I backed Animals in Espionage on Kickstarter after listening to its designer, Joe Hout, talk about it on a podcast. I quickly went to Kickstarter and decided to support the game for a mere $14. It was boasted to be a 2-player (excellent as I am always looking for a new 2-player for The Son and I) game with a playtime of 15 minutes. I mean, that is 2 for 2 in my book. I did think about backing it for the PnP level, but I changed my mind. I am glad I did.
The game arrived in late October, as promised. I remember sitting on the front porch reading the rules while the kids ran up and down the sidewalk. The game seemed fast-paced and easy to teach. Fast forward to two months later and I finally got it to table. I am just very sad that it took me this long to play it.
About halfway through the first game, The Son and I decided that we really liked the game. As soon as we finished the game, we quickly set up for a rematch. After the second game, we set up for a third match. I swept him, but each game was close.
In Animals in Espionage, you are going mano-y-mano against your opponent. You are trying to get cards of your Spy into your opponent's IntelCard Pile while getting as many cards featuring your identity into your IntelCard Pile. After all 30 cards have been distributed, you have a chance to guess your opponent's identity. Then, the game is scored. Highest point total wins. Seems simple enough, right? Maybe...
To set up, you shuffle and deal two of the agent cards to your opponent and yourself. Then, shuffle the IntelCards. Each player takes an Animal Lineup Card and three Wager Tokens (a 1,2, & 3). Each player then selects one of their Agent cards to be their Identity, and it is marked with a Blue IdentityToken. The other is marked with the Red Spy Token. It is imperative that you keep the identities of your agents hidden from your opponent. Lastly, a 5th agent card is flipped face-up in the middle and the Double Agent Token is placed on it. The 6th card remains unknown and is put aside. It is not needed in this game.
The first player draws the top 5 cards from the IntelCard deck. Now comes an interesting take on the "I Cut, You Choose" mechanic. The active player decides how to divide the 5 cards and then offers them face up to the opposing spy. However, only 4 cards are split into two piles. This split can be 1 and 3, or 2 and 2. The 5th card is handed to the opposing spy who then decides where to place the last card, and then which of the two piles of cards to keep. The active player takes the other stack. It is now the other spy's turn to draw 5 cards and repeat the process. This happens 6 times, and the game ends.
The split and decision-making set this game apart. Both players must pay close attention to what is taken and what is offered. Each of the IntelCards has a number of icons on it. This is the point value for that card. Each icon of your Spy that you get into your opponent's pile is worth one point. The cards come in values of 1,2, and three. There are a total of 9 points per animal spy. For each animal icon, you can get into your own pile, you will receive one point as well. Then, there is the double-agent. For each icon of the double agent you have in your pile, you earn a point. Lastly, you must wager 1, 2, or 3 points on who you think your opponent is. Was your opponent wreckless and gave away the identity? If so, wager 3 points. Not really sure? Wager 2 points. No idea? Just wager 1 point. If you are correct, you score that many additional points. If you guess incorrectly, you lose that many from your total.
Animals in Espionage is a blast! The Son and I loved it! There are two variants as well, but we did not have time to get to those. With such a small amount of cards, the replayability is phenomenal. The strategy is great. One game, I thought for sure The Son was the Owl. I wagered 3 points on it because I was certain. Well, I was certainly wrong! He got me going and I bit hook, line, and sinker. The only reason I won, he did not know my identity either.
The artwork by Mariana Moreno is fantastic! The agents are all depicted in spy-worthy attire complete with gadgets. Animals in Espionage was well worth the backing and support. Twin City Games is currently taking pre-orders for it, and I, along with The Son, highly recommend getting a copy. It is a fantastic filler game, or even better, a game to play while waiting on others to arrive.