Stop Thief! review — Old dog, new tricks

Stop Thief! summary image: two to four players, cooperative, competitive, hand management, deducation, app driven. Forty-five minute duration. Recommendation for ages ten plus. Designed by Rob Daviau, Justin Jacobson and Robert Doyle. Published by Restoration Games, simple to learn, simple-to-moderate to master depending on difficulty. Failry brief turn length.A few months ago, we covered a live Kickstarter campaign for Fireball Island, an upcoming remake of a classic game that shares the same name, by a company called Restoration Games. Of course, Fireball Island is just one of the more high-profile games the team have remade in the last few years, with one of the more modest (but no less interesting) being the subject of today’s review: Stop Thief!

Overview

Stop Thief! is a reimplementation of a 1979 electronic board game which included a board, several decks of cards and a small computer device that gave visual and audio clues, provided additional hints and let players call the police to specific spaces on the board. Anyone who has aspirations of becoming an amateur sleuth will already have guessed that Stop Thief! was crying out for an app-driven modern remake, which is exactly what Restoration Games have done with it.

Featuring a clean, simple application (tested on iOS, but other versions are available) and with straightforward component setup, Stop Thief! offers players an appealing and exciting way to immerse their whole family into a game night. I’d say that whilst companion applications are becoming more popular in board gaming, they are by no means common and most of the implementations I’ve played focus on having the app handle the more complex aspects of what a Dungeon Master might do, for example. Where Stop Thief! is concerned, use of the app remains very light and probably more akin to something like Paramedics Clear!.

Two to four players (or arguably solo by doubling up thanks to the recently launched cooperative mode) are the game’s usual complement, but in the images you’ll see, I set up six players just to show a few more of the pieces off, since the board (whilst beautiful) can look quite spartan. It may seem obvious to say it now, but there are six player characters to choose from, each of whom has a different deck of cards that drive their movement. There are also a number of different burglars who need to be caught red-handed!

Components

Stop Thief! is incredibly simple and the components reflect that nicely, neither introducing unnecessary fluff nor under-delivering on the high standard of build quality that Restoration Games has become known for across its entire range. The player meeples are cute, colourful wooden tokens which each come with little printed faces to add a bit of personality. This is completed by the card decks, which come in colours to match the meeples and are capped off with a private-detective nametag.

The cards themselves are relatively minimalist, with only a numerical value (showing how far it lets you move) and any other key text — for example, lower movement scores are sometimes offset by abilities such as being able to play another card. Interestingly, every card deck is different, so there is a bit of a light strategy when it comes to choosing your detective, although in fairness, any of them can get the job done. After that, there are decks of basic money (which are fine), a number of burglar cards and of course, a clear and relatively brief manual.

The main component, which I haven’t mentioned yet, is the board. Set out as a large square with four leaves, each representing an in-game area, the board initially looks a bit flat due to a lack of components. Look closer, though, and it becomes more clear that the artist has worked hard to add as much detail as possible — from details about the ongoing crime spree (like crashed cars and broken windows) to normal everyday objects in situ; there’s more going on than first meets the eye.

Finally, a word on the app, which appears to have been properly produced and in my experience is entirely free from crashes, bugs and so on. Essentially, the app creates sound effects that indicate where the burglar is and then allows the players to phone the police to a set location — which may either resulting in catching the crook or forcing the player to pay a fine. Several difficulty levels are available and just before I began this review, a new cooperative mode was launched, which lets players work together to take down a series of criminals.

Turn structure and game experience

It’s possible that turns in Stop Thief! are the fastest in any game I can name. There are two steps, minimum — although some turns will include a third. First, the active player plays a sound from the app, which could include footsteps, smashing glass or general ambient noise. Each of these sounds indicates one of the spaces on the board, so you might hear two or three sets of steps, then a creaking door, then some muffled (indoor) footsteps, for example. The second part of the turn is playing one of your cards, moving the number of spaces shown and activating any text on your card, if present.

Play then continues with the next player, who again uses the app to move the suspect onwards. This, of course, means that all players must continue to mentally note where they last thought he or she was, then continue to track them without giving away what they know. Once a player is adjacent to the numbered space where they think the suspect is, the third step that can happen on a turn comes into effect, which is to make an arrest. In doing so, that player punches the numbered location into the app and if successful, they remove the thief card and any money on it — if they are wrong, the police will fine them for the trouble of coming out.

This results in the sort of chaotic mix of light tactical gameplay and comical bluffing that you might imagine it does. Sometimes, when it’s obvious everyone has reached the same conclusion at the same time, play takes on the feel of a race and players can’t push the clue buttons and play their cards fast enough! Of course, there are turns in the game when everyone has to be more thoughtful, which is where some of the other game features come in — the app can provide private clues (at a cost) for example, whilst some of the low-speed movement cards have powerful abilities on them.

I played Stop Thief! with children and adults of various ages and levels of gaming experience and found that the outcome was always pretty satisfying. What I mean by that, in particular, is that this isn’t a game where being older and wiser (or having more experience of worker placement or abstract strategy) offers a huge advantage. There’s a need to pay attention, of course (and anyone who is hard of hearing will have a disadvantage) but strategically and mechanically speaking, the playing field is level.

I also like how Restoration Games has continued to support their product since its initial launch. There’s the cooperative mode, which is a relatively new (and quite fun) addition, and there are several difficulty levels to work against, which do actually scale up to being virtually impossible. The cooperative mode is great if you do find that there’s a mismatch between players, because at least everyone can discuss the situation openly and support one another.

Conclusion

Stop Thief! is unlikely to win awards for its depth or longevity, but it is an engaging way to involve younger, older or non-core gamers in the hobby by using some innovative technology and a very simple concept. Everyone understands the concept of cops and robbers and we all love to recreate those TV chase scenarios, so whether you play cooperatively or competitively, there’s something on offer here. This is a solid remake that doesn’t overstep its intended objective, which makes it a very serviceable example to add to the lighter end of your gaming collection.

A copy of Stop Thief! was provided for review purposes. You can find out more about it on the website of publisher Restoration Games

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