The setup is simple. Spy Party is a game for two players. One player is a spy, and the other is a sniper, and all of the action takes place in and around a party.
The spy is given a list of tasks, ranging from placing a bug on an ambassador, to transferring microfiche from one bookshelf to another, to seducing another partygoer. They can perform these tasks in any order they choose, provided that they finish them all within the time limit. However, they have to be very subtle as they perform their tasks, as the opposing sniper is monitoring the party at all times. The sniper doesn’t know who they are, so as they move through the party, they have to be careful not to make themselves stand out.
Not that the sniper’s job is any easier. Positioned outside the party, they have one shot. One chance to eliminate the spy. The partygoers will mingle, pick up books and statues (which are often part of mission objectives), or otherwise perform acts that could be misinterpreted as suspicious. As the sniper looks through the room’s windows into the party, he or she can highlight and lowlight certain people, making them appear brighter or darker, based on his or her suspicions.
If you hear the keyword that signals the double agent (at this point it’s banana bread), you might want to highlight the people conversing with suspected double agents (marked onscreen with yellow triangles). Worried that a certain partygoer is simply too fascinated with the statues on pedestals throughout the room? Highlight ’em.
But maybe that person keeps taking drinks from the nearby waiter, although they hinder the spy’s ability to do things. Perhaps your initial suspicions were off, and you should lowlight them… or should you?
The joy of Spy Party comes more from playing the opponent than playing the game. The spy can always see the location of the sniper’s laser-sight as they search through the room, which can be alternately terrifying and invigorating. If the sniper is suspicious of you as the spy, perhaps they’ll continue to linger on you.
Do you think it’s safe to keep moving around as any normal partygoer would? Do you get into a conversation with a random group of people to potentially bore the sniper into leaving? Or do you simply continue with your mission, hoping that the sniper will miss the subtle animation as you bug the ambassador, or start suspecting someone else? Bear in mind that each action you take uses precious time… which can only be gained by checking your watch in a certain way, right in front of the window. While you can bluff this, if you’re the only person checking your watch by the window and the sniper is watching the clock (which ominously beeps every second in the final 30), you’ll give yourself away.
However, if you’re the sniper, you can play just as many mind-games. For instance, you can keep your laser sight on the window frame which prevents its entry into the room. With proper placement, you can keep an eye on your target without them knowing. Also, deliberately staying away from your suspects can give them a false sense of security, relaxing them into making more mistakes. Conversely, you can stay on your suspected spy as they try to complete their tasks, scaring them away from action until the time runs out.
One of the things I found most interesting about my time with Spy Party was creator Chris Hecker’s insistence that people both read the (surprisingly in-depth) manual, and play against a similarly skilled player. The Spy Party booth had three lines: one for players who had never played, one for players with a bit of experience, and one for players who were highly experienced and could play for as long as they wanted. I went through this process and learned new things against each person I played, and through it all, I never felt outmatched.
In each game, I became more familiar with the skills of the sniper and spy, tried new tactics that I hadn’t considered before, and learned the value of patience (the spy’s watch-check in the last five seconds was a dead giveaway). I can’t wait to see what I learn when the game enters beta this year.