Designer: Tim Fowers
Publisher: Fowers Games
Artist: Ryan Goldsberry
Players: 1 – 4
Run Time: 45 – 90 minutes
Admit it, you’ve always wanted to rob a bank. But not really rob it, not in real life, with actual people, real security and a genuine risk of imprisonment. No, you want to rob a Hollywood bank, like Danny Ocean, robbing a bank with style, panache and in a way that can only be pulled off by making your escape in a mini cooper (yes, I know neither of those films actually feature a bank being robbed, but you know what I’m getting at I’m sure) Burgle Bros. from Tim Fowers lets you do exactly that. You and your merry band of crooks must break into a bank, crack the safe on each floor. Dodge security cameras, motion detectors and avoid at all cost the patrolling security guards, to finally escape with all the loot. And most importantly do it in style and to a great soundtrack.
The bank is made up of three grids of tiles, each representing a separate floor in the bank, and each has its own flight of stairs and it’s own safe to be cracked. There are also eight walls on each floor that your team and the security guards will have to navigate around. There is a wide array of characters to choose from, and in a typical co-op fashion, each brings something unique to the game. Now, put on your suits, balaclavas and stick a heist playlist on Spotify and you’re ready to play (In fact I’m going to listen to one while I write this review.
With four actions a piece, each player will ideally want to creep around the bank, peeking at tiles before moving into the room revealed. You’re looking for the safe on each floor, but more than that you’re looking for the code to crack it, each tile is numbered 1 – 6, and these represent the pieces of the code needed, so once finding the safe you’ll need the other 5 tiles that make up its row and column. Spend some action points preparing the safe to be cracked allows you to put some dice on the safe tile, these you’ll roll when you attempt to crack it, trying to roll the numbers of the code. Thankfully, successes are cumulative, and once it pops open you’ll grab the Loot and a Tool (that is obviously stored in a safe y’know, because where else would you keep an EMP grenade or a pair of roller skates?) and head off to the next part of the mission.
Sounds pretty easy, huh? But then there are the motion detectors, heat sensors, fingerprint scanners, laser fields, open walkways, deadbolt rooms, and of course the guards. In short, navigating around this bank will not be easy, just on account of the rooms, but the guards! Well, they add something really special.
Each floor has its own guard, and it will take its turn moving after each player on that floor, and it will move towards its target room, – assigned by the route deck – for which you simply use one of the red/orange dice, and it will move in the most direct clockwise path a number of spaces equal to the pips on that die. Make it through that deck, and you turn the die up one pip. Crack the safe and turn it up again. Set an alarm off, and it’ll temporarily go up again, once for each alarm sounding – and here it gets super interesting. Setting an alarm off will obviously set the guard on duty into panic mode, he/she will start running for one thing, but they’ll now head towards where the alarm is going off – abandoning their original route. Why is this so interesting? Well, for one thing, it makes the game incredibly tense, watching a guard slowly make its way towards you, step by step is a great example of atmosphere and theme entwining brilliantly with mechanics, but, it also lets you the player interact with the AI.
In many games, where the “game” is playing too, it often relies on a deck of cards to dictate what the AI does, however, unlike Burgle Bros. the interaction is one way. This card is drawn, you as a player are limited somehow (like the solo mode of Viticulture) as the AI fills that space on the board or this thing happens to force your attention and action elsewhere (like Pandemic). This is still true of Burgle Bros. but in this game, you can act back, not simply react to it. And this, this makes this game brilliant.
Burgle Bros. is a game you can tell was design with theme at the forefront, each of the different types of rooms makes sense – ending your turn in a Thermal detector room would set the alarm off as your body temp changes the environment (just think of the trouble Redford went through to get around that one). A laser field would slow you down (unless you’re the Night Fox). Each of the rooms makes sense – which is good because the description on some of the tiles is sadly lacking in clarity. True Story: when my brother-in-law played it for the first time, he said: “It probably has something to do with a poor translation from a foreign language or something like that.” Once you’ve played the game through, even only once, he tiles click, but on first impressions, these descriptions are quite jarring. The same is sadly true of some of the tools, and the special rules on some of the Loot. It’s a minor thing, but irksome, and in some cases painfully noticeable.
The retro cartoon movie poster style artwork had me, it is whimsical and silly and takes a game which is based on a highly illegal activity, and makes it okay, and fun, and helps lift this game off the table. With each game you’ll tell a heist story, some of the success and some of utter failures, but in each one I can pretty much guarantee there will be a memorable moment, accentuated by this artwork, you’ll be able to very easily imagine the Rigger barreling down a corridor with a dog under one arm and a painting under the other as he is chased by a rapidly approaching guard. Burgle Bros. does what every great game does, it draws you into its little cardboard world, exposing you to this adventure.
There is one problem I’ve experienced with this game, and it’s one that is quite unique to this game as it is essentially a 3D game played in two dimensions. The three grids represent three floors of the bank, which on the whole makes sense but there are a few rooms such as the walkways and the arboretum where you can move/see into different floors – this has caused some players to miss obvious errors as they’ve had trouble converting the three separate grids into one tower. The simple solution, don’t play with people that have poor spatial awareness. Another option (one I’m very seriously considering) is getting yourself a Burgle Bros. Tower, by either building your own or buying one.
After hearing of this game I was immediately interested, and the more I looked around about it the more interested I became. The glorious artwork, the massively underused theme, and fantastic fun gameplay has made this one of my best purchases of 2017. With standard, advanced, and a “Fort Knox” variants all in the box, plus the ability to easily make your own blueprints this is a game that can and will hit the table over and over again, you could, in fact, call it a steal!
This review was based on a full priced retail edition of the game that I paid for with my hard earned money