Deck of Thieves (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the game’s final prototype. The art, game bits, and the rules discussed are all subject to change. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!


deckofthieves_top

The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up (publisher suggests 13+)
  • For 2 to 4 players
  • Variable time to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Emotional Coping Skills
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Craftily outmaneuver and out-think your opponents to rule the city streets!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

The Lords and Ladies might rule the land, but it’s the Thief Guilds who control the streets of the cities. A vast network of skilled pickpockets, cutpurses, and tricksters make up the rank and file of every guild. And they all answer to you, Guild Master. Good thing, too, because a new Big Boss is needed to lead all the guilds and that position is only given to the most cleverest and resourceful of thieves. Whoever wins, controls all.

Deck of Thieves, a self-published game by game designer Jason Fordham, is comprised of 124 cards. Out of these cards, there are 4 different decks. There are a total of 31 cards per deck and each deck is identical. The back of the cards will have one of four different colored wax seal impressions. Each of the four wax seals also has a different symbol on them to help make it easy to organize the cards for those who have difficulty distinguishing colors. As this is a review of a prebublished game, we will not comment on the component quality. The reported artwork and card layout is very easy to read and to use, however.

deckofthieves_cardexample

Game Set Up

Note: The following game set up is for the standard or base game. Game variants are explained in the Game Variants section of this review.

To set up the game, first organize the cards into the four different decks.

Second, give to each player one of the 4 decks. Each deck will be identical. Any unclaimed decks are removed for the duration of the game.

Third, each player now looks through their deck and removes the card with the title “Coin Purse”, placing it in front of them face-up. The area where the “Coin Purse” was placed is referred to as the player’s play area. Players should also locate and remove the cards titled “Shady Watchman” and “Sly Trickster” from their deck. These cards are used in the Dark Streets game variant explained later.

Fourth, each player now shuffles their deck of cards, placing them down in their play area to one side, face-down, and draws 10 cards.

Fifth, each player now reviews their hand of 10 cards and selects 5 to keep and shuffles the other 5 back into their deck. This is the player’s starting hand. Players should keep their cards hidden from their opponents at all times.

That’s it for game set up. Determine who the first player is and begin!

A Quick Tour of the Guild

A player’s deck represents the Thief Guild they control. Within the deck are five different card types. These are characters, events, locations, items, and treasure. Each of these card types will have card text on them that describe what they do. The majority will have one or more of the following keywords:

  • Reaction: This keywords means the card can be played during an opponent’s step 3 of their turn.
  • Activate: This keyword means the card can be activated during a player’s during.
  • Ability:  This keyword means the card automatically does something to influence the game when it is placed in the player’s play area.

Most of the cards also have a gold value which are used later in the game to determine which player has won.

deckofthieves_cardbreakdown

No Honor Among Thieves

The game is played in clockwise order with each player taking a turn. When their turn is over, the next player in clockwise order has their turn and so on. This continues until the game ends.

A player’s turn is comprised of 4 sequential steps. They are summarized here.

Step 1: Relocate Gold Coins

This step is optional. The player can relocate any “Gold Coin” card they currently have possession of. A “Gold Coin” can be located in the player’s play area, attached to the “Coin Purse” card, or attached to the “Lock Box” card.There is no limit to the number of “Gold Coin” cards the player can relocate during this step.

Step 2: Select an Action

A player can take one and only one of the following actions:

  • If the player’s deck is depleted (no cards left in it), the player must play one card from their hand until it is empty.
  • Draw one card and then play one card to the player’s play area (unless the card suggests otherwise). If the card that is played has the keyword “Ability” in the card text, the ability is automatically triggered and resolved. Note that a card’s ability can only be triggered when it is played. If the ability cannot be applied, it is simply ignored and lost.
  • Draw 2 cards and add them to their hand.
  • Activate a card that has been in the player’s play area for at least 1 turn, completing the action stated on the card. The card must have the keyword “Activate” in the card text.

Step 3: Opponents React

During this step, all of the player’s opponents can play a card from their hand that has the keyword “Reaction” in the card text, but only if the player used a card’s ability or activated a previously played card this turn. The next player in turn order gets to react first, followed by the next player and so on. Players in turn order can react to other player’s reactions, too. Reactions are always conditional and optional.

Step 4: Discards

The player’s final step is to discard down to 7 cards in their hand. Discarded cards are placed on the bottom of the player’s deck. Players should now check to see if the endgame has been triggered. If not, the next player has their turn starting with step 1 above.

Endgame

The endgame is triggered at the end of a player’s turn when any of the following conditions are found to be true.

  • Any player has 7 “Gold Coins” in their play area (this includes “Gold Coins” attached to the “Coin Purse” and “Lock Box” cards)
  • The current player’s hand is empty and their deck is depleted

If either of the above two conditions are met, play continues as normal until it’s the current player’s turn again. At which time, the game comes to an end.

Final Scoring

When the game comes to an end, every player will score the points awarded by their cards in their play area. A card’s gold value is represented by small gold icons at the top, left-hand corner on the face of the card. Any cards in the player’s hand or deck are not counted. Note that some cards reduce a player’s final score.

The player with the most points wins the game! Ties are broken by counting which player has the most “Gold Coin” cards in play.

Game Variants

Deck of Thieves has two game variants that can be used by the players if they are looking for more challenging game play. They are summarized here.

  • County Faire: This game variant determines the winner after 3 games are played. Points are scored and recorded after the end of each game along with the number of “Gold Coins’ each player has.  After the 3rd game, all the points are tallied and the winner is the player who had the most points. Ties are broken by counting which player has the most “Gold Coin” cards recorded.
  • Dark Streets: This game variant removes the “Watchman” and the “Trickster” cards from the player’s decks and replaces them with the “Shady Watchman” and “Sly Trickster” cards. The means streets just got meaner!

To learn more about Deck of Thieves, visit the Kickstarter campaign.

Prediction

Deck of Thieves is a very straight forward game and should be very easy to teach. The only aspect of the game play that has me concerned is the “take that” (i.e. “backstabbing”) player interaction that allows players to directly impact another player’s space. For older Child Geeks, Parent Geeks, and Gamer Geeks, this type of game play isn’t a concern. For those younger Child Geeks who have not yet demonstrated a reasonable level of emotional control and coping skills, Deck of Thieves might be borderline hurtful. And while I will most certainly stop a game before it comes to tears, the goal of our tests is to always invigorate our player’s interest in the gaming hobby, not position it as a source of anguish and psychological scaring.

We’ll make sure to advise our players of the game’s play style prior to playing it, excusing those players who do not care for games like Deck of Thieves. This might sound a bit like rigging the outcome, but there is no need to put a game in front of someone and ask them to play it if you and they know they won’t like it. Players will also need to be able to read. Players must know what their cards do so they can play the card accordingly. Timing is everything. As a result, we won’t be playing this game with any Child Geeks who cannot read, but I will leave it up to those who can to decide if they want to play the game or not. I’m betting they’ll try it regardless of what I tell them or suggest.

Teaching the game to my oldest little geek (8-years-old) was more or less just a quick summary of what you’ve already read. I showed him a few of the cards, explained how “reactions” worked, and why moving “Gold Coins” was very important to game victory. He listened quietly and had no questions when I was done explaining and demonstrating the game play. Hearing none, I reshuffled the game for our first play. As I did so, I asked him his thoughts on Deck of Thieves so far.

“The game sounds easy, but I know I’m going to have to carefully read and understand my cards to beat you.” ~ Liam (age 8)

Excellent! He appears to understand the game play perfectly! He is 100% correct that Deck of Thieves is not complicated and victory is won only through logical thinking. I stink at winning games, however, so I don’t think he’ll have to be overly careful when playing against me. Let’s see if Deck of Thieves steals our hearts or gut punches us.

Final Word

The Child Geeks enjoyed Deck of Thieves and found it to be a fast and easy “take that” game, but only by our older Child Geeks who had a higher level of emotional coping skills. The game is all about taking from your neighbor and obtaining victory by standing on the shoulders of others. All the Child Geeks enjoyed Deck of Thieves until they started to feel picked on. When they did, they started to dislike the game, the experience, and sadly, me for making them play a game that made them feel bad. BUT I WARNED THEM! Didn’t matter. Like all games, know your players before putting the game down in front of them. But the testing proved two important points. First, the game is very playable by Child Geeks (youngest we played with was 8-years-old). Second, don’t play Deck of Thieves with players who do not like games where players attack each other. For those Child Geeks who could handle it, they approved Deck of Thieves with wicked little grins.

My little geek reviews his cards before making his play

My little geek reviews his cards before making his play

Parent Geeks also enjoyed the game, with only a few disliking the overall game’s theme. For the more conservative Parent Geeks, their initial thoughts on the game were not positive when they understood the goal of the game was somewhat focused on stealing from others. I reminded them that this was only a game and that the implied “theft” of goods was limited to and remained only at the gaming table. They agreed to try it based on this argument. Out of the four Parent Geeks who didn’t care for it initially, three changed their minds and found the game to be a fast, furious, and casual one with their Child Geeks and other adults. The lone Parent Geek who did not warm up to Deck of Thieves didn’t care for games where stealing was part of the game play. Very fair. However, since 3 out of 4 voted to approve Deck of Thieves, it was awarded the Parent Geek approved endorsement.

Gamer Geeks enjoyed Deck of Thieves and voted to approve it. They found the game to be very light, very casual, and very much a “filler”. Perfect for quick games before starting a gaming evening, when a game or two was needed while waiting for others, or an invigorating way to end an evening of gaming. They found Deck of Thieves to be a game where logical thinking was a must, but there was little to no need to suggest it was a game full of strategy and tactics. With all the players having the exact same number and type of cards, smart plays were more about timing and heavily relied on watching the table. Gamer Geeks who could count cards and pay close attention to game plays will have a significant advantage as a result. The lack of a discard pile really tickled the Gamer Geeks because that allowed them to recycle cards they got too early for use later in the game. The Gamer Geeks also thought Deck of Thieves would only be successful if played “once in a while”. The game starts to loose its appeal around game 3 if played back to back…to back.

Deck of Thieves falls squarely into the category of a “beer and pretzels” game for me. It’s random, light, and fast. I am usually playing heavier games with my Gamer Geek friends and sometimes mind-boggling dull games with my little geeks. Games like Deck of Thieves help me bridge the gap between these two group because they are easy to play with little geeks and non-gamers, yet still capable of providing a good time with my Gamer Geek buddies. For those looking for a light game where player interaction is rampant, logical thinking is a must, but the game itself is very straightforward and easy to learn, then Deck of Thieves will be a delight.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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