Top Secret Spies – More Anonymous Screwing Than Cyber Sex

Some time ago I was looking for a game that allows for six or more players and I was turned onto Heimlich and Company, published as Top Secret Spies, by Rio Grande Games. I traded away a crappy game to get it, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that not only does it seat up to seven, but it’s a really fun game! It’s about spies, subterfuge, and most important, screwing over every other player you can. The magic to the game lies in the fact that nobody actually knows which player is which until someone wins. This game is fast-paced, has a ton of player interaction, and is backstabbity. The only thing missing is assassination and waterboarding, but since this is a Eurotrash, it makes sense that anything involving killing or torture is absent.

The premise of this game is that you play a Top Secret Spy trying to get information out of each building in the game, with the winner being the person who gets the most information when the game ends. I, personally, like to imagine it in the context of the Jason Statham film, “The Bank Job”, where you find photos of the Prime Minister wearing leather gear like “The Gimp” in Pulp Fiction while he’s being whipped by a nasty-looking slag. It may not be true in this game, but it certainly makes it more entertaining. That being said, since the players do not know which characters are being played by other players until the end of the game, the entire game is players moving themselves and other players’ pawns, vying to get the most information while concealing their true identity. Now that you’re familiar, let’s take a look-see inside.

When you open the cloak-and-daggery box, you’re met with a nicely illustrated board, about 60 nondescript Top Secret cards, seven player role cards, a wooden safe, a specialty D6 die, wooden scoring markers and a bunch of large, wooden player pawns cut to look like silhouettes of, well, spies. That, or perverted flashers wearing hats and overcoats, you take your pick. What impressed me about the box itself is the blow-molded plastic insert that has a nice little spot for everything within, and thus the requirement for bagging is foregone. Overall, production quality is the usual Rio Grande level, meaning quite good, with a real attention to detail.

To start off, each player randomly selects one of the seven player cards, looking at the image on it and then placing before them face-down. The image will have revealed which of the seven player colors is theirs, and with everyone doing the same, the game is ready to set up. All of the pawns are put into play on the church space and all scoring markers are put on the zero. The safe is then placed on the building marked with the seven. Finally, the Top Secret cards are set in the center of the board in the park and each player takes two of them into his hand. The rules say that you are to set up the pawns first, but I like allowing each player to grab a pawn of their choice, in order, and place it on the board to allow an initial feeling of bluffery to get everyone’s motor warmed up. Another cool aspect is that even if only three players are involved, all seven pawns get placed, which adds a ton of confusion to determining who is who. There have even been instances at home where a non-human pawn has won!

The game is played with each player rolling the D6, which is marked with the normal D6 values of two through six, but where the one value would be, it is instead is marked with “1-3”. The result of the die is how many movement points the player gets that turn, and they must move any number of pawns a combination of spaces in the clockwise direction that adds up to the rolled value. The only caveat is if they rolled the variable value, they can elect not to move anyone at all or may use one, two, or three movement points. This means that they can move any pawn they want at any time, and this is why it is crucial to have a pokerface equivalent to the strength of marble to retain your secret, lest you give it up like a drunken prom queen and have everyone gang rape you. Bluffing and smack-talking around the table is absolutely a key ingredient in this game both to cause misdirection and to make the game a full-on party game.

Each of the twelve spaces on the oval movement track is sequentially numbered zero through ten, with the last space being marked with a negative three before rotating back to zero again. These indicate the points that a player will receive when any player’s turn ends on the building with the safe. Essentially, the safe is the trigger for the scoring phase of the game, and is the only way anyone gets any points. Because of this mechanic, the pawns that are nearest to the more valuable end of the board are invariably the ones that get moved further ahead to end to the ruins, where if it is scored, they will lose three points, and be pissed. There is a way to help yourself if you’re on the ruins, or a way to move a pawn when it’s not your turn, and these are how the Top Secret cards come into play.

At the end of each player’s movement phase the opportunity to play Top Secret cards rears its head, and the playing of cards revolves around the table and allows each person, in turn, to play a Top Secret Card. These cards are the nastiest, backstabbiest part of the game because they can be used to move the safe, move pawns forward or backward, and do all kinds of other nastiness. These are especially good in the end-game where they can literally cause someone in the lead to get bumped back to the middle of the pack, which almost always results in the leader giving away who they are due to either the expression of outrage that enters their visage or a physical revulsion directed at the person who played the card. We’ve not had anyone come across the table at anyone else yet, but I can see it happening, provided you have the right, or wrong, crowd in the perfect state of inebriation. You may only play one card at a time, but the card playing goes around the table indefinitely until either everyone passes or runs out of cards, at which time the next player takes the die and begins their turn.

Any player who moves one or more pawns onto the ruins, either via using a card or moving them normally, may take a card from the park. Alternatively if they rolled the “1-3” on their turn and elected not to move anyone, they may take a card. There is a four card hand limit, and so you may not always be able to reap the card benefit from moving a player onto the ruins, but you can still make fun of your fellow players, knowing someone just got hosed. The game reaches its conclusion when one or more players end up passing the 50 point mark on the scoring track. When someone crests that point and all the players have been scored, the winner is the person with the single highest score, unless there’s a tie, in which case both win. Everyone simultaneously reveals their player role card, and the winner proceeds to rub the opposing players’ noses in the fact they they, at one point, contributed to the win.

Things I Really Liked:
*The production values on this game really make it shine
*Fast, brisk gameplay leaves little room for Analysis Paralysis or long bouts of waiting
*Backstabbery is a requirement in this game, and you can’t even catch shit from a spouse because you have no idea who’s who

Things That Could’ve Been Better:
*Some versions of the game have better looking boards, and there’s no text, so why not use the best-looking art?
*Some of the cards could’ve been omitted, because they’re completely lame
*Assassinations and torture are absent, and I can imagine several ways that torture-induced thievery and turn-denying killings could’ve been easily included

Overall:
For such a bloody simple game, it’s just brilliant. It’s not going to be your favorite, for sure, but it certainly will be one of the games you will always turn to when you have an hour to play a game with six of your closest allies. It’s a blast, plain and simple.

Rating:
3.75

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