One of the games attracting a lot of interest at last year’s UK Games Expo and Tabletop Gaming Live was the board game Thieves, designed by Nigel Roper and published by Merlin Games. Thieves stood out thanks to its colourful board and its impressively high production values (even the board has a velvety non-slip back to it). As the game’s name suggests, it has a generalised ‘theme’ about robbers stealing gold and making their getaway but that’s really no more to the fore than the medieval court structure in Chess. Thieves is very much an abstract two-player game. It’s a strategy game with a random element (movement is subject to dice rolls using two custom six-sided dice) but that doesn’t detract from it being predominately a game of skill; much as Backgammon is most likely to be won by the better player even if they are less lucky with their dice rolls.
The board has the appearance of a 15 x 15 multicoloured checker board. Each player’s wooden pieces moves orthogonally on the white squares; the black squares are impenetrable but the coloured squares are considered to be ‘gates’ through which a player can move one of their checker-like pieces provided they roll that colour on the special custom dice. Rolling a white square allows the player to use any colour ‘gate’. The black face of the dice can only be used to grab the gold piece that starts off in the centre of the board. The idea is that players are vying to snatch the gold (initially from the centre square but then from each other) and to be the first to exit the board carrying that gold piece. Once a player has possession of the gold, it can, on an appropriate colour roll, be passed between that player’s checker pieces in place of a movement action.
There are some special conditions imposed to prevent exit blocking but the rules are simple and straightforward enough to be quickly grasped by any player. Players quickly realise that the dice rolling doesn’t make this a game of luck: players each have four checker pieces to move, so it’s possible to set yourself up so that almost any roll will be useful for at least one piece. Canny players will also learn that strategic positioning can enable passes that spirit the gold out of your opponent’s immediate reach.
We’re used to seeing heavily themed games appear by the score but good new abstract games are much rarer. And Thieves looks like it could have genuine staying power.