Review: Stop Thief!

stopthiefbox

Length 30-45 minutes

Release Date August 2017
Designers: Rob Daviau, Robert Doyle, Justin D. Jacobson
Artist: Roland MacDonald
Publisher: Restoration Games
Category: Deduction Game, Family Game
Player Count: 2-4
Price: $29.99
 
Now that board gaming is experiencing a resurgence and Kickstarter makes it easy for projects to get off the ground, there are quite a few new companies sprouting up. However, Restoration Games is truly something unique and people are taking notice. A project started by Justin D. Jacobson and longtime designer Rob Daviau (Pandemic Legacy, Heroscape), Restoration Games focuses uniquely on bringing older, out-of-print games back to life and updating them for modern times. One of their first three games is Stop Thief!, a deduction game from 1979 that used an electronic gizmo which has now been replaced by an app. Can a game almost 40 years old still have appeal today? Let’s find out!

Content Guide

The theme of the game is about catching robbers. Fortunately, the players are the good guys in this scenario. It’s a somewhat adult theme, but it’s very light, and children who are old enough to play the game are probably old enough to handle the material (I would say 8 years and up could play this, typically). On a positive note, Restoration Games is very intentional about including people of color in their games, and I am incredibly thankful for the diverse set of player characters.

Review

I have to say that when I first heard about Restoration Games, I wasn’t too sure what to think. I didn’t have any childhood attachment to the games they were bringing back, and certainly I felt like modern games had made a ridiculous amount of progress since the 70s and 80s. However, after seeing the excellent artwork and components for Stop Thief!, and since my wife loves deduction games (Clue and Sleuth are her favorites), I was intrigued.
Stop Thief! certainly still feels like a game from a previous generation—not because of any clunky or stupid rules, thankfully, but simply because of its style. Boy, is it refreshing to not play a game with 17 ways to score points. Sure, you score (money) in this game, but you do it one simple way: catch the bad guys! And you do that simply by moving your dude around the board, deducing where the bad guy is at the right time, and calling the cops. Board games these days have become all about mechanisms and finesse and new genres—deckbuilding, pool building, dice building, etc. These are all good things, but Stop Thief! reminds me of a time when board games were primarily about characters and stories.
Yet, Stop Thief! certainly hasn’t ignored the lessons of the past 20 or so years. Instead of dice, players have a hand of movement cards and a particular card they need to play to get their cards back up into their hand. In a great twist, these cards are different for each character, and have special abilities such as: getting extra private tips, moving through windows, or a little take-that, like moving another player or stealing money from them. Of course, Stop Thief!’s original gimmick was an electronic device that detailed what kind of spaces the thief was passing through on the board. The new version uses an extremely intuitive app, and just as importantly—a customizable app. Right after our first game, our only two complaints were that it seemed frustrating that the thief could randomly escape when caught, and it seemed a little too easy that a private tip gave the thief’s exact location. Both of those things,and much more,are completely adjustable on the app. On top of that, the app is slated to update with solo, cooperative, and 1 vs. all modes, and it even has a setting for owners of the original game whose electronic gizmos have likely broken by now. Talk about thorough!
Though the game certainly has modern sensibilities, it’s still a fairly lucky game. Given enough time, everyone can narrow the thief down to a couple locations, so players are often just gambling on making an arrest, or risking the next player knowing the thief’s exact location. It’s a relatively small penalty for being wrong ($1,000 to the bank), so it’s almost more of a push-your-luck element at times. It can also happen that the next thief robs right near the place someone just happens to be, and that can feel a little unfair. At the same time, these swings in luck are what make the game exciting. In a recent four-player game, I had $1,000 while everyone else had around $10,000, and thanks to a sequence of fortunate events, I was able to come back and just barely win. I much prefer a game with those kinds of opportunities to games where I would have zero chance of winning. However, the luck might annoy some heavier gamers. In addition, two of the characters have take-that elements that we didn’t find particularly obnoxious, but we never saw them land in key moments where they could have been devastating (e.g. keeping a player off of the winning move). And only two characters have those, so you could simply play only with the other four if it bothers you too much. Again, Restoration went above and beyond by including six different characters in a two-to-four player game.
While those complaints may bother some players, they don’t bother me. For gamers who want to play with older children, or other casual gamers or family members, this game is a slam dunk. In particular, although my wife is an excellent gamer, she prefers lighter games and absolutely loves deduction games. This was a huge hit for her, and any game my wife really enjoys is an automatic keeper for me. Yes, it’s light and lucky, and devoid of clever new mechanisms that reinvent the wheel. But in terms of pure fun factor, Stop Thief! is one of the best games I’ve played in 2017.
 
Thank you to Restoration Games for providing a review copy of Stop Thief!.

The Bottom Line

Stop Thief! is a very light and lucky game, but it's got amazing production, it's extremely customizable, and it's just a ton of fun to play. One of the best games of 2017 and a great start for Restoration Games.

 

8.8