I had a love/hate thing with Burgle Bros. It was so frustrating that I eventually gave it to my pal Brock. Later, I missed it enough to ask if he was done with it, whereupon “Brock brought back Burgle Bros” became our game night tongue-twister of choice. Naturally, I never played it again.
So it’s a thrill that Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers is more than a sequel. It’s everything the original game wasn’t.
I don’t want to spend too much time recounting the problems with Burgle Bros: The Original Cut. It’s water under the bridge. Tim Fowers and company have come a long way since 2015, and it shows in nearly everything they produce. But the biggest transformation in The Casino Capers is such a seismic shift, and so related to the shape of the original game, that it’s hard not to place them side by side.
Here’s what I mean. Burgle Bros was originally about a big heist that was really three separate burglaries layered on top of each other. Three floors, each with their own roving security, and each sporting a safe tucked into some unknown corner. The method of cracking it was always the same. Your burglars would uncover the layout of the floor until they discovered the safe and every other room in its row or column, and then roll dice until you hit all the numbers on those revealed tiles. Inside each safe was a piece of treasure, invariably silly, that you needed to carry to the roof. Repeat three times, escape to the chopper, and that’s the game.
“Boring” isn’t one of my favorite words, but it finds apt deployment here. The problem wasn’t so much the game’s length — although it did stick around like a bad house guest — as it was one of repetition. Players were encouraged to spread out over multiple floors, but this wasn’t for the sake of coordination. It was to prevent the guards from activating too many times in sequence. Because each security guy only patrolled if he was on the active burglar’s floor, it was best to spread your guys between multiple places. Which isn’t exactly very heist-like.
The Casino Capers fixes this problem. Crud, it’s far more than a fix. When we first opened the box, everybody at the table was entranced. Fowers likely anticipated this reaction. At conventions, he would show off a wooden frame that transformed Burgle Bros into a skyscraper with stacked levels; all the better for drawing people to his booth. In The Casino Capers, everybody partakes in that sense of scale. The box unfolds, attaches legs, and bears the weight of its second floor. By the way, there are only two floors instead of three. It doesn’t soar quite as high, but don’t go mistaking that for a metaphor.
Yes, it’s a gimmick. And yes, at times the top floor can block the light and make the act of craning to see a tile on the opposite side of the board resemble a failed yoga pose. But it also helps establish a sense of place that went missing from the original game. Here, you’re engaging in a single coherent heist, in a space that’s both enticing and dangerous, and the entire package, from the guards who look suspiciously like mob enforcers to the deliberately faded playmats, carries that ashtray glamour that sticks to casinos like cigarette smoke on curtains.
What’s it all about? On that score, The Casino Capers manages to be clearer than ever. You explore the casino to unveil tiles, travel between floors, and crack a safe via the same method found in the first game. After each turn, the guard on your floor will patrol according to a pattern that’s predictable in the short-term but less stable as turns progress.
In fact, these patrol patterns are indicative of the entire game’s approach to uncertainty. Those who played the first game may recall that you were forced to use your entire set of actions or you’d be forced to draw a card that might drop you through the floor or bring a guard closer to your hiding spot. The Casino Capers is more assured. Heists aren’t only about kineticism, about frantic dashes between concealment, but also about stillness: that moment when a guard paces toward the protagonist’s position, flashlight swinging in the dark, and only pulls back at the last moment. The protagonist of a heist can be admired for their adrenal response, to be sure, but that amounts to very little without observing the ABCs — Always Be Cool.
Which is why passing on an action or two is so important to this game’s pacing. In board games, forfeiting an action usually means you’ve failed to optimize. Here, it means you’re refusing to give up the jig by stepping into that approaching security guard’s line of sight. There’s a clear tension between what’s known (or at least what’s predictable) and what’s unknown. You know a guard’s patrol is currently taking them to the far end of the floor. But a misstep could bring them down on you in an instant. The Casino Capers is replete with opportunities for such missteps, but it wisely telegraphs most of them. Certain rooms may cause a commotion, such as the lunch bell at the buffet or somebody slipping at the pool, but in the first case this commotion only arises after you’ve passed through a few times and in the second, well, you shouldn’t have been running on a slippery surface. Other spots incorporate an element of chance, with a roulette wheel becoming an opportunity to either blend in or draw attention. There are also bystanders, represented as poker chips, some of whom are moles who feed you the dice necessary to crack the safe, and others, such as drunks or undercover cops, who can spoil the best-laid plans. Since you know the rough distribution of these chips, every decision steps into that gray space between the predictable and the unpredictable.
All this mechanical talk probably obscures one critical detail: that The Casino Capers is hilarious. There are at least three levels to its humor, passing through a few amusing characters and the joyous sputtering of salvaging a plan gone wrong. An old lady burglar who pretends to faint is amusing. Bringing a guard down on your position and still managing to evade him prompts a chuckle of relief. And then there’s the final element of the trio, the most deliberate, and it has everything to do with the actual heists.
Okay, so let’s break down what goes into a heist. As before, you’re trying to crack a safe. Just one, located somewhere on the top floor. Finding it, and uncovering the rooms in its row and column, are only a portion of the challenge. You must also meet up with your crew’s undercover moles to send dice to the owner’s office on the first floor, and then hack the owner’s computer to send those dice to the safe room. That’s a lot of nouns without much context, so I’ll spell it out. Rather than breaking into three separate heists, The Casino Capers focuses its energy on a single task that requires input from multiple characters. It isn’t uncommon to have one burglar positioned upstairs to crack the safe, somebody else transmitting the codes from the owner’s office on the first floor, a third distracting the guards, and somebody in a panic because they’re running from an entirely different problem. You’re managing an ensemble, a team, rather than four slightly associated peers who happen to be moving in a similar direction.
It’s once the safe is cracked that everything kicks into high gear. There are nine individual scenarios, each with its own finale. Of the handful I’ve played, this is where Fowers gives himself the broadest latitude to explore both the extremities of what his system can bear and the inherent absurdity of a heist populated by cartoon characters. In one, we opened the safe to reveal the car from Getaway Driver, which we immediately began driving through walls in order to scoop up our crew and bust out through the upper windows. In another, we lured a tiger with steaks, placing each snack carefully to prevent the cat from feasting on any of the casino bouncers. Hey, we’re the good guys.
The most impressive part is that they feel as natural as the rest of the game’s decisions. Some are sneaky, others are loud. Either way, it’s nice to be provided an appropriately preposterous conclusion to the farce of erasing the security footage because we lured security to the buffet one too many times.
There’s a reason I’m concluding with the game’s comedic elements. Foregrounding them makes it too easy to see The Casino Capers as farcical first and foremost. When in truth, it does a remarkable job of capturing the stakes, the rush, and the bated breath of a heist flick.
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A complimentary copy was provided.
Posted on March 18, 2021, in Board Game and tagged Board Games, Burgle Bros., Fowers Games, The Fruits of Kickstarter, Tim Fowers. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.
I love the tension that comes with creeping around places you shouldn’t be, and Burgle Bros seems to do this particularly well.
My take on the sneak ‘em up genre was a game I made called Access Denied, and you can find it here:
A very entertaining and informative review, as always, Dan.
I respect your criticisms of Burgle Bros, but I have to say that my experience with the first game has been quite positive. Splitting up as each player slips in and out of each floor trying to manipulate the guards movements to our advantage felt thematic, each of us trying to accomplish our own jobs while helping out our cohorts where we could. The game also lent itself to telling hilarious stories, like hiding from the guard in the bathroom stall, or using the rollerblade loot to get 2 extra actions, then failing to open a keypad with 6 actions in a row. The visual of a character slipping on wheels while trying to fumble a keypad had our table laughing uproariously. I will be the first to admit that the randomness can be frustrating, like when you fail to open a keypad with 6 die rolls, or if you get several deadbolts in a critical hallway.
I didn’t back Burgle Bros 2 when it was on Kickstarter, at first glance it didn’t look like it differentiated itself enough from the first game (and why would I buy a game twice?). After reading yours and a few other reviews, I have a strong suspicion that I’ll be picking it up as soon as I see it at my FLGS.
I had missed out on BB and nabbed a pre-order of BB2 after the kickstarter. Glad your feelings on it are positive, I’m looking forward to breaking this one out with my partner!
Speaking of, do you have any thoughts on this as 2p?
It works well with only two players, but we’ve always played two-handed in order to have a full complement of four burglars. I couldn’t tell you how well it works otherwise.
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