[Editor’s Note: Since this review was published a new cooperative mode has been added via an update to the app.]
Stop Thief! was released last year by Restoration Games, reimplementing the gameplay of the board of almost identical name Stop Thief from back in 1979. Restoration Games, and the design team including Rob Daviau, prides itself on taking older games, tweaking a mechanism or two, and making them fit for a modern audience. This game sees 2 – 4 players attempt to stop criminals in the act as they roam around the streets. Does hand management instead of roll and move, plus the inclusion of an app, bring out the best of an old game or should it have been left alone? Let’s find out!
For those whom didn’t know of the original, or as with me wasn’t even born in 1979, the game sees an invisible thief start on one of the many crime spots denoted on the board. From here, in a similar way to how the hidden character moves in Whitehall Mystery, the thief moves along footstep paths from one numbered location to another. This movement was before controlled by an included box but is now all handled by the Restoration Games app. This means all the players take up the role of a unique private investigators striving to determine the number of the location the thief is on.
The game board is structured in a way that certain places inside and outside, doors, windows and crime spots have numbers. Between these numbered locations are circles which are passed over by the thief but are counted in players movement. In the currently available standard game mode the thief’s movement is slightly restricted, such as not being able to instantly return to a previous numbered space or use the subway. So how do you catch a thief? With only $3,000 to their name, striving to get the arrest and by extension the reward, private investigators on a turn have two mandatory actions followed by a single optional one.
First up is to “Get a Clue” by tapping the button on the app. This sees the thief move and the app will make a specific noise related to the suspects new location. Footsteps indicate that the thief is located at an inside space, while hubbub means they are outside. Special locations are less frequent making their sounds potentially more helpful: creaking means that have entered a door space, broken glass means they have used a window and a siren sound means they have committed a secondary crime, on one of the indicated crime spots on the board.
Next up is movement where you play a card from your hand and move up to the indicated number of spaces on the board. Unlike the thief, players cannot use windows but they do have access to the subway which links the centre of the board with the four corners. The subway can help players zoom around the board but does end their movement turn. If cards have any abilities this is when they would come into effect.
Now the mandatory actions are complete, it is time for the optional make an arrest action. If a player is standing on or adjacent to a numbered location they can make an arrest on that location. Typing the number into the app, it then reveals whether the thief has been caught or not. If unsuccessful everyone round the table now knows that the thief isn’t there and the guesser has to pay $1,000 to the bank. If correct the thief is caught and the reward is paid to the guesser. Depending on the player count the aim is to collect a set amount of money, so at this point a player could have won. If no one has enough to win a new thief is revealed, with a different reward and special rule, and play continues with a new crime.
The card based gameplay is great to show those new to the hobby how movement can be handled without adding in the luck and randomness of rolling a die. Each character’s cards are slightly different, having different values and abilities. The perfect balance has been struck offering uniqueness whilst not overcomplicating the ruleset, so those new to the game don’t get confused.
As a general rule of movement, the cards with abilities are those with the lowest-medium movement values. At the lowest end of each character’s movement is a card that enables players at the end of their turn pick up all played movement cards, helpful to regain previously played cards but resulting in only a small movement. The second lowest is to get a private tip before moving, where that player takes the smartphone running the app and gets told which numbered location the thief is currently on. The next couple of movement cards rising in value are normally that characters special ability.
For example, Pepper Gonzales “Green” can take $1,000 off another investigator by playing a 6 movement. Not everyone has an ability. Tad Magnum has no ability but has two cards with a maximum movement value of 12, enabling him to rush around the board. The characters for the PIs and thieves included are cartoony and fit the theme well. Some will recognise likenesses to famous characters or people from their names: such as Rob Sherwood (Robin Hood) or Dom Diesel (Dom being Vin Diesel’s Fast & Furious character). It isn’t much but small details like these add to the fun nature of Stop Thief!
The board itself has some nice details to it: glossy footprint tracks that players use, crashed vehicles and even an ice-cream truck. There is some theme based flavour in terms of the different buildings, seeing screens and tills in the electronics store, though every numbered location is still clear to read thanks to a relatively clutter free design. The subway locations could have been more obvious for new players, but it is easy enough to simply explain the centre number and the four corners of the board are linked.
I was worried about the inclusion of an app and it being such an integral part of a board game. For many board gaming is a way of escaping screens so heavily relying on the app may be enough to put some off. It would be a travesty if this is the case though. It slots into the game so seamlessly players will come out the other side questioning why similar games don’t offer an app. At the current time there is little to adjust on the app but there are modes labelled as coming soon, including a solo mode variant.
Tweaks and changes to the app aren’t needed for Stop Thief! to be an instant hit but after around 10 plays gamers will have started to really click with the way the puzzle works. Naturally, if everyone is clicking at the same time it just increases the competitiveness. Nevertheless, a few ways to increase the difficulty such as the ability for the thief to double back on themselves or the initial search area to be increased would be appreciated for those wanting more of a challenge.
The best feature that the app has, other than running the whole admin side of the thief, has to be the replay button. Being able to visually see the route taken by the thief completely negates any worries, by those unconvinced by the app, that something fishy has gone on with the coding. Not only does it show how agonisingly close players were but also enables new players to see how the thief moves around the board.
Despite not yet having different difficulty settings Stop Thief! grows with players experience. It starts out with players unsure on the ways the thief may navigate the board, offering a low weight deduction game which only uses simple sounds. Before long with the same group even getting private tips becomes an opportunity to throw others off, slightly upping the weight. When a slight movement can indicate you know something others don’t your movement as much as the thief’s noises becomes a clue.
Stop Thief! Has hit a real sweet spot in terms of replayability and weight, elements which have the potential to grow as the app gets more content. At times players will want to talk through where the thief may be but you don’t want to give hints away! Just when you’ve worked out where the thief is, they move to a new space giving multiple possible locations. It’s a dynamic puzzle which can see the thief venture from building to building and slip through the fingers of the investigators. The theming is light and friendly, with use of the cops and robbers making the game approachable for families. The game is all about listening to the sounds and via a process of elimination determining when the thief must be. All I know is Stop Thief will be located on my gaming shelf for many years to come!
[Update: The app now has difficulty settings which make catching the dastardly thieves that bit harder. This allows the game to be tailored to your gaming group better, and allows the game to grow with players.]
[Editor’s Note: Stop Thief! was provided to us by Asmodee UK for review purposes. The game is currently available on 365 Games for £29.99. It is also available from local UK board game stores, find your local store here]