Buzzworthiness: Burgle Bros

Time for a review of a cooperative game that is one of the most cinematic experiences I’ve ever had in a board game:

image by BGG user Fubeca
image by BGG user Fubeca

Burgle Bros is a cooperative game by Tim Fowers, and  self-published by Fowers Games.  It’s a game for 1-4 players that takes about 90 minutes to play.  In the game, you are a member of a crew trying to pull off a big heist, robbing the safe on each floor of a high rise building before escaping in your helicopter waiting on the roof.

The game comes with 48 room tiles, 9 character cards, 53 patrol cards, 25 event cards, 13 loot cards, 13 tool cards, 9 character meeples, 3 guard meeples, 2 meeple sticker sheets (sigh), 6 green dice, 3 orange dice, 24 walls, and 80 tokens.  To set up, you’ll choose one of the three basic floor layouts.  The intro game, The Office Job, consists of two floors made up of 16 tiles each.  The standard game, The Bank Job, is three 16-tile floors, while the expert game, Fort Knox, is made up of two 25-tile floors.  All tiles are placed face down, and walls are placed according to the floor plan included in the rules, or player choice, or using this widget.  Each floor has one safe and one stairs tile, but the other tiles are randomly chosen.  You’ll place one guard meeple on the first floor by turning over the top patrol card for that floor and placing him in the indicated location.  Players each get a character (as well as three stealth tokens) and determine where they would like to start – you’ll all start on the same tile, and this won’t trigger any alarms.  You’ll then determine the guard’s next location by flipping the next patrol card and placing a red die (set to 2) on the destination shown.

image by BGG user pdclose
image by BGG user pdclose

On a player’s turn, they can take up to four actions.  There are only five basic actions – peek, move, hack, add a die to a safe, or attempt to crack the safe.

PEEK: Reveal an adjacent unrevealed tile.  This is recommended before moving so you don’t accidentally trigger something you wish you hadn’t.  You can’t peek through walls (usually).

MOVE: Move to an adjacent tile.  You can’t move through walls, and you can’t move diagonally.  Some tiles have things that will trigger when you move on to them, and this is specified on each tile.  This includes several different types of alarms, as well as tiles with special rules to enter.  Be careful – if you ever enter the tile where the guard currently is, you lose one stealth token.  If you happen to move up the stairs, you’ll reveal the guard on the new floor and determine his destination as in set up.  The difference is that the guard on floor #2 starts with his die set to 3, and the guard on floor #3 starts with his die at 4.

HACK: If you’re on a computer room tile, you can spend one action to hack the computer.  Add a hack token to the room (which can hold up to six hack tokens).  If an alarm of the corresponding type would be triggered at any time during the game, discard a hack token and disregard the alarm.

ADD DICE: You can spend two actions to add a single die to a safe.  This can only be done while standing on the safe tile.

CRACK THE SAFE: You may spend one action to roll all dice that have accumulated on the safe.  This is another action that must be done on the safe tile.  You are trying to roll the numbers in the safe’s combination, which is determined by looking at all tiles in the same row and column as the safe itself.  Each tile has a number in the lower right corner, and these are the numbers that must be rolled.  Each time you get one of the numbers, mark the corresponding tile with a cracked token.  When all six tiles have been cracked, the player who did it draws a loot card.  These are generally penalties that will slow you down for the rest of the game.

A player does not have to use all four actions they have.  However, if they use two or fewer, they must draw an event card.  These can help or hinder you.  In any case, after the player is finished using actions, it is time to move the guard.  The destination die tells you how many spaces the guard will move towards his destination.  The guard will always move the shortest route to his destination, and if there are multiple options, he will proceed on the path to the left (clockwise).  When he reaches his destination, draw a new destination and keep moving if he still has movement points.  If there are no more destinations, shuffle the deck and increase the die by one.

The game can end in one of two ways.  If any player finds himself in the same room as the guard with no stealth tokens to spend, he is captured and everyone loses.  However, if all safes have been successfully looted and all players have made it to the roof, the game ends in victory.

image by BGG user darcypennell
image by BGG user darcypennell

COMPONENTS: This is a self published game, but you’d never know it.  The quality of all of the components is outstanding.  The tiles are thick, the player and guard meeples are very easy to differentiate, and there are plenty of tokens for every situation.  The cards in the game are all square, as are the tiles.  The walls are not just cheap little twigs, but actually are pretty solid.  The dice are fairly small, but you’re not rolling them that much – only when trying to crack a safe.  The art is very thematic and helps give that cinematic feel.

The most remarkable thing about the components for this game is how much stuff Fowers was able to cram into a box that’s about 3 inches wide, 7 inches long, and 4.5 inches tall.  There is no dead air here – every bit of that box is full.  Plus, the box can stand up to look like  an office building complete with a helipad on the roof:

image by BGG user Elizabeth1000
image by BGG user Elizabeth1000

I have two nitpick complaints about the components.  First, it always annoys me when the rules do not describe which token is which.  They just say “add a hack token” or “add a cracked token” without ever telling you which one they mean.  You can figure it out by process of elimination, but I tend to prefer it when there’s a visual aid.  I understand the appeal of keeping things small – the components are all listed on a square card – I just wish there was more than text to tell you what’s what.  My other complaint is the sticker sheets.  The character meeples each have two sets of stickers you can put on them.  I hate having to sticker things to begin with, but this just adds a whole new world of frustration to my life.  Now you have to decide which stickers to use since every character has four options (a front and back for the regular and advanced characters).  Now you add remorse for your choice to the stress of trying not to mess the stickering up.  I’d just prefer to use no stickers to having to go through that.

My silly complaints aside, this game looks and feels phenomenal.

THEME: When I first started listening to the podcast Filmspotting, they were just starting their heist movie marathon.  I had never really thought of heist movies as a specific genre before, but I was drawn into the idea of these moves celebrating the people who were using their intelligence to commit acts of robbery against seemingly insurmountable odds.  Burgle Bros succeeds in being a heist movie in a box – you get the characters with a wide range of skills, you get the near misses of the guards moving by, and you even get dramatic cuts between players, especially when they are on different floors.  I really feel like you’re playing out a heist movie with this game.  There’s a lot of tension and a very clear narrative arc running through everything.  The theme absolutely makes this game, and it truly is one of the most cinematic experiences I’ve ever had in a board game.

MECHANICS: Burgle Bros is a cooperative game in the classic sense, with all players working together towards one goal (thankfully with no traitor rules).  Similar to Pandemic, it uses an action point system and variable character powers.  Players get four actions to spend, and if they choose to pass with two or more actions left, they draw an event.  These events add some extra chaos and uncertainty to the game as they could be good or bad.  The actions themselves are very straightforward, and you’ll mostly be peeking and moving throughout the game.  Cracking the safe is the one that needs the most explanation, but once you get it, you’ve got it.  There are 18 different character powers, with each character card having two different powers and referring to one character meeple.  The powers for each character follow the character’s theme, with a basic and an advanced version.

The rooms are varied and provide an interesting mix of experiences.  Because of the random placement at the beginning, you can’t be sure what you’ll run into or in what order.  All you know is that there will be a safe and a stair on each floor (assuming, of course, that you remembered to shuffle them in correctly).  Guard movement, too, is random, though you can reasonably guess where he might be going based on where he has already been.  Even though the guard does have a set course, there are ways to manipulate him, including through the use of tools, powers and alarms.

I am very happy that there are no traitor rules for this game.  It seems like every cooperative game that comes out these days has to have a version where at least one player is competing against the others.  I really appreciate when games can just focus on the pure cooperative experience without having to manufacture competition.  It’s bad enough that the guards are relentless, alarms could go off at any time, and the loot will always hinder you in some way.  You don’t need to add an extra human element.

STRATEGY LEVEL: Your goal in Burgle Bros is clear – crack all of the safes and make it safely to the roof.  How you get there is up to you.  Individual turns will mostly be tactical in nature as you move around to put yourself in the best position to not get caught when it isn’t your turn, or responding to unpredictable guard movements.  One of the most important things to learn in the game is that it’s OK to split the party.  In games like Forbidden Desert, you want to keep everyone together as much as you can to help each other out.  In Burgle Bros, having everyone together just means that the guard is going to move more often.  If you’ve got people on every floor, guards won’t move as much since they only move on the active floor.  This is part of that cinematic flair I was talking about – you can imagine player turns being cuts between scenes, with the guards only making progress when the action is on their scene.

There is a fair amount of randomness in Burgle Bros – tile distribution, card draws, and dice rolls are unpredictable.  But how you respond to your luck is what will determine your success or failure, and even if there’s nothing you can do, you’ll still get a good story.

ACCESSIBILITY: The game is not super complex, and the heist theme really helps it to be understandable to people.  Nevertheless, I’d probably call this more of a next step game than anything in the gateway category.  I think gamers of all skill levels can enjoy it, but the newer or less hobby-minded gamers might take a little longer than others to get into things.

REPLAYABILITY: The layout will be different every time you play.  And you can always change the walls from game to game, as well as use different characters.  It’s a highly repayable game.  Even though the same tiles will be in all games, the different configurations will always make them feel new.

SCALABILITY: The game plays from 1-4 players, and I feel like it’s much harder at the higher player counts.  This is an issue with most turn-based cooperative games – the more people there are, the longer you have to wait between turns and the more chance that you won’t be able to stop what’s coming right for you.  This issue can be mitigated in Burgle Bros by having people on different floors.  Still, I think I’d recommend lower player counts, especially for your first games.  It works pretty well as a solo game.

INTERACTION: Communication is key in this game.  You have to continually work with players to figure out how best to keep the guard off your trail or to make sure you’re making the optimal moves.  As a result, the so-called Alpha Player Syndrome has the potential to rear its ugly head in this game (APS is where one player takes control and tells others what to do).

FOOTPRINT: With the different floors, this game spreads out quite a bit.  You probably need a medium to large table in order to play.  Or, you can get the special tower sold by Fowers Games that allows you to play in 3D.  Then you don’t need as much table space.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  This is one of the best cooperative games I’ve played, one of the best themed games I’ve played, and one of the most clever games I’ve played.  Highly recommended.

Thanks for reading!

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