I’ve a bit of a soft spot for spy related board games. As a kid in the 80s I was obsessed with a series of books on how to be a spy and that obsession has never totally gone away. I’m always thrilled to find games that make me think of that Cold War period of spies leaving briefcases across Europe as a way of getting secrets out of Eastern Europe. As that is basically the premise of the game Top Secret I was rather thrilled too pick up a copy in a local charity shop’s half price sale. It only cost me £1.50 and for something that can give hours of entertainment that’s an absolute bargain!
Top Secret describes itself as “An international undercover struggle” but to be honest that might be a slightly too grand a description.
Aim of the game
Each player in the game (up to a maximum of 4) is given seven secret agents and also 4 diplomatic bags, labelled A – D. They have to hide things in these bags. One will contain a bomb, whilst another contains one state secret, one three secrets, and the final one five secrets. These diplomatic bags are then left in cities across the world with the board being a “map” in the sense that it has bases named after cities and they are connected by various routes. The aim of the game is to bring a total of ten secrets back to your home base.
It’s a simple enough sounding mission, but as you might expect there are a few things to catch you up on the way. You know what is in your diplomatic bags, but not those of the other players. If you take a bomb back to your home base then you lose half of your agents. A costly mistake. Also, if you bump into another agent in a city you’re forced to have a showdown with them, which may again result in your agent losing his life.
Play starts with each player allocating contents to his diplomatic bags (done by putting cards showing the contents face down under the relevant A – D labels in the corner of the board relating to your colour’s starting base) and assembling all seven agents in the starting base.
Movement of agents is based on the roll of the dice. The only problem with my version of Top Secret being that the special dice were actually missing. These are supposed to have one blank face, two faces with 1 dot, two faces with 2 dots, and one face with 3 dots. The number of dots rolled indicates how far to move your agents. I ended up having to create a little look up table to tell us how many spaces to moved based on what we rolled on a pair of regular dice!
Agents move around the tracks on the board linking cities, and as they go they can collect any loose diplomatic bags that they find on the way. These can either be your own bags, or those of another player. You can drop a bag at any point and swap it with another bag that you find on your travels.
You can’t go through a city where there is another agent without having a showdown. The way this works is through each player placing down one of they showdown cards which bears a number from 1 to 5, or is one of two 0 cards in the selection. The higher number laid down wins the showdown, and the other agent is killed off. The exception to this rule is if the losing agent played a “0”. In this case they still lose the showdown, but escape with their life and just have to return to their starting base. Once used a showdown card goes in a discard pile and once you’ve used all 7 cards you start again.
You obviously don’t know what is in your opponents’ diplomatic cases until you get them back to your home base, but if you get there and find a bomb then you lose half your agents.
Agent and diplomatic bag playing pieces
The agent playing pieces in Top Secret really are worth a special mention. Looking like stylist Cold War spies with wide brimmed hats the basic playing pieces are relatively simple and stylist. What makes them special though is that the each have a small notch cut out of the base which then perfectly fits a tab that is on the diplomatic bags in the game. This means the you can simply click together a spy and a bag and the two effectively become the one playing piece. Beautifully done and works perfectly so that you know exactly when a spy has picked up or dropped a bag. A really nice thought out little touch from the game designers.
Our thoughts on Top Secret
We tried the game out as a two player version and whilst it was still good, simple fun I can see how it would work even better with three or four players. It’s not a complicated game and in that way perfect for children getting used to this style of board game.
History of the Game
Top Secret was created by Alex Randolph and published by Jumbo back in 1985. After one man version it then seems to have vanished in that particular form. I understand that the game did morph into Spion & Spion which used artwork from the Spy vs Spy comic strip. Going away from the spy theme In Teufels Kuchen (which translates to In The Devil’s Kitchen) used almost identical game play with little devils in chef’s hats go round collecting pots. Two more games to look out for on my charity show and car boot trawls!