No Honor Among Thieves, a game of daring heists in a fantasy city where you will assemble a crew of rogues and an arsenal of equipment and skills to aid you in stealing swag from a number of high profile targets. Even with a well tooled up crew the chances of taking down the Lord's Manor or the Treasury on your own are rather slim, so you'll have to employ the assistance of your fellow thieving crews. They will be able to lend you crew members and play their cards to help you in the heist. To entice another crew to your job you're going to have to negotiate and this must be agreed up front, that is until the sudden but inevitable betrayal.
Central to the game is the heist, where a location is set out and populated with a number of defences that need to be overcome before you get your grubby mitts on the loot. These could be guards, locks and even the city watch. Each of these has a requirement that needs to be passed and each member of your crew has different skills that may help overcome these obstacles.
During the heist all players can play complication cards which can be used in two ways, either to make the requirements of the defence more challenging or used to bolster the skills of the thief that's on that job. Suffice to say once a heist starts there's a lot of back and forth as opposing players attempt to send in the fuzz or harden up the locks, only for the thieving crew to divert the guards with a well-timed explosion or cunning disguise. Fail at a defence and there are repercussions, these are determined randomly and range from a simple exhaustion, rending that thief out of action until the player can use an action to refresh them, sending them to jail or even killing them. And that leads us to the jail.
The jail is just like any other heist location but rather than gaining a cash reward you can instead free one of the prisoners and add them to your crew. It's another way that No Honor Among Thieves adds thematic complexity and more importantly, strategic options. A particularly skilful thief in jail, or one that perfectly rounds out your crew, is a tempting goal but the risks of attempting to spring a prisoner are just as high as breaking into a high profile target and there's the chance that another player could complicate your jail break and you could end up with even more of your crew locked away, or even worse, pushing up daisies in the neighbouring graveyard.
It's full of take thats, sneaky plays and sometimes just thieving by the seat of your pants and is a very tense experience. However, it's not the tensest part of the game.
After every successful heist the honour among the thieves must be tested and here each crew has the opportunity to betray their co-thieves and grab first dibs on the loot. This my friends, is the tensest part of the game. There’s a good chance you can lose all your loot to your so-called ally, and even if you try and back stab them first each betrayal card is ranked, which means if your ally plays a higher card they still get the lion’s share of the gold.
After the first betrayal the game changes, not only has trust been lost between the players at the table, but in-game the knives come out as every thief starts to watch their back. What this means in gameplay terms is that now players can use their broken trust abilities. Now you can steal from other players, send characters to the grave instead of the jail and generally be more nasty and conniving. Because this first betrayal makes such a marked change to the game it really does add tension and you know that as soon as that betrayal happens everyone is going to get a lot nastier.
No Honor Among Thieves is at its heart a game of negotiation and trust, you have to negotiate with the other players to help you at the heist and then have to trust your partner to allow you both to get away with the loot. This does mean that the game is full of petty vengeance so don't play No Honor Among Thieves with those who bring in grievances and alliances from outside the table.
Cash can be changed hands at any time which means that impromptu protection rackets can occur as players threaten to scupper your chances if they aren't invited on the heist or demand extortionate shares of the loot to bring their star thief along. This constant negotiation, bribes and threats means that No Honor Among Thieves plays very similar to the Spartacus board game, but without the crappy combat system. Trust me, if you're a fan of Spartacus, you're going to love No Honor Among Thieves.
I have to admit that I found little to fault No Honor Among Thieves. My version was of course an early prototype so much of the artwork is unfinished and a couple of the rule wordings and ability descriptions could do with tightening up, but I've played games published by big companies with more glaring errors. The graphic design is clear and the addition of tokens representing the various skills means you can quickly throw them into a heist to keep track of effects.
No Honor Among Thieves is one of the best Kickstarter games I have reviewed this year. Whether it be the negotiation between thieving crews as you arrange a heist, waiting to see what horrible complications your opposing crews are going to throw against you or that moment of pure dread when your ally reveals he has betrayed you and stolen all your gold, No Honor Among Thieves is full of tension and discussion and the game flows like hot swag through a fence.
Watch your back.
This Kickstarter review is based on a prototype version of the game provided by the publisher; the final product may look, play or smell different to that used in this preview.