How to Play
Place the briefcase in the center space of the gameboard. Place one playing piece on each of the eight spaces around the edges of the gameboard in any order. Each player chooses one of the headquarters spaces to be their headquarters. Each player takes a bank book and a writing utensil. Before the game begins each player is able to make a payoff to one of the spies (see Pay Off section for details). Players then choose who will be the first player.
On a player’s turn they can choose to perform one of the following actions:
- Move a spy.
- Make a secret pay-off.
- Blow a spy’s cover.
On a player’s turn they have the option to move one of the spy pieces to an adjacent space connected by a gamepath. The player can only move the spy piece one space. Multiple spies can share the same space. If the spy shares a space with the briefcase, the spy takes the briefcase with them even if there was another spy on that space.
After a spy is moved, the movement can be challenged. Starting with the player to the left of the current player, each player has the option of challenging the move. If a player challenges the move the player who made the move can choose to not fight the challenge and move the spy back to the space where it was previously. If the current player chooses to fight the challenge a bidding contest begins (see below). If the current player wins the challenge the move remains and the player who challenged the move loses their next turn. If another player wants to challenge the move they have the opportunity to do so. If the challenging player wins the challenge the spy is moved back to the space it was on before being moved. The current player’s turn then ends.
Make A Secret Pay-Off
Throughout the game you are going to make pay-offs to the spies in order to help win challenges. The player who has paid the most money to a spy will win challenges involving that spy. When making a pay-off to a spy you can pay any amount of money as long as it is in an increment of $100. Players can make multiple pay-offs to a spy. Players only get $10,000 to start the game though so the player can only spend that amount of money on paying off spies.
If a player chooses to make a pay-off for their action they can make a pay-off to one of the spies. When making a pay-off the player tells the other players that they are making a payoff but does not say to whom or for how much they are paying one of the spies. The player writes down the amount they are paying to the spy on their bank book sheet and deducts the amount paid from their bank balance.
Blow A Spy’s Cover
If two spies are on the same space, you have the opportunity to use one of the spies to blow the other spy’s cover. The player chooses which spy they want to be the informer and which spy they want to be the victim. In order to use a spy as an informer you must have paid the spy at least $1,000. The player announces which spy is the informer and which spy is the victim.
Just like with challenging moves players can challenge blowing a spy’s cover. Starting with the player to the left of the current player each player has the choice to challenge the blowing of a spy’s cover. The current player can choose whether to fight the challenge. If they don’t fight the challenge the victim spy’s cover isn’t blown. If the current player chooses to fight the challenge, the challenge goes to a bidding contest. If a challenge is successful, the victim spy’s cover is not blown and they stay in the game. If the current player wins the challenge, the challenging player loses their next turn. Another player can challenge the action though. If there are no challenges or the player successfully defends against challenges, the victim spy is removed from the game. The player who chose to blow the spy’s cover removes $1,000 from the amount they paid to the informer.
When players challenge a move or the blowing of a spy’s cover, the challenged player and the challenging player will have a bidding contest. In a bidding contest the players will refer to the amount of money they paid to the spy involved in the challenge. In a move challenge players use the amount paid to the spy that moved. In the case of blowing a spy’s cover the players use the amount of money paid to the informer.
To start the bidding contest the challenging player says an amount of money they paid the associated spy. This amount has to be in a $100 increment and must be less than or equal to the amount that they paid the spy. If the challenged player has paid the amount said by the challenging or more they say “covered”. The challenging player can then raise the amount if they paid more to the spy than the amount(s) they previously said. If the challenged player did not pay as much as the challenging player they say that they aren’t covered and the challenging player wins the challenge. If the challenged player has paid as much or more than the amounts said by the challenging player, the challenged player wins the challenge. In order to keep the amounts that they have paid to the different spies secret, players can pretend they have paid a spy less than they actually have.
Winning the Game
The first player to get the briefcase back to their headquarters wins the game.
Conspiracy also known as Agent, Sigma File, and Casablanca is a 1973 board game made by Milton Bradley along with a couple other companies throughout the years. When you think of older Milton Bradley games you usually think of roll and move games since most of the games Milton Bradley made in the 1970s and 1980s were roll and move games that were slight variations of one another. Conspiracy had to be the potential to be something more since it is not a roll and move game and doesn’t even include a dice. The game was also a recommended game for the Spiel Des Jahres in 1991. With that knowledge I was actually pretty interested in checking out Conspiracy. Unfortunately Conspiracy didn’t live up to my expectations.
The main mechanic of Conspiracy is the fact that all of the players use the same playing pieces. No spy belongs to an individual player as all of the spies are simultaneously controlled by all of the players. You can exert more power over the spies though by bribing them with your money. I give the designer credit though for coming up with a unique mechanic to control movement. The mechanic is great for thematic purposes since it makes sense that a spy would listen to the person who paid them the most money. I thought Conspiracy could be a pretty good game since this sounded like an interesting mechanic.
While the mechanic works, it just isn’t as interesting as I would have thought. This mechanic makes the game a deduction game where almost all of the information is hidden until someone makes a challenge. Players even have the option of hiding how much they bribed a spy during challenges. This has the makings of a good deduction game but it just doesn’t work since the game feels like a guessing game. If the game lasts pretty long there could be a decent amount of deduction in the game but a player could also just get lucky and get a spy that they paid a lot of money to into a position where they can get the briefcase back to their headquarters quickly.
I think this is the biggest problem that I had with Conspiracy. While the game has the makings for a good deduction game, the game just seems to rely too much on luck. Until there are challenges there is no way to tell who the other players have bribed. You need to just guess who other players bribed and how much they bribed them. When you bribe spies you have to be kind of lucky hoping that other players either don’t bribe your spies or they bribe them less than you did. If you haven’t paid the most to a particular spy your bribe means very little since you gave up some of your money and you don’t even have full control over the spy.
The other area where luck comes into play is just the fact that a player could indirectly help or hurt you. A player could move a spy with the briefcase closer to your headquarters in order to get the briefcase closer to their headquarters. That player might think that they have paid the spy the most money but if you have paid the spy more they could have inadvertently helped you out. The board is designed in a way that a player has to help out one of their neighbors whenever they move the briefcase towards their own headquarters. If the player chooses the wrong player to move the briefcase towards they could end up helping that player win the game.
This actually illustrates another problem with Conspiracy. While you can play the game with three players, I wouldn’t recommend it. In a three player game the player sitting in the middle of the other two players has an advantage since the other two players will end up moving the pieces with the briefcase towards the middle player’s headquarters in order to get to their own headquarters. I would highly recommend playing Conspiracy with four players.
In order to prevent an early end to the game, Conspiracy forces players to work together against a player if the briefcase is close to their headquarters. If players work together they could stop the other player in most situations but the players need to trust one another and some of the players will be forced to make moves that aren’t always in their own best interests. This means that players aren’t going to always want to work together. .
The other main mechanic other than bribing spies is the ability to remove spies from the gameboard by outing them as spies. I thought this mechanic had a lot of potential before I played the game. I think it is a good idea allowing players to eliminate spies that one player has invested too much money in. It prevents players from just investing all of their money into one spy. The problem is that it is too big of burden to the player that has to out the spy. You might be able to eliminate a spy that another player has paid a lot of money to but you will also lose quite a bit of money in the process. Unless you have paid a spy a lot of money you are likely giving up control over that spy by using them to get rid of another spy. In the game I played I used a spy that I had a lot of control over to get rid of another spy. Another player then had control over the spy and they used that spy to win the game. While I think this mechanic is interesting I honestly would only use it if you know a player has given a lot of money to the other spy or you have to get rid of the spy to prevent a player from winning the game.
Another potential problem with Conspiracy is that the game relies entirely on the honor system. If a player lies about how much they paid a spy, it will ruin the entire game. While you can verify other players sheets after the game you probably won’t remember which actions they were able to challenge in the game so you will have a hard time proving if a player cheated. If you have honest players this isn’t an issue but if some of the players aren’t particularly honest or do whatever they can to win they could ruin the entire game.
Conspiracy is one of those games that can differ significantly in length. Some games can end in fifteen minutes while other games can take over an hour. The problem is that the game is going to have problems at either end of the spectrum. Short games end up relying on a player getting lucky and feel like a guessing game. Long games will get kind of dull as the game starts to drag on. Conspiracy would be best as a 20-45 minute game.
One thing I would like to briefly discuss about Conspiracy is the game’s characters. I give the game credit for creating characters of different ethnicity instead of just having all of the spies being white men. At the same time you could argue that the game is somewhat racist. The game tries to use the characters’ names to make some terrible puns like Earl E. Byrd, and Rock Bottom. These are terrible puns but mostly harmless. Then you get to “Peking Tom” who is a Asian man whose name is a play off of “Peeping Tom”. Add in that the non-white characters seem to rely on stereotypes and you could argue that the game is a little racist. While I have played games that have been significantly worse, things like this shouldn’t have been in games from the 1980’s .
Component wise the game is pretty typical of a 1980’s Milton Bradley game. I give the game a lot of credit for the playing pieces. While they are only made out of plastic they are surprisingly detailed for a 1980’s Milton Bradley game. The only problem with the playing pieces is that the names are sometimes a little hard to see which means that you got to fake looking at a couple figures to hide which figure you are trying to check the name on. Otherwise the components are pretty generic for a Milton Bradley game. The artwork is pretty nice on the gameboard but the gameboard is otherwise pretty generic.
Before playing Conspiracy I had somewhat high hopes for the game, especially for an older Milton Bradley game. Unlike a generic roll and move game like most Milton Bradley games, Conspiracy actually tried to do some new things. The idea of bribing agents in order to have control over them is an interesting mechanic that I really haven’t seen done in other games. I love it when games try to do new things. Yet I didn’t love Conspiracy. I think the game relies too much on luck as you have to guess what the other players are going to do and hope the other players don’t do something that messes with your strategy. This made the game kind of boring in my opinion.
While I didn’t love the game, I don’t think Conspiracy is a terrible game. I can see some people really liking the game. I think it is just the type of game that some people will like while other won’t get much enjoyment out of it. If you like deduction games with a lot of hidden information and like the game’s concept you might enjoy Conspiracy quite a bit. Otherwise I would probably pass on the game.
If you would like to purchase Conspiracy you can purchase it on Amazon.