If there’s one designer whose name is legend amongst card gamers, it’s Richard Garfield. The designer of Magic: The Gathering and Android: Netrunner has a distinguished repertoire, but he still has the occasional misstep. Whenever he delivers a new game, especially a card game, it’s a tense moment to digest it and decide if it’s worthy of his pedigree. In this case, it’s a small card game with spies and espionage as its theme.
SpyNet is a hand management, majority control style game for 2-4 players that takes about 30 minutes to play. It plays best with any number of players.
SpyNet is a very straightforward game, but with a card draw twist that adds some intrigue. Every player starts with a hand of one card. In the center of the table are the main deck and three piles of cards. On each turn, a player may “Recruit” by drawing cards or “Deploy” by playing cards.
Recruiting involves looking at each of the piles, one at a time, and deciding whether to take that pile. If the player decides to take the cards, they add those to their hand. Afterwards, they add one card from the deck to the piles they looked at (including the one they just took). In this way, piles build up with cards over time.
To deploy, a player adds an agent card to one of the four colored sets of cards in front of them, if they have the highest score of agents in a color, they may add mission cards facedown below the set. Mission cards are the single means of scoring points at the end of the game.
After the deck has run out, mission points are tallied and the winner(s) are declared. With 4 players, noncommunicating teammates sit across from each other, passing cards occasionally. Ultimately, SpyNet plays as a two or three-sided game depending on the number of players.
Readers who know my fondness for set collection, area control, and intrigue will not be surprised at this reviewer’s appreciation of this game. Such a simple structure is wonderful in play. It has a play style that evokes silent missions between partners while still generating cutthroat competition. The analysis and decisions as to what cards to take from the center piles are meaty, especially trying to figure out what cards opponents and partners will need.
The game especially shines at four players where teammates are forbidden to openly discuss plans. Conniving sorts might come up with some non-verbal means of communication if they’re trying to get into the espionage theme, but there’s also something to be said for playing with no communication, relying on cards passed and play choices to discover your partner’s motive.
The one element not mentioned in the gameplay above is that the game also comes with several cards providing alternate rules. This is exactly what many games need to provide; that level of replay value that is so valuable in modern games. Without it, SpyNet can become more and more tepid with each play.
The one negative in some eyes could be the card art. It’s a black and white, monochrome-highlight style similar to some graphic novel art. It delivers hard-edge noir moments while serving the needs of the color coded game system. To these eyes, it’s functional and interesting.
SpyNet is solid. It gives just the sort of tension players should expect from a well crafted card game. In addition, the choices available during draws really press the intrigue buttons. Gamers looking for a nice filler card game for competitive black ops or those looking to round out a themed game night with a worthy spy game should definitely take a look at Spynet. Overall an easy recommendation.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – A quick, accessible tread through majority control delivers engaging play and tough card draw decision-making.
• Art is slightly rough