What to play this weekend: Spyfall

At 2014's Internationale Spieltage (or “Spiel”) gaming convention in Essen, Germany, Spyfall by designer Alexandr Ushan made a splash as a great party game. It was difficult to obtain here in the US until June of this year, when it was picked up by distributor Cryptozoic Entertainment. Now you can grab a box and have a fun...or just go online.

Today there's a browser-based version that is mobile-friendly, platform-agnostic, free and every bit as fun and hilarious as its paper sibling. It's a game of bluffing, deduction, light role-playing and a lot of laughter. Spyfall is indeed a great party game that takes minutes to learn and often leads to hilarity. Here's our look at Spyfall. 

How it works

Espionage! Spying! Deceit! Deductive reasoning and mild panic! That's what you'll experience while playing Spyfall. The tabletop version is for three to eight players, with suggested ages of 15 and up. I'd suggest the same numbers for the digital version, as it's possible for a group of 10 or more to reach the game's conclusion before everyone has had a turn. 

When playing Spyfall via a browser at spyfall.meteor.com, your iPad/iPhone/digital device becomes the game piece. Make sure everyone is online and in the same room (remote play will not work). One player hosts a game and receives a code, which he then gives to the other players. Everyone else selects "Join game," enters the code and finally everyone meets up in the "lobby." You're now good to go.

 Everything is text-based so the game is lightweight and very fast. The players find themselves in a random location and having a random job in that location. For example, the game might be set on a ship at sea, with players having the role of ship's captain, cook, prisoner, first mate and so on. All except for one key player: the spy. 

The spy is randomly chosen and she does not know the game's setting or any of the other players'  jobs. Meanwhile, each player knows his setting and job, but not the others' jobs.

With me so far? Good. The spy does not want to get caught and tries to blend in, while the others try to figure out who the spy is. Finally, when the game begins, only the spy knows that she is the spy. 

How do we learn who is who? Questions. 

On your turn, you may ask one question of any other player. Try to ask a question that would be difficult for the spy to answer without revealing her ignorance. For example, if the game is set on a space station, you might ask: "How did you get to work this morning?" If she says, "I drove as usual," that should be a red flag. 

At the same time, the spy should ask questions that will provide her hints about the game's setting without being too obvious about it. For example, "Are you worried about anything around here?"

It soon becomes hilarious. During a recent play session, my friends and I were indeed on a space station when I asked a player I suspected of being the spy, "What did you eat last night?" He answered, "Fish." Uh, no. 

At any point in the game, you can offer a "suspicion." At that point,  you identify who you think is the spy, Everyone can offer brief input and finally a vote is made. If the the spy is outed, the players win. If the spy has duped everyone, the spy wins.

Finally, the whole thing is on a timer and if no suspicions have been made before the timer expires, every player gets to make a statement (accusatory or deflective) and then the vote is made. 

There are a few niceties about the game's design, too. You can invite players by having them scan a QR code. Also, you can tap a button to hide your status (spy vs. non-spy) from your neighbor's prying eyes. Also, a list of possible locations is displayed, so you have at least some guidance on where you might be. 

My group has used this game at the end of the night to wind down after a lengthy brain-burner. It's also great fun for then you want a casual game while you're sitting around the table, having a beer and hanging out with friends. Spyfall is a very fun game and definitely what you should play this weekend.