Updated: Oct 19, 2019
Many years ago, as a student in Manchester, I used to review movies. In those days, Manchester’s local councillors still operated a ‘Watch Committee’ which vetted potentially controversial movies and had the power to ban cinemas from screening them in the city. They banned Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange, for example. A few years earlier, director Sam Peckinpah had made the highly controversial Straw Dogs, so when his movie The Getaway was due for release, the Watch Committee insisted on attending the press preview. The Getaway was a bank heist movie starring Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw. As it turned out, it was quite innocuous. When we came out of the preview, we were surprised to find the Chairman of the Watch Committee angrily insisting that the film should be banned. Why?, we asked. It wasn’t especially violent and didn’t feature any over-the-top sex scenes. “Because”, he explained, “They get away!”
More than 40 years after the movies’ release, I hope you’ll forgive me that Spoiler. But yes, the objection was that, in The Getaway, the bank robbers get away in the end. Moralists on the local council found this especially objectionable because it undermined the traditional message that “crime does not pay”.
The treatment of crime in board games continues to be an equally sensitive issue. Where a robbery or another crime is at the centre of a game, it is more usual for players to represent the forces of law and order. That was essentially the case in the Waddingtons/Hasbro game Cluedo (or Clue as it’s known in the US), first published in 1949, and it has been the case with the large majority of similarly themed games since, down, for example, to Space Cowboys’ Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective games which have had a resurgence with the recent publication of new expansions. Just gradually, however, we’ve begun to see games emerge where the players all represent the villains rather than the cops. Tim Fowers’ Burgle Bros (Fowers Games) unashamedly put the players on the side of the criminals, and in Michael Luu’s Rob’n’Run (PD-Verlag / Rio Grande) players are again working co-operatively to crack safes before the police catch up with them. In both games, the solution to criticism that players are trying to get away with a crime is to introduce a degree of levity through the use of cartoony art. This makes Rob’n’Run look like a game designed for children, but it really isn’t.
In Rob’n’Run, the players represent a gang of robbers. Each round, one player takes the role of the boss. The boss looks at the cards representing the one or more safes at the robbers’ location and selects clue cards to try to communicate to his crew what tools are needed to complete the robbery. Crew members contribute cards from their hands and the boss selects those which are needed towards meeting the requirements of the safe and discards the others. Players collect gold for successfully cracking a safe and their getaway car standee advances a space. The police advance too, and they narrow the gap on the robbers if alarms have been triggered (for example, by the boss having to discard too many unusable tools). Alarm cubes collected during the course of the game makes play progressively more difficult unless the gang choose to spend their gold by paying the dealers in stolen goods who are hide in wait behind fire hydrants and who have the power to remove cubes if they are paid to do so.
Rob’n’Run gives players a good mix of guesswork and deduction, with an element of push your luck. The boss role shifts between rounds so all players should get turns at being clue givers. Canny players will draw inferences and make deductions not just from the clues the boss gives them but also from the clues he doesn’t give. For example, if the boss decided to offer no clues, this may itself be a clue to the gang needing lots of different tools so any tools contributed are likely to be good. The fact that the police are in hot pursuit and likely to be steadily closing on the gang adds appropriate tension – the game ends and the robbers lose if the police catch up with them.
Many co-operative games are ruined by ‘alpha player syndrome’. This is where one dominant player ends up telling everyone else what they should do, relegating all the other players to mere pawns who do as they are instructed. A notable strength of Rob’n’Run is that it is completely immune from this problem. That’s because players’ hands and the cards they play are concealed from each other (as are the cards discarded by the boss). The whole point of this game is that players are forced to manage using very restricted communication and the rules expressly forbid players from sharing any information about the cards they have or the cards they play.
Rob’n’Run comes with rules facilitating play with two but the game is at its best with three to five players. It’s actually quite tough for the robbers to successfully make their getaway, and it’s not impossible to find they have to spend so much gold to complete their escape that it eats up all their ill-gotten gains. This makes for a tense game where crime doesn't always pay. No doubt that would have pleased Manchester’s old Watch Committee.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)