Date: 19th March 2004
Game played: Spy ( Uberplay ) BGG Id: 9201

We finished off with one of the new Kosmos/Uberplay small box games that had arrived in the UK this week. Spy is a card game by Reiner Knizia in which players try to get rid of their chips by playing sets of cards in 12 target categories. The categories are either one of six continents or one of six pieces of spy equipment. Each card in the deck shows one continent and one piece of equipment so each card can be used towards two different sets. Players are allowed to accumulate cards by drawing one at the end of each turn but can only have three in their hand; all others are displayed for all to see in front of you. Each target starts with one spy chip on it and if you choose to play (discard) more cards of a particular target category than there are spy chips on that target, you get to add the difference to the target from your supply. The round ends once one player is out of chips and the remaining players record penalty points equal to the number of chips they have left. The game is played over a number of rounds and the person with the fewest penalty points at the end is the winner.

I didn't particularly enjoy this one, although I'm not sure if it was due to the style of play or whether the game breaks down the way we played it. The quickest way to get rid of chips is to play a set of cards well in excess of the current number of chips on the target. If you play a set of 5 on a target with just 1 chip on it, you lose 4 of your chips in one go. However, if a player plays a set of 2 before you, they lose a chip and you can then only lose 3 chips when you lay your 5 cards. This resulted in our game of a scramble to get rid of chips one at a time, before someone else jumped in. Yes, you only get a small gain but you score more often, and as players have a good idea of what you are collecting because most of the cards are face up before you, there is added incentive to get in early. I tried to build up a reasonable sized (but not too large) hand a few times, only to find Mark's incremental strategy beating me to the punch. I did manage in one round to lose my last three chips in one go, but I think that was probably lucky card draw. Because of this, everyone kept in fairly close contention and it just so happened that the first player in each round also managed to go out, leaving the other players with just 2 or 3 cards left. Hence it felt a bit like a crap-shoot. We played three rounds and Nige emerged victorious as he managed to be left with a penalty of just 2 chips on one of the rounds instead of 3 which was the consistent penalty the rest of the time.

I hope it plays differently if people try to build up bigger scoring hands, but I'm not sure whether the incremental approach is just too dominant. Nige and Mark seemed to enjoy it better than I did, but I was hoping for something better from this one.

Mark G

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