Below is a small analysis of the card game, Spyfall, based on the framework provided by Stone Librande that focuses on Start, Goals, Obstacles, Decisions, Rules and Interactions as major components of a game. The analysis also explores a little bit of Mark Le Blanc’s 8 types of fun.
The game starts with the first round where all players are given a card by the dealer with one player being dealt a “spy” card. Every card has a job and a location mentioned on the card except the spy card that only says SPY. All other players have the same location on the card. The players start asking each other questions to achieve different goals. The start is simple with little amount of information for the players to process (one card per player and a couple of rules) to begin playing.
Rating of start:
Start : 10 (Very clear and easy to understand)
Very clear goal where the spy has to guess the location and the other players have to guess who the spy is. The goal is simple enough for the players to jump in and start playing without paying much heed to the rest of the rules. Keeping goals that are attached to the fantasy of being a spy results in rewarding moments at the end of each round where the spy actually feels like a spy for uncovering classified location of players whereas the other players feel like they are onto a spy.
The overall game which is a culmination of multiple rounds has a much weaker goal of collecting the most points. Achieving this goal does not necessarily lead to much of a powerful moment as it does not really tie into the spy fantasy. The emotion of winning is a lot more intrinsic to the player.
Rating of goals:
Goal (Round) : 9 (Pretty strong)
Goal (Game) : 6 (Weaker)
How to make it better?
The overall game’s goal of collecting points could have more meaning if the points could be tied to the narrative of being a spy in a certain manner. By simply switching the concept of points to an abstraction of information (which is important to the spy), the game ties the end goal better to the overall game. The goal of the game is now phrased as “The player with maximum information at the end of all the rounds, wins!”
OBSTACLES AND DECISIONS:
The main obstacle of the game is to not disclose the location the non-spy players are in. This leads to very interesting and convoluted questions being asked by the players. A couple of interesting ones I came across during our playtime were — “How important is your job to the world?” and “What is the weather here like?”
Players also have the opportunity to stop the game at any point to accuse a player. The game makes this moment special by wisely limiting the number of accusations each player can initiate to one.
Sometimes players would take a lot of time to come up with questions. To get over this problem, the game introduces the 8 minute rule which is another major obstacle devised to allow faster decisions (faster questions) which turn out to be a lot more interesting than questions asked without a timer.
Rating of obstacles:
Not disclosing location: 9 (strong)
Timer: 8 (nice touch to reduce decision making time)
Rating of decisions:
Questions : 8 (strong)
Accusation: 10 (powerful and tense moment for the accuser)
The rules of the game are very simple and allow the players to jump into the game very quickly.
Giving less amount of information to process from the side of the game allows the players to focus more on strategies and making more creative questions rather than fiddling with the rules.
Rating of rules:
Rules : 10 (less in number and easy to understand)
The two major ways the players interact with the game are by asking questions and accusing the other players. Asking questions gives a lot of feedback in terms of clever answers from other players that develop interesting moments in the game. On the other hand, accusing players is a good moment for the accuser but not the accused, who barely gives a yes or no answer back. This makes the feedback from accusation very weak and almost a sad moment for the player who just lost his only chance to accuse someone. Unless the accused is the spy which makes it a really powerful moment for all the players in the game.
Rating of interactions:
Questions : 8 (Pretty stronger)
Accusation: 6 (weak)
How to make it better?
What the action is missing is a consequence that can move the game forward in some way. The chances of the game stopping decrease as the number of players increase. So perhaps a consequence that can be added to the game is that if a player makes a wrong accusation, then they will have to disclose a piece of information about the location which will further help the spy identify the location. This mechanic will also lead to creative decisions from a failed accuser while all the other players are on edge hoping that the failed accuser does not give out any critical info that can help the spy identify the location.
TYPES OF FUN:
Fellowship and fantasy are two major types of fun that the game encourages the players to have. Fantasy of being a spy is used to set up the initial narrative and tie all the gameplay elements together. The form of fellowship fun used is non-conventional where in players trust and don’t trust each other at the same time. This weird dynamic forms a solid foundation for the upcoming gameplay.
Overall the game is a lot of fun to play and hits most of the marks really well. There are some improvements that can be made to better tie all the elements together and bring out more of the “Aha!” or “Damn!” moments.