Review: Burgle Bros

By Michael Coffer 23 Aug 2017 2

Review: Burgle Bros

Released 11 Aug 2017

Developer: Fowers Games Inc.
Genre: Boardgame
Available from:
App Store
Google Play
Reviewed on: iPad Mini 2

Tim Fowers has had quite the run as a designer; his first hit was Paperback, a word game with deckbuilding elements, and now he’s set to steal our hearts once more with Burgle Bros, a game that represents a ‘caper’ in every sense of the word. From the frivolity of play to the illicit thrill of wrongdoing.

In Burgle Bros., a team of one to four specialized thieves conspire to make a clean getaway while snatching every valuable in sight. Each thief begins the game with three stealth points to use whenever they encounter patrolling guards. There’s an element of pick-up-and-play panache, and is just as straightforward as its criminally brief tutorial suggests: find each floor's safe, crack the code, and then escape to the upper level with the loot in tow. Yet in service of this goal the thieves will find ambitions vexed by fingerprint alarms, uppity poodles, and the whims of dice-rolling. While Burgle Bros. lacks online multiplayer and a definitive in-game reference for rules, it is an undeniably faithful and deft implementation of an already-excellent game.

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To pull off the bank heist, the Burgle Bros team must first explore in series each level of the joint, represented by a 4x4 grid of tiles. The majority of tiles are obstructions, either with impediments to movement like keypads or deadbolts, or else by threatening alarms and detection by the guard. A few welcome tiles offer some respite and resources, like the lavatory or laboratory. The most essential two tiles on each floor are also the victory requirements: the safe and the stairs. Once the safe is found, it can only be cracked after the six other tiles in the same row and column have also been revealed. Even after that feat, picking the lock progresses slowly and by chance. For two actions, players can add a die to the efforts, or alternatively roll your entire collection of die for one action. Printed in the corner of each game tile is a tiny digit which combines with other digits to produce the safe's combination. If a safe combination is 453664, for example, then the players must roll each of those numbers at least once. (N.B. Rolling a digit unlocks all matching digits in the combination, not just one) Unlocking the safe represents a risky but unavoidable endeavor, because it usually takes three turns or more and requires a stationery, vulnerable thief. Once the safe is unlocked, it yields tools and loot.

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After spending up to four action points moving, peaking at adjacent unrevealed tiles, cracking the safe code, or hacking the alarms, a player's turn ends and the guards on any floors with active players take programmed moves. 'Programmed' in the pen-and-paper, old-school sense, that is: they take a number of steps to their patrol destination space equal to their current movement speed, shown as pips on dice. The guard's destination is ordained by a patrol deck, which cycles through as guards reach the card's designated square. Whenever an alarm is triggered, it places an alarm token on the space, beckoning guards to drop everything and investigate the spot posthaste. Triggered willy-nilly, alarms can quickly use up character's vital stealth points and lead to failure, but if they are instead triggered willfully, alarms can be a useful diversionary tactic. Dividing up team responsibilities and reconnaissance like this represents a fair bit of the game's strategic depth, which conversely means that solo players have fewer decisions and abilities at their disposal. They also have fewer members to keep hidden, so the distinction has more to do with complexity than difficulty outright.

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The mechanism behind guard movements represents a smart mixture of foreknowledge and uncertainty. While players know the guard's movements and can plan around existing pathing with absolute security, they do not know what the next destination spot will be after the current patrol finishes. The app makes such planning trivially easy by visually drawing the guard's projected path and highlighting the current dangerous spaces in red, but it also takes away a decisive player tool: the ability to look through the discarded patrol pile at any time. Canny thieves can evaluate the overall layout of the three levels with careful thought: its total tiles are fixed and discovered piecewise, but their specific layout remains unique and surprising. For example, if there is an excess of laser alarms on one level, I know the remaining two floors will have fewer, if any. If I find a computer for hacking motion sensor alarms early, I can stock up on virus tokens to hack alarms later on. What’s good about this is that the game naturally and gently trains you to pay attention to these kinds of details anyway.

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There’s no online multiplayer currently, but Pass-and-play works about as well as you'd expect, though some information is lost constantly handing off the screen that wouldn't be otherwise if the game were played in its tabletop incarnation. Along with the different room effects, there are player powers, single-use tool cards and loot debuffs to contend with which combine to sometimes produce quite a few unusual and interesting situations. The app makes solo play quick and easy, cutting down what might take an hour in analogue form to twenty minutes for a complete game. The lack of online functionality might rankle some fans, but unlike Paperback this game does shine in solo mode. The dry functionality of the presentation is also slightly lamentable, for while its outsized windows and graceless font get the job done admirably, they also clash with the game's original stylized retro artwork. The upshot of this is that the game runs well on older devices. Conclusion? A great value app for a great game, with only a few drawbacks.

If you enjoy playing well-made boardgames and solo play, Burgle Bros. is well worth your time and money. Now it all it needs is online multiplayer...

Review: Burgle Bros

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