Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday 16 August 2018

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Spy Club

Game: Spy Club

Publisher: Foxtrot Games & Renegade Game Studios

Designer: Randy Hoyt, Jason D. Kingsley

Year: 2018

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 games 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 cooperative game and that it appeared to have some campaign or legacy aspects. We were, however, a little worried about ‘who-dunnit’ style games, having had bad experiences with games like Sherlock Homes Consulting Detective. Nevertheless, it was added to our Board Game Geek wishlist and I’m really happy that we’ve now had the opportunity to try it.

Spy Club is a cooperative game for 1-4 players. It is themed with a kids’ detective agency story, but fortunately for us, is quite mechanical in how it treats this theme, rather than the narrative and clue driven games that I am particularly not a fan of. In each game you are trying to identify 5 different aspects of the crimea motive, a suspect, a location, a crime and an object. This is done by working through a deck of cards and trying to play 5 of a matching colour to the table at any time, against a number of different game timers. By cooperating to swap cards and manipulate the suspect who is running away, your goal is to solve all 5 aspects.

The gameplay definitely falls into the category of a puzzly cooperative 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 5 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.

Spy Club can be played as a one-off game, or as a campaign. The campaign is where the game really begins to shine. After your first game, you will choose one of your clues to ‘bank’ for future games in a five game scenario. Based on this clue your game will then diverge down a different path. You’ll draw different cards from the very large deck of 120+ cards that alter the game experience, introducing new rules, new game components and different character abilities which will then stick with you throughout the game.

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 so far has been enough to rival some of the best legacy and campaign games we’ve played.

What’s even more exciting to me is that there isn't just one campaign in the box. We could replay our current campaign and it would diverge immediately after we solve the firs aspect and then take a different path based on the clue we choose to bank at the end of our first game. I envisage that we could get 20 or 30 games out of the box before we grow tired of any repetition and that’s plenty of replayability for a game in our collection. The only drawback of the campaign for me is that ultimately it’s the kind of cooperative game where you don’t win or lose, you just rate your end of campaign score. Fortunately, getting 5 aspects in a single game feels like a good ‘win’ condition and gives us the required feeling of success from game to game.

For me, Spy Club is a fantastic cooperative game with a brilliantly integrated campaign mode, full of branching paths and interesting possibilities that I'm itching to discover more of. For me, there isn't a lot of theme to the game, but this isn't a concern because the mechanisms are so strong. If we were playing with a family then perhaps we'd feel more inclined to follow the encouragement in the rulebook and make up more stories to connect together the aspects of the crime at the end of each game. I'd strongly recommend the game to gamers or families as a next step into cooperative gaming. It's a game that will be seeing a lot more table time in our house.

For the Yellow Meeple, Spy Club is an 8/10.

Spy Club was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available for an RRP of £41.99 at your friendly local game store or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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