A lot of my formative gaming years were spent playing cyberpunk heist RPGs, games where a slick group of professionals used a combination of street smarts, finely honed skills, and extreme violence, to carry out daring heists before escaping into the neon lit, rain soaked night.
So I’m basically the target audience for a cooperative heist board game.
Of course, Burgle Bros is modelled on a different kind of heist, it’s more A Fish Called Wanda than Heat, and closer to Hudson Hawk than Oceans Eleven. No one in the team of thieves you’ll play is anything like Ethan Hunt.
I feel like I’ve exhausted the obligatory heist movie references at this point.
In Burgle Bros, you and your friends will play a group of thieves attempting to carry out a grandiose heist to steal a collection of priceless treasures. You’ll try to avoid patrolling guards, set off alarms as distractions, hack computers, and crack safes. Oh, and you’ll laugh like a band of fiends whilst you do it.
The target of your misadventure is a multi story bank, or some similarly imposing structure, and the aim is to navigate the floors of this fortress, find the safe on each floor, crack it open, pilfer the treasures within, and escape through the stairs to the roof, where you’ll be spirited away by a waiting helicopter.
Of course, something went terribly wrong in the planning stages of your heist and so your team will enter the bank knowing only a few, very general, things about it. You’ll know that there is one safe and set of stairs per floor but not where they are. You’ll know the size and shape of each floor, and where the internal walls are, but not the contents of any of the rooms.
Most importantly, you’ll know where the guards start and, in the case of the guard on the ground floor, where they are heading, but nothing about their patrol routes beyond that.
Which means, in the style of no great heist ever, a lot of Burgle Bros is about figuring stuff out on the fly. That might be playing against genre a little, but it’s also kind of brilliant, because it means that you can’t plan too far ahead, because you’re constantly forced to react to the contents of the rooms, changing patrol routes, and unexpected alarms. It also pretty effectively tackles the alpha player problem, because the risks you need to mitigate, and opportunities you’ll need to take advantage of, will only become apparent in the middle of your turn.
The game is very cleverly designed to ensure that in order to crack any given safe you’ll have to search a fair portion of the floor, and you’re under pressure to do that quickly – too slow and the guards will inevitably scoop up a member of your team and pack them off to the slammer. The fastest way to explore a floor would be to run from room to room until you found the safe. However, doing this would probably set off plenty of alarms, which would make the guard run around faster, and might well cause you to plunge over a walkway railing and fall to the floor below.
You could take the more cautious route of peeking carefully into every room before you entered, which would minimise the risk of accidentally setting off alarms (or unexpected falls) but it’s not recommended. In fact, it pretty much guarantees that you’ll explore too slowly and thereby lose the game.
And besides, you’ll only ever discover that walkway when you plunge headlong over the railing anyway (or, as once happened to me, you fall through it).
If you’re anything like us, those competing pressures mean you’ll start the heist trying to be a bit careful, peeking into rooms, and moving strategically around the map. As the pressure builds, and the guards respond to the silent alarms which trigger when you open a safe, you’ll throw caution to the wind and plunge headlong into the unknown.
It’s in this uncertainty that Burgle Bros has most of its great story moments: the Hacker falling two stories and then strapping on his roller skates to skate away from approaching guards, three thieves hiding in toilet cubicles while a patrol passes, the Hawk clutching the yapping Chihuahua and Persian kitty (the objects of the heist) while she escapes to the safety of the roof.
That’s right, the treasures you’re trying to steal are objects like a yappy Chihuahua, a curious kitty, and a shiny tiara, objects that, without exception, will make your heist more difficult. The Chihuahua’s barks will attract guards, the kitty will set off alarms, and the tiara sparkles so brightly that guards will see you from adjacent rooms.
Because why steal a tiara if you aren’t going to wear it, right?
Burgle Bros is one of our favourite cooperative games because it fits so many great story moments, so much laugh out loud fun, into a package that is (quite literally) about the size of your average pint.
That portability cannot be praised enough, because Burgle Bros manages to cram so much game into such a tiny package. It’s the game you can take to the pub when you’re in the mood for a “big box” game and want to have some options available without carting around a cajon bag.
In my view, the game plays best with four thieves, but it’s also pretty easy to play multiple characters so you can play a full team if you only have two or three players. Like most big box games it requires a bit of play space, and the tiles that make up the board surface are also vulnerable to spills.
Still, given how much game you get for the size (and price) Burgle Bros gets our seal of approval. It’s such a fun game that the whole pub are bound to pop by your table to see why you’re having such a good time.