Board Game Review

Disorganised Crime (How To Rob A Bank)

This review is also sneakily available on Zatu here!

Everyone’s seen a crime film, the sort where the team are assembled from the most elite in their field. There’ll be a contortionist for the vents, an ex-poker champ as the eyes, a retired drill mechanic to bust in… You get it. They scope the target, establish a clear cut plan, execute it easily and escape before anyone realises the moneys gone. Well, they’re experts in their roles and manage to do the task faultlessly. How To Rob a Bank by Jumbo Games lets players have that experience, but only if they’re telepathically connected. This game is hilariously fun and demonstrates how a cooperative programming game should be done.

The pretence for the game is simple, one player plays as the bank, the others as robbers. After three rounds if the players have stolen the required number of bags of cash then they win, otherwise the bank wins. Of course, this is as asymmetrical as the game gets, as both teams are required to place their moves face up, one at a time in turn before being able to play them! The bank is in control of all the guards in the Bank and will play cards to make them move and such. The robbers, on the other hand, are in control of their robber only. Communication is optional in every respect… But what will work better? One brain controlling 3 bodies or 3 brains trying to complete one task silently?

To kick off, the Bank player sets up the bank by shuffling the floor tiles and placing them randomly onto the bank, orienting them to their desired position. They aren’t allowed to wall off any areas but can make the bank as open or tunnel like as they wish. We often mix it up between tunnels and open playing field, but we base it on how the robbers are playing! (You’ll see why as you go.) The final part of setup is for players to draw 8 cards from their deck of 15 randomly. Then the anarchy begins!

Starting with the Bank, players play their first action face up for everyone to see. The Bank’s cards can allow it to move guards X times, move and attack or move and lock. When locking something, any token on the same position as that guard is flipped and will be inaccessible to the Robbers until it is unlocked. The Robbers can move, unlock, pick up cash and attack. Some of the cards will have cards containing a combination of actions allowing for options. When attacked, a Robber or a Guard is knocked down and players must play a card on their turn without taking the action to revive them. However, the Bank can only revive one guard per wasted card! Once every player has placed 5 cards face up, all decks are flipped and the Bank player goes first, beginning the madness with whatever their first choice was.

The game is simple enough in its concept and each player’s objective is clear:

  • The robbers are aiming to get cash to an outside wall without obstruction to throw down to a car they can control
  • The Bank is trying to stop that from happening using the guards to prevent certain actions

There are some free actions for the Robbers to take to speed things up such as throwing cash out the window, passing cash and sounding the alarm, but that’s to balance the control the Bank has! After three rounds the game ends and winners are decided. It’s either a big haul for the thieves or another day at the office for the boys in blue.

Human beings aren’t designed to be able to prepare for every situation, regardless to what the heist films have told you. The Bank won’t be dumbfounded by clear attempts at the cash, and the Robbers won’t have a clean getaway. The interaction between players can be entirely silent, but it will be there and you’ll never get a chance to look away.

The game will keep you engaged during the preparation phase and, whether you’re a robber or the Bank, you’ll need to be watching everyone else’s cards as they’re played. You’re going to feel like a real mastermind as the Robbers whilst watching the other play and silently nodding. You’ll feel like you’re an organised group of professionals, like the Hatton Garden Robbers or like you’re in Oceans Eleven.. Until you get to the third round and forget what someone has done.

As a robber, there is a big emphasis on trusting that the others are on your wavelength and understand your plan. If you all go for the same cash bag you’ll make minimal progress or worse, none. If there’s cash that’s hard to access and someone plays a sneak, you’d assume they’re going for it. Whereas someone playing an attack card is probably going to try to do some crowd control. The Bank has ears though, so speaking is going to cause you trouble! It also has eyes, and if you play obvious motions for the alarm or a bag then you’ll have all the guards come down on you like a tonne of bricks!

We honestly found the Bank the easier player to be. You can sit and watch the cards be played and act accordingly, hypothesising what it is the thieves are doing and establishing how organised they are. If they’re organised, you’ll be on it and focusing on controlling the cash more than taking the players out or preventing them from taking it all. (Losing one bag a round is collateral damage, and it can come down to a single guard fending off the thieves in the last moments for the win.) If the thieves are more like a circus, you’ll probably be able to control the board easily by spreading them around.

Even though the Bank may have more control over the elements on their side, the Robbers are arguably more fun and more rewarding. When you get that perfect round – that round where everyone is in sync and makes the correct play – you’ll all feel like criminal masterminds, orchestrating the perfect crime. What’s more is the lack of discussion despite the heavy emphasis on communication. All talking is done through eyebrow raises, sharp breaths, approving nods and harsh stares. The moment you pipe up is the moment the Bank has the edge and will act accordingly. We managed a round with a silent knowingness about us – we were on a wavelength to the point where I said that I had accounted for plan A and B and my co-conspirator knew what both A and B were, acting accordingly (the third thief hadn’t a clue but went along just to throw the bank further!).

The components are a combination of custom wooden meeple, wooden tokens, robust cardboard tiles and a base for them all to be stood on. When looking at the game from a bird’s eye view, you’ll notice the details of the game further and appreciate how much time and thought was put into the visual designs. Dependent on the version you have, the box will either be a run of the mill container for everything when packed away, or another component! Design can be make or break with any game, and the fact the box is the bank itself helps to make this game gorgeous to look at, and, although immersion may not be the game’s focal point, it very well supports the theme. Building the theme further is the fact that every guard has a little badge, the robbers have masks, the rules are reflective of a blueprint!

The programming mechanic of the game is the biggest selling point for us. Being able to choose entirely what you do as you do it removes the planning element and also takes away from the fun; the you’re supposed to be robbing a bank, only a fool would do that on a whim! The game requires a structure, and planning is the name of the game (not literally). The fact you’re required to decide your moves in front of the enemy also helps the whole fun element. There’s definitely a whole Mexican Standoff feel at times as the Robbers play a sneak, so you play to move guards, so they move to attack, so you move to lock… and then in practice they have to use the sneak to revive their thief. It’s all beautifully orchestrated chaos. This also adds to the need for tactics, playing a dummy card is going to pay off more than hoping for that perfect play. You’ve always got to ask what your options are, and being honest, the Bank will always have more. However, the Bank won’t have the support Robbers do, nor the versatility, so we found it surprisingly balanced even at 4 player, despite its asymmetry!

Programming games can often be quite repetitive, and the removal of choice when a blunder happens can ruin a round. How To Rob a Bank enables players to utilise these blunders and see the upcoming obstacles. Its two team/asymmetric style adds flavour to the play and balances team sizes through the control the Bank has. The game is different every time through both player choice and setup. It’s a quick, fun, well themed game that gives you a clear goal and lots of approaches. So whether you’re going for gold or upholding the law, you’ll find this one a lot of fun! So don your masks, prepare your escape route, and don’t get let the Bank know you’re coming!