“Do you expect me to talk, Claymore!?”
“No, Mr Swift! I expect you to die!”
BANG BANG BANG!
“Not been practicing lately?”
BANG BANG BANG!
“This is getting awkward…”
BANG BANG – “Gurgh”
“Ha! There! That’s what you get! Now, quickly, patch up his wounds and put him in the cells”
“Shall we tie him up sir? Lock the doors?”
“What!? No! We don’t have time for that, we’ve an evil master plan to bring to fruition!”
Time is of the essence. Grab your Walther PPK, don your dinner jacket, tactical turtleneck, or 60s regulation miniskirt (as appropriate) and pour yourself a stiff vodka martini as we take a long hard look at Spy or Die Trying… for your eyes only of course.
Well, not too long a look, it’s really not that pretty. I mean, long steel grey corridors? Bland, minimally decorated rooms? Where is your secret base, darling, a soviet missile silo? Oh it is… well I guess that’d be appropriate then! Still, you won’t be drooling over the game’s visuals.
Your heroic band of agents has finally found Claymore’s secret lair but they have only 60 minutes to gather as much intelligence as possible and escape before the base is locked down for good! So sneak, shoot, punch and wise crack your way through a base filled with suitably incompetent guards, security cameras, coffee obsessed scientists, and the worst trap builders in history. All in aid of defeating Samuel L. Jackson. No seriously, look:
Is it bad that your all white gang of agents are trying to bring down the one black guy in the game? They were definitely not going for that even if it raised a joking eyebrow or two here, but Kingsman did it and if I know these guys at all (they did make Jane Austen’s Matchmaker) this is to poke fun at the 60s spy theme. So I’m not too worried about it.
And boy does it ever capture that theme! You have all your classic tropes, from silly gadgets, stealth judo chops, blind guards and a villain who just won’t kill their enemy (avoiding player elimination in a funny way!). Instead, getting shot up or knocked out only costs you time.
Time is the game’s central driving force, with a 60-space track at the bottom of the board ticking down every turn. Bigger chunks disappear whenever the bad guy completes one of the 3 main sections of the missile he is researching, or when an agent is knocked out or “killed”. Although any such agent is merely disarmed, healed up and dropped in the stockade at the top of the map. You can even voluntarily surrender to avoid the time penalty and be brought right into the heart of the base! In addition to those, the agents have a large number of actions, from breaching doors to sneaking up on sentries, that require either a dice roll (risky!) or spending some random amount of time for a guaranteed success.
This adds a push your luck type decision to the agent’s turns, far better than just demanding a dice roll to do something, it asks if you want to bring yourselves closer to defeat in order to advance your own objectives. Those objectives are the acquisition of the pieces of intel that are spread liberally around the base. You only need a certain set of them to win the game, but the game challenges you once again to collect more for an epic victory, tempting you to stay longer in the base and risking never getting out!
It’s easy for a safe situation to tip out of hand too. Initially the agents are “hidden”, the base blissfully unaware of their presence. However, whenever you move within line of sight of a guard or camera you risk them spotting you, causing you to become “exposed” (snigger), and dropping an alert marker on the board. Too many alert markers is bad! Exposure is also bad because, just like in real life, it can get you killed although, unlike real life, it’ll be because of the hail of inaccurate weapons fire the bad guys will throw at you. Firing guns also raises the alert level (as you might expect), and even if you’re not spotted, the bodies you leave lying around will be, unless, that is, you risk spending more time to hide them. Probably beneath the floor boards… we think. There’s really not many hiding places…
The base gets more and more threatening as the alert level increases too. Not only can more guards, scientists and technicians be spawned by spending those alert markers, if enough get placed that it triggers amber or even red alert, guards start running, traps get more powerful, and whole mobs of guards will appear at once! Only by everyone surrendering (or being captured) can you reduce the alert level, once again asking you how far you think you can push it.
It’s a simple enough set up. The bad guy wants to raise the alert level so he can get more control over the situation. The good guys want to avoid it for as long as possible, but will inevitably get caught out at some point and have to try and manage the situation. It’s a game of cat and mouse, the guards trying to set up choke points where they hope to catch sight of the agents, the agents stealthily eliminating guards. It perfectly captures the feel of a spy film with the goodies sneaking in, doing damage getting caught, escaping, harrying the opposition before the final thrilling escape! I’ve never felt like this wasn’t a close call, with the final fight around the front door being a thoroughly nail-biting affair.
I’d go so far as to say Spy or Die Trying is the truest spy themed board game. It captures the feel, it creates wonderful cinematic moments, and has so many mechanics embedded in it for the sake of theme. Unfortunately, this does come at a cost: complexity. There is a huge amount of rules to worry about, often covering specific circumstances, that makes this game a nightmare to teach and learn. We regularly had to be checking the rulebook as we played and I still don’t know that I entirely understand reaction rolls…
BUT the details of the rules are less important than the experience and I had a lot of fun with this game, from shouting Bond and Archer quotes to gunning down baddies to spawning hordes of guards and watching the agent’s faces fall. There is a lot to like here if you are willing to fight through the learning process. Those first couple of games are going to feel rough and clunky. This game is great for those looking for a rich, thematic (tongue-in-cheek) spy game. But you need to be ready to put in the effort for it.
Rating: Special Agent
Our copy of Spy or Die Trying was generously sent to us for review by the publisher Warmacre Games.