Three safes, three floors, three guards and four robbers. In Burgle Bros you and up to three friends will team up to get the loot and get out. Don’t get caught. Well, don’t get caught so many times you run out of stealth tokens.
Each player starts by randomly selecting one heister from the fairly large roster. Each heister has a special ability, ranging from allowing you to use an action to move one of your team, being able to sneak past the guard without being seen or controlling your pet raven to slow down the guard to name just three. You’ll then break into the building you’ve set up by laying down a grids of room tiles face down to make floors and placing walls between them. The rulebook gives you three set ups, an introductory game with two floors, a standard game with three and an expert game made up of two larger floors. You can also design your own buildings by moving the walls around creating different layouts.
Each floor will have one safe and one set of stairs going up, with the set of stairs on the top floor leading to the roof and victory if all heisters get out once all safes are open, the rest of the rooms could be anything from a laser tripwire to a toilet. Your team of professional heisters seem to have slightly overlooked one thing in the job, though, as you have no idea as to what any of these rooms are going to be. Clearly someone left the blueprints in the van.
Once you’ve set up the building you’ll be burgling you shuffle a patrol deck for each floor. These AI decks are how the guard on each floor will move around. At the end of each players turn the guard on your floor will move towards his destination and you need to not be on that route as if you’re in the same room as a guard you’ll lose a stealth token, if you hit zero it’s game over for everyone. When the guard gets to his destination a new patrol card is drawn and he’ll start working towards the new destination every turn. It’s a nice touch that only the guard on your floor moves at the end of your turn. It’s a nod from the development team to heist films and the rule book says that only the guard on your floor moves because in the movies time only passes when the camera is on you.
As you go up each floor the guards will move faster and every time you open a safe the guards on your floor and any below will get faster too. This slow acceleration of the guards patrolling each floor gives the game a really nice difficulty curve and tension starts to rise as planning a few turns ahead gets harder and harder.
One of the only problems I have with Burgle Bros is that this set up can take a while at first. Laying out each floor and especially placing walls can be fiddly, but once the set up is finished the game is all action. On your turn you can perform up to four actions, these actions are: peeking at an adjacent room so you can reveal it, moving onto an adjacent tile – either safely after you’ve had a peek or taking the risk by running straight in not knowing what it’ll be – gaining a hack tile if you’re in a computer room or finally, when you’re at one of the three safes you can use two actions to add a die to the safe or just use one to roll all the dice on that time to try and crack the safe.
In the first few turns you tend to just run around without peeking first as there isn’t much at stake yet. You’re all sitting pretty on three stealth tokens and it tends to be worth setting off an alarm when the guard is moving fairly slowly as you can usually slip away when he changes his route to check out the alarm tile. Once you’ve got a few turns in however you’ll start to be more cautious and the peek mechanic adds a nice feeling of taking things slowly and calmly, it really allows for a different atmosphere to arise when later in the game you’re all panicking, trying to get out of the guard’s route by running into rooms you have no idea what they are.
One of the dangers of running blind is that you might land on one of the tiles that sets off an alarm. When you set off an alarm the guard on that floor will stop moving towards his current destination and will start heading towards to alarm at a faster pace so it’s time to get out of there. Alarms aren’t always a bad thing though, just like the movies you might have to set off an alarm on the other side of the floor to draw the guard away when he was just about to walk in on your buddy trying to crack the safe.
If you’re in a computer room and choose to hack it, it’s like building a safety net so later on when you cross a laser alarm or walk into a motion sensor you can spend a hack token to not set off an alarm and bring a guard running. Some of our games have been won or lost on having a hack token available so this small, quiet little part of the game can sometimes be pivotal to success.
The two ways you can interact with the safe room on the surface seem simple, but as it gets more important to be able to move away you’ll find yourselves trying to figure out whether it’s mathematically more helpful for you to add a die then roll or just roll the dice you’re accrued on your safe so far three times. When you’re rolling you’re trying to crack the safe, you crack the safe when you’ve revealed all the room in the same column and row of the sale and roll the number that matches the number in the bottom right hand corner of the tile. Having to reveal these tiles means that even if you find the safe early it’s usually worth holding back on trying to crack it as if you reveal another tile you need and it has a number you’ve already rolled you’ll just have to do it again.
When you do crack a safe you’ll draw a card from each of the tool and loot decks. The tools are useful items like makeup kits that give everyone a stealth token, but the loot always comes with a catch. For example, if you’ve opened the safe and found the probably oxygen starved Chihuahua then you need to roll a die every turn and if you get a six you’ll set an alarm off on your tile. If you’re in the same room as another player you can hand over a loot or tool card, sometimes it’s best to give the yapping dog to someone who can make a quick exit to the roof and stop you setting off an alarm.
Tool and Loot cards shake up the game nicely as just when you’re starting to settle into the game or maybe starting to not be as gripped by it you’ve suddenly got a whole new element to deal with. This feeling of mixing everything up is bolstered by the event deck. If you take less than three actions in your turn you’ll draw an event card and these events can be good or bad, again it’s a nice way to keep the game feeling fresh when you’re coming towards an hour of playtime.
Whilst Burgle Bros is hardly limited, you can design your own layouts for endless replayability, and all the heisters have two sets of abilities depending on how difficult you want the game to be, but the game also comes with a Mini Expansion called Lost Visual. With Lost Visual you have a card that you shuffle into each guard patrol deck. When you reveal the Lost Visual card it does exactly what it sounds like, the guard piece comes off the board and is only put back on at the end of the next players turn, they’ll suddenly appear at the next location revealed by the patrol deck. Not being able to plan your team’s actions around where the guard is going to be can be really tense, especially when you’re frantically trying to get everyone to the top set of stairs to escape to the roof when at the end of any turn the guard might leap out at you and take your last stealth token.
Lost Visual slots into the core game seamlessly and so far both with and without it I’ve never had any rule cause any mix up with another. The whole game feels very modular making it seem like developer Tim Fowers has designed the game to allow other expansions to slot in. New heisters, new loot or tools, guard dogs or a fourth floor could all quite easily be bolted on – hopefully there are already some in the pipeline.
Physically and artistically Burgle Bros has got some real production value. The guard and heister meeples are greatly shaped and feel good in the hand, the cards aren’t the firmest we’ve ever played with, but they’ll stand the test of time as long as you keep a close eye on younger players. The room times though are something special, nice and chunky with a great art style. A unique box wraps the whole package together and looks great on the shelf.
Burgle Bros will seem easy to start with, you and your team of up to four heisters will explore the ground floor of the building you’re robbing, dodge the guard and maybe even get the first safe open without being seen. But as the game progresses and you go up floors the stakes get higher and the tension matches it. Whilst it doesn’t make it to the table every single game night, when it does get some table time it’s always played three or four times. If you’re looking for a co-op game with light strategic elements and a good theme Burgle Bros is definitely one to look out for.