Crack a few safes and escape. sounds easy enough for the Burgle Bros, right?
Android & iOS
# of Players
1 - 4
Burgle Bros is a co-operative action planning heist game from Fowers Games. Players choose their character and jump into a multi-floor modular board setup in which they must find and crack safes, hoping to safely escape while avoiding pesky patrol guards. The game plays 1-4 players and has a wide range of play times due to the frequency of early losses and infrequency of making it through a full game, but generally speaking, most games will last in the 15-30 minute range. The game ends when all of characters have escaped with the loot, or any one of the characters have been caught by a guard.
The game starts on the bottom floor of a building, which is a randomly placed grid, with a guard setup on unexplored room tiles. Players choose which room they want to enter through and the heist is on. Each character gets four actions during their turn, the most basic of which are simply taking a peek or moving into an adjacent room, either of which will uncover the hidden room tile. Each room has its own special conditions which are played out when a character walks into them. Some rooms trigger alarms which result in the guards coming to check it out, others provide benefits to the characters, and some allow you to move between floors in the building. Players are ultimately looking for the Safe room, which is where the loot is stored. Once found, a series of numbers must be rolled (the exact numbers are based on the board layout and must be uncovered) in order to crack the safe. Once the safe is cracked, a tool and loot card is drawn by the character who cracked it, and players shift their focus to the next floor, or escaping.
After each player’s turn, the guard on the floor of that player moves. Guards have a predetermined tile which they will move towards in the most direct route possible until they arrive, at which point a new destination is drawn. The exception to this is if an alarm is triggered, it will divert the guard from a predetermined destination towards the room which generated the alarm, and increase the guard’s movement until they reach the alarm. Should a guard pass through or land on a tile which contains a character, the character must give up one of their stealth points. Each character starts with three, and at the point any one of them is required to give one up but doesn’t have one to give, the game immediately ends in a loss.
That’s a thirty second overview, but there is a lot going on in this game. Each room does something different and knowing how to use those room abilities to your advantage is ultimately the crux of the game. Triggering alarms to keep the guard away from other players is a crucial part of the game, for example. At the same time, there are rooms which can allow you to create hack tokens which allow you to pass through alarm rooms without triggering an alarm. The safe room has a fun, or infuriating, mechanic where you must spend two actions to place a die on the room, then one action to roll any dice which are there. This results in a risk/reward system, do you spend extra actions to get more dice to roll, or try to save those valuable actions and hope the roll works out for you?
The game also has tools and loot. Tools are gained when a safe is cracked or a specific room type is entered for the first time. They can be huge in your quest to successfully pull of the heist. They can provide extra stealth points, make the safe easier to crack, or even create a handy staircase to the next floor in your current room by detonating a bomb. Loot, as the game explains, is what you’re here for. It is picked up when a safe is cracked and has a negative effect to the character holding it, sometimes extending to the others as well. One example simply takes away one action each turn from the character holding it, there are some fun loot items, such as a pesky kitten who wanders around. Both tools and loot can be traded between characters standing in the same room.
Ultimately, the game is about cooperation and coordination among the characters . Each character has their own special ability which can help uncover rooms, move other players, crack the safe, slow the guard, among many other things. Using these abilities, tools, and rooms to keep each of the characters safe from guards is the only way to win. Sacrificing one character to a guard is often necessary to keep another character with low stealth points out of harm’s way.
This game is hard. Very, very hard. It will take a while to understand the intricacies of the rooms, tools, and character abilities. Once you do, you can then start to plan things out properly to put yourself in a position to win. Even then, you can easily get thwarted by a bad luck floor layout, guard draw, or even dice roll. The game offers ways to mitigate almost everything, but a couple of bad luck draws in a row can easily undo even the best planned heists. Difficulty is a common thread among co-ops, and Burgle Bros is no exception.
Barrier to Entry
Burgles Bros has a tutorial which walks you through a game with one character, cracking the safe and escaping a one-story map. The tutorial moves by fairly quickly, but does a good job of explaining the very basics of the game. Jumping into a normal game after the tutorial will leave a few lingering questions about how to perform certain actions. Given this, it would have been nice to get an abbreviated rulebook or tile reference to go along with the tutorial. (Update: The app now has a link to an HTML version of the rules, accessible via the Options menu. Not quite the same as an in-game rulebook or reference, but certainly an improvement)
While playing, it is very easy to find out the information about how various room tiles, loot, tools, and character abilities work. Everything has an explanation, which is certainly a helpful feature to new players. Overall, the app makes it easy to learn the game, but some sort reference would be very helpful.
The heist begins
Great graphics start at the load screen
Game overview from tutorial
Look and Feel
The game looks and plays great. The artwork throughout carries the theme very well. The background music only adds to the heist movie experience. The tiles are very clear, even on a phone, and you can easily zoom in on character cards, tools, and loot to read the text on them. As mentioned earlier, just about everything has the option to click somewhere (either on the card itself or via a small info icon) to reveal an explanation. It is all well integrated and works to provide explanation on a game that has quite a few different abilities to learn.
Controls are simple and effective. Click a room tile and all available options for the tile, from move to peek or a special action, are available to choose from. Character specific actions, special abilities and tools, are accessed simply by tapping the character card near the corner of the screen. A special shout-out for the 3D dice roll animations, including a re-roll if a die fails to land completely flat. Very nice touch.
A very minor issue is that when the game switches floors when it is switching turns between characters, the player icon for the character who’s turn it is won’t display on the board. You can still see where the player is located by the graphics around the tile, and the character appears once they move. Very minor issue, but it does stand out in an otherwise fantastic implementation.
Burgle Bros does not have an online play option. Fowers Games recently updated their other standalone board game app, Paperback, with online play about ten months after the initial release. This doesn’t necessarily mean Burgle Bros will get online play, but it points to it being a possibility at some point down the line.
The game allows 1-4 characters to be chosen, and as a co-op with no hidden information it sets up very well as a pass-and-play game.
When starting a game you choose, or let the game randomly choose, up to four characters to play as and what setup/scenario you want. There were three available initially: Office Job, Bank Job, Ft. Knox. These equate to easy/medium/hard, but in reality it is more like hard/very hard/brutally hard. The Office Job is the “beginner’s” variant described in the physical game, it contains only two floors instead of three. Bank Job is the standard play mode with three floors. Fort Knox only has two floors, but they are larger, requiring more exploration to be able to unlock the safes. The guards on Ft. Knox also begin with a higher movement range and there are more walls on each floor. As mentioned earlier, the game is difficult on any level. Simply going from Office Job to Bank Job adds an entire extra floor to cover. Fort Knox is brutal with the larger floors and extra walls, making moving around very tough. (Update: the app has been updated to include a total of six different Heists, one of which remains locked until you complete the others)
Adding to the replay factor are unlockable Advance Skill characters. If you beat any of the scenarios, whichever characters you use will unlock their advanced skill variation. These skills are along the lines of the character’s normal skills, but offer a slight variation to further change the game. You can choose to use either the normal or advanced skill version of a character when starting a game.
There are no other play modes in the app, this is a direct port of the physical game. There is probably room for a campaign-like mode where you are given a specific set of characters and asked to pull off thematic heists, but the base game is so difficult and has so much variety between the variable setup and choosing which characters to use, that the app doesn’t feel at all like it is missing anything by “only” being a port of the game.
Burgle Bros. offers a “Continue” option from the main screen, but no save option. And no, exiting a game via menu won’t trigger a save. What the game does is save a game you are playing if you exit the app and don’t come back for a while. This is a pretty great feature, if you get a call or something while playing you don’t have to worry about losing the game if you can’t return to it for a while. It should be noted that some users have reported issues where the game doesn’t get saved. We have tried to recreate this issue across multiple devices without any luck. Regardless, the option to explicitly save a game would be a welcome addition to avoid this issue.
In addition to adding more heists to choose from, the app was updated with extra game options. You can increase, or decrease if you really like losing, the amount of starting stealth tokens each character has. A few other options were also added, most of which increase difficulty: enabling a hidden guard, trigger an event each turn, move all guards each turn, and adding guard actions. You can also now use duplicate characters if you enable the option. The new heists feature more unique layouts which add even more variation to the game.
Exploring the first floor
A very familiar sight
There are no in-app purchases, you get the full game with your initial purchase. The store listings do promise “More missions coming soon!”, so we will keep our eyes out to see what that means, exactly.
There are two issues users have reported that appear to be in conflict with the physical game rules. First, you shouldn’t be able to move between two tiles just to deplete your actions. Ending a turn with two or more actions triggers an event card which can be harmful to your team. Second, The Rook’s ability to move a teammate one space should be allowed to move a teammate standing on stairs up or down a floor. The app doesn’t enforce either of these rules properly at this point.
The Wrap Up
This is a fantastic, polished implementation of a fantastic co-op game. Burgle Bros. is very tough, but remains a lot of fun even in defeat. The app only adds a few variable setups to the physical game, but is a testament to that physical game that the app doesn’t feel lacking at all. The implementation isn’t 100% perfect, as the earlier rule enforcement, disappearing characters, and reported lost game issues attest to. However, as you can see by our score here, none of these are anywhere close to deal breaking for us. They are minor, all except The Rook’s stair movement issues can be completely ignored and, having played dozens of games, I personally tried to use The Rook to move another character up/down stairs a grand total of one time.
Burgle Bros is highly recommended if you are a fan of extremely challenging co-ops and can handle some bad luck thrown your way at times. The random tile setup and varying character selection, combined with three unique board setups, keep the game fresh even after dozens of plays. Not all apps can pull that off without an online component, but Burgle Bros certainly does. Simply put, in a fantastic year for board game apps, Burgle Bros manages to stand out.
Update: It is necessary to mention that only a few weeks after release the app got a major update. The additions are mentioned throughout the review, but it added a lot of new features and heists along with the requisite bug fixes. These additions bode well for the developer keeping this already fantastic game fresh over the long haul.