Steal My Heart

I *just* realized that the Bs are burglar masks. Only seen the logo about a dozen times before now.

Your crew stands motionless, not daring to move, to breathe. The tumbler ticks beneath your fingertips, your heart pounding so loudly in your ears that you can hardly hear the dropping of the pins. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Your crew has circumvented the guards, crawled through service ducts, hacked the security system to bypass lasers and heat sensors. At long last, you deciphered the combination to the safe, pieced together from memos and computer logs throughout the bank offices.

The final pin slides into place. The door, a solid foot of clockwork steel and reinforced concrete suspended by hinges thicker than your demolition man’s biceps, swings outward with a whine. Your crew cranes their necks to get a peek inside.

Within, something begins to bark. Loudly and repeatedly. Down the hall, you can hear footsteps, coming fast.

“This is what the customer sent us to retrieve?” Rook says, bafflement evident in his voice. “A damn chihuahua?”

Protip: the best burglars don't need to lay things in a straight line. Fine motor control and precise manipulation of tiny bits is for street magicians and BMX bikers.

The tools of the trade.

Fun Fact: today’s bank vaults are made of lighter material than the vaults of a hundred years ago. Not because the material is stronger, but because bypassing them is almost trivial thanks to a tool called a thermal lance, a rod packed with pressurized oxygen that, upon being lit with an oxyacetylene torch, can punch through steel with relative ease. Instead, financial institutions rely on modern surveillance and police presence to make the widespread bank robberies of yestercentury too risky a proposition.

Better Fact: Burgle Bros. is more interested in ripping off a heist movie without letting anyone know it was there than in getting its facts straight.

To get a sense for what Burgle Bros. is trying to accomplish, one merely has to rifle through the loot deck. The goal of your crew of misfit robbers is (at least in the default “Bank Job”) to get in without alerting the guards, crack three safes spread across three floors, and drag their contents to the escape helicopter waiting on the roof. Each of these steps is difficult in its own right, but finding the combination to the safe is particularly galling, requiring that every room in a straight line from the safe’s location be uncovered. So when the safe finally cracks, what reward could possibly be inside?

Well, there’s the aforementioned chihuahua. Every time you take a turn, there’s a chance the mutt will start barking, immediately alerting the guard on that floor to your presence. There’s also a Persian kitty, which might run off if something catches its fancy. Find a tiara in the lockbox and you don’t just stuff it into a burlap sack; instead, you plop it atop your head, its glinting platinum helping the guards spot you at a distance. A radioactive isotope canister turns heat sensors into guaranteed alarms, a painting is too bulky to fit through ducts — though the card art ironically depicts the the Mona Lisa, which is smaller than three by two feet — and while the jeweled mirror is handy for sneaking past security lasers, it also means you’re too busy admiring your reflection to take all of your actions each turn.

It is, in essence, a cartoon heist, full of caricature characters, stealth via lampshade, and alarms that radiate angry red lightning bolts. It’s also one of the suavest cooperative games I’ve played in a very long time.

Sadly, there's no option to just stuff him into one of the laboratory fridges.

Dodging the guards.

Alpha Player Syndrome has always been the bane of cooperative gaming. While Burgle Bros. has yet to provide a vaccine for that most unfortunate of degenerative diseases, one of the best compliments I can pay the game is that it’s so simple, so logical, that anyone can jump right in and begin exploring their crew’s mark without having to rely on a single experienced player to guide them through.

For example, one of the main early decision points is that you can either run straight into an uncovered room or spend an action to peek into it first. Right away, the ramifications of this choice pretty much go without saying. Sometimes, when a guard is bearing down on you (more on them in a second), it makes sense to run full tilt and damn the consequences. It’s just that you might as well sprint into a motion sensor or fall down a walkway to the floor below as stumble across a handy lavatory with multiple empty stalls and thankfully-cleanish commodes for stealthy perching. It’s safer to go slow, but, well, you’re going slow.

Even the guards patrol along routes that are easy to grasp, right up until the terrifying moment when they aren’t. They have a destination, move at a set speed, and only deviate when an alarm is triggered or they finally arrive at wherever they were going. It’s possible to trigger alarms on purpose to draw them away from vulnerable friends, and a guard wandering past isn’t the end of the world, but after a while your robbers start to run out of ways to hide.

There are also computers to hack, doors to break through, rooms best avoided and others worth plundering. Cameras make it easier for guards to see you, deadbolts require one thief to stick around to hold them open lest they click shut, and atriums let you get a glimpse at the floors above or below. Safes themselves are also exercises in uncertainty, not only requiring a bunch of uncovered rooms, but also precious turns of preparation and tense dice-rolling to unlock. And all the while, your burglars have abilities of their own. Personal favorites include the Raven, who sends a crow to distract (and slow down) patrolling guards, the Juicer’s ability to create impromptu alarms, and the Rigger’s dynamite, handy for blasting through walls.

The one downside to this feisty good time is also the least logical. When your characters only take one or two of their four available actions, they’re forced to draw an event card. These can be positive, like when a video loop disables the cameras for a round, but usually they’re just mean. On one occasion, my Hacker apparently stumbled onto a surprise freight elevator, which launched him to the next floor — and into the waiting arms of a guard. These toe the line between fun-random and capricious. Worse, they encourage weird artificial play, like moving back and forth in order to hit three moves rather than risk a dip into the event pile. I would have much rather seen a risk-management sort of thing; for example, an option to take extra actions that also requires you to draw a card that says whether you made a racket because you were in a rush. Instead, the events cards as they stand feel somewhat counter-intuitive, and most of the members of my group preferred to play without them.

Good for triumphant poses, anyway.

The box is pretty cool too.

That one caveat aside, Burgle Bros. is a lot of fun. It’s colorful and vibrant, encourages moves of coordination and timing that feel like they were ripped straight out of a great heist flick, and wants you to have a good time even when it’s kicking you in the shins. Did I mention it’s tough? By the time your crew reaches the third floor, the guards have apparently gotten into the investment bankers’ personal stash, because they’re blitzing through half the building in a single coked-up bound. Reaching the helipad with all the loot feels like a genuine accomplishment.

Burgle Bros.: if you can’t find it for a fair price, steal it.

Posted on December 16, 2015, in Board Game and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I got to play this at BGGCon and Tim Fowers (the designer) said that you couldn’t run back and forth to waste actions. Don’t know if that made it into the rulebook, but it definitely changed things for us.

    • I’m about 95% certain that isn’t in the rulebook. Though the layout of the rulebook isn’t anything to aspire to. Good game, but I stand with Dan on this one. The events are the game’s low point.

      In other news: Dan, you went almost two weeks without an update, only to spoil us with two reviews of great games in two days! It’s a Christmas miracle!

    • Okay, boring story time:

      Upon our first play, the moment it became apparent that the event cards were there to screw us, people started doing waster actions, just popping back and forth between two rooms. Since I needed to see the game as it was meant to be played, I told them they weren’t allowed to do that, even though it doesn’t appear in the rules. As a result, people found every possible way to spend actions (1) without stepping back and forth between tiles, but (2) also without actually accomplishing anything on their turn. They would, for instance, move via a roundabout route, or through a secret room, or hack over and over — anything to ensure they didn’t have to draw an event. Which we still did when our actions were limited by trap rooms or deadbolts or such.

      The result felt deeply artificial. We were no longer performing a heist — we were just gaming the system to avoid those dopey event cards.

      Later, I checked on BGG and yes, Tim Fowers has written that you aren’t supposed to move back and forth to avoid events (he couldn’t figure out how to phrase it in the rules, apparently). Then in another spot he went on to say that it was alright to house-rule the events, making them effectively optional. Since then, I’ve let events be optional, and Burgle Bros. became significantly more enjoyable for us. I can see how some folks might enjoy the randomness they inject into the game, but that’s one of the beautiful things about board games: we can often tailor them to our liking. And Burgle Bros. is otherwise quite good in this regard, offering varying difficulties of heist layout.

      Boring story finished.

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