Base Game Review
Play Time (Box): 90mins
Play Time (Goof): 30-90mins
Producer/s: Fowers Games
Designer/s: Tim Fowers
I wasn’t exactly subtle about how much I enjoyed Fugitive. And a huge selling point to me was the story which was being told through the card artwork. I loved it. And wanted to know more about these unique and interesting characters. Luckily for me, I found out these characters existed in another game – Burgle Bros. A cooperative game about conducting a bank heist. I knew I had to get my hands on it. So I got to work and formulated a plan of my own.
I emailed Fowers Games.
It wasn’t long before my plan came to fruition. I received an email back from Tim Fowers himself and he agreed to send me a copy to review.
Now all I had to do was wait the stupid amount of time it seemingly takes for games to be shipped to Australia…
And I’ll tell you something. It was worth the wait.
I love cooperative games. And something I’ve been vocal about in a lot of various articles is the need for player’s actions in cooperative games having an impact on the other players. There’s really not much point in a ‘solitaire’ cooperative game as far as I’m concerned (a rant for another time), but Burgle Bros does an excellent job of encouraging discussion and team work. The main way Burgle Bros encourages this is through the patrol guard on your floor moving at the end of everyone’s turn. You need to coordinate which floors everyone is going to be on, and the sneakiest route to the safes, then the way out. But this isn’t the only way you influence each other’s actions – things like player powers, computer rooms (which you can hack to help your heist-mates move through certain alarm rooms easier), holding open Deadbolt doors, adding dice to safes for others to use, luring guards away from allies by purposely triggering alarms. If you look up the dictionary meaning for “cooperative”, I’d expect to find a picture of The Rook winking at you knowingly.
I pride myself on being pretty dang good at board games. I usually win Arkham Horror, I’ve a pretty good success rate with Pandemic, and I’ve never lost a game of Yggdrasil. But Burgle Bros? Goddamn! We’ve made it out successfully with the loot in two games out of a dozen. If you’re the type who doesn’t want something to be too difficult, there’s variants to complete an Office Job as well as some online custom maps. Or if you’re the type of sadist who will only play the hardest of the hard, there’s a Fort Knox variant as well. This kind of difficulty scaling is fantastic. It allows various types of gamers to enjoy the game or to build on your skill level, and gives people teaching the game a great starting point. I’ll say this: every game we’ve played has been nail biting. And on those occasions where we pull it off, it’s been worthy of a scream of joy.
One of the mechanics I love in Burgle Bros. is the whole peeking into rooms before you move. It slows down the exploration a little bit and makes you cautious. Yet you still have to make the occasional decision about running through an unknown room and risking whatever happens in order to escape the guards. Critical and risky decision making really endear a game to me because it gives those decisions weight.
On your turn you have four actions. In a lot of games, even games as great as Forbidden Island or Pandemic, there’s those turns where you won’t use up all your actions. Maybe the plan calls for you to be in a certain spot, or if you move too much further you’ll get caught, or if you’ve scouted out all the areas around you already. In those games you lose the actions. In Burgle Bros, if you only take about half your turn (items and loot may vary the numbers) then you draw an event. Something triggers which could be good or bad for you. It’s another thing to think about, and keeps people in the action even when their character isn’t.
Pros: ++ Cooperative, +Difficulty and Scaling, +Critical and Risky Decision Making, +Events
The mechanics in Burgle Bros. really lend themselves to the theme. They’re synergistic (it’s such a fun word to say: syn-er-gis-tic). I mentioned in the gameplay section about the mechanics enhancing the cooperative elements of the game, and when the theme is a crack team of bank heisters trying to steal the loot, it works so perfectly. You feel like you need to work with the others around the table or you’re going to lose (and even then…sometimes you still lose).
With the mechanics slowing you down a bit, it adds to the feeling of sneaking around. You’d be crazy to sprint through the halls blindly during a real world heist (I mean, I assume… can’t say I’ve planned too many heists in recent years).
Finding the combination and cracking the safe feels really thematic. When you’re adding dice it’s like you’re getting your tools ready. Then you roll the attempt and you feel like you’re trying to pull the door and see if it opens. I really can’t imagine any other mechanic which would give you the same feeling.
When you succeed and grab the loot, the game actually increases in difficulty. Now you’ve got the loot, you need to keep going with the heist. As far as I’m concerned, some of the cards are a bit of a cartoony way of capturing this element, but it just works. Maybe the loot is too heavy so you lose an action point, or maybe it’s a damn cat which is struggling to stay in your pack.
The character powers feel unique and important. There are some which don’t work overly well with certain player counts (The Rook for example works a lot better with more people) but I haven’t had anyone playing the game ever complain they felt their power wasn’t as good as another one. What I have heard is people talk about their preferences, which to me is a sign the powers are unique enough to vary the experience for people. Each character also has two power types, a basic version and a more advanced version. If I had to guess what the designer was going for here, it would be the basic powers being generally useful, and the advanced powers being more specific to trigger but having slightly larger effects. If my assumption is correct, they’ve done a great job.
A bit of an odd point but I adore the fact you can move through separate floors of the building. It takes me back to my days of playing Payday 2 (my number one played videogame of all time). The ability to split up feels a bit more immersive. And you can still interact with other players from different floors by scouting ahead, hacking computers, and if you’re The Peterman you can even crack safes from different floors! It’s awesome.
Pros: ++Unique Characters, +Synergistic, +Difficulty Increases with Success, +Immersive
I have this strange love/hate relationship with the box. Damn it looks good. It’s such a cool idea – having the box represent the building you’re sneaking through. It puts you right there in the mood and feel of the game from the moment the box comes off the shelf.
BUT IT DOESN’T WORK WELL AS A BOX.
Look, if you can get this working then I’ll admit I’m wrong. I’ll sing it from the damn rooftops about how incorrect I was (not like…a tall one. It’s scary up there). Post a picture on my Facebook page, I really wanna see it. But I can’t get all the pieces to fit back in the box properly, let alone any way which I would deem as organised. And if you CAN somehow get it to work, I’m telling you it’s not intuitive.
The art style is wonderful. It’s like something out of Cartoon Network, which hits the mark for me. The patrol guards being silhouettes fits into the whole shadow feeling. They don’t have faces because you’re not stopping to look at them. As you slip by, you know them only by what they do, and the risk they represent.
As for the characters themselves, they come with stickers with various outfits you can choose to put on them. I’m not going to give this aspect points for a solid reason: I had multiple anxiety attacks over deciding which stickers should go on each characters. It was so nerve-racking I had to go away and let Charlotte decide. I’m not going to detract points for it either, because she adored it. It’s one of those preference things I felt people really needed to know about.
The component quality of the game feels solid, with all the tokens, meeples, and walls keeping to the feel of the game. And speaking of meeples, I love how many characters are included in the base game. There are a lot of games out there who first time around (and even sometimes multiple times around) will only provide enough characters for everyone to have one, or an option between one and the one no one else wanted. Burgle Bros comes with 9. So everyone can choose between two, and one more for good measure. And as if it wasn’t already enough, each character has two sides to choose from. Honestly, no one ever complains about getting “stuck” with a character, or not getting to choose first. Wherever you are, please give Fowers Games a round of applause (I expect a lot of people in bathrooms around the world suddenly start clapping and it makes me happy).
Pros: ++Artwork and Style, ++Lots of Characters, +Good Looking Components
Cons: –Box Not Good at Being a Box
Bank Heists are something I’d never consider doing in real life, but damn they’re fun to play in games.
I give Burgle Bros.:
I love Burgle Bros. so much I really desperately want an expansion. Maybe something like a pre-heist minigame where you’re collecting information or planning the heist and then you see whether you can execute it. Let’s talk about this more in the comments, I’m curious to hear your ideas.
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