Not familiar with the anime series Spy x Family? Well, you should seek it out. It’s a wholesome story about a family that learns to embrace their strengths together. Sure, there’s some violence and some unfortunate anime tropes that sneak in on occasion, but daughter Anya Forger’s adorable outbursts and telepathic powers are the glue that holds it all together.
It’s great to see the show getting a card game. It has been given the Love Letter treatment and quite a lot of the thematic elements tie in nicely with the system’s mechanisms. It plays from three to five players, is designed by Anthony Thorp, and was provided to us by publisher Kess. Is there enough here to entice those unfamiliar with the anime?
If you’re familiar with Love Letter this is an easy teach. Players try to gain all three family members—Loid the Spy, Yor the Assassin, and Anya the Telepath. Each player begins with two cards and chooses one as their role. There are eight roles in total, each featuring a character from the anime. The prized card is the Spy as there is only one of them in the deck. Players work to discover this card either by drawing or trading cards with others.
On their turn, players draw a card and choose from one of two actions. They either replace their current role with a new role and trigger the card’s Deploy action, or they discard a card to use its Assist action. Deploy actions can be either active or passive. Anya, for instance, has a Deploy passive that prevents the player from being eliminated by the Assassin. The Seer’s Assist action is active and allows players to draw up to two cards and then put that many on the bottom of the deck.
The Assist actions can shake up the game. They may allow players to adjust roles or hands of cards. The Secret Police Assist action is all about targeting a player who they think has the Spy card. If correct, the player with the Spy is eliminated. And then there is the Assassin. This card eliminates any player if it ends up in their hand in any way other than drawing it.
Play continues until one of three things happens: a player gains all three family members (Spy, Assassin, Telepath) into their hand and display, all other players are eliminated, or determining the best pair of cards in hand when the deck runs out. Peanuts (Anya’s favorite food) are points and the player with two peanuts wins the game (three peanuts in a three-player game).
It may take a moment for all players at the table to get a handle on the flow of the game. Each card has two options based on how you decide to play it, and there is a need to understand the importance of card pairs. For instance, if you are unable to gain all three family members, a combination of either the Spy/Telepath or the Spy/Assassin will provide a win, though there are other pairs to consider as well. After a full game, everything becomes very easy to parse, but that first game may run longer than the thirty minutes listed on the box.
There’s almost enough here to distinguish it from the base game of Love Letter. I quite enjoy how the anime’s concept of found family is literally the win condition. Each character is also themed around their role in the anime and provides added incentive to those who are fans. This is further enhanced by the card pair system based on character relationships. But for those not familiar with the show, the mechanisms find a hard time shining beyond the text.
I’ve found that this plays best at five players to make the search for cards more dynamic. At three players it falls apart as you can quickly begin to understand what everyone holds at the table as cards switch hands and roles are revealed. I’m also not a fan of player elimination and do wonder if there could’ve been a different way to treat this system to individualize it a bit more from its influences.
One final note is the box size. This is a game that features 24 cards, player aids and tokens, and a rulebook. The box is quite oversized for the contents and could’ve used some production review. It’s the large rulebook that causes the issue, and it isn’t quite as egregious as Splendor’s void, but it must be noted that the size is easily double what was necessary.
I would recommend this for fans of simple card games and the anime series. I mean, you can’t get enough of Anya, right? But that’s probably where I’d draw the line. There isn’t a lot beyond the small tweaks to the Love Letter system to convince you to truly track this down. So, it all comes down to the fans and how much they want to pursue the story beyond the screen. I had a good time with my plays and was able to show friends and family this card system for the first time. But there’s not enough of its proclaimed deduction and deception to pull me away from the screen as my Spy x Family preference.
Final Score: 3 stars – A competent Love Letter adjacent card game for fans of the hit anime series.
• Not fun at three players
• Player elimination
• Oversized box