Games where actions have to be pre-programmed can be especially baffling for those coming new to board games. Often such games involve relatively convoluted strategies. We were especially keen therefore to try this entry-level programming game designed by Prospero Hall and published by Jumbo. Jumbo are best known for their children's games but they have been gradually extending their range to include rather more ambitious strategy games, including games signed from some very respected games designers.
How to Rob a Bank helps to bridge the gap between Jumbo's traditional range and its serious strategy games. One player represents the bank, playing cards to determine the actions of their bank guard meeples; the other 1–3 players each control robbers. They have their own individual decks of action cards but the robbers are working co-operatively to evade the guards, collect loot and get it to their getaway car.
An unusual feature of the game is that the programming is based on open information. Players each have a hand of eight cards (randomly dealt from the 15 that come in the box) and they lay out their cards one at a time, having seen the cards laid by the other players. For example, if the bank player lays a card indicating movement for his guards, then the robbers know that that player's first action will be to move one of their guards, though they don't know which one...
Robbers and guards are able to temporarily disable each other with pepper spray, provided they have programmed an appropriate action card. Meanwhile the robbers are trying to pick up sacks of loot and get them to the edge of the board where their getaway car is waiting. For a free (unprogrammed) action, players can move the getaway car to an adjacent space outside the bank, so they need to take care to get their meeples to positions where they can sling their loot into the waiting motor.
How to Rob a Bank is played over three rounds, and the bank layout tiles are shuffled so that the bank layout is altered each round. Rounds take no more than 10 minutes, so this is a fast-playing game. It benefits from appealing components including the box being deployed as a raised mount for the bank, around which a track is laid on which the getaway car is moved. Our only gripe was over the rulebook, or rather rules sheet. The conceit seems to have been to design this as a 'blueprint' so that, instead of a manageable booklet, players are left to fumble with a large unwieldy six-pane folded sheet with English on one side and German on the other. New players are probably going to want to refer to the sheet to check that they are correctly interpreting the iconography on the language-independent cards, so there's a real risk that your rules sheet could soon end up ripped or tattered. We also spotted some (easily corrected) errors in the English rules.
One curiosity is the box art which, in our version mimics the cartoon artwork of the cards. By contrast, the edition being marketed in some territories has a box illustration showing a grittily serious bank heist. Comparing the box covers, it's hard to imagine that both boxes contain the same game.
How to Rob a Bank is an enjoyable game in its own right. And if you want to introduce players to more complex games with programmed actions then How to Rob a Bank makes an ideal primer.