The year 1979 saw the release of Stop, Thief – a game about catching robbers with the help of a cool electronic box that game audial clues and a set of dice to move.  The year 2017 saw Rob Daviau of Seafall/Risk Legacy/Pandemic Legacy/other cool games fame join with Restoration Games to update it with a modern app and modern gameplay mechanics.

Is catching thieves just as fun now as it was 4 decades ago?

Yes….and no.

The new Stop Thief!, a remake of  a 1979 game by Robert Doyle, is today 1 really two games in one – a straight point-to-point movement racing game with deduction and a cooperative deduction game where you are racing the clock instead of each other – but only one of these games is really worth playing.

How to Play

The core concept of the game revolves around clues given by an app that let people know if the thief is in a room, on a street, in a window or a doorway, or committing another crime.  Each turn, the current player gets a new clue from an app to help him or her track down the thief. 

Each player has their own personal deck of cards.  Each card has a number – that represents how far a detective can move – and potentially a special power such as being able to go through a window or getting a more specific clue.  Each detective decks is slightly different.  Some have more high numbers – really, really fast detectives.  Some have stronger special powers (such as jumping through windows instead of politely going to doors).  The catch is that once you play a card, you can’t use it again…unless you play a card that lets you catch your breath2.   This is a vast improvement over rolling dice.  It lets you make decisions instead of being beholden to the evil randomness of dice.

To catch a thief, you play a card to move your meeple towards  and take a guess.  If you’re right, you get a reward3, there’s a chance the thief can slip away.  If you’re wrong, you lose precious money.  The base game continues until one detective gets between $25,000 and $45,000 in reward money depending on the number of players.  The co-op version does away with collecting reward money and pits you in a race against time to capture seven thieves including the notorious Danny Atlantic4.

The Infamous Danny Atlantic Gang…Skirting THISCLOSE to Copyright Crimes

Here’s the problem – only one of the modes is fun.

As mentioned earlier, Restoration games changed the game mechanics to move from dice rolling to playing from a hand of cards for movement.  For the Classic mode, this becomes an exercise in chasing ghosts.  You’ll be on one side of the board when someone will guess the thief’s location only to be told that the next criminal is on the opposite side of the board.  And here you are with only 2’s and 3’s in your hands.

Board games are about interesting choices.  Deciding whether to slog across the board to potentially beat others to the next reward or stay put and await the next criminal is technically a decision.

But it is not the kind of decision that makes my heart beat faster.  One might say that it creates a nice situation for calming the nerves through boredom.

The Co-Op mode, on the other hand, is a superb execution on teamwork.  You and your friends have conversations along the lines of “Okay, he’s in one of these three places.  You head there and I’ll try this spot to corner them.”  Suddenly knowing what card to use can be a critical element to the success of the team.

What is this LACK OF RANDOMNESS?

But there’s one change in the co-op mode that just shines.

Rather than creating the next robber in a random location, the app moves Danny Atlantic’s gang two random spots.  Sounds easy, right?

Well, let me tell you, Mr. (or Ms.) Investigator, it is anything but simple.  The app doesn’t necessarily give you any information on which way it moved.  Unless the next player has been placed in the dragnet perfectly to capture the gang, the number of places they could be expands geometrically.   While you have to count every spot, Atlantic’s people move the equivalent of two spots.  And they keep doing this on..every..single…player’s…turn.

Let’s talk about that app.  In today’s game economics and presentation, there needs to be something that carries the game value beyond just gameplay.  And Stop, Thief is not trying to go the route of Kickstarter with insane mini’s or a three dimensional representation of the board.  Restoration Games’ investment was in the app.

In the original, there was a little electronic component that gave the clues.  Having an app for IOS and Android changed the dynamics of the new version.  The function is still the same – manage the thieves’ locations, give clues, and let players take guesses – but moving to the modern era just opens the potential.

Restoration Games supported the app by giving us the Co-op mode post-launch.  It plans to expand that with 1-vs-Many and Solo modes5

For doing what it is supposed to do, the app now seems perfect.  It was a little buggy early on and would sometimes make an illegal move or not record the thief location correctly.  We’ve had situations where a player received a private clue that told the exact location and make a guess only for the app to inform the player that she was wrong.  This has been fixed apparently but affected trust deeply.

Even with that caveat, Restoration has built a solid, immersive game that should replace Clue as the who done it for many shelves.  It’s a great family game but also a good casual logic game for the expert gamer.  Currently, it is definitely worth trying.  If Restoration Games releases the new modes and they are up to the quality of the Co-op mode, this is clearly a Recommended Game.  If the new mode are the quality of the original, well….

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