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Board Game Review: Spy Alley

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The classic game Spy Alley is what happens when the games Monopoly, Clue, and The Game of Life are all mixed together and set in the world of espionage. It makes for a great family game, with rules straightforward enough for younger players while holding intrigue that will keep the grown-ups eager to play.

spyalleygameIn Spy Alley, each player draws an “Identity” card marked with a nationality: American, Italian, Spanish, German, French, and Russian. The characters are delightfully drawn in a style something like a cartoony noir, which accurately describes the mix of conspiracy and fun as the game begins. If this Identity is found out, the player is eliminated from the game. The first player to gain the four items (Password, Disguise, Code Book, and Key) for his or her Identity and brings them back to the home embassy wins.

As in games such as Monopoly, players roll a die and move around the board, landing on different spaces that give bonuses. Players may gain Move Cards to move without rolling a die or Free Gifts that contribute to the overall goal of gaining the items. Special pegboards keep track of what items a player has purchased so far. These pegboards are visible to all of the other players, giving hints to what goal a player may be pursuing.

The key to playing Spy Alley is to mislead one’s opponents. A Russian spy player may collect items for Germans and Italians to throw off the guesses of other players. If a player lands on the “Spy Eliminator” square, he or she may guess other players and eliminate them from the game. Alternately, if a player is certain of an opponent’s identity, he or she may skip a turn and guess. If the guess is right, the opponent is out, but, if wrong, the guessing player is eliminated and all of his or her items and even Identity are given to the would-be victim. Play continues until one player is left standing or is able to collect the proper items and land on the home Embassy square.

With the dice-rolling and aiming for particular squares, much of the mechanics of the game are based on luck like older-style board games. However, the guessing mechanic makes for a very psychological game as players watch one another’s movements. A bonus pamphlet included with the game, “How to Become a Better Spy!”, gives tips on how to judge and manipulate others, such as using a free guess to accuse an opponent of being one’s own Identity or calling players by their Identities without formally guessing to gauge their reactions. With the psychological aspects of Spy Alley, games will lead to plenty of laughs, funny accents, and in-jokes that will go on well after the game is over.

Spy Alley is for two to six players aged eight and up. The normal rules work best with three or more players, and ideally groups would have six to take up all of the Identities. For two players, variant rules are included where players take two Identities and work to complete one of them first, keeping a quick pace while still allowing for the guessing mechanic. Games are typically of moderate length, about forty-five minutes, making for a solid family game night or a centerpiece alongside some quicker games.

Three Stars out of Five

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About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.