You’re sitting in a busy train station, wearing a pink carnation in your buttonhole, and reading a copy of The Times. A man in a fedora sits down on the bench behind you and says “The geese have flown south for the winter”. You reply with “Yes, but they’ll return in the spring”. The man stands, leaving his briefcase on the bench. You stand, take the briefcase, and exit. The job is done.
If this style of pulp spy thriller action is your thing, NewSpeak was made for you. It’s a group game in the style of Codenames, Decrypto, and Spyfall. In a dystopian future, what we see and experience is controlled by The Moderators, à la The Matrix. A group of Dissidents (one team) is planning covert actions to hack the servers controlling the population’s view of the world, and need to communicate the target locations to their teammates. The Moderators (the other team) are listening in, however, so cunning clues and codewords are the order of the day.
The art of conversation
The Lead Dissident player is trying to feed the others their target location. They do this by having a good old-fashioned chin-wag, cross-referencing key words against a code card. The Dissident team are trying to get clues to the chosen location by listening to the Lead Dissident. They’re trying to pick up on certain words, then cross-reference those words on their card to figure out the true meaning.
It’s probably easiest to explain by way of an example – the one included in the rulebook. Let’s say my code card has these pairs of words on it, among others:
Big – Liquid
Fact – Glass
Happy – Loud
Life – Party
The conversation might sound like this:
“She seemed down today. Do you think she’s happy with her life?”
“The fact is, we can’t read too much into it without knowing the bigger picture”
If the team picked up on the correct words, they’d now have Loud, Party, Glass, and Party, which in turn should lead them to the Nightclub.
Cracking the code
The Moderators are trying to identify which set of codes the others are using. It’s very difficult in the first round, and as a Moderator you’ll find yourself trying to pick up on the words you think are the code words. It’s often after the first location is revealed that you can start to make connections, and try to piece things together.
I really like how the players start to get inventive once they get the hang of the game. The clues get more vague, and instead of using the words on the cards, synonyms start creeping in, in an attempt to obfuscate the real clues. Saying ‘food’ for example, might turn into “we’re going to have lunch”.
Those of you who have played Spyfall or Decrypto before will be able to see some strong similarities already between NewSpeak and those games, but this game adds another layer of nuance that I really enjoy. It’s a deeper, more-involved game than its counterparts. It’s actually one of the trickier deduction games to explain, and while it’s not actually difficult per sé, it’s a game that really benefits from an example round before you get into the game proper.
NewSpeak is a great example of this style of game. As I mentioned above, fans of Decrypto, Spyfall and Codenames will probably really enjoy it. From personal experience, it can be quite difficult to get your players to engage in making up the nonsense sentences. I found some people can get quite self-conscious about it for some reason. Once the ice is broken though, it’s pretty smooth sailing.
I found the game to be at its best with four or five players, but your mileage may vary. When you play with your family, or close friends, it’s really tricky trying to hide your intentions from the Moderator. Some people just know you too well. I played this with a close group after a couple of drinks at a regular games night, and we had a hoot with it.
I wouldn’t recommend NewSpeak if you’re likely to be playing with three players, as the game shines best when you’ve got multiple Dissidents trying to guess at the same time, it makes the conversations and interactions much more interesting, and gives the Moderators more to think about. It’s a game best enjoyed with a group around a table – chatting, laughing, and trying to figure out just what the flipping heck is going on.
Review copy kindly provided by ITB Board Games. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
Designers: Mark Stockton-Pitt, Fiona Jackson, Anthony Howgego
Publisher: ITB Board Games
Art: Zak Eidsvoog, David Thor Fjalarsson
Playing time: 30-60 mins