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I don't know why the game Spy Alley eluded me for so long, but I'm very glad to have played that fun, underrated game. Simply Suspects (Spy Alley Partners LLP, 2003 - William Stephenson) is the younger sibling of Spy Alley, having a similar theme and mechanics. It's a much briefer game, taking about twenty minutes to play, and has two mechanics that players often abhor: roll-and-move and player elimination.
For five or six players, however, I find that Simply Suspects makes a great "filler", as it's fast, fun and allows players a bit of deduction. The game is remarkably simple, yet there is room for strategy in how a player moves their piece, although the presence of luck cannot be denied. As an hour game, I would probably not be interested in Simply Suspects; but as a shorter game, it holds my attention enough to warrant the occasional play.
A board is placed on the table, with an "evidence board" placed in the center of it. This board has six columns of characters - each with seven spots after their names where pegs can be placed. Seven pegs are placed in the board - one above each of the seven columns in a neutral row. Six suspect cards are shuffled, matching the characters on the board, and one is secretly dealt to each player. A deck of "Get Away" cards is shuffled, and three are dealt to each player, who place them face up in front of themselves. Each player places a pawn of their color on the starting space, and one player is chosen to go first with play proceeding clockwise around the table.
On a player's turn, they simply roll a six-sided die and move their pawn clockwise around the track on the board. Alternatively, a player may play one of their "Get Away" cards, moving their pawn the amount of spaces shown on the card. There are some move cards that have a "0" on them; the player simply follows the instructions of the space that they are on once again. Depending on what space a player lands on, they follow the instructions on them.
- Move spaces: These either force the player to move forward a certain number of spaces (to increase the odds of landing on the Grand Jury space), or make them move an opponent forward or back one space. One space also causes the player to switch places with another player.
- Get-Away space: This simply gives the player another move card, which they place face up in front of themselves. One space allows a player to take one of these cards from another player.
- Evidence spaces: There is a space that matches each of the seven numbered pegs. When landing on one of these spaces, the player must move the numbered peg in that column to one of the six suspects. Each column only has one peg, but multiple pegs from different columns can be on the same suspect at the same time. One space allows players to move the peg of their choice.
- Suspect spaces: When landing on these spaces, players must move up to two pegs off of the pictured suspect, and onto another suspect.
- Grand jury: This is the most important space in the game. When a player lands on this space, AND the suspect that matches the one on their card has two or more pegs (pieces of evidence) on them, they are eliminated from the game and must reveal their suspect card. If they are not eliminated, they must announce this fact, and then have the optional choice of guessing the identity of another player. If they do guess and are correct, the guessed player is out of the game; however, if they are incorrect, they are eliminated instead.
The track on the board is a circular one, made up of twenty-one spaces, although it diverges into two paths on one side. The game continues until only one person is left, at which point they are declared the winner!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: The box, which is nicely decorated and illustrated, is probably much bigger than it needs to be, with a large cardboard insert holding the few components inside. The board is well designed, with a large hole in the middle in which to place the plastic piece that holds the pegs (I'm not sure why they are two separate pieces). The plastic piece does do a good job holding the large black pegs and has colors to easily distinguish between the suspects. The suspect cards are very nice laminated cards with lots of useless information on them (but adding to the theme); the Get-Away cards are of a lesser quality, although they do look nice. The board and box design manage to look slightly retro while having a modern feel to them, and I enjoyed the design elements.
2.) Rules: The rulebook is simply four pages that explain what each space does. There's not a lot of clarification, but the game really doesn’t seem to need much. The game can be taught and learned very quickly, which is quite important for a game that might only last ten minutes. Teenagers and adults will easily understand how to play the game, and even younger children will have a decent shot.
3.) Rolling: The roll-and-move concept may be offsetting to some, but it's not as bad as it seems. For one thing, a player often has a choice to use their move cards, and using them at the right time can be critical to move a peg at the right time, or send someone else to the Grand Jury. Also, the split track allows a player a decision of which suspect or evidence piece to land on - a choice which may alert your opponents to who you are.
4.) Bluffing and Deduction: Are you daring enough to place evidence on your own suspect, knowing that a bad roll could eliminate you from the game? Or is it worth it to throw a red herring to others, attempting to get them to guess your suspect incorrectly? That's the extent of major decisions in the game, but it's a good one. I like the aspect of attempting to fool the other players as to which suspect you are. Players can obviously eliminate what suspects you are NOT by seeing when someone is not eliminated when they land on the Grand Jury, and yet there are two pieces of evidence there. And why did Johnny go out of his way to take two pieces of evidence off of Pearl E. White? Is that his character, or is he bluffing?
5.) Movement and Elimination: There are three spaces on the board which send one to the Grand Jury spot, but a player can use movement cards to help them force another player to go there - possibly eliminating them from the game. And for those who think that elimination is a Bad Thing, I wouldn't worry; the game isn't long enough to care about that sort of thing.
6.) Fun Factor: Simply Suspects is fun based around trying to figure out what suspect the other players are. It is one of the lightest deduction games I own; and while it offers a modicum of strategy, the fun comes from the fact that it's simple and fast. Players looking for a deep amount of strategy may be disappointed, but those who thought Spy Alley had good ideas but went on too long will be delighted - this is like a streamlined, faster edition.
The box is too big, but the components are excellent. There is player elimination, but the game is fast enough to compensate for that. It's a roll-and-move game, but players can manipulate their movement via cards. Above all else, it's an excellent way to introduce deduction to younger folks in a manner that's more interesting and quicker than Clue. Great for families, a "filler" for gamers, Simply Suspects offers fast, fun gameplay.
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There is a new team variation for 4 players that is not in the current set of instructions.
4 PLAYER VARIATION:
The rules are the same except for the following. Players divide into 2 teams of 2 players each. The teammates sit across from each other. The players may look at the Suspect card of their teammate. The team with the last player in the game wins.
This brings a whole new element of working together to avoid the grand jury. It also creates intriguing bluffing situations.
Came across this game in a thrift shop for $2 and almost passed on it because of the rating on BGG. I read your review while standing there and decided to give it a shot, I'm really glad I picked it up. It was a HUGE hit with the kids and the adults liked it too.