The boss has been nabbed—which Master Thief will fill their shoes? Steal treasures and sell them to fences, and find out who can earn the best reputation in this Thieves’ Den.
What Is Thieves Den?
Thieves Den is a worker placement game for 2 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 45 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $29 for a copy of the game, or $39 to include the Fortune Favors the Bold expansion. The game’s theme involves theft and has a little bit of “take that,” but aside from that, I think the rules are easy enough for players perhaps as young as 10.
Thieves Den Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. My prototype did not include the expansion, so I’ll focus on the base game.
Here’s what’s included:
- Game board
- Directional tile
- 5 player boards
- 60 Location cards
- 42 Fence cards
- 10 Scheme cards
- 12 Power tiles
- 55 Treasure tokens (in 5 types)
- 5 Scoring markers
- 30 Thief tokens
The artwork for the game is by Denis Martynets, who also provided the artwork for 10 Minute Heist. In fact, if you look at the main board, you’ll see the wizard’s tower from 10 Minute Heist, because it’s one of the locations you can visit during the game.
The player board is illustrated to look like the thieves den on the cover, with spaces for treasure, thieves, and your scheme card. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. LiuThere are a lot of nice touches in the illustrations. The player board looks like the table the thieves are gathered around on the box cover—you put your stolen treasures on the eight treasure chests and your thieves on the six chairs. The back of the scheme card matches the table in the center of the board, too. On the two sides of the board are some rectangles where you stack your collected fence cards and your location cards. On the prototype, the tiny colored border on those rectangles are the only indication of player color; hopefully it will be made a little more obvious in the final game.
The illustrations on the location cards and fences are also great—there’s a diverse set of locations that you’ll be stealing from throughout the game, and a lot of interesting characters to sell treasures to.
If you’ve played other Daily Magic titles, you’ll notice some familiar iconography: many of the symbols used are the same as in 10-Minute Heist, from the point value to the wild resource icon to the various treasure types. The same pawn icon is used for “an opponent” as in previous Daily Magic games, as well as the arrows that mean “pay this to do that” or “take this from that.” Not all of the icons are totally intuitive, though: there are 11 power tiles (like the ones seen above), and some are more obvious than others. I found myself referring to the back of the rulebook often to make sure I was using them correctly.
The treasure tokens in the prototype are colored disks, which may be hard to tell apart if you’re color blind. The Kickstarter components image shows the disks with icons on them, though I’m not sure if they will be cardboard tokens or printed wooden tokens; either would be better for visibility.
How to Play Thieves Den
The goal of the game is score the most points by stealing treasures and selling them to fences—along with a few other ways to score points—over the course of three rounds.
Set the board in the center, with the treasure tokens in the city (center of the board), thieves in the forest (bottom of the board), and six fence cards revealed along the right edge. The fence deck goes at the top right of the board. (In a 2-player game, you’ll remove some of the fence cards first.) Depending on the number of players, you’ll remove some treasures and thieves from the game.
Give each player a player board, three thieves, and a random scheme card. Shuffle the location cards and deal 4 to each player. Choose a starting player and give them the direction token, with the “1 & 3” side showing (to indicate that it’s the first round.)
Turns are taken in the order shown on the direction token: clockwise for the first and third rounds, and counterclockwise for the second round.
Each round consists of a scouting phase, a thieving phase, and then a cleanup phase.
In the scouting phase, players draft three location cards, one at a time. Pick a card from your hand, place it face-down, and then pass the rest in the turn direction. Once everyone has chosen a card, reveal your cards simultaneously. If it has a lightning bolt icon, you immediately gain the bonus shown and then put the location face-down in your collection. Otherwise, place it face-up in front of you (oriented so that other players can see it easily).
When you have two cards to choose from, you’ll choose one and put the other one face-down at the bottom of the deck. Once everyone has drafted three cards, the scouting phase is over.
Note the symbols at the top left of the location cards: these may be worth extra points at the end of the game, based on your scheme card.
This is the bulk of the game, when players will take turns taking actions until everyone has passed. On your turn, you either take one action, or pass; once you’ve passed, you’re done for the round and cannot take any more actions.
There are several actions to choose from:
- Steal from a location
- Fence treasures
- Use a power tile
- Burgle treasures
- Recruit a thief
- Deliver treasure to the witch
To steal from a location, place a thief from your player board onto an empty hex spot on any location card, yours or an opponent’s. You get the ability shown next to the hex, which may include taking treasures or thieves from the supply, or occasionally stealing or destroying an opponent’s treasure. If you use a location that isn’t yours, the owner gets the owner bonus, shown at the top right corner.
You may sell treasures to any of the fences to the right of the board. Each fence wants a particular combination of treasures. Take the fence card and place it in front of you, place a thief and the required treasures on the card, and score the listed points. Nobody else may sell to this fence. Reveal a new fence card from the deck and place it in the empty spot.
The icons at the top right of the fence cards will be worth points if you have the most of a symbol.
The rest of the actions are on the board itself:
Next to the wizard’s tower on the board is a random mix of three power tiles. To use a power tile, place a treasure on an empty space next to a power tile, and then use its ability. Each one may only be used once per round, but they have powerful abilities, sometimes letting you manipulate location cards, place extra thieves at a location, and so on.
You can burgle treasures from the city by sending two thieves there, and then taking any available treasure token. This action may be taken any number of times in a round.
You can also spend two treasures to recruit a thief from the forest. This action may also be taken multiple times per round.
Finally, you can deliver treasures to the witch—place a treasure token in the corresponding spot on the chart and immediately gain the listed number of points. Each spot on the chart may only be taken once per round, so once somebody has delivered a treasure, nobody else may deliver one of that type until the next round.
After everyone has passed, you clean up for the next round. Thieves that are on your own location cards go to your player board (up to 6; any extras go to the forest). Thieves on fence cards and in the city go back to the forest. All treasures on fence cards and the board are returned to the supply in the city. The next three power tiles are revealed next to the wizard’s tower.
Your location cards and fence cards are turned face-down and placed in your collections next to your player board.
Give the direction tile to the player with the fewest points, flipping it over to change the direction of play.
The game ends after three rounds of play. In addition to the points you’ve already scored for selling treasures to fences and delivering them to the witch, you may also score bonus points for locations and fence cards.
Your scheme card shows two location types; for each complete pair of these icons that you’ve collected, you score 2 points.
Each of the fence types is worth a certain number of points, as shown on the board. If you have the most fence cards of a type, you score points; in the case of a tie for most, nobody gets the bonus.
Highest score wins, with ties going to the player with the most thief and treasure tokens.
Why You Should Play Thieves Den
Thieves Den is a nice blend of familiar game mechanics mixed together in a new way. Card-drafting, worker placement, resource management, set collection—none of the individual pieces is new by itself, but the way they’re put together in Thieves Den isn’t quite like anything I’ve played before.
In the card drafting portion, you’re driven partly by collecting the right symbols for your scheme, and partly by the various owner bonuses available. The instant powers can be quite tempting, but one thing to keep in mind is that at the end of the round the only thieves you get back are the ones on cards in front of you. That means if you use several instant powers (and therefore have fewer locations in front of you), you’ll be sending out thieves for various actions but you won’t be getting as many back.
As with many worker placement games, your goal is to use your workers as efficiently as possible, maximizing each one’s value while providing as little benefit to other players as possible. However, Thieves Den has a lot of temptations that pull you in different directions. If you use somebody else’s location, not only are you providing them with a thief for the next round, but you are also giving them an owner bonus. On the other hand, if you use your thieves on your own locations, you don’t get the owner bonuses, so isn’t it better to let other people come use your locations?
You start with 3 thieves and everyone drafts 3 locations, so there’s about one space per thief (other than those pesky instant cards) … but then that doesn’t take into account selling to fences, at which point your thief leaves your employ and never comes back. And, of course, there are actions that provide more thieves—which everyone wants to do, because in any worker-placement game it’s crucial to get more workers, particularly if they keep getting spent and not replenished automatically.
One twist in Thieves Den is that there are actions you can take without spending workers at all—namely, using the power tiles and delivering treasures to the witch. These require resources instead, and (depending on the power tiles) might even gain you some more thieves to use. It gives you other options when you’re not quite ready to pass and drop out of the round, but you don’t want to spend your last worker yet. The witch’s hut isn’t the best return on investment, but getting some points for your treasures is better than nothing.
The power tiles at the wizard’s tower are a mixed bag—some feel very powerful, and some feel barely better than location abilities. I did find that players often forgot about them entirely until the first one was used—and then there’s a scramble to use the rest before they go away.
The resources in the game are limited—if there are no more thieves in the forest, then nobody can gain any more thieves, whether from location abilities or hiring them from the forest. If a particular type of treasure runs out, then you just can’t get more of them. Since the treasures and thieves are not placed back into the city and forest when they’re sold or used, it means that some of the supply often runs out. Being able to look around and assess the available locations and decide which treasures are going to be in high demand can be key to collecting what the fences will take. It also means that the timing of your actions is important: using somebody else’s location when their owner bonus doesn’t get them anything can be extremely satisfying.
It can feel a little overwhelming because there’s so much going on, particularly in the scoring. The bulk of the scoring is from the fences, of course, so securing the right combinations of treasures is important. But there’s also the set collection on the locations, selling to the witch, and the symbols on the fence cards. In the games I’ve played, I’ve often been focused on trying to collect valuable fence icons—but that may be distracting me from earning more points simply selling treasures to the fences, because I haven’t been winning much yet. On the other hand, I do like that at the end of the game, there are a few hidden points that get scored, so that you never know for sure who’s in the lead until it’s all calculated.
I have to admit that I don’t think Thieves Den is especially innovative, in the sense that there’s nothing I can point to specifically that I haven’t seen in other games. But that may be okay: the familiar mechanics make it easier to dive into playing it, and my gaming group has enjoyed the experience. It’s not a heavy game, though there are some tough decisions to make at times, and I like the limited amount of “take that”—most of it comes from taking a space that somebody else wants, but there are just a few ways to steal or destroy things from other players that are more explicitly mean.
If you’re a fan of Daily Magic Games, you’re probably already backing the project. They have a nice line-up of games and this one is a good medium-weight strategy game, about the level of Valeria: Card Kingdoms. I like the ties to the world of 10 Minute Heist, but as a worker placement game that provides a little more heft. If you’re still on the fence, visit the Thieves Den Kickstarter page for more information!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype copy of this game for review purposes.