One of the few times I ever really lost my temper as a kid was because of a game of Stop Thief!.
I owned a copy of the original (Canadian) Parker Brothers edition of the game–with the French Au Voleurs! sharing equal box-space with the English title. And I played the shit out of it. I mean, this was such a cool, cool, game, with a hand-held device that looked like a huge push-button phone except instead of making calls with it you solved crimes with it. And it made awesome 8-bit sounds to simulate the footfalls, creaky doors, breaking glass, and pavement-scampering of the thief.
What happened was we had these family friends over, friends of my dad’s because the father was for a time my dad’s accountant. The mom was sweet and the two sons were about me and brothers’ ages and they were nice enough, but the dad…well, even as a kid I thought he was opinionated and always had to be right. And one day they came over for a visit and of course the kids had to play together and be nice, so I was playing Stop Thief! with one of the sons (don’t even remember which one). And because he got lucky with his dice rolls and arrests, he won. Because it was that kind of game.
Now to his eternal credit, the kid did not brag about winning. But the dad happened to be there when his kid won and he started crowing about what a big deal it was that his kid had beaten me…well, we’d been playing on the carpet but if there’d been a table I’d have flipped it. As it was I remember storming off feeling insulted and disgusted that a grown-up could get all puffed up about something like a board game…
And yet, I never let my mom throw out Stop Thief!. It was just too awesome a game. And as recently as a couple of years ago I pulled it out of storage just to put a new battery in to make sure the handheld still worked.
Then I heard this company, Restoration Games, was going to publish a new version which was app-supported and which promised multiple levels of difficulty and modes of play…well, you can imagine all the feels I felt.
A couple of weeks ago I got a chance to play a pre-release copy of the game and try out its classic multiplayer mode, and I assure you, regardless of whether like me you played the original version or are coming to it all n00b-like, it is worth a look.
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Stop Thief! takes place in a crime-ridden four square block area of an unnamed city. Each block is dominated by a single, many-roomed building; a museum, a bank, a department store, and an electronic megastore. Numbered streets criss-cross between the buildings, with subway stops at each corner and in the centre of the board.
The basic mechanics of the game resemble the classic Scotland Yard, with the app taking the place of Mr. X. A crime is committed, the thief tried to elude capture leaving behind a trail of sound-clues, and players race around the board trying to be at the right place at the right time to make the arrest and win the reward money. Depending on the mode you’re playing, whoever reaches the monetary or successful-arrest target first is the winner.
Every turn begins with the on-deck player tapping a button to trigger a sound clue for the thief’s movement: footsteps, door, window, pavement, subway, and even more crime (which adds to that thief’s reward). The player then plays a movement card, which may or may not include getting a private tip on the thief’s location. Finally, the player may make an arrest in an adjacent numbered space, entering the code and waiting with baited breath to see if they’ve sussed out the correct location.
Movement around the board is point-to-point–but the thief, slippery bugger, gets to skip every other point, while the detectives have to schlep along behind them. Unlike the original version, detective movement is not roll-and-move but instead card-driven, with each gumshoe getting a unique set of cards, which not only eliminate chance from the game but also give each player opportunities to bend the rules in unique ways. So one player gets to climb through windows (something ordinarily impossible) while another player gets zippier movement outside buildings. This change alone makes the game HUGELY better.
Another improvement is that each criminal has a unique power or limitation or event that happens when captured that makes each round different.
The graphic design of Stop Thief! is excellent, including the app, which has excellent twangy background music, although not all game modes are supported yet. One function we all agreed should be patched in is a way to hear all the clues for a particular thief from the beginning. When a round has gone on for a long time, it can be hard to reconstruct the trail. (The original handheld was able to do this, btw.)
Depending on who you play with, play can become almost semi-cooperative, with everyone pointing out the various possibilities for a thief’s location. Or you can play it Sam Spade style, see, and keep yer cards close to yer chest.
Overall, this reboot has the potential to win over a whole new generation of fans. I’m still not selling my original copy, though!
Thank you to Restoration Games for providing an advance copy of Stop Thief! for review.