RogerBW's Blog

Grifters 17 November 2016

Grifters, designed by Jake Tlapek and David Fulton, is a hand-building game of crime syndicates for 2-4 players.

I should disclaim: I demonstrated this 23 times at Essen 2016, and I still like it a lot. Now you might think that that should mean that it's a pretty good game, and you could well be right; but this feeling has happened before with games I've demonstrated heavily, with Castellan in 2012 and 2013 and with One Night Revolution and Coup Rebellion G54 in 2015, and I've never ended up hating a game I've demonstrated intensely this way; it's just as plausible that demoing a game repeatedly may make me favourably disposed towards it.

Your objective as a crime boss is to recruit specialists (such as the Thug, Fall Guy, or Wheelman) to your gang, commit crimes, and end up with the most money.

Setup consists of giving each player starting cash, three standard "ringleader" cards and three more random specialists; sorting out the decks of Job (crime) cards appropriate to the number of players; and removing some of the cash from the coffers if playing with fewer than four.

On your turn, you either play one specialist to get its special action (there are three copies of each of 16 types), or team up several of them to commit a crime; these start needing just three cards with the correct skill symbols, but get up to six by the end of the game. In either case, the cards you played go into Night One of your Hideout; on your later turns, they move through Night Two, Night Three, into the Refresh pile, and then return to your hand to be played again. Various specialists can return them to your hand earlier, advance time by an extra night, allow you to draw more cards, allow you to steal money from the bank or from other players, and so on.

Crimes give you an immediate reward (money from the bank or from other players, and/or more specialists), and at the end of the game if you have more than one job card of the same colour there's a bonus. (One card allows you to swap your completed jobs with those of other players.)

The game ends immediately when the bank is empty, all the crimes are done, or the draw and discard decks of specialists are both exhausted. (I have not yet seen the last of these.) At this point the player with most money is the winner.

Play time is about half an hour, slightly longer with more players. This is an extremely interactive (not to say vicious) game, especially in the two-player version; in larger games, some of the cards become worth a little more, since they allow you to take money from all other players, and the tactics change accordingly.

The key to winning play is not just to use the specialists' abilities (some of which are distinctly more powerful than others), but to combine them: several cards allow you to copy the ability of a specialist in your hand, or in someone else's hideout. (For example, I might use the Protegé to duplicate the Hacker who's already in my hideout, having been played on a previous turn; the Hacker then copies the Wheelman who's just gone into an opponent's hideout, and I retrieve several cards from my hideout back to my hand.) With only one play at a time, one needs to find a balance between gaining more specialists, gaining money, stealing money from other players to knock them back, and claiming job cards. Building good combinations, and staying aware of what opponents' cards are available, is essential.

There are some unfortunate wordings; very often when new players saw the card text saying "duplicate the ability of another specialist", they'd assume it meant "perform this action twice". The word "copy" would have been much more appropriate.

The box inlay, like most of them, isn't much use, and I've produced a 3D-printed one of my own. Card or plywood would also do.

The game is nominally set in the "Dystopian Universe", along with Coup, Coup: Rebellion G54, The Resistance, and One Night Revolution. In practice this means very little, though I'm amused to find that I quite enjoy all of these games.

The Kickstarter bonus pack offers several new cards, though they shouldn't all be mixed into the deck for fear of overshadowing the base game's cards and removing some of the game's interest. There's a rules sheet on BoardGameGeek which explains how to use them.

This is a surprisingly subtle game, considering how quickly one can pick up the rules. I certainly haven't exhausted its tactical depths yet; there's a luck component of course, but cunning use of the cards you do get can often compensate for a lack of the powerful ones.

I don't suppose this is ever going to be a runaway success, but it's a great deal of fun and it doesn't deserve to be overlooked.

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