James Bond, Chuck Bartowski, and Jason Bourne…what do they all have in common? They are secret agents of course! Last year the card game The Agents blasted its way through Kickstarter to the tune of $275,000. No small task for a low priced card game. Well we finally got our hands on a retail copy of The Agents and have been able to put it through the paces. The Agents tasks players with running their own team of secret agents and spies. Using a unique card facing mechanic, The Agents promises to blend some easy to learn rules with some hard decision making. Do they succeed? Read on!
The Agents is a card game for 2-5 players that plays in about 30-45 minutes. The Agents plays best with any number of people.
The Agents has players forming two factions of agents to carry out their missions and earn them intel points. On a players turn, they will play, recruit, and command their agents as they try and be the first player to reach 50 intel points (IP). Agent cards will be played in a line between you and the players to your left and right. Both players will have the ability manipulate these faction lines, so things will change from turn to turn. One of the interesting things about each of the agent cards is that they are dual sided. One side has a command (action) and the other side allows a player to earn IP. So each agent played can help both you and your opponent. The hard part is deciding who gets what bonus.
One of the absolute best things about The Agents is the phenomenal artwork that comes with the game. Illustrator Danny Morison really did a great job of making the artwork on The Agents both unique and compelling. I really enjoyed the “noir” style of his artwork and have rarely seen anything like it in a game. For me, it was a treat playing with the cards using his artwork.
The game comes with a few decks of cards (agents, missions and IP) in a sturdy box. If you were one of the Kickstarter backers you also got a number of expansions in their own boxes which, unfortunately, don’t really hold up very well (the boxes). We also had a few printing issues with our cards. The sides of the cards in the agent’s deck had a noticeable protrusion (probably from the cutting process). This was on all of the cards and we found it fairly distracting. We also had a few color consistency issues with the printing of the cards. None of this ruined our ability to play the games, but for someone like me who is very particular about his components, it was a bit disappointing.
Fortunately, Saar Shai, designer of the game, has promised us that all of this is being fixed with their 2.0 version of The Agents. This version is currently in funding on Kickstarter (at the time of this writing) and is due out near the end of 2014.
How to Play:
For this review, we played with the Mark II version of The Agents rules. There have been a number of tweaks and minor errata since the game was published and we found these rules to be much better. If you have a copy of the game, I’d recommend printing out the new version of the rules.
As stated earlier, the game is played by building factions of agents between you and another player. Each player will have 2 factions, one to their left and one to their right. Much like in 7 Wonders, you won’t have any interaction with a player not directly sitting next to you (other than when using a free agent). In a 2 player game, two factions are shared between the 2 players. Each player gets a safe house card to start their faction with that has one each of the 2 colored arrows.
The agent cards themselves each have two halves, the arrow half and the command half. Whichever side you choose to play facing yourself, you get the benefit of. Want intel points? Play the arrow half. Want to use the agent’s special power? Take the command half.
Rounds proceed in a clockwise fashion with each player getting 2 actions to take on their turn. Possible actions include:
1. Play an Agent – Take an agent from your hand and play it to a faction. If they arrow side is facing you, you will collect intel points during the point phase. If the command side is facing you, you execute the action (this does not cost an action). Your opponent will benefit from whichever side you don’t choose, so if you choose the arrow half, your opponent will immediately execute the agent’s action.
2. Re-activate a command – Pick an agent in one of your factions and use its command again. The command side must be facing you.
3. Buy an Agent or Mission – This is how you draw more agents or mission cards. You must spend intel points to draw any cards.
4. Trade in Missions or Agents – If you don’t like a mission or agent card in your hand, you can discard them and draw a replacement.
After a player has used both their actions they move on to the mission phase. A player may assign each faction up to two missions. These are a way to generate additional intel points by fulfilling specific objectives. A player may also move missions around during this phase.
Finally a player collects their intel points. They collect intel points for each set of adjacent agent arrows facing them. They collect two points if those arrows are of matching colors and one point if they are not matching. Players also collect any victory points from completed missions. I should note that the victory points are also the currency in the game. So players must choose wisely when to spend their victory points to recruit more agents to their factions.
The first player to score 50 victory points is the winner.
Printing issues aside, The Agents ended up being a really fantastic game. The clever use of the command or IP system was a great idea on the part of the designer. Every single card you play you have to balance whether you want to have access to the command portion or the income. The worst part is whatever you don’t choose you are giving to your opponent. So it’s not just a zero sum game. This will make for a lot of hard decisions in the game. I quickly found myself going back and forth to the players on both sides of me trying not to give either one the advantage from my actions.
Speaking of other players, The Agents scales really well. We’ve tried it with 2, 3, and 4 players and it worked great at all player counts. Because of the nature of the faction lines, a player will always have 2 factions to work with. The game has almost a 7 Wonders type of feel to it where you mainly interact with the player on your left and right (not a bad thing at all). Even in a two player game, you still have two factions between you and your opponent. This helps the game scale up quickly because players really only have to worry about the people on their left and right.
While you are deciding which side of your agent to take, what makes that decision even harder is the nice variety of command actions. All of them are useful during the game. Allowing you to adjust the faction line to your benefit is one of the best ways to increase your position in the game. But by accessing that part of the card, you are giving up a steady stream of income. This careful balance is key to the game play. Case in point, one player tried to go all action sides to obtain the most flexibility on his turns…it didn’t end well for him.
Back to the hard decisions that must be made, it was an interesting choice that your victory points are also your currency. Eventually you will have to recruit more agents and missions. To do that you have to spend your hard won IPs. It’s a fun little game of give-and-take that I really enjoy. This adds another layer of complexity as players must decide if that new card is worth paying for, especially when they are close to winning.
The Agents also has a lot of tactical decision making that I don’t usually find in a card game, at least with this play time. You will have a hand of cards and a lot of choices to make with those cards. You and your opponents will be manipulating the same faction lines and it’s very likely that your carefully laid out plans will be undone by your opponent countering your moves. There can almost be a nice game of cat and mouse between you and your opponents as you try and outmaneuver each other. If this type of tactical strategy game appeals to you then you will love The Agents.
Overall The Agents features some easy to learn rules, a decently quick play time and some tough decision making. The depth of strategy in the game means you will be thinking about what to play on your turn and planning multiple turns in advance. Even still, The Agents’ rules should make it accessible to both gamers and non-gamers alike, which should help it, get to your playing table more often. We had a lot of fun with our games of The Agents and the exceptional artwork make the game a joy to behold.
I do wish the printing issues wouldn’t have reared their ugly head, but hopefully the Mark II version of the game will fix those complaints. I look forward to revisiting this review when the new version comes out and hopefully we can upgrade their score a little once that’s all been sorted out. If you’d like to get a copy of the game, be sure to check out their Kickstarter campaign. As of right now, that’s the only way to get a copy of the game (other than second hand). The Agents is a great little card game that should be able to find a home in most gamer collections. Check it out today.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – A really unique and fun card game that scales well from 2-5. Would easily be 4 stars without the component issues.
• Cards had some printing issues
• Have to download the new version of the rulebook.