Many years ago, as a student in Manchester, I used to review movies. In those days, Manchester’s councillors still operated a ‘Watch Committee’ which vetted potentially controversial movies and had the power to ban cinemas from screening them in the city. They banned Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange, for example. Director Sam Peckinpah had previously made Straw Dogs, which had proved to be highly controversial, so when the movie The Getaway came up for release, the Watch Committee insisted on attending the press preview.
The Getaway was a bank heist movie starring Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw. As it turned out, it was really rather innocuous. When we came out of the preview, we were surprised to find the Chairman of the Watch Committee in an apoplectic rage and angrily insisting that the film must be banned? Why?, we asked. It wasn’t an especially violent film and it didn’t feature any over-the-top sex scenes. “Because,” he explained, “they get away!”
More than 40 years after the movies’ release, I hope you’ll forgive me that Spoiler. But yes, the objection was that, in The Getaway, the bank robbers get away in the end. Moralists on the local council found this especially objectionable because it undermined the conventional message that “crime does not pay.”
The treatment of crime in board games continues to be a sensitive issue. Where a robbery or another crime is at the centre of a game, it is more usual for players to represent the forces of law and order. That was essentially the case in the Waddingtons/Hasbro game Cluedo (or Clue as it’s known in the US), first published in 1949, and it has been the case with the majority of games since, down, for example, to Space Cowboys’ Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective games which have had a resurgence with the recent publication of new expansions.
Gradually, however, we’ve begun to see games emerge where the players are the villains rather than the cops. Tim Fowers’ Burgle Bros. (Fowers Games) unashamedly put the players on the side of the criminals, and in Michael Luu’s Rob 'n' Run (PD-Verlag / Rio Grande) players are again working co-operatively to crack safes before the police catch up with them. In both games, the solution to criticism that players are trying to get away with a crime is to introduce a degree of levity through the use of cartoony art.
Rob 'N' Run - The Game
In Rob 'n' Run, the players represent a gang of robbers. Each round, one player takes the role of the boss. The boss looks at the safe card(s) at the robbers’ location and selects clue cards to try to communicate to his crew what tools are needed to complete the robbery. Unless the cards say otherwise, he’s not allowed to speak, mime or give any clue beyond what’s on the clue cards.
Crew members contribute tool cards from their hands and the boss indicates which are needed towards meeting the requirements of the safe and discards the others. Players collect gold for successfully cracking a safe and their getaway car standee advances a space. The police advance too, and they narrow the gap on the robbers if alarms have been triggered (for example, by having to discard too many unusable tools).
The game gets progressively more difficult as the robbers advance, unless they choose to spend their gold to have alarm cubes removed by the dealers in stolen goods who, for reasons that remain unexplained, are hiding en route behind fire hydrants.
Rob’n’Run gives players a good mix of guesswork and deduction. The boss role shifts between rounds so all players should get turns at being clue givers. Canny players will draw inferences and make deductions not just from the clues the boss gives them but also from the clues he doesn’t give. For example, if the boss decided to offer us no clues, is he actually telling us that we need lots of different tools so any tools contributed are likely to be good? The fact that the police are in hot pursuit and likely to be steadily closing on the gang adds appropriate tension – the game ends and the robbers lose if the police catch up with them.
Many co-operative games are ruined by ‘alpha player syndrome’. This is where one dominant player tells everyone else what they should do, relegating all the other players to mere pawns, moving pieces at the alpha players command. A notable strength of Rob 'n' Run is that it is completely immune from this problem. That’s because players’ hands and the cards they play are concealed from each other (as are the cards discarded by the boss).
The whole point of this game is that players are forced to manage using very restricted communication and the rules expressly forbid players from sharing with each other any information about the cards they have or the cards they play.
Rob 'n' Run comes with rules facilitating play with two but the game is at its best the three to five players. It’s actually quite tough for the robbers to successfully make their getaway, and it’s not impossible to find the gold they have to spend to complete their escape eats up all their ill-gotten gains. This, at least, would have warmed the hearts of the members of Manchester’s old Watch Committee.
You can see more reviews by Selwyn Ward on Board’s Eye View.