“Like stealing candy from a baby.” That’s how the phrase goes. But what if the thief wasn’t a mean adult but another envious infant? And what if the first baby wasn’t defenceless but was instead wielding a chainsaw? And, what if the sweets they were protecting were stashed in vaults? This is the surreal set up for Sugar Heist, a new card game designed by Alex Clark and Zach Craley. Here, players take on the role of a sweet-toothed baby who’s eager to hoard all the sugary treats for themselves, away from the prying hands and eager mouths of others. It just so happens that this hoarding involves all manner of subterfuge, from staging heists to deploying bad dogs, Dad jokes and even, if things look bad, Mom herself.
But is this game really a tasty tabletop treat? Or is it that last sweet that no one wants? Well... read on to discover if this game is to your taste.
How To Sugar Heist
This irreverent release is at its base a simple set-collection game, in which players have to gather a predetermined number of cards of a certain type. Once that prescribed number has been reached, the set can be locked. In Sugar Heist, these sets are different types of amusingly-named candy: ‘Nutty But’, ‘Lucky Sucky’ etc. Brilliantly, there’s also the wild card - Pure Sugar! At the end of the game, the player with the most sweet treats in their various vaults wins. Simple.
However, this business of sweet sweet set collection is complicated by the various ways players can ‘attack’ each other. Most notably, these include staging heists on players’ open sweet vaults or even cracking safes that have already been locked.
Each player starts with a hand of six candy cards and two vaults in front of them - the vaults being the places where you store your growing sets. Each player’s turn is split into three phases. Firstly, they have to place a matching pair of cards from their hand onto a vault, being conscious that one vault can only hold one type of sweet at any time. If the player is unable to play a pair to a vault they end their turn.
After stashing cards, the player then reveals two cards from the draw pile and can initially choose to take one, both or neither. They can also offer either of the cards they don’t want to the other players, who can swap other cards for those on offer. If a card is offered but not taken by another player, the active player must choose it. Finally, players can spend the sweet cards already placed into vaults to buy additional vaults or battle cards, and can then use any battle cards.
It’s in this third phase that the more combative elements of the game appear. The battle cards allow players to ‘attack’ someone else. They can allow players to steal from another’s vault or hand, or even stop someone from having their next turn. Other battle cards provide counters to these attacks or make it easier to stop a heist. In short, the use of these cards can mean the difference between winning and losing. It’s where you’ll find much of the game’s drama. If you like player interaction and enjoy being able to interrupt your opponents’ plans then you’re sure to like this phase of the game.
For example, just when your opponent is about to lock a vault containing the requisite ten ‘Fruity Booty’ cards you stage a successful heist. Now six of their cards are yours! This is just what you needed to fill your own vault so you can now lock yours! However, the same thing can happen to you - so watch out! This is certainly no multiplayer solitaire.
Sugar Heist is a simple game to set up - it’s simply a case of shuffling and dealing cards. In truth, the game doesn’t include any other components. It’s a good job, then, that the cards themselves are of a decent quality. They feature amusing art that reinforces the comedic theme of what could otherwise have been an abstract game. Functionally, the designs of the different candy cards are strong.
The art and colour choices ensure that it’s easy to distinguish between sets. The battle cards are also adequately designed and feature some explanation of how they should be used. By contrast, the crib sheet reference cards do leave something to be desired. The ‘turn overview’ summary they offer is a little confusing. Ultimately, of course, the game is simple enough to be able to dispense with these pretty quickly, and in any case, the rule book is short enough that it’s easy to clarify any sticking point.
Time To Heist
The game is advertised as taking between 45 and 60 minutes to play. This is fairly accurate in our experience. Nevertheless, the game seems to ‘play long’, by which I mean the action can start to drag a little in the later stages. It is, though, always enjoyable, and there is some tension as you see the draw pile slowly reducing down. The end game can require some strategic decisions about which battle cards to use, and how to juggle the candy cards in your hand.
The game has moderate replayability. Like any card game, the set-up variability comes from the random draw of your starting hand. I can imagine that it would be possible to add future mini-expansions with new candy sets and vaults that work in different ways. This would certainly serve to increase the variety. New battle cards could also be added fairly easily.
Due to lockdown restrictions, I’ve only tested Sugar Heist with two players. It certainly works well enough - you simply remove a few cards before starting. However, some of the game’s more dynamic elements are neutralised at this player count. Most notably, the bidding and swapping mechanic built into the second phase of each player’s turn is less cut-throat than it might otherwise be if multiple players were fighting over the same card. Similarly, some of the battle cards, whilst still effective, lack a certain impact when they are only affecting one opponent.
Sugar Heist offers an irreverent take on a simple rummy style set collection card game. Its wicked sense of humour will put a smile on many players’ faces just as quickly as its screw-over mechanics will wipe it back off again. This game asks you to ruin your opponents’ plans in order to reach victory. It’s no sweet game then, and as such will not be to everyone’s taste. But for those who like their sweets a little sour, Sugar Heist may just be the kind of treat you’ll want to add to your game vault.