They say that 'crime doesn't pay'. The Specialists is out to prove them wrong. In this bright and breezy game from Explor8, the 1-4 players are crime bosses competing to amass the largest fortune. The eponymous Specialists are the criminals you're recruiting into your gang. There are a number of cities into which you can send your gang of robbers but for each you'll need to have the right mix of skills (ie: colours) and you'll need equipment (tokens that you can obtain, for example, by activating the abilities on a gang member's card).
Artist Christine Alcouffe has given The Specialists an attractive cartoon look and feel and this is a game that's easy to play. However, the design team of Marco Canetta, Stefania Niccolini, Dimitri Perrier and Anne-Catherine Perrier has put together a clever mix of mechanics that offers players some meaty choices within this seemingly light facade.
The Specialists is first and foremost a drafting game. You'll be drafting dice and using them to recruit your specialists from those available in the display. Each of the specialist cards have the name of the specialist - happily colour-matched to their card: a boon to any colour-blind players but also an evocative nod to Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. To add a specialist to your team, you need to pay a dice that matches the value shown in white on the card. Cards also show a second value in black. That's the die value you need to spend to activate the card. You can in extremis activate a card in the display (match their black die value) without recruiting the specialist: you collect their bonus but you don't add them to your crew.
Activating your specialist to collect the bonus shown on their card triggers one of this game's neat devices: cards of the same colour 'stack' in that if you activate one you can either take the benefit from all the cards in the stack or you can take the benefit on the card you activate multiplied by the number of cards in the stack. This means that even after you have enough gang members with the skills (colours) you need to pull off a heist, it can still be worthwhile recruiting more so that you can boost those activation benefits.
There's a careful balancing act to weigh up tho' over how and when you spend your dice; they're a finite supply and when you spend a die on activation, that's one less available to recruit another gang member....
And once you've put together the gang and equipment needed to send to a city, you've a choice to make over where you pull off your heist. Each city has several very robbable locations and you can only ever rob one of them (you can return to the same continent but never to the same city). We've all seen Oceans 11 so, unsurprisingly, the most immediately profitable location in a city will be the casino but tho' other locations (jewellers and banks) may pay out less cash, they may give you an extra die and they'll let you collect other tokens that can earn you valuable set collection bonuses: The Specialists is also a set collection game...
The game plays over a maximum of 12 rounds (fewer if a player ends the game by pulling off seven heists) so it's tight. If, on a round, you aren't able to complete a heist, you can turn informant - which means benefitting from the reward indicated on that round's Informant card. There are rules and set up tweaks for the different player counts (2-4) and there are components to facilitate solo play. The game also incorporates some optional variant rules and each of the four continent boards is double-sided to offer a slightly different experience depending on which sides you choose.
Our plays of The Specialists at Board's Eye View mostly ran to around 60 minutes. We appreciated the choices always open to us, even tho' we sometimes subsequently regretted them - but then even career criminals sometimes show regret. Some of the more ham-fisted members of our team found the small bonus tool and other tokens rather fiddly but there were fewer complaints from the safecrackers who tended to have rather more delicate fingers. And tho' there's a lot of iconography on the various tokens et al, players quickly had this mastered: so, contrary to our initial apprehensions, this didn't prove to be a game where players were having to make a grab for the rulebook to look up icons during play.
The Specialists is thematically very strong. If you're looking for an easy-to-learn game that will thoroughly engaged you in its heist movie-type theme, The Specialists is definitely worth checking out. However, we recommend that you buy rather than steal your copy!