Have you ever wanted to be a spymaster? Sending spys to other countries to collect intel, subvert enemy spies and probably die? Then you can send them to death rehab and do it all over again. That’s how it works right?
Secret Directive is a sort of “take-that” style deck building, economic, worker placement… thing for 2-4 players designed my Mike Lee and art by Daniel Giovannini. It wold be quite a task to wrestle all of those concepts into a workable and fun experience wouldn’t it? Well I guess we will find out. I will briefly describe the gist of the game, after which I will and tell you why I believe this game might or might not be worth your hard earned cash.
Okay so get this: There are four ways to win here. Four different types of “Intelligence” cards will allow you to advance 4 different tracks. Economy, Science, Military and Culture. Each provides a suitable and respectable upgrade to your country. You will research these cards, add them to your deck and advance these tracks.
Economy increases your income; allowing you to purchase extra actions at the end of the round.
Science allows you to access much better cards to add to your deck.
Military adds to your spy pool. More spys means more actions per round.
And Culture makes capturing enemy spies easier.
If you advance any of these four tracks to the tenth space, you win. Who says you need to be good at everything?
The game is played in a series of rounds. Rounds consist of a series of turns. Each player takes turns activating one spy; one action. There are many actions you can take. You may move your spy to another players country. You may play Intel or Action cards. You may “Research” cards to add them to your deck. You may take “Income”, which depends on your economy track. And finally you may pick up a Secret Directive card. (I will not go into too much more detail in this review on these actions. If you want to know more feel free to check out the Kickstarter. There are some great videos up there.)
This continues until no one has any spys lest to take any actions. At this point, “Secret Directives” can be played. Tracks are advanced in the “Development” stage. Assassinated spys are gathered up from the beaches they washed up on, rehabilitated by doctor Frankenstein then begin a strange new life.
First to ten on any development track wins.
First thing is first. Components. I can’t get through this without mentioning this. When you open the box you are greeted with some thin flimsy cardboard player mats, cardboard chits, cardboard coins and a cardboard first player token. You will also find a small bag of generic wooden cubes, a standard black six sided die and a big old bag o’ cards. No insert to hold the components, nothing. This is all housed in a pretty thin, fairly easy to damage box. I have been told that this is final component quality, and that is a shame because inside this box is a wonderfully thematic and thinky experience. You really get the feeling that you are managing something bigger that yourself. Every action matters as you rack your brain thinking about the possible options. There are never so many that it slows the game down. Decisions are quick and important. This experience does come with it’s distractions though. Secret directive cards and some action cards are quite direct and unpredictable. An otherwise clean experience can be muddled by a “take-that” style strategy which will become a bit annoying over time. The “Honey Pot” card is a good example. Take an enemy spy and make them your own, effectively strengthening and weakening you and your opponent, respectively and permanently. There doesn’t feel like much of a good way to recover from some things like that, causing you to lose hope fairly quickly. You can avoid this however by getting to those cards first. Spend time and precious actions upgrading the science track to allow out to research these powerful cards.
This game has some fantastically thematic bits! Spys who take too many actions in other countries increase their odds of being caught and assassinated. All four development tracks are important and should not be ignored, even though you can win by advancing only one, you will never be able to without the help of the others. You’ll be managing it all in a frenzy, somehow not overwhelming but frantic nonetheless.
I honestly feel that despite its flaws, this game is worth your time. The component quality is augmented by the usage of some stellar artwork and a very thematic feel. I like the fact that my box is a bit beat up. It looks like something you would find in a 70’s spy movie. I don’t mind a “take-that” feel. This is how the spy game works. I hit you, you hit me, we all die and go to spy rehab. Hopefully gain some bionic parts in the process?
And maybe back it? Or not. Your choice. I’m not your mom.