At first glance, Spy vs Spy seems like it could have some really fun and exciting gameplay, but as we’ll see, it’s a real bomb…
As I was poking around, looking for the next game to cover in our Board Game Retro series, I happened upon the Spy vs Spy board game. Looking at the components, I saw a game which had route-building, and massive bomb pieces and my mind started whirling about how the players would use the bombs in gameplay. It seemed like this could be a Bomberman style board game and I was super excited to learn more.
Little did I know, I was setting myself up for disappointment.
A Little Bit Of History
Mad Magazine was a pop culture force to be reckoned with. It was an American satirical magazine, which touched on celebrities, pop culture, entertainment and basically anything else they wanted. The magazine was home to a number of mascots, most notably Alfred W. Neuman.
The magazine ran from 1952 until July of 2019, when Mad announced they would be ending its newsstand distribution after 67 years and 550 issues. The magazine would still be available through direct market and subscriptions. Among those issues were hundreds of wordless comics of 2 spies with a friendly rivalry attempting to outdo the other with traps, tricks and deceptions.
The strip was created by Antonio Prohías, which is noted by the “BY PROHIAS” in Morse code at the top of each strip that he wrote. Prohías was a political satire cartoonist in Cuba during the time of Fidel Castro. Prohías gained the ire of Castro in 1959 when he drew cartoons noting Castro’s muzzling of the press. Castro accused Prohías of being a CIA spy forcing him to flee to the United States on May 1, 1960, just three days before Castro nationalized the Cuban free press. He was hired by Mad on July 12, 1906, after showing off some prototype Spy vs Spy strips.
Prohías was interviewed by the Miami Herald in 1983, where he said of Castro, “The sweetest revenge has been to turn Fidel’s accusation of me as a spy into a moneymaking venture.” Good on you, Antonio.
Spy vs Spy quickly gained a lot of popularity. In fact, it’s the only portion of the magazine I even remember clearly. There have been a number of spin-off games and cartoons even as part of MadTV.
And in 1986, our good friends at Molten Bridley published the Spy vs Spy board game.
Spy vs Spy is a competitive route-building game with hand management mechanics. Each player has a hand of 4 tunnel tiles which they use to build a tunnel throughout the board, collecting bombs.
Players take turns moving freely through their tunnels (no roll to move here!) and placing new tiles to continue the tunnel system. If a player lands on a bomb space, they roll the die.
Why should a spy be wry of the die? Well a die can be a spy ally if the spy can stay shy about the nigh high try of the die to send the spy high to the pie in the sky. That’s why.
If a spy rolls a blast symbol on the die, the bombs explodes, sending them back to their start. But if the spy can remain on that spot until the start of their next turn, they roll again. If the bomb still doesn’t explode, they get to collect that bomb! As the game progresses, players will continue to build tunnels, destroying and moving tunnel tiles around, creating a confusing labyrinth and perhaps even trapping players in certain sections.
Now what happens? You’ve collected a few bombs, set the tunnels to trap your opponent in a single stretch from whence there is no escape, they are at your mercy! What must you do to finally achieve victory over your most hated rival?!
First player to collect their bombs wins.
So disappointing! There’s no setting traps. There’s no blowing each other up. There’s no attacking each other at all! Trapping another player in a section of tunnel is just a minor annoying for them since you can just place tiles on top of others.
When I first saw the components to this game, as well as the Spy vs Spy theme, I was certain this would be a hidden gem of a game. But nope. I was wrong. Malten Bumble could have made something really great here, but they chose to just not do that, for some reason. And that’s such a shame, really.
Thanks for reading!