The Game's Structure

I flew back from LA this weekend after eating the best sushi I’ve ever had with my brother. On the flight back, I had an idea for how to restructure the existing elements of my spy game.

Here’s the newest structure of the game:
It takes place on a 5×5 grid. Each player plays a different intelligence organization. At the beginning of the game, each player receives a hidden mission. The goal of the game is to complete your mission before your opponent completes his/hers. Missions can be progressive, like “Hire 5 Spies”, or sudden, like “Ensure that all opponent spies are not carrying items (you may have to Steal!)”. Each player starts with one spy and a few objective cards (like quests). Players complete objectives to earn money and hire more spies, which make it easier to complete the overarching mission. Objectives can be as harmless as traveling to a specific building, to something as calculating as assassinating an opponent spy. To carry out these missions/objectives, each spy has a number of standard abilities: Gather Intelligence, Push, Stun, Steal, and Attack. Spies can retrieve items that modify these abilities or make them more likely to occur.

I’ve had those general elements of the game for a couple of weeks. The questions I’ve been trying to answer in playtesting are things like:

  • How do players get new objectives?
  • Do players have to complete a number of objectives before completing their mission?
  • What happens if each player’s mission is secret the entire game? What if it’s always revealed?
  • What happens if each player’s mission gets revealed at some point during the game, so that the opponent has a chance to foil it?
  • When can spies use items?
  • How many items can spies hold?
  • Should items always be facedown, or should they become face-up if they are reusable?
  • How far apart should player’s bases be?
  • Is there any advantage to being on your base? What about being on your opponent’s?

There are many different configurations of the game to try out, but I feel like I’m getting closer to what it should be. There’s a bigger vision in my mind that gets clearer by the day. I want players to be able to carry out clever, planned strategies against opponents. I want players to be able to trick opponents, as well as feel tricked. I want the winning player to feel like he carried out Mission: Impossible.

While it’s tough to triangulate in on the exact vision of the game, at least the little changes I make with each playtest are shaping the game to be cleaner and faster. Making the rules more elegant allows players to focus less on the structure of the game and more on their tactics.

For market research, I tried out Spy Alley today. It’s a simpler game that puts players on a linear track instead of an open grid. Players are given a secret identity (country) at the beginning of the game. They take turns moving around the board, trying to collect four different items that belong to their country. But they can’t make it look too obvious, because each player is also tasked with figuring out which country each player belongs to. It’s a decent game that I’d look forward to playing again. It moves quickly and has an OK amount of depth. It’s different enough from my game that I’m confident I am innovating (it’s not deep enough), but it has admirable aspects that I’ll use as inspiration.