Card game review: The Agents Return

It’s spy versus spy in The Agents, a card game that successfully surpassed its Kickstarter goal by almost 4,600%. And now an expansion of sorts is in the works with The Agents Return – as the Kickstarter surpasses its S$30,000 by over four times, is it a worthwhile time to jump on the bandwagon and immerse yourself in a world of subterfuge and double-crossing? Find out below the cut:

The Agents is a strategic card game for 2 to 5 players set in the world of spies. Players must join their Agents into Factions, assign Missions and take their opponents down, to gather intel and win the most points. It’s a deceptively simple game that’s really fun to play once you get going (which doesn’t take long), and so if you like spies (the Kickstarter even has a John le Carre quote) or playing card games, this is worth a look.

(FYI: We did have some trouble figuring out the rules on our first play – but it’s mostly because we were using the old rulebook: The new one is way clearer, and those who have bought the original game might want to consider printing it out.)

Gameplay is simple: Players set up Safe Houses between each other, alongside which players will place Agent cards. At the end of each player’s turn their score will be tabulated based on how the Agents are facing them, together with any Missions that will boost their score, and the first to reach 40 wins.

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Double-Edged cards. Photo: Double-edged Games

It really, really is that simple, but don’t let that deceive you: There’s enough complexity in the game to make it fun without being overly technical – perfect for longtime gamers and first-timers alike. The key to this is the “double-edged” mechanic: Most Agent cards have two sides – one with an ability (the “Command”), and one with points. Choose the ability and you will be giving the points to your opponent when they end their turn instead. But this also means that if your opponent wants to use the ability, they might end up facing the points side back to you.

The “double-edged” nature of the game shows in how you play the game – with each card you play a decision is made whether to take the points now, or if it’s going to be worth more later – it’s a straightforward pros versus cons mechanic that requires a lot of tactical thinking. That said, the game never reached a stage where overthinking ended up bogging the speed of the game down – there’s a general sense of speediness, and it can get pretty tense as you make your next move especially if you’re worried your opponent will flip your Agent.

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Some of the missions. Photo: Double-edged Games

Adding another dimension to the game are the Missions – something you can actually go without, but we find that getting a good mission early (even if it’s worth a small amount of points) can help focus your game-style. It helps determine a theme or direction for your Agents, and is a very cool mechanic that works.

Scoring is important at the end of each turn, because with each score you can buy more Agents or Missions. It’s yet another double-edged part of the game, because spending more early can help you in the long run, but at the same time you might just end up getting cards that don’t fit into your plans.

Of course, the purpose of the Kickstarter (and the expansion) is to add even more ingredients to the gameplay. This comes in the form of gameplay tweaks together with revised (original) expansions, together with 3 brand-new expansions. The original expansions were a a bit of a double-edged sword (again!) – while they added some complexity (without overwhelming the gameplay), some of the extra cards did end up slowing the game down when the agent we needed took longer to appear. The new expansions feature things like Events, which made the game even more unpredictable. The new expansions do seem like they’re well thought out – and helped crank the tension up a notch.

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Some of the Agents. Photo: Double-edged Games

There’s an added bonus for those who own the cards – these are some of the best made cards we’ve had our mitts on. They’re plastic cards with a bit of texture so that they don’t fly out of your hands, and this also means that they’re durable – a boon especially if you’re going to play regularly. They’re practically invulnerable (maybe not against, say, bullets), but spill a bear on them and you could wipe it right off – no need to buy card protectors here.

Also, the cards feature amazing art by Danny Morison (aka Dark Mechanic) that help lend the game its noir-post-apocalyptic-cyberpunk vibe. It goes a long way in enhancing the gameplay and giving it a great sense of atmosphere.

All in all, The Agents is a really fun game, and the expansion, The Agents Return, adds new dimensions to the game that add more to it without overwhelming players. It’s a fun, quick game (half an hour, give or take) that 2 to 5 players can enjoy – but we do recommend 3 players and above.

The Agents Return’s Kickstarter ends 8am on May 22. There’re tons of options, but the base set will set you back US$18 + shipping. Try to help them reach the 150k stretch goal, so, no time to waste!

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