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Sunday, 14 February 2016

Sixties Style Stealthy Steal

Burgle Bros. is a co-operative board game in which between one and four players perform a heist! As an elite crew they will break into the target bank, locate and crack open three safes, avoid the patrolling guards, and then escape up through the roof with the loot. It comes with three building floors that are different each time the game is played; guards that are constantly on patrol; and nine different roles—each with a basic and an advanced variant. The base game is called ‘The Bank Job’ and involves all three floors, but introductory and expert games are also included. The former is ‘The Office Job’ and involves just two floors, whilst the latter, ‘Fort Knox’, also involves two floors, but they are larger, which means the safes are much harder to crack. A game should last no more than an hour-and-a-half, but familiarity should reduce that time down drastically.

Published by burglebros.com following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Burgle Bros. comes a sturdy, tightly-packed box that looks like tower block. Inside can be found over one hundred cards, forty-eight cardboard tiles, nine character and three guard meeples, nine dice, over seventy tokens, twenty-four wall pieces, and the rulebook, all in full colour. The cards include Player Turn (or reference) cards for each player; a set of Patrol Cards for each floor that determine where the guards move; Character cards for each of the game’s nine characters; Loot Cards to be taken from each safe and carried to the roof; Tool Cards that can help a character out; and Event Cards that can also help a character out—or hinder him! The Characters include the Juicer, an Electronics Expert capable of triggering alarms remotely; the Hacker, a Computer Expert who can hack into any system from anywhere on a floor via Wi-Fi; and the Acrobat, a Retired Performer who can move through the guards. The Loot Cards tend to hinder or slow a Character down, such as the Chihuahua (the chance that it sets off an alarm each turn with its barking) or the Painting (too large to be carried through Secret Doors or Service Ducts). Tool Cards are one-use devices, like the Doughnuts left out to distract the Guard from moving or the Crowbar that can be used to disable an adjacent tile. Lastly the Event Cards provide a one-off event that can help or hinder the Characters, such as ‘Throw Voice’ which is used to distract the Guard or ‘Squeak!’, which attracts his attention.

At the start of the game, the cardboard tiles, each representing a room, are divided into three piles of sixteen, with each sixteen laid out randomly as a four-by-four grid. These Room Tiles include the Camera Room, from a Guard can see into all other Camera Rooms on a floor, the Lavatory which has plenty of stalls to hide in for the Characters, the Scanner which sets of an Alarm if a Character is holding a Tool or an item of Loot, and of course, the Safes that need to be cracked. All of these are laid face down so that at game start, the Characters do not know where anything is! The Wooden Wall pieces are placed between some rooms. These block direct movement between rooms, but Secret Rooms and the ‘Dynamite’ Tool Card are ways to get around—or through—the walls. All of the card decks are shuffled, but the particularly the Patrol Decks, there being one deck per floor. Each Patrol Card shows a four-by-four grid of squares, representing that floor and its rooms. One square will be marked in red, such as ‘A4’ or ‘D2’, this being the next destination for that floor’s Guard. When the Guard moves, it will be to that square, and as soon as he does, a new Patrol Card will be drawn. The destination will be marked on the grid of rooms by an orange die, set to show the number of movement points the Guard currently has per turn. So on the first floor, this is just two, but then three on the second floor, and four on the third floor. When the Patrol Deck is exhausted, it is reshuffled, but the die is moved to the next highest number. Thus from two to three on the first floor, three to four on the second floor, and so on. This the primary way in which Burgle Bros. increases in difficulty the longer that the game takes to play.

Once the game is set up, Burgle Bros. proceeds in straightforward fashion. On his turn each Character has four Action Points. These can be spent to Peek into an adjacent Room, thus revealing it; Move into an adjacent tile; Hack the Computer Room to turn off Alarms elsewhere on the floor; adding a (green) die to a Safe Tile; rolling the dice on a Safe Tile to crack the Safe; or to move the Guard. Lastly, a Character can spend two Action Points to draw an Event Card. To crack a Safe, a character rolls the dice on the Safe Tile, the aim being to match the numbers in the combination. This combination is formed from the numbers on all of the tiles in the same row and the same column as the Safe Tile. So these tiles have to be revealed before they can rolled and the Safe cracked—thus forcing the Characters to explore each floor. Any Character who cracks a Safe receives a Tool Card and a Loot Card, but also sets off a silent Alarm and adding one to the Guard’s movement on both the floor he is on and the floor below. This the second way in which Burgle Bros. increases in difficulty—with success and the increased attention of the Guard!

Once a Character has moved, then the Guard on the same floor also moves (a Guard on a floor where there are no Characters does not move). The Guard can move freely around the floor, whereas the Characters have to overcome rooms with Keypads, Laser Grids, and so on. Should a Guard pass through the same room as a Character, then he is spotted and loses one of three Stealth Tokens. Should a Character lose all of Stealth Tokens and be spotted again, then he is captured, is interrogated and reveals the identities of his fellow burglars. Everyone loses the game. Winning requires the Characters to crack each Safe, take the Loot in each, and then get to the roof from where they can escape via a helicopter. 

Playing Burgle Bros. is all about knowing which rooms do what and knowing where the Guards are and where they are going so that each Character can keep out of their clutches. Having easy access to the rulebook helps with the rooms, whilst to some extent the players can manipulate the movement of the Guards. Moving from one floor to another so that there are no Characters on that floor will stop a Guard’s movement and sometimes an Alarm can be set off to distract a Guard from his current patrol route. The players also need to be aware of the special abilities that each character has and when to use them to the team’s best advantage. They also need to know what each room does, so having the rulebook will be more than useful, at least initially.

Physically, from the cover box design to the Character images, Burgle Bros. is delightfully thematic—that theme being that of a sixties heist movie. The components themselves are of a decent quality, though perhaps the rulebook feels slightly truncated in places. The high number of components does make the game slightly fiddly to set up at least and also means that the game is not quite as elegant as other co-operative designs to play. Getting the components back into the game’s box also takes careful packing.

As a co-operative game, it is not difficult to see the same mechanical architecture that underlies Pandemic and Forbidden Island present in the design of Burgle Bros. That said, it is less obvious than in a design like Flash Point: Fire Rescue. Like those designs, Burgle Bros. gets all the more challenging to play as the number of players increase, here because the more Characters there are, the more often that the Guards move and the more Characters there, the harder they will have to work to keep out of sight of the Guards. The game also provides for plenty of replay with the game’s random set-up—primarily of the floor layouts, the section of Characters, and the Patrol card order—and difficulty settings. Like the best of co-operative game designs, Burge Bros. is a solid combination of theme and rules that pleasingly emulates the classic heist or caper movie.