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[Review] Den of Thieves / Rival Den of Thieves

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Joined: 03/23/2011

There are games today that are big, gigantic, and definitely bring some presence to the table, convention, and store. Usually, they are exciting to play, and everyone’s talking about them. On the other hand, there are small games - games that slide under the radar because they barely make a whisper on the horizon. Sadly, many of these smaller games are just as fun and interesting as their behemoth cousins, but because of their size, etc., they are usually ignored or forgotten.

Such is the case of Den of Thieves (Rogue Publishing, 2003 - Scott David Gray), and Rival Den of Thieves (same info). I’m reviewing both games together here because they are basically the same game, and can even be combined together seamlessly, without anyone noticing. Despite being fairly small games (each comes with only 26 cards), the interactions and mechanics of the game - not to mention the very interesting theme, make the game very fun and quite interesting. There is certainly the opportunity for the game to bog down, as there is a lot of text on the cards, but after a game or two, familiarity with the cards should really help speed things up. For the fairly low price, these two games will certainly pay for themselves after only a couple of playings.

Game play is extremely simple. A pile of tokens is needed - representing coins, and three are given to each player. The remainder of tokens is used to form the “bank”, which consists of six coins, plus three coins per player. Some other tokens are used - representing “counterfeit” coins, and paper and pencil are also required. The pile of cards (whether it be twenty-six, from one of the sets, or more - combining multiple sets) is shuffled, and three cards are dealt to each player - face up. The players read the cards aloud, so that everybody knows what each other player has. One player is chosen to go first, and the first round of game play beings.

Each player, in turn order, draws either the top card from the deck or the discard pile, reads it to everyone, and adds it to their hands. Everyone studies the cards for a moment, then all cards are hidden, and players choose one of their cards to be “active” - placing it face down in front of them, with the remainder of their cards set aside in the “den.” In turn order, each player turns over their active card and follows the instructions on it. If they cannot follow the instructions on it (such as not having enough money to pay for an action), they forfeit their turn, and play passes to the next player. Examples of the cards include:
- The Bunko Artist - takes 3 coins from the bank, but the card is discarded.
- The Cutpurse - all players write down a number, any player’s numbers which match yours must give you two coins.
- The Racketeer - Anyone who didn’t have any money stolen from them this round must pay you one coin protection money.
- The Hostage-Taker - Name a card. If a player has played that card this round, or will play it - they must pay you some money or the card is discarded.
- The Smuggler - Give any player as many cards from your den as you’d like, taking one coin from them for each card.
There are many more characters, but these should give a good cross-section of how the characters work. After each player has played their card, all players who have less then three coins do “honest work”, and take 1 coin from the bank. All players take all the cards back into their hands, including their active card, and discard down to three cards. A new round then begins, with the starting player moving one clockwise.

If, at any time during the game, a player has ten or more coins, they win the game - unless there is a tie, in which case the game is prolonged by another turn. Players may talk, argue, threaten, and deal at any time during the game - but must follow the instructions on the cards at all times. The best thief is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: With only twenty-six cards, the boxes for Den of Thieves and Rival Den of Thieves are quite small, and easy to carry around. The problem is that they are extremely small, and can easily get lost amongst bigger games - they sat on my shelf for a couple months at one point, where I forgot all about them because they blended in to the other games. The cards themselves are of good quality, mine having passed the gruesome yet important test of the inquisitive one-year old. The artwork on the card is of a cartoonish nature, and one thing that I really enjoyed about the game was how characters from one card might appear on another card. I guess it might even be possible to put all the cards in a row, telling a story, but I’m not going to try it out. The only problem with the components is that the cards have a LOT of text on them. This could slow the game down, as in the first round players have to read four cards out loud per player. Once everyone knows what the cards do, players could probably just announce what characters they have, but the initial game could drastically slow down. Still, fairly good components for a small gaming company.

2.) Rules: The rule booklet is small (it has to be, to fit in the box), and has clear - concise rules. The game, in that respect, is similar to a collectable card game - since the rules are clear, until you start reading the cards - then everything changes. The majority of the rules in the game come from the cards, but since the actions on the cards aren’t that complex, we haven’t run into any rule problems yet. I think that the text on the cards could have been condensed and simplified, but the game still has been fairly easy to teach and learn - I can teach the game to others in about five minutes.

3.) Theme and Art: As I said before, I liked how the pictures almost told a story, and really like how the theme is valid for this type of game. The game actually feels like you are a mastermind thief hiring underlings to do your nefarious bidding and stealing coins from other players. It’s an underused theme - and comes across well in a big way here.

4.) Role Selection: I’ve heard the game compared to Citadels, in that the role selection process is very similar. This may be true to a degree, but there are now 26 different roles to choose from (52 if using both sets), and at the same time - each player only has at most 4 roles to choose from. This gives the game a lot of variety, and because the roles aren’t that complicated (although their text might give you that impression), it doesn’t really bog the game down.

5.) Bluffing: There is a good element of bluffing in the game, because of the roles. If I choose a character, such as the Hostage Taker - who will I use it on, and which character will I pick? For that person, do they play their best character; but then assuming that I’ll try to hurt their best character, play their second best? But what if I anticipated this, and went after their second character? But what if they anticipate that, and used their first character anyway? But what if I used a different character altogether? It’s starting to sound a little like the Princess Bride, here, but the game actually is a lot of fun in that way, because bluffing plays a key role.

6.) Fun Factor: The game is fairly fun, especially if players role-play their characters a little, which, of course, adds a lot of fun to any game. But the bluffing factor I mentioned above, added to the theme, make for a game that’s a lot of fun. It’s possible for a game to be over in the first round, but highly improbably, and games do tend to play out fairly quick (except the first one). We had a lot of fun with this game, and I expect it to hit the table many more times.

7.) BGDF: This goes to show that a good game can be produced with extreme minimal costs. The only thing they should have fixed was the wordy cards - and I'm suprised playtesting didn't notice this...

Regardless of its size, Den of Thieves (and Rival Den of Thieves) are both excellent, fun little games. There is a problem with too much text and a little too much downtime in the first game, but subsequent game run smoothly, with a lot of laughter and bluffing. I’m not sure that the game would be as interesting with 10 players, but I’ve gone up to six successfully, and will try more at a future date. Teenagers and serious gamers have enjoyed the game, and I recommend picking it up - especially if you are a fan of the genre or role-selection. The price is good, the game is portable, and you and your friends will really enjoy stealing a good time from each other.

Tom Vasel

“Real men play board games.”

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