We first came across Spy Club on Kickstarter last year, when it definitely caught our eye, but became a victim of our ‘one Kickstarter per month’ policy.Spy Club comes from the pairing of Foxtrot Games and Renegade Game Studios that brought us Lanterns and World’s Fair 1893 – both games we have enjoyed.
What caught our eye about Spy Club was that it was a co-operative game and that it appeared to have some campaign or legacy aspects. It was added to our Board Game Geek Wish List and I’m really happy that we’ve now had the opportunity to try it.
Spy Club Gameplay
Spy Club is a 1-4 player co-operative card game in which you control a band of enthusiastic kids looking to solve crimes as an extracurricular activity. Each player has a pool of 3-4 double-sided cards to play with and on your turn you can spend three actions to manipulate these cards.
You can flip cards to show the other side which is often (though not always) a different colour. You can move your focus token to gain idea tokens. You can place a card into the central board, spending idea tokens. Finally, you can buy new cards in order to replace ones you have but don't need. You can also perform a few free bonus actions to trade with your allies, but only if you are both focusing on the same colour card.
After each player’s turn, you draw a card for the suspect’s escape, creating a connecting map, these cards move the suspect pawn along the cards that all players have in hand, and then a bad effect occurs based on the colour he landed on. Some let him escape faster, others chew through your deck and others remove idea tokens from your pool, all of which hasten the end game conditions.
The cards also feature a prediction of where he will move next, with careful planning you can get him to land on grey cards and waste his time playing video games rather than covering his tracks! By co-operating to swap cards and manipulate the suspect who is running away, your goal is to solve all five aspects.
Amy’s Final Thoughts
On first impressions, a standalone game of Spy Club seems quite basic, but Spy Club is anything but repetitive. If you play a single game, then after finishing your first set of cards the game will pick an event based on the card you picked. With over half a dozen cards different in each of this five sets this already provides a good deal of variable content, but this only increases when you play a campaign.
Spy Club is not a legacy game, instead it has campaigns of five crimes, during each of which you deduce one of the five parts of the final, master crime. For crimes 2-5 you again get special rules based on the part of the crime you deduced last game. Figure out the master crime involves cake? Here's a special mission unique to if the crime involved any of the other items! These games add major new mechanics to the game that you are unlikely to ever see again, all by using a few multi-use components and cards from the campaign deck.
When I first played Spy Club I was intrigued, when we drew the first card that changed the gameplay I was impressed, but when we played the second game of the campaign, that was when I knew Spy Club was something special. Spy Club is a great co-operative game which rewards clever gameplay, but still has enough randomness to be unpredictable. While the game is somewhat lacking with story, with a little creativity you soon begin writing your own story for the cake-based bullying or the game-piece related vandalism.
The true charm of Spy club is its extreme replay-ability - unless you are actively trying to repeat yourself then you are likely to not get the same unique twist for dozens of consecutive games. It's like having a box full of mini expansions to an already great game!
Fiona’s Final Thoughts
The gameplay in Spy Club definitely falls into the category of a puzzly co-operative game, which is exactly the style we enjoy. As far as the standard game goes, you need to work well together to determine which aspect to work on, both remembering what the front and back of your cards look like, as well as appreciating what are the next available cards and being aware of how common each colour is in the deck.
However, the biggest puzzle actually becomes moving the suspect so that the meeple lands on distraction cards, which have no effect, or at least lands on colours that are less concerning depending on the game state. This level of planning seems to be key to solving all five aspects in the game before the deck runs out, the ideas tokens run out or the suspect escapes. We've been very close to losses for all three possible reasons and have lost the game once, although in general the difficulty seems pretty manageable.
The game’s complexity ramps up quite rapidly and the scenarios we have played have been challenging puzzles, and have all come pretty close to the line with the different game timers. The level of complexity and the need to learn new rules each game, makes me think that the campaign may not be quite so suitable for the younger family audience that the game art seems to be aiming at. For older families and gamers though, our campaign of Spy Club has so far been enough to rival some of the best legacy and campaign games we’ve played.
For me, Spy Club is a fantastic co-operative game with a brilliantly integrated campaign mode, full of branching paths and interesting possibilities that I'm itching to discover more of.