Looking back over Tim Fowers’ ludography, one encounters titles like Burgle Bros, Paperback, Hardback, and Fugitive. Small games that defy their size by yielding plenty of play. Bite-sized experiences that mingle with your saliva to swell into a wadded sock that leaves your jaw unhinged and your throat blocked. Except in a good way.
And then there’s… this. If not for the distinctive artwork from Ryan Goldsberry, the large unfolding box, plentiful miniatures, and over-the-top production of Sabotage would feel like a symptom of a minimalist recently disabused of his convictions. This is what happens when the Church of Portable collapses into schism, with Fowers playing Luther and Jeff Krause as that little Oecolampadius fellow.
How strange, then, that Sabotage might also be the best game we’ve seen from this little studio thus far.
I enjoyed Burgle Bros despite some caveats, even though my fondness dimmed somewhat with time and repetition. Still, there weren’t many moments as memorable as when Brock brought back Burgle Bros after keeping hold of it for a few months. Say that five times fast: Brock brought back Burgle Bros.
Well, this time he won’t need to. Last week, I sat down with Tim Fowers for a look at his and Jeff Krause’s sequel, Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers, on Kickstarter now. And while anything and everything is subject to change — the perils of a preview, unfortunately — here are the three things that rekindled my affection for this heist simulator.
Ever wanted to run your own airline? An airline in a universe where scheduling computers and aviation engineers don’t exist, so you’re in charge of designing planes and booking flights mid-route? On a fifteen-second timer?
Yeah, me neither. But at least Now Boarding makes it better than it sounds.
Despite its staid outward appearance, Hardback is the byproduct of word game inbreeding. Its daddy is Tim Fowers, the same fella who brought us Paperback a couple years back, while its father is Jeff Beck, creator of last year’s Word Domination. Even a description of its particular playstyle feels like dendrochronology performed on a family tree: what Paperback was to Dominion, Hardback is to Star Realms.
Fortunately, that word-jumble statement is actually pretty easy to explain.
Remember Burgle Bros.? It was a rather nifty stealth-heist game hampered ever so slightly by a gamey event system. Still, it was slick. And now it’s got a sequel. Sort of.
The culprit in question is Fugitive, and it’s one of those very rare games that doesn’t sound like much at all — not with its fifteen-minute playtime, a single deck of fewer than fifty cards, and rules that take maybe two minutes to explain — but once laid out upon the table reveals itself to be nearly perfect.
I’m going to tell you something I’ve never confessed to anybody: I was raised from vat-birth to be a Scrabble-playing genius. Yes, it’s true. Unlike some of the gene-factory’s other assigned Mothers, mine spared not an iota of self-esteem when it came to her favorite pastime. She would scrub the floor with me, assembling words like SYZYGY for hundreds of points while I scrabbled in the dirt with SCOOP. I finally thought to put an S on the end. “SCOOPS,” I announced with no small note of triumph in my voice, picking up 10 points, my first double- digit accomplishment. “QUETZALS,” she countered, using my own S, my pride and joy, as the key to my undoing. From beneath the table, she produced a calculator and starting tallying her triple word score.
When I saw that Tim Fowers — who also designed the delightfully surprising Burgle Bros. — had put out a game that was simultaneously about deck-building and word-building, I knew my chance had arrived. I would finally defeat Mother.
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?”