Friday, October 16, 2009

Board Game Review - Clue Secrets and Spies

I think there was this big board meeting where the CEO of Hasbro (who has probably never actually seen a game in his life, and whose children only play with educational toys made from rare wood) read a spreadsheet or an online post or some random comment somewhere and found out that devoted hobby gamers didn't play Hasbro games any more. So he looked down a long conference room table and said to his presidents, 'make the games cooler.' So they ran right to the VPs, and said, 'look, the CEO says to make the games cooler. Where are we on that?' And the VPs said, 'where are we on what? That thing you just mentioned, just now? Oh, yeah, we're right on top of that.' And they ran to the game designer guys and said, 'make the games cooler, or we fire somebody.' Meanwhile, not one of those stuffed shirts stopped to realize that hobby gamers don't tend to buy their games at Wal-Mart, and no amount of reinvention is going to turn a Reiner fan into a Hasbro fan.

But be that as it may, those Hasbro game designers are pretty good at what they do. They made HeroScape, for starters. Then RISK: Black Ops, then Monopoly City. And now they've gone and totally recreated Clue. But I still think they're dreading the moment when the CEO decides it's time to reinvent Yahtzee

The new Clue is not Clue at all. In fact, it bears almost no resemblance to the classic (and boring) wander-around-a-big-house-and-accuse-people game that I played when I was a kid. It still has the colors, but now instead of Professor Plum and Miss Peacock, they're all agents - Agent Mustard, Agent Green, Agent Scarlet - you get the idea, I hope, without me having to list all six (though I'm really only missing Agent White at this point, and since I just mentioned her, that pretty much covers the whole range). However, the colors are the very last time Secrets and Spies has anything in common with old-school Clue.

In Secrets and Spies, you're not trying to find a murderer, you're trying to catch Agent Black. He starts at the top of the scoring chart, and the agents start at the bottom. You get a hidden character card to tell you which of the budding spies you really are, and you try to score points until someone finally nabs Black.

You score by completing missions and attending meetings. As the game progresses, the various agents will pick up cool spy stuff like guns and microchips and big frickin' diamonds, and you'll have a mission card that tells you which two things you need. As long as you can get both things in the hands of any agent, you score - the agent holding the right items moves up one space on the score track, and you get to keep the card. It may seem odd to be scoring for anyone at all, but at the end of the game, you get a point for every mission card you're holding, so your guy can reveal himself and leap forward.

The meetings are not nearly as asinine as that board meeting from the first paragraph. These are secret spy meetings, and you don't even know which two spies have to meet up. There's a secret meeting location on a card, but it doesn't tell you who to meet. You have to get an agent into the city, and then you use the little blue light (batteries included - thanks Hasbro, for not sending me to Walgreens on Christmas morning) to scan the card, after which point you know who you have to meet, but nobody else does. You get those two people together in that city, and they each score. And again, you get to keep the card while the two agents go back to a seedy hotel room and knock boots (you have seen a James Bond movie, right? As long as both people are attractive, and at least one is a girl, there will be sex).

I wouldn't say this is the world's most brilliant game, but it is certainly far more enjoyable than the old version. You can't activate the same agent twice in a row, so there's an element of blocking your opponents while you're manipulating your own guy to get the big score. You have to think ahead, because you have limited action cards you can use in order to send your pawns all over the world in search of the elusive microchip and the perfect chicken fried steak (which, as every red-blooded American knows, can only be found in the Southern United States, and is quite possibly the world's most perfect food).

One thing that does make Secrets and Spies the kind of game that is going to leap off the shelves at Target is the art. The graphics for this game are downright cool. They're all Hollwood high-tech spy thriller groovy, with clear plastic pawns and little digital numbers and drawings that look like stuff you see in Mission: Impossible, but that you know real spies never really bother with because that would just be unnecessarily retarded.

Another neat factor is that you can use your cell phone while you play. Well, technically, you just use one phone, and pass it around the table, and text messages might come in on your turn. These are kind of cool, and might give you some extra moves, or close off a city, or otherwise kind of mix it up a little. Sadly, this part comes off as just totally gimmicky and a little pointless, because the messages don't come in very often and you only get six of them in the whole game. In fact, if you play fast enough, you'll finish before the secret spy messages stop coming, and then you'll just be sitting there hitting 'delete' while everyone wonders why your phone keeps buzzing at you.

So Clue: Secrets and Spies isn't the next big thing. So it's kind of a kids' game. So what? It's still Hasbro, and Clue has always been for the youngsters (or very bored adults). It's not a bad game, and parents might even enjoy it the first couple times. It's tricky and fast-paced and interesting, at least until your ten-year-old who thinks he's Maxwell Smart keeps bringing it into the kitchen while you're trying to do the bills and says, 'will you guys play with me?' with those big puppy dog eyes that tell you that if you don't drop everything, he's going to grow up to sell drugs to kindergartners.

The reinvention train might be jumping the tracks around here somewhere, but with Secrets and Spies, it hasn't derailed yet. I just hope that when they reinvent Scrabble, they don't send me a review copy


Quick, engaging game play
Easy rules
Very cool art
So completely NOT Clue (hell yes that's a pro)

A little simplistic
Too many gimmicks

If you've got kids who want to be spies when they grow up, and they're suckers for slick graphics and trendy gadgets, you may want to pick them up a copy of Clue: Secrets and Spies:


Bookw0rm said...

umm ... your email is full. I've been trying to email you a response for 2 days and it keeps getting returned. Will try again tonight. Peace.

Matt Drake said...

JanuskieZ says:

"Hi... Looking ways to market your blog?"

Ooh! A link! Handy!


Patrick, I don't know why my email would be full. As in, that never, ever happens, because it's a third-party provider through my hosting company, and I have a boatload of room, and I'm still getting other emails, so that's weird.

But I just downloaded everything, so you should be able to send now.

Chris Norwood said...

"But I still think they're dreading the moment when the CEO decides it's time to reinvent Yahtzee"

Already happened, and Richard Borg did the design honors.

It's actually a lot of fun... for Yahtzee that is.

Matt Drake said...

Well hell. That joke fell short.

Unknown said...

I just tried to play this game with my 3 sons and it was so hard, I couldn't figure it out, so we gave up and played Pictionary. And, yes, it is nothing even close to Clue. I'm 34, and this game is for kids 9 and up. I see myself as a pretty educated person and I just couldn't get the concept. I'd much rather play the original "Clue" with my children.