Why You Should Play Triple Agent

You're at a party. It is not lit. It is so unlit you are likely to be eaten by a grue. You and your gamer friend exchange a knowing look: I would much rather be playing games.

She pulls out a phone, and pulls up Triple Agent. Hallelujah! Game on.

Triple Agent by Tasty Rook, a two-man studio from Iceland, takes the convergence of board game and electronic device one step further. It's a party-game for 5-9 players, and it's a hidden-identity party game in the mould of Werewolf, The Resistance, or Secret Hitler. The conceit, however, is that it replaces the entire board game with an app. Instead of each player nursing an identity card, the phone/tablet is passed around the table to each player, who reads their identity, and is given their win conditions.

After that, each player carries out one operation, which generally reveals some form of information (e.g. either Alex or Tegan is a spy) or changes the game state in some way (e.g. you have turned Alex into a double agent). The game gives you limited time at the end to share your information or disinformation. Finally, everyone enters their votes via the app, and the winner(s) are revealed.

The use case is actually pretty sound. Unless you're the sort of person who carries around a selection of choice board games for every occasion in the boot of your car (and I happen to know a few people who do), sometimes you just don't have a physical board game to hand. Having an entire game on your phone allows for impromptu gaming sessions, outdoor gaming, or even gaming when there's a blackout.

Tasty Rook generously provided Kotaku with a demo copy, and we road-tested it one Friday night in the office.

The app is written in Unity, so it works pretty much the same on iOS or Android. As a Android-only user, this made me happy, because the list of good board games with an iOS version and never ported to Android is longer than my arm, and makes me cry at night.

The design is clean and thematic. It has a simple but effective three-colour scheme, and reminds me of Secret Hitler or Papers Please (glory to Arstotzka!). The sound is mostly understated, until the countdown timer kicks in, which injects an extra layer of tension into the game.

There are thoughtful UI touches. My favourite is the faux-thumbprint scanner which you press to move to the next screen. Because the thumbprint scanner takes a few seconds to process, it also prevents accidental screen touches from ruining the game and letting you accidentally see more than you should. There wasn't a single accidental press in the three games we played.

If you've played another hidden identity game, Triple Agent seems pretty familiar. There are two teams: The Service (aka the Good Guys), and V.I.R.U.S. (the Bad Guys). For the most part, The Service - like Jon Snow - knows nothing, while Team V.I.R.U.S. knows each other. You either spend the game trying to discern the bad guys, or lying as best you can. At the end, there is an Accusation Phase, when all players will vote to kill imprison one player. If that player is on the opposing team, you win. Simple.

In between, is the Operations phase. Each player has the chance to go on a mission, which might reveal some information, or result in manipulation (e.g. player X and player Y have swapped teams). Between turns you have a small amount of time to discuss before the next player needs to take their turn.

There are extra win conditions that can be inserted into the game, as in-game 'expansions', so to speak. For instance, in one game I drew a Grudge, which means I only won if a certain player was imprisoned. In some hidden identity games, this sort of added complexity can break the game, but the Triple Agent app managed to slot in these rules seamlessly.

Look at his ugly face!

Unlike certain other games, where the shouting arguing can make the game take an hour, these games were short. Our longest was 20 minutes, our shortest was 10. That's pretty good for a party game.

I was quite anxious going into the first game, because you have to give up the control of the board game to the mobile app.

Often, when someone is new to a game, you need to allow "takebacksies" — the ability for players to change their minds and redo their moves, so their inadvertent and uninformed choices don't ruin the rest of the game. Revisionist history is fine when you have bits of cardboard and paper you can push backwards, but getting a computer program to step backwards often requires a programming degree and some knowledge of hackery.

You need to have faith in the game as DM/GM/narrator. The AI must be well written, and not given to flights of fancy, excessive randomness, or sheer cruelty. In a game where deduction matters, you need sufficient information (in and amongst all the deceit and disinformation) to be able to figure out who is on your team and who it is you want to kill imprison at the end of the game.

At the same time, having perfect information ruins the fun, like playing poker open-handed. A good hidden identity should be like Texas Hold'em, where some information is known, other information can be gleaned, but you never precisely know what's in someone else' hand.

Over the course of three games, Triple Agent delivered. I never felt I was operating blindly. By the end of each game, I was making informed decisions and actively contributing to the outcome of the game. But at the same time, I didn't know too much. The balance was exactly right. I'm assuming someone has done the maths on being able to get enough information to make informed decisions, without ruining the game by giving too many people perfect information. And, unlike Werewolf, no-one had to sit out. Unlike Resistance, there were no screw-ups in the initial setup.

The app did its job, there were no mistakes, and no-one missed out.

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My other fear was that because every move in the game needs to be run through the app, turns might drag on forever. In physical board games, elements like looking at your identity card or voting are simultaneous, whereas by design, this game could only allow voting one at at time. However, surprisingly, the game never dragged on. There is a hidden, in-built timer, which starts to nag you, but only if you've taken too long.

That said, it's not quite as engaging as holding a tangible card. In a physical board game, you have artwork to admire and something to fiddle with in your hands. Here the phone/tablet gets passed around the table, and in between there's nothing to do apart from look suspiciously at each other, or chat. Which is fine, except if people are bantering, it's easy to lose track of the small snippets of information in the short amount of time you have.

Still, it's fun. This is what the end of the game looks like. And as you can see, everyone is waiting with bated breath when the winner is revealed. Triple Agent is a good game that your gamer and non-gamer friends will enjoy.

You might have similar games in your collection, but Triple Agent is something you can carry around with you. The game is now available on iOS and Android, and is free to download (although the expansions will cost you a few extra dollars).


Comments

    "Bated" breath. As in abated. As in, holding ones breath.
    I suppose you could bait breath, but it doesn't really make sense.

    Sorry. Grammar nazi

      Seriously though, thanks. Fixed.

        Maybe we can also shame you for using 'lit' :)

          In retrospect, there is probably an almost complete disjunct between people who would use the word 'lit', and people who would get the grue reference.

    This is a great idea, and I'd like to see more of it in future. I'd also like to see games like it that can utelize multiple phones/tablets rather than passing a single one around. Games like Jackbox have proven this is possible.

      Possible? Yes. Easy? Not necessarily.

      From my experience, you can always count on technology to fail.

    so how do you and your gamer friend play a game for 5 to 9 with just the 2 of you?

      If it's a boring party, you can find at least three other bored victims :)

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