Rob ‘n Run

Michael Luu
2 - 5
10 - 199
InteractionComponents & Design
Road Hazards
Road Hazards

“Okay, Carl, we’re ready. What’s the target?” Nick Nimblefingers the safecracker asked the handheld radio. Houses and streets whooshed by outside. “The safe you’re looking for is in a green house,” the radio squawked back. “Two doors to one side of it is a pizza place, three doors to the other a kindergarten.”

“That’s great, Carl, really,” Nick sighed, “but you know what would really help us? An address.” A thought struck him. “Are you taking your pills, buddy? You know you get a bit, I don’t know, not quite yourself without them.”

“If you want to know about my medication you have to ask my doctors. But be warned, one of them always tells the truth, the other al… .” The rest of the sentence was drowned out by squealing tires. Nick hit the side of the car hard as their driver, Expeditious Eddie, threw the car into a U-turn.

“Nevermind, Nick, ” Eddie yelled over the howling engine. “I found the place on Boggle Maps.”

Rob ‘n Run might easily mislead you when you first look at it. Between the cartoonish cover art and the paper built escape vehicle on the table you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a kids’ game. You’d still be mistaken. Although Rob ‘n Run is suitable for kids – the crimes you commit are non-violent safecracks, and the rules are straightforward enough – adult gamers will have more fun. You have to take great care how you communicate, what conclusions other players will likely draw from revealing certain information in the situation you find yourself in. Kids below the recommended age of ten will struggle with that. We are enjoying the hell out of it.

The first published design by Michael Luu is a cooperative game with restricted communication. The players are a gang of safecrackers doing a few more jobs on their way to the airport. For every robbery one of them is the boss. The boss knows the tools needed for this job. Instead of just telling the rest of the gang, however, he can only give cryptic clues. The rules say he does this so the police cannot figure out where they are from what he says on the radio. I think it’s more likely that he read too many Batman comics and The Riddler is his idol.

Safecracking Lessons – How To Play

The start of each robbery is to select your next target on the game board. Your escape car goes around the board to the airport, but its position doesn’t matter for this choice, you can rob any building you haven’t visited yet. The building will have one or two safes – sometimes three, if you failed a previous robbery – that the boss picks up and takes behind his view screen. A safe shows from three to five tools needed to open it, some tools may be needed more than once. If the players play the right tool cards before they trigger the alarm, they crack the safe(s) and get the gold bars inside.

Like I said, what could possibly go wrong?
Like I said, what could possibly go wrong?

Generally that means they have a few rounds to get the right tools together. Each round starts with the Clue Phase where the boss gives his cryptic advice how the safe might be opened. He has at most six clue tiles with clues like “You need this tool”, “You don’t need that tool” or “You need n different types of tools”. In the Clue Phase the boss may give as many of these clues as he wants, including none and all of them at once. What he can not do, however, is use the same clue twice in one robbery. Or rather, he can, but it costs three gold bars from the loot already collected.

After the boss does or doesn’t give clues to his crew the Crew Phase starts. In this phase the boss gets to slack while his crew try to figure out what his clues meant and play tool cards accordingly. And of course they may not talk among each other. That would just be too easy. The Crew Phase goes on until the players have assembled the required number of tools – usually four at the start of the game – and might go for more then one round around the table. On their turn, a player may play one card, face down, into the tool pile. Or they may pass. Or, once per Crew Phase, they may discard all their hand cards and draw as many new cards.

When the right number of tools is reached the boss picks up the whole pile, shuffles it, and starts the Alarm Phase. One by one he looks at the cards in the pile. If it’s a tool that is needed he puts the card face up on the table. If it’s an unneeded tool he puts it face down in the discard pile. And if the card is a tool bag, the only kind of special card in Rob ‘n Run, he puts it face up and all players get to draw a card.

Why are you hiding INSIDE a FIRE HYDRANT?
Why are you hiding INSIDE a FIRE HYDRANT?

When all cards are somewhere on the table the boss checks if the robbery is over. If all required tools are now on the table the safes are cracked and the robbery is a successful. If the discard pile contains more cards than the alarm limit – six at the start of the game – the alarm goes off and the players have to flee. Both things may happen in the same round. If neither condition is fulfilled the robbery goes on with a new Clue Phase.

When the robbery is over, a few things happen on the game board. For every safe that was opened, even if other safes were not, the getaway car advances one space towards the airport. For every safe that wasn’t opened the players have to draw a new safe and place it in a yet unrobbed building on top of the other safes there. Then the police advances a minimum of one step, plus one step for every unopened space, plus another step if the alarm was triggered. You’ll have guessed that the police catching up with the getaway car is a bad thing™.

On the game board, there is more going on than just two one pawn chasing the other. Making things harder for you are the cubes on the way that you must collect when the getaway car reaches them. Yellow cubes reduce the number of clues the boss has available. For every yellow cube he must turn one random clue tile over before the robbery. He’ll have to pay gold to use this clue even once. Green cubes reduce the number of tool cards each player gets, from a maximum of seven to a minimum of four. Four every white cube the crew must play one additional card in the Crew Phase. Red cubes reduce the number of wrong tools you can play before triggering the alarm. At worst, more than two wrong tools will do the trick. Yikes.

Fortunately, there are ways to deal with those cubes on the board as well. Unfortunately they are expensive. When the last building in one of the cities quarters was robbed the dealer from that quarter will approach the players and offer to remove some cubes that match the color of the fire hydrant he’s hiding behind. Why is he hiding behind a fire hydrant? More importantly, why did he paint it green or yellow? My answer is: because he didn’t listen in dealer school when the professor told him not to get high on his own supply. He did pay attention in the lesson about money, at least. For his services he wants a downright indecent amount of our loot. Enough to make you think, “You know what? These cubes aren’t so bad.”

Did all this crime pay? – The Verdict

Rob ‘n Run is a wonderful example of a restricted communication game. Who cares if the premise why your communication is restricted makes no sense whatsoever? What makes it great, in my opinion, is that the boss conveys a lot of information by what he doesn’t say, and that the other players have to figure out what it really means. Why doesn’t the boss give any clues in the first round? Maybe because you’ll need all kinds of tools, so he’s not afraid of bad cards right now. Why does he tell us we need a battering ram when we found six tools we need already? Probably because that’s the last thing we still need.

The Getaway Truck
The Getaway Truck

Those conclusions are relatively straightforward, but the examples are from the training setup. At higher levels of difficulty the clues include things like “This is the last clue I will give. I will now shut my pie hole but you guys may speak freely among yourselves. Or “Each crew member passes one tool clockwise and says ‘play’ or ‘don’t play'”. The crew still have to figure out why the boss is using that hint just then, but especially with that last example they also have to keep track what the other crew members should know and can’t possibly know yet. And what do you even do with “We all say one word and I decide who starts.” The more outlandish the clues at your disposal are, the more fiendishly difficult the game gets. And the more fiendishly fun, too.

Strategic decisions add another level of fun to Rob ‘n Run. The only point of gold at the end of the game is getting a high score, but you’ll still be wondering when it’s worth spending. To buy off two cubes from a dealer? Or at least one? How about three gold to use a clue a second time? Those decisions add a nice layer to the safecracking part, and that in itself is ton of fun already.

Rob ‘n Run is not just great considering it’s Michael Luu’s first. It’s great, period. If the restricted communication style of game is something you enjoy, then this is absolutely a game for you.

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