If ‘Guess Who’ and ‘Monopoly’ had a baby that grew up to be a spy working for the CIA, it would be ‘Spy Alley.’ In this board game from Spy Alley Partners, LLP, players are assigned one of six spy identities and are then challenged to collect all of their spy gear and get to their embassy before being found out by the other spies.
The thing that makes this game unique is how integral bluffing is. They’re probably out there, but I can’t think of many family games where trying to throw people off your trail is the name of the game.
Players start off by drawing a card, which assigns them a secret identity. You must collect items belonging to that particular spy as you move around the gameboard assisted by a die and various numbered ‘move’ cards that you can keep to use as you will. Once you’ve collected all of your spy’s items, you can head over to your embassy to win the game.
The game holds a few challenges, the most notable of which comes from having to make choices to throw opponents off your trail, like buying costumes or keys for the wrong spy. The hardest challenge of the game, however, is making it to the embassy once you’ve collected everything you need.
This game requires quite a bit of strategizing, and allows for a wide variety of gameplay styles. You have to use your head to both evade and sniff out opponents, which can be difficult even for adults. Don’t worry though, while the game can sometimes be challenging, it remains accessible to kids in upper elementary grades. The difficulty lies within the cleverness of your opponents, not within the components of the game itself.
Moving around the board and collecting the pieces you need to complete your spy outfit may seem simple, but add in the fact that at any time someone can use their turn to guess who you are and your choices become much more crucial. My heart was beating so quickly every time my turn came around because of the pressure to decide whether or not to make a guess.
If someone guesses your identity correctly, you’re out. That person gets all of your items to move onto their spy card, and has the choice of switching to your former spy card and getting rid of theirs. (Essentially, they have one less opponent and make it twice as hard to guess who they are for those who are left in the game). If they guess wrong, they’re out of the game.
The drawbacks of Spy Alley are a steep learning curve (there are a lot of rules and options!) and of course, the people who are picked off, one by one, by masterful guessers. Both times I played this game with different groups of people, those who were out were pretty bored as they waited for the rest of the players to finish. In some cases they moved to a different room in the house and picked up a controller, so I missed them being at the table with me.
One of the cooler parts of the game were the fun little suggestions made by the instructions. For instance, why not wear spy costumes? We decided to try this next time we play, so I’ll let you know how it goes. One way to do this without giving your secret identity away would be to start off with a pile of spy clothes you can grab and don as you choose after purchasing them in the game.
Accessible to kids and challenging for adults with gameplay and maneuvering that will change each time, Spy Alley would be a fun addition to your family’s collection.
The true test in how good a game is comes in its replayability. Because it takes awhile to win (unless someone is just really really good at guessing), I wouldn’t want to play it twice in one night. I would, however, want to play it again – we’ve even already pulled it out a few different times for game night.