I was hesitant to buy a game from a small publisher (DriveThruCards.com) but the game didn't disappoint. The game has a total of 91 cards.
Of these cards, 1 is a rules card. (Though the PDF rules I downloaded on-line were more comprehensive, it was easier to jump right in with this card and be playing in about 5 minutes.)
9 cards represent alignments for three different factions: Tachyon, Vex, and Chimera. These are distributed at random. The designer recommends playing with groups that are as even as possible, and separate into 3 alignments when possible. (Usually, with the small chance of winding up with 2 teams in a game of 4, the game always plays with 3 factions. I wasn't sure why this is the case, but I'm guessing it's so that you're always in the minority, meaning there are always more players against you than for you.)
9 cards are simply there for score keeping.
Then we get to the cards. 8 different cards for each of nine players. Now, that may seem off-putting at first. There's only 8 playable cards in this game? And 1 gets discarded? But then it became clearer.
These 8 cards each have at least 2 different functions. I believe it's the Thorn Lily card that has 3. I'd never seen anything quite like this before. Perhaps you have. In either case, I found the mechanic very interesting, and the choices became a handful in themselves. For example, Hydro Cluster allows you to gain 4 victory points (maybe, if someone else hasn't played an Electrum that round). But in using it this way, you have to forego attempting to eliminate your opponents. (Or you might return the card to your hand later with a Dark Wind.) There are tactical advantages and disadvantages to every card. And the card that gives the greatest reward (Storm Sabre) stands to also be the most lethal, if you activate it at the wrong time.
We started out with 6 players in our first game. We each chose a card to discard (this is the means by which Hydro Cluster might eliminate one of your opponents).
That game was very memorable, as my friend and I, both Tachyon, used a Dream Fall and a Thorn Lily to determine each other's alignment. Then, knowing full well that we were allies, we decided to activate Storm Sabres, and wound up eliminating each other from the game. (Those sorts of things might be more bothersome if the game didn't last a total of 15 minutes from start to finish.) That game also ended in an intriguing way. Whereas the remaining two teams represented players with a wide variety of scores, when the players added their scores, they broke even.
TIE BREAKER: Here was one of the problems I found with the game. There wasn't a clear means for breaking ties. However, one of the players suggested that the initial discard be used in a 7th round, to possibly increase scores. In so doing, we found that two had discarded Storm Sabre cards. As a result, these two were eliminated from the game, leaving 1 teammate for Vex and 1 for Chimera. As memory serves Chimera won that game.
We played another three games with 6 players each. And as we got more comfortable with the cards, the game became more interesting. This is because a player cannot win by using the same strategy in more than one game. In so doing, perhaps he will be eliminated by activating a Storm Sabre at the wrong time, or at the very least, it will soon become obvious which card he discarded, and he will be eliminated that way. As a result, we were continuously changing up our strategies, and using those same 8 cards became more of a benefit than a hindrance. (That said, if the designer ever reads this post, I want to highly recommend an expansion soon. I want more!)
The last two games we played were with uneven teams of 4 or 5 players. I'm glad to say, the game didn't lose its play value with smaller groups. In the 5 player game, the odd man out scored more points than the other teams, taking the victory for his alignment. (This made him feel great, considering until now he had consistently eliminated himself with Storm Sabre activations.) In the 4 player game, two players eliminated each other in the 4th round, and though I returned my Storm Sabre to my hand in round 5, I decided at the last moment to activate my Thorn Lily card. This happened to be a smart move, as the other player did likewise, and neither of us scored points (leaving me ahead of him by two points). Finally, we revealed our alignments only to discover that the person we were working so hard to defeat was our own teammate.
I have yet to try with a group of greater than 6, but since the actions are all taken simultaneously, it would seem that additional players really wouldn't slow the game down as much as cause the players to rethink their strategy.
Spy Tactics is a simple to learn, tough to master game of spies. I'm not sure how well the spy theme plays out, but the game is addicting and enjoyable regardless of the name.
The Good: The mechanic is truly intriguing, and though I've seen parts of it (simultaneous action selection, teams, elimination, etc) in other games, I think they were well blended together here. The cards were of very high quality.
The Bad: Unfortunately, DriveThruCards.com doesn't sell components. (We resolved this easily with 10 mm plastic cubes to keep the scores.) And the artwork could use a bit more variety.
Overall, I'm very satisfied with this game. I'm looking forward to an expansion.
Iffix Y Santaph
Find the link on the microbadge below.
The Evil... The Chaotic... The Wallaboo!
Thanks for the review. I've also uploaded the rules and print and play files here (in black and white), so they should be available for download soon.
I also wanted to mention that there will soon be an expansion coming for this title. The Data Core adds 2 new code cards, 2 Data Core cards (which are passed back and forth between players), and a wide variety of re-playable options and strategies.