SpyMaster: Split up for a Top-Secret Mission!

Spymaster game
Spymaster game

SpyMaster is an I-Split-You-Choose game by Seth Johnson and published by Calliope Games. Play the role of intelligence chief, trying to thwart international villains in their quests to wreak havoc across the globe! SpyMaster is a game for 2-6 players, lasting about 45 minutes, for players ages 8+.

Setup

Each player selects a (Top Secret!) private agency to play. Take the Agency board and Special Agents in that color.

Players all simultaneously place their Special Agents on any locations they want to on the board. Once players place all Special Agents, distribute the Freelance Agents (clear meeples) evenly on locations across the board.

Deal intelligence cards into five stacks for the five rounds. The number of cards depends on the player count.

Place two cards on each of the six Mission location on the board. Flip the top card face up.

Spymaster board covered with agent meeples
Setup for a six-player game

The person with the most ID’s on them gets the SpyMaster card and is the first player. It’s time to sneak around!

Gameplay

In SpyMaster, your goal is to complete as many missions as possible. You do this by gathering Intelligence cards, moving your agents to the appropriate mission locations, and using Intelligence to complete missions.

Each round has two phases: Gather Intelligence and Operations.

Gather Intelligence

In the Gather Intelligence phase, the SpyMaster takes one of the five piles and flips the cards over in a row in sequence. They cannot change the sequence of the cards! Next, they separate the cards into sets of “Files” equal to the player count. Finally, the SpyMaster puts the SpyMaster card in with one of the existing Files.

Spymaster pawn and a fan of 13 cards
SpyMaster reveals the cards in order (13 cards for a 4 player game)

Players select a file, going clockwise. The SpyMaster takes the last set. Once each player has a set of cards in their hand, the Operations Phase begins.

Spymaster pawn and four piles of cards
SpyMaster has separated the cards into piles and added the Spymaster card.

Operations Phase

During Operations, a player may perform one, both, or neither of the following actions, but always in this order:

  1. Move Agents
  2. Complete Missions

To move agents, players discard any Intelligence card from their hand to “burn the intelligence” and move that many spaces. Moves may be split across as many special or freelance agents they want. Agents may not move outside a region unless going from one transport hub to another, so players must be careful with their movements!

Once a player completes (or skips) their move action, they may complete one or more missions. First, make sure the correct agent combination is in the right spot in the region. Then, discard enough intelligence cards to meet or exceed the threshold for the intelligence type on the desired mission.

Spymaster mission card on the board.  2 red pawns and one clear pawn in Lima.
Red will “protect the President’s train” in Lima.

Players put the completed mission face-down on their player board. Flip the next mission card face-up if there is one.

Play continues clockwise until everyone passes in sequence or until there are no mission cards left. Passing does not end your action for the round. As long as at least one other player does anything other than pass, play circles the table again.

At the end of the round, the mission slots are refilled, and whoever has the SpyMaster card begins the next Gather Intelligence phase.

At the end of the fifth round, players tally their mission points. The player with the highest value in hand for each type of intelligence gets five points for that intelligence type. The player with the most points wins!

Impressions

SpyMaster is layered with tongue-in-cheek references to the subject matter that will leave you chuckling to yourself as you play. Missions range from serious (Defend the Professor!) to stereotypical (Acquire the Agent List from the Mainframe) to ridiculous (Eliminate the Cyborg Bus! Protect the Android Panda!).

Spymaster mission cards: Steal the Embassy Blueprints, Locate and Steal the Prototype Weapon, Eliminate the Ninja Monster
Missions range in difficulty – and ridiculousness.

I really enjoyed the theme, especially with the humorous take. There is enough care taken to feel like the theme is more than just pasted on, although very similar mechanics exist in games like Zooscape. Anitra didn’t care for the theme quite as much as I did; it’s possible the “dad” joke factor of the missions and the intelligence agencies won a few points in my heart. (Seriously, who can’t appreciate an agency called L.I.E. – the L’agence d’Information Extraordinaire)?

Playmat, labeled L.I.E. - L'agence d'Information Extraordinaire

The dynamic of using the freelance agents to your benefit while running the risk that any other player could divert them was interesting, and definitely led to a few strategic plays during our time with SpyMaster. Nothing prevents you from completing multiple missions on a turn – if you can position agents correctly. It may even be helpful to move agents around to set up for a multi-mission coup on a following turn.

Our older kids (age nine & eleven) had no difficulty understanding what they were trying to do with the set collection mechanic, but the randomness of the missions was frustrating. If a player got stuck with a mismatched set of files, they might have to pass their way through an entire round while waiting for everyone else. Higher player counts only exacerbated the issue.

The game started to buckle under its own weight as the player count grew beyond four. Between the hassle of separating the pile into five or more files, the analysis paralysis on turns, and the risk of getting sniped by another player, it just got too unwieldy to be fun.

Spymaster pawn, Spymaster card, 5 stacks of Intelligence cards
The SpyMaster chooses a pile of Intelligence cards

Final Thoughts

SpyMaster is a good solution for a casual I-Split-You-Choose game for 2-4 players who want a few chuckles and some light strategy. This could fit well with a family that loves spy movies (especially satires) and is looking for something in this genre.

SpyMaster is available now. You can find it on Amazon or at your Friendly Local Game Store.


The Family Gamers received a copy of SpyMaster from Calliope Games Publishing for this preview.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.

SpyMaster
  • 6/10
    Art - 6/10
  • 7/10
    Mechanics - 7/10
  • 6/10
    Family Fun - 6/10
6.5/10

Summary

Age Range: 8+

Number of Players: 2-6 (we recommend 2-4)

Playtime: 45 minutes

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