As a SpyParty player learns the game, they develop their own distinct style and approach. In the course of doing so many players begin, consciously or unconsciously, taking the same basic approach to each game, hitting the same notes in the same places. I’ve started referring to this as the “rhythm” of SpyParty, because I see it time and again, in the majority of my opponents’ games and my own games as well. While this rhythm serves as a strong foundation for play, the best players learn to break it to their own advantage.
Setting the Tempo: the Rhythm of Spy
Seduce the Target, Contact the Double Agent, and Inspect Statues: these three missions are the power chords of playing spy; they’re the foundational soft tells. They leave no permanent trace behind, and only require persistence and a little bit of luck to get done. Because of this, these three missions are the ones that spies will often gravitate toward, and spies still prioritize Contact and Seduce, especially, at all levels of skill and experience.
If you prefer anecdote to data, go back and look at some replays, either of your own spy games or others’. In how many of these did you get some or all of these three missions done? If it’s nearly all of them, you’re not alone; the stats bear this out as well. If you choose a random game from the SpyParty Competitive League, there’s almost a two-in-three chance Contact will be completed during it, and it’s the most commonly completed mission on every single venue. Seduce is right behind, second on 75% of the venues, and third in the others. Inspect is common, as well, though avoided a bit more at higher levels for reasons we’re about to discuss.
Once players realize that the tempo of the game can be unforgiving for spies, they start seeking steady mission progress. This often entails starting a game with a flirt or a statue visit, while looking for an opportune time to Contact, and either complete one or two hard tells or find the right character to frame. Over time, this becomes almost routine, and establishes boundaries for each game. It’s comforting to get that steady progress done while trying to find the perfect time to make that perfect play. The specifics vary from venue to venue, but one common refrain is a spy visiting statues early in the game, then going back later to finish inspects toward the end after getting other missions completed. This is a good example of what I mean by the rhythm of the game: many spies will approach each game in a similar way, and seek to get similar missions done at similar times. On smaller venues it can lead to a shockingly consistent script, as detailed by Drawnonward in his article The Average Game of Balcony.
In addition to these larger rhythms, there are smaller ones which many players unconsciously adopt as well. For example, no one likes to enter a conversation circle and talk immediately, whether it be to flirt or contact. After getting shot for doing so repeatedly, most players will develop the habit of pausing for what seems, to them, like ages before taking that action test. In practice, however, this often works out to be between three to five seconds. Here, too, constant rhythms underlie common spy play across the spectrum of skill and play styles.
Following the Beat: the Rhythm of Sniper
The rhythm of the game doesn’t just apply to spies. A good sniper gets inside the mind of their spy opponent, and understanding the rhythm the spy is playing along to is essential to raising your sniper game to the next level. Just as many spies develop their game out of a similar songbook, many snipers learn the same fundamentals too. How many snipers have you seen, probably including yourself, who will automatically highlight any character who visits statues? How often do you decide to take an uncertain shot when you see a character making a second statue visit, or talking as a banana bread rings out, in the waning seconds of a game? The very desire to do so indicates an understanding, conscious or not, of a spy rhythm.
For many snipers, feeling in control of the rhythm of the game is essential. The reason rote statue highlights work for many players, for example, is because inspects are such a core part of the spy’s arsenal. Because many spies, especially those who are still developing their own play style, will seek to get inspects done during a game, it’s very valuable to keep track of the characters who have done so. Even with those less-than-certain shots, which some players might variously refer to as “intuition” or “voodoo,” snipers are probably drawing on the rhythm of the game and noticing which characters are dancing to that beat. Spies like to finish missions by finishing inspects, and maybe then either finishing flirt or contacting. Good snipers know this, either consciously or not, and can make those shots accordingly.
Remix: Making Your Own Rhythm
We’ve established that spies will often behave in similar ways, and snipers know that and will take advantage of it. How can spies take this common refrain, and riff on it to their own benefit? The simple answer is to change up the rhythm and keep snipers from being able to relax and follow along with what is familiar. So many spies, despite knowing that snipers will highlight them for it and pay more attention to them for the rest of the game, still visit statues early in games, because this is the song they’ve learned and practiced.
Be willing to change things up: rather than getting your three soft tells done first and then trying to find a hard tell or some fingerprints, get your inspects done in the middle of the game. Note which partygoers seem like they’re following the usual rhythm and consider using a fake contact to frame them. Create some chaos or add some time. Learn to rush, even if you get caught once, twice, a dozen times. Disrupt.
As a sniper, what goes through your mind when you notice that the guest list is missing from Toby’s tray, and you have no idea who did it? How does that make you feel – does the internal clock in your head start running faster? What else might you have missed? Do you need to take a shot – right now???
When a spy manages to break the rhythm of the game, it puts immense pressure on the sniper. There’s nothing wrong with playing to the same familiar beat some of the time. Everyone has their favorite song, after all. But if you always stick to the same one, the sniper’s going to learn all the words. The best spies are successful in large part because they understand the rhythm of the game, can understand a sniper’s understanding of it, and adjust and remix each game accordingly to make it their own, creating a new rhythm which the sniper can’t follow.