Burgle Bros. 2 board game preview - a tighter co-op caper that sneaks in new surprises
Ocean's 11 by way of legacy board games, Betrayal at House on the Hill and Left 4 Dead.
It took Danny Ocean and ten other highly trained thieves, hackers and con artists to break into Las Vegas casino vaults in Ocean's 11, but designer Tim Fowers is confident we can get it done with just two to four players in Burgle Bros. 2: The Casino Capers, the co-op board game sequel releasing later this year.
The original Burgle Bros. released in 2015, and has become publisher Fowers Games' best-selling title. Players chose from among a team of professionals such as The Acrobat, The Spotter and The Hawk and took turns moving through grid floors made up of room tiles, sneaking past patrolling guards and avoiding motion sensors. Teamwork was key when searching for safe combinations, looting goods and escaping via the fourth-floor rooftop.
Burgle Bros. 2 is set several years later and, like any good heist crew, the thieves have set their sights on the big score: stealing from a casino in the middle of the day. The sequel brought in nearly $500,000 on Kickstarter in 2019.
It took a lot of dead ends to figure out what was good about the game, and what we could do better.
"There was a lot of demand for more Burgle," says Fowers. "It took a lot of dead ends to figure out what was good about the game, and what we could do better. I wanted to capture what was fun about the original, but give you new wrinkles to think about. [Above and Below designer] Ryan Laukat really helped in key moments of the game's development. He came up with the concept of the casino heist."
Initially Fowers reskinned many of the first game's tiles to fit with the sequel. "A lot of early testers said the game didn't feel like a casino," he says. "That pushed me to redesign all the tiles for Burgle Bros 2." New locations include the pool and lounge rooms, which include their own event decks. The only tile that remained the same mechanically was the monorail, a two-way teleporter that functions identically to the secret duct tiles in Burgle Bros. 1.
One of the biggest changes in the sequel, and certainly the most eye-catching, is the new fold-out 3D board, included right in the box. When demoing the original Burgle Bros. at conventions, Fowers displays the game on a gorgeous three-dimensional tower that showcases the three floors. The display does a fantastic job drawing in crowds, but the tower is an optional accessory and - at almost £80 - prohibitively expensive.
"Everyone loves the Burgle 1 tower - the 3D matters! Giving that to everyone with the sequel is a big win," says Fowers. The compact Burgle Bros. 2 box fits all the characters, cards and tokens, in addition to playmats for the tiles and leg supports to transform the box lid into the second floor. It looks stunning in person, and will hopefully be sturdy enough to play on without knocking over characters and tokens.
Fowers worked with Noah Adelman from accessories maker Game Trayz to create the striking transforming box for Burgle Bros. 2. The two previously collaborated on Sabotage, a two-on-two spies-versus-villains game that also featured a fold-out box, used as a thematic divider screen between teams.
"[Adelman] is really good, but a lot of people don't give him that much to work with," says Fowers. “We're still in the middle of making sure the manufacturer can do it in the right way, but it looks like it'll work."
The first half is methodical as you work towards the safe, then the clowns pop out.
The key change for the 3D board was moving Burgle Bros. 2 from a three-floor office to a two-floor casino. "A three or four-player game of Burgle Bros. 1 can feel epic but can also go on too long," says Fowers. "We tightened the gameplay to bring it down to under an hour and adjusted how alarms and guards work to make them more intuitive." Alarms have been replaced by ‘commotions’. Bouncers (taking the place of guards) are easily distracted and only remember the latest commotion, making them easier to track compared to the alarms from Burgle Bros. 1. When their patrol deck runs out, bouncers will simply hunt down the nearest player, forcing them to stay on the move.
The biggest new gameplay addition in Burgle Bros. 2 are finales, scenarios that are introduced midway through the game after hacking into the casino's vault. Finales emulate the zany capers - including direct homages to crime films - that spiral out of the best-laid heist plans, creating a gameplay experience not unlike horror board game Betrayal at House on the Hill's mid-game haunts, sans the terror. "Early playtester feedback is that the first half is methodical as you work towards the safe, then the clowns pop out," says Fowers.
With the finales, Burgle Bros. 2 is also a quasi-legacy board game. At first only one finale is available. Players subsequently unlock new finales with each successful heist - though you won't know which scenario until you reveal it partway through your playthrough. "Not knowing the twist is much more fun," says Fowers. Completing each finale the first time also unlocks alternate new gear for each character, providing multiple loadouts and options.
The finales are balanced around a mix of wacky and challenging, such as discovering the money is hidden in the walls; players will then need to knock down walls, creating new paths for both the thieves and the bouncers. Another has everyone jumping into a Mini Cooper, driving around the top floor and busting out of the second-storey window.
"My one rule is we never have a traitor," says Fowers. "Having a traitor fundamentally undermines the relationship-building of co-op games, which are about vulnerability and sacrifice." The designer cites the video game series Left 4 Dead as an example of co-op gameplay that hinges on vulnerability and teamwork. "[Past Fowers game] Wok Star originally started as Left 4 Dead: The Board Game, but we turned it into a restaurant and customers,” he adds.
To further foster teamwork, each player now has a unique set of limited-use gear cards, replacing the single unique power they had in the first game. Crucially, gear can now be used on any player's turn, letting you use your unique tools and abilities to rescue other players, a concept that was born out of The Whistler.
When I make a sequel it's not just a cash-in or a second edition.
"The Whistler was a fifth player I designed a year ago who could see the guards and their movement - but the players could not," says Fowers. "The Whistler player would have to relay that information to the others, like Mysterium." Playtesting revealed that not being able to see the guards' movement proved too frustrating, however. The Whistler's special abilities could be used on anyone's turn, and eventually evolved into the gear system shared by all characters.
With all new casino-themed tiles, character gear cards and unlockable finales, Burgle Bros. 2: The Casino Capers strikes a fine balance between a direct sequel and a fresh take.
"In the end I want both games to feel distinct," says Fowers. "When I make a sequel it's not just a cash-in or a second edition. This is the remix, and I'm happy where it landed."
Burgle Bros. 2 is due out this September.