26 November 2018
A total steal, or daylight robbery?
Thieves has a beautiful box. It achieves a quality few games even attempt: it's elegant. It speaks of sophistication, of the shelves of John Lewis and a future life nestled against a wooden backgammon set. But there are a few things that hint this is a first-time effort: a lack of images of the game in play, too much of the back cover spent on the Norse myth the game is loosely based on and a lack of anything that explains what the game really is.
It's a two-player semi-abstract, in which two teams of four thieves (wood discs) try to steal a treasure (wood disc) from the heart of a labyrinth (board of squares). Each square is bordered by four different-coloured doors; on your turn you roll two multicoloured dice and move any two of your pieces through the indicated doors in the general direction of the treasure, the exit (if you have the treasure) or the other team (if they have it). There are rules for stealing the treasure and passing it between members of your own team.
The rules boast that games can be very short or run long. This is a huge giveaway that Thieves makes no concessions to 21st-century games design, because modern games for grown-ups shouldn't do that. It's far too random. Any attempt to formulate and follow a strategy is useless in the face of the relentless diktats of the dice, and the rules for stealing and transferring the treasure are too fiddly to be fun.
Looking at the riches other games have created with a similar concept and board (like David Parlett's recent Katarenga), the gameplay here is hollow and shallow. Despite the opulence of its production, both play and rules feel like they're still at the prototype stage. With more testing and refinement it could have lived up to the promise of its packaging.
Designer: Nigel Roper
Artist: Nigel Roper
Time: 30 minutes
This review originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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