From the Italian Job to Ocean’s Eleven the perfect heist has a firm grasp on the cultural imagination. Thanks to Tim Fowers it has its definitive expression in a board game. Burgle Bros is a cooperative game. Two to four players team up to break into a three-story building. Then you steal an exotic piece of loot from each floor and make a stylish getaway via the helipad on the roof. The game is a smash (and grab!). Inventive rules and characterful art create a thematic experience. The gameplay is challenging enough for experienced gamers, but also intuitive enough to bring non-gamers along on an action-packed romp that lasts 45-90 minutes. So do you want in on the crime of the century?
The Right Crew For The Job
In a cooperative game, all players collaborate to beat a puzzle generated by the game. The cooperative genre has long been dominated by Pandemic, the hugely popular virus-fighting simulator. But since life imitated art to give us a very real pandemic, the board game plays in a somewhat darker light. Burgle Bros provides the antidote, with a knockabout atmosphere populated by keystone cops and bungling burglars. This is a true cooperative game too, with no betrayal mechanics or hidden objectives. If just one member of the crew gets caught, the jig is up for everyone. This all-for-one-and-one-for-all approach might not suit the backstab addicts among us, but it is very welcoming to less experienced players.
Indeed, Burgle Bros has become my go-to game for introducing those outside the hobby to board gaming. The rules suggest randomly allocating players one of the nine characters. You could also allow them to size up the assembled motley crew and pick their team. This helps entertain during a moderately fiddly set-up process and allows players a chuckle at the idea of a moustachioed acrobat or a ‘psychic gone rogue’ helping execute the heist.
Burgle Bros is rich in moments of drama and comedy. It creates storylines and even opportunities for light roleplaying (invariably involving silly accents). Its thematic tone is set by the box, which is designed to look like the building you’re breaking into. Fans of efficient storage will be delighted that the box is not only stylish but compact. Indeed, Burgle Bros - being no larger than a hardback book - must have one of the best size-to-content ratios of any board game.
The Coast Is Clear?
The board itself is composed of three grids of face-down tiles laid out in four-by-four squares. Each grid represents a floor of the building. Each of the sixteen tiles within that grid represents a room on the floor. There’s one safe and one set of stairs on each floor, but you don’t know where they are (presumably having botched finding the floor plans in an off-camera caper). There’s an enormous combination of possible boards. This is both because of the many varieties of tile and the walls you place between the rooms. There is a recommended wall formation for your early plays but thereafter you’re free to improvise, making the puzzle harder or easier for your team. The wall components are somewhat low-fi, meaning their function may not be obvious to a new player. This can contribute to some initial confusion about how movement works, but this is swiftly overcome.
The Long Arm Of The Law
The heart of the game lies in the hide-and-seek hijinks of avoiding the guards. There’s one patrolling each floor and they move after the turn of any player on their floor. The guard’s destination is determined by a deck of cards. Their speed is initially set to a relaxed potter, which swiftly accelerates to a hot pursuit as you get higher in the building, trigger alarms, or swipe loot. Choreographing your team’s movements to explore the map whilst avoiding the guards is just the right combination of tricky and satisfying. There’s very little margin for error and a high potential for an abrupt descent into chaos. You might dodge into an unexplored tile only to discover it’s a walkway that has you crashing down into the floor below. A desperate dash away from the guard could have you triggering a motion alarm that alerts the fuzz to your presence.
The Best-Laid Plans
Once you find a tile containing a safe you must navigate an inventive code-cracking mechanic to get it open. You’re rewarded with an item of loot that invariably adds to the anarchy. Perhaps it’s a rare breed of cat that might escape at the beginning of each subsequent turn, or a radioactive isotope that interacts unhelpfully with a thermal alarm. The game design is finely calibrated to build the intensity as you progress. What begins as a tense tango builds to an out-of-control can-can. You only need to put one foot wrong to see the curtains close prematurely. But you can always reset and take it from the top.
Making An Escape
For a game that has its origins in the DIY days of early Kickstarter board games Burgle Bros’ gameplay is highly polished. Some of its other elements can be rough around the edges; the art is evocative but a little uneven, the balance at different play counts is not totally smooth, and once you learn some of the tactical keys to the games’ puzzle it will diminish its replayability. But those nitpicks are easily forgiven when set against Burgle Bros’ crowning achievements of cinematic slapstick and an ability to bridge the gap between experienced and novice gamers. It is unmatched as a tight, entertaining, and accessible coop. Though it may face competition from its recently released sequel Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers. So what do you say - how about getting the gang together for one last job?