Open Seat Gaming: Review - Spy Club
Game: Spy Club
Publisher: Foxtrot Games, Renegade Game Studios
Designers: Randy Hoyt, Jason D. Kingsley
Artists: Dan Blanchett, Bartłomiej Kordowski, Malwina Kwiatkowska, Keith Pishnery, Helen Zhu
Main Game Mechanisms: Action Selection, Cooperative Play, Set Collection
Number of Players: 2 to 4
Game Time: 45 minutes
Description: There's been a crime committed in your town, and the police have called on you and your friends - the Spy Club! - to help them crack the case. Sure, you're a group of kids - but who doesn't want to be Scooby Doo's gang? Except there's no playable dog...
Spy Club is a 2 to 4 player cooperative game where you and the other players are working together in order to try and solve a mystery. Each player starts the game with 3 double-sided cards in front of them. The colors on those cards correspond with the different aspects of the case - the crime, the place, the motive, something that was left behind, and the suspect.
On your turn, you have 3 action points, which you can use on any of the following actions (you can also do the same action multiple times, as long as you have the resources for it):
Investigate: Flip one or more of your cards over to their opposite side.
Shift Focus: Move your "focus token" (magnifying glass) to another card in front of you. You get 1 idea token for each clue of that color that is in front of you.
Confirm: You play cards to the spots beside the game board. You have to pay 1 idea token for each space you are away from the focus token when you Confirm a card.
Scout: Pick a card from one of the three clue cards that are visible from the draw area. They will be labeled as to how many ideas that they cost.
There are also free actions you can take with other players if your focus is on the same color clue as theirs. After you've done your three actions, you refill the clues in front of you, then you refill the draw area.
If at any time during your turn there are 5 clue cards of the same color in the Confirm area, you have solved that aspect of the case. You look at the suspect movement card that is currently face up and it will have one of the five symbols that are on the game board. That is the solution to that part of the mystery - you put that card aside, discard the rest of the cards, and then continue with your turn.
Now, it's the suspect's turn. You flip over the next card in the movement deck, and that will tell you how many spaces that the suspect moves. With the little Carmen Sandiego token (it's a woman in a trenchcoat and floppy hat. How is that not Carmen Sandiego?), you move from where she is and count out that many clues (jumping between players). The clue color she lands on has a certain negative effect (or no effect, if she lands on a distraction), you see if the losing condition has been met, and then the next player goes.
You lose if the suspect gets to the end of the escape track; if you're unable to fill up the draw area for the clues, or if you're unable to remove idea tokens from the game. You win if you've solved all 5 aspects of the case before you lose.
After you've finished the game, have some fun telling the story of what happened. One of our favorites was this one pictured below - the Neighbor went to the diner and lied about getting bad service from their waitress. Then, they left funny money from a game as a tip!
You can also play the game in campaign mode - there are two massive campaign decks, done in what they call a "mosaic" style. No spoilers here - but there are 40 modules, over 100 different pieces, and you'll never get the same exact campaign twice. In each campaign, you go through a story of 5 games, and each of them takes the basic game we just explained to the next level. That's all you're getting from us! The rest is a mystery you'll have to solve yourself.
Marti: Spy Club starts off as any other co-operative game. You're working together and collecting sets of cards. In this game, you're doing set collection in order to solve a mystery. At face value, it's a pretty fun game and I can see why so many people with families have been drawn to it. It's really easy to learn and it's a lot of fun to put together the stories when you finish a round of the game.
Where Spy Club shines is with the Mosaic system. This unique way of doing campaigns brings the "choose your own adventure" genre into two big, beefy decks of cards where you're unlocking modules and checking out new and wacky ways to play the game. Yes, that base of the set collection aspect is still there, but every single module takes it and turns it on its head. I wish I could tell you more, but you need to check it out for yourself.
The art on Spy Club is absolutely fantastic. It looks amazing and they put a lot of focus on ensuring that diversity was in the game to its fullest. There are people of color, there are boys, girls, and even a nonbinary character. The art style that they used really stepped everything up a notch - the art is fun and it feels like you're playing as a member of the Scooby Doo gang, or you're the Boxcar Children or the kids from any other book series you read or cartoon you watched as a kid.
In short, I love it. It's a fantastic game and I can't wait to see if they either 1) add an expansion in the future or 2) try other games with this Mosaic system. Foxtrot has always put out top-notch games, and Spy Club is definitely of the same caliber of design, development, and dedication as the rest of them.
Scott: At face value, the game seems oddly light and easy to learn, but there is actually surprising depth to the game (especially when playing campaign mode) that lends itself well to making a thoroughly enjoyable game. There is only one way to win, and several ways to lose, so you have a lot to keep track of while you're working toward solving all the aspects.
One thing that sometimes gets you is the location of the suspect, you have to try to minimize certain cards she may land on if the effect of those clue cards would hurt your chances to win. We weren't always good at this in our games and lost several times to running out of ideas (as there are 2 clue colors that remove ideas from the game when the suspect lands on them). We also had at least 1 game where we won when she was one space away from escaping. This game can create some great edge-of-your-seat endings!
The set collecting mixed with action selection is done really well for the theme. It can feel random sometimes, but as you collect the aspects of each case it's fun to see things start coming together. We really like making up stories to fit all the aspects we get at the end of each game and it's fun to try and come up with something different every time based on the aspects you get. It's a really fun game!
Sarah: Spy Club is a wonderfully charming cooperative game. It is a family weight game, but don't let that fool you. It can be very difficult to win. After Marti and I played our first two games at two players, I thought it might be nearly impossible to win. But with further plays, at three players, then playing in the mosaic system campaign, it began to feel not quite as impossible. The difficulty can definitely depend on the luck of the cards, and when cards are flipped. There were times when we needed a specific color card and that color was nowhere to be found.
I love the stories that can be told with this game! Even if you do not win, you are encouraged to create a story around the crime and use cards that you've seen throughout the game to fill in the missing aspects of the case. The art and graphic design is very evocative; the cards, the game board, the player boards, the magnifying glass tokens, and the suspect pawn all make you feel like you are an amateur sleuth trying to crack a case. The care and attention to detail put into every component, element of gameplay, and diversity of representation throughout the game is second to none.
The mosaic system campaign is very unique and allows for numerous five game campaigns that will unlock different modules of the game. We greatly enjoyed our campaign and would definitely encourage anyone that plays to game to venture on into the campaign mode. The total campaign is short enough that if you want to you can play a complete campaign in a few hours; which is very nice and appealing for younger players who may or may not have the attention span to play for many extended sessions. Between the twists and turns, various surprises that arise within the mosaic system, and the overall high quality of the game, Spy Club is definitely one of my favorite games of this year thus far.
Try, Buy, Deny: This is a 100% buy if you enjoy cooperative games at all and if you like family weight games. Whether you just play a single game at a time or you go through campaigns regularly, you will love the interactive game play and the tension of what this game brings to the table. If you have kids, they will likely enjoy it too - I can see how you can guide them through it and tell the story together.
If you don't like co-ops, deny it. It's definitely a co-op game, the alpha gamer issue can happen if you can't keep it reigned in, and I don't think it'll do anything to change your mind about how you already feel about co-ops.
If you like cooperative games but you aren't sure about it being a lighter game, give it a try - you may find that you really enjoy it because of the story and the unique mosaic system that comes in the campaign mode.
Marti, Scott, and Sarah