Ace Attorney.
Ace Attorney also had insubstantial gameplay. While hawk-eyed observers will note that the game has only one correct solution, but getting that solution requires thinking. And not just mechanical logic, but understanding of personalities, motives and possibilities. The game offers small crumbs of information and the player connects them, thus feeling like a smart attorney. This is something I would like to see more, since I feel that most times games do not use the player’s mind enough.
But back to Spy. While interesting and cunning little game, it could use a bit more structure. The rules never stated it, but I feel that everyone except the president should only speak in Diplomacy phase. And in the Diplomacy phase, floor should be requested from the president. This way the only way to influence others would happen in diplomacy, so the President would have the right to deny someone who he or she knows is an enemy. In the game we played, there was some speaking out of diplomacy, but I don’t think it mattered so much in the end. Plus, this way it could teach people how to act in meetings.