Time: ~15 minutes
Times Played: 6
Burglar’s Bluff is a game about set collection, hand management, and pressing your luck. It also has a fair amount of ‘take that’ sprinkled throughout the game. As the groups that I play with tend to enjoy games that result in negative interactions with other players, this appeared to check several of our boxes.
For full disclosure, I was provided this copy of Burglar’s Bluff from Wrinkle-free Games for this preview. The game I played was a Beta version so there may be differences between this write-up and the final product regarding rules/components/etc. The provided copy has not impacted my views below.
The game comes with the rules printed on playing cards but a more traditional rulebook can be found here via PDF. I personally preferred the playing card rule set as it was quick and to the point and most importantly, fit in the deck box.
Burglar’s Bluff is a light card game and I’ll be honest, I was a little intimidated the first time I read the rules. The illustrated guide is eight pages long and the card-sized rules take up two cards front and back. Going in, I knew this was a light card game and I knew I would have no issue ‘getting’ the rules, but the scope was daunting. After playing initially however, my fears were alleviated and I realized the rules just wanted to be crystal clear for all players, which I appreciated.
On a players turn, they will pick one card from either the Community Card, Draw, or Final Steal pile(s). Of importance is that the Final Steal card cannot be chosen until a player has at least nine (9) treasure cards in their Bank, which is the area in front of the player.
After selecting a card, players choose one of the following four actions:
Pick Three (3) Cards: Pick three cards from the Community Card and/or Draw piles.
Bank a New Treasure: Place a treasure of three (3) matching numbers or three (3) sequential numbers in front of the player. This area acts as the players Bank. Cash (Green) and Gold (Blue) can be mixed to place a treasure. Wildcards can also be used in place of a number but do note that once used, the wildcard retains that number for the remainder of the game.
Bluff Locking: Bluff Locking is an extension of the Bank a New Treasure action. Basically, a player places a remaining card from their hand horizontally on the newly placed treasure face-down. If that card has a lock symbol on it, that treasure is secure and no one can steal it (but you also cannot add to it). If the card doesn’t have a lock symbol on it, the card can be stolen by other players (but can grow in size as additional cards are added to it). After a treasure is placed, any Cash cards (Green) that were included allow you to draw an additional card from the deck to add to your hand. Gold cards (Blue) will grant an additional point at the end of the game.
Extend a Banked Treasure: Following the same rules as Banking a New Treasure, players will add one to three cards to an existing unlocked treasure in front of them. If the treasure is locked, it cannot be extended. Once the treasure has been extended, Bluff Locking will occur. You do not need to use the original Bluff Locking card when you extend a treasure.
Steal a Treasure: The active player will place one of their cards face-up in the communal market and then try and steal a treasure from an opposing player. They choose which treasure they want to target and when confirmed, the player whose treasure is being stolen reveals the horizontal bluff card placed on top of the treasure. If they reveal a lock symbol, the turn ends and the player who tried to steal gets nothing. If they reveal no symbol, the active player steals that treasure and immediately places it in front of them. They also then perform the Bluff Locking action. The card that was the bluff for the other player is added to the active players hand.
The game continues until a player takes the Final Steal card as an action. Do note that the Final Steal card cannot be chosen until that player has at least nine cards played as treasures in front of them. Once the Final Steal card is taken, the game completes two rounds. The player with the Final Steal card will have the opportunity to steal one treasure at the end of the game from one player. If successful, the Final Steal card acts as the bluff card and counts as the treasure being locked, for scoring purposes.
When scoring, cards remaining in a players hand mean nothing and the highest score wins. I’m going to pull directly from the illustrated rulebook for treasuring scoring as I think they did an excellent job explaining it:
“The first three matching or sequencing cards in a banked set or run earn one point each; thus, a 3-card set is worth three points (i.e., 1+1+1).
The fourth, fifth, and sixth cards in an extended meld receive two points each. A 5-card run for example garners seven points (i.e., 1+1+1+2+2).
The seventh, eighth, and ninth cards in an extended meld add three points each. For instance, a 7-card set pulls in twelve points (i.e., 1+1+1+2+2+2+3).”
In addition to that, any Gold cards (Blue) that were used in a treasure are worth an additional one point each. Treasures that were successfully protected gain a bonus of three points plus the number of cards in the set. Treasures that were unlocked but not stolen earn a bonus matching the score of the set and a point for each Gold card in the set.
The game does include a handy scoring table to simplify everything as the math can get a little out of control depending on the outcome of the game. Scoring becomes more intuitive after you’ve played once or twice.
Turns move quickly. While there are several options for a player, they don’t take much effort to complete and the largest strategical decision you have to make will be whether or not to ‘lock’ or ‘unlock’ your treasure cards.
The depth of the game comes from that decision and whether or not a player wants to lock their treasure to ensure they keep it or if they want to push their luck to try and add to their treasure by keeping it unlocked, which opens the possibility of it being stolen. This will probably be entirely dependent on play group as you will have some players that are interested in stealing and some that just want to play their own game.
Another aspect of strategy that players need to keep in mind are which cards they’re going to place as treasures. Cash cards grant players an additional card for each Cash card played whereas Gold cards grant players an additional point later in the game. Finding the right synergy regarding these cards are important as playing one all your Gold cards will net you the most points but will also diminish your hand size rather quickly.
I felt the incentives were stronger for trying to get your treasure stolen more so than actually swiping another treasure. Most players were protective of their treasures and rarely if ever tried to push their luck to complete a nine card set as the possibility of it being stolen ahead of time was much too high. But five and six card sets were the sweet spot in terms of being targeted and the bonus points for thwarting a steal were worthwhile in the end. Losing those cards would hurt however. Stealing treasure is a risk/reward as if you fail, you wasted a turn and lost a card accomplishing nothing. If you succeed, you’ve gained a treasure but now you have to decide whether or not to lock/unlock that set as well. It can be frustrating building up to a certain treasure just to have it swiped from under you. The key, to us at least, was the Final Steal card.
As a player, you can’t be afraid to end the game. If you hit the requirements, there’s no reason not to rush towards the final round because every turn you spend playing is just more time for the remaining players to score more points.
I also can’t stress how fast the game plays after you know what you’re doing. The deck begins with 81 cards and in a four-player game, 40 of those cards will be either in the players hands or in the market in the middle of the table. Taking three cards on a turn will quickly diminish that remaining deck (13~ draws). While the goal is to try and make larger sets and sequential runs, waiting too long could cost you as the game may end, your treasure may be stolen, or the cards you want to add to your hand are swiped before you.
One aspect that’s important to mention that relates to the speed of the game is that there is no hand limit. Where a lot of games will limit the amount of cards a player can hold, Burglar’s Bluff doesn’t care. You won’t spend minutes trying to decide what cards to keep and what cards to discard since everything can be held. It’s a small decision mechanically but it was not lost on my playgroup.
Burglar’s Bluff is a game that works much better at four-players in my opinion than it does at lower player counts. While it can still be played and none of the mechanics change, it feels more engaging when there are more players to play off of. At two-players, it’s more of a stand-off between players as they have to decide who’s going to make the move to steal from another player first. Granted, they don’t have to steal at all but then it’s just a race to hoard cards, play them, and end the game. That sentiment rings true at every player count honestly and if you don’t go into this game aiming to steal some treasure, you’re not playing to the games full potential and you’re just playing a solo version of Go Fish.
As far as detraction’s, besides the player count the only other issues we had were that the theme didn’t seem to shine through when playing the game and the forced player interaction. They can be called Treasures and Gold and Cash cards but in reality, they were just numbers and they were being placed in order. For a light game like this, it wasn’t an issue as you’re not playing long enough to get immersed into anything but it was worth noting. Regarding the player interaction, my group had no problem targeting other players but if you’re a group that shies away from such conflict or likes conflict but wants it to happen more organically, you may not like Burglar’s Bluff for the position it puts its players in.
Burglar’s Bluff incorporates a light, quick-paced game into a deck of cards and if your group is the type that likes player interaction and are comfortable forcing that interaction, this could be something that’s up your alley.