Game Classics: Caper: The Great Jewel Robbery Game

[One of our popular semi-regular features has been Game Classics, a look back at some great games that, for various reasons, no longer populate the shelves of game stores or online retailers. We haven’t done one of these since 2010 when we featured Star Reporter by Parker Brothers. Now, several years later, in this, our latest installment, we take a look at another Parker game as we journey back to 1970 when players were given a chance to steal victory from their opponents – and I do mean steal – by purloining jewels in Caper: The Great Jewel Robbery Game.]

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

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caper1Good is good but crime can be fascinating. Think of all the noir films that stand the test of time, the crime dramas that populate the current airwaves and movie theaters, the bestselling books with criminals at their core. Why should games be different? Certainly, that thought must have percolated through the minds of the execs at Parker Brothers when they released Caper: The Great Jewel Robbery Game back in 1970. And they certainly gave the game first class treatment.

Even at first glance, Caper appeared to be something unusual. It made its appearance in an exceptionally long box; the length measured an astounding 23 inches – that’s nearly TWO FEET! The interior was even more impressive with its high quality production values. The board was thick, displaying an outer perimeter of streets and an interior gridded play area. In addition, there were three “platforms” meant to be placed on the main board to create levels and gave the game a three-dimensionality. Upon these platforms were three of the four sites that housed the jewels that were the objects of interest for the players.

Four jewels of different values were in the game: sapphire (worth 400 points), emerald (600), ruby (800) and diamond (1000). Each were to be found in a separate facility. The lesser valued sapphire was in a facility at ground level but the other jewels were less accessible, tucked away on higher elevations. All of these jewels were protected in various ways. Players, as crafty jewel thieves, had to bypass and/or deactivate these protections, get the jewels and deliver them safely to their respective hideouts to win.

Each player began in a different start area (their respective hideouts always located directly ACROSS from them, on the other side of the board). They also started with a supply of tools (1 each of a ladder, screwdriver, knife, pipewrench and wirecutter from an ample general supply) and four Caper cards. Caper cards allowed you to obtain more tools, either from the stock or from tools already played or an opposing player’s stash (depending on the card), roll the dice again or place police patrol cars on the street. (A player could always discard any number of Caper cards if he was holding a bunch of unhelpful ones if so desired. A turn always ended by drawing cards from the deck so players always had four on hand.) On a turn, a player would roll the dice (doubles would allow you to go again), play any, all or none of his Caper Cards and move, the number rolled equaling the number of steps he may take, with larceny on his mind.

caper2As the player moved towards the jewels, he encountered obstacles: barbed wire, locked doors, alarms, wire fences and vaults. These obstacles must be eliminated if the player wished to move past them and, to eliminate them, you needed to use the proper tool. Some obstacles called for specific tools (wirecutters and only wirecutters, for example, were needed to breech those wire fences). Others were non-specific. Any tool, for example, could shatter a glass case housing a jewel. Not sure? No worries. The board itself noted which tool was needed for each challenge. When played, the tool used was put on the appropriate space where it remained, available for use by ANY player, unless or until it was stolen (through the play of a Caper card). The exception to this was the ladder. Ladders were used to enable a player to move to a higher (or lower) level and, when used, did NOT remain on the board but, instead, returned to supply. (This means that if you planned to go up AND down a level on the same turn, you better have had TWO ladders in your stock. But players could not stockpile items. No more than five tools were allowed to be held at the end of a turn.)

Jewels could only be stolen when ALL alarms protecting the jewel in question had been deactivated. Screwdrivers were needed for that. (The less valuable sapphire stone was the only gem NOT alarmed.) By landing on or crossing the space it occupied, a player stole the jewel and it was placed in that thief’s hideout to show that the thief had it in his possession – at least temporarily. These jewels only became “safe” once the thief had made it back to his hideout. Until then, other players could steal jewels from fellow thieves simply by landing on a player’s piece by EXACT count! If you could manage that, any and all jewels nestled in that thief’s hideout were shifted to the other thief’s hideout! But it wasn’t over yet. These captured jewels remained vulnerable to being stolen too until the new “owner” managed to safely return to HIS hideout to claim them! But fellow thieves were not the only obstacles to reaching hideouts. There were police cars as well.

caper3Three police cars were in the game and they began off the board. With Caper cards, police cars could be placed on streets (sometimes specific sites, sometimes any street) on the board’s perimeter track. The perimeter track allowed for faster travel (as one perimeter space equaled two grid spaces). A police car on the street with a hideout prevented a thief from exiting the inner grid area directly onto the street. Instead, that thief needed to either A) move the police car via a Caper card to a different location OR B) enter a street that doesn’t have a police card stationed there and then move towards the hideout. This could cause a significant delay, giving another player a chance to catch up with a jewel laden thief and hijack the goods from him!

Play continued until either all jewels had been successfully claimed or one player had safely stowed away enough jewels so that his point total was insurmountable. In either case, high score wins!

Caper: The Great Jewel Robbery Game had a lot of good things going for it. Great presentation with incredible metal tools. A “value arc” as jewel values steadily increased with more valuable gems being more difficult to grab. Solid play with enough “take that” to keep players interacting and interested. Players had choices to make in putting schemes in motion. The game has an exciting – and different – theme. So why did the game fail? Several reasons come to mind.

The box size is impressive all right. But a box that size tends to be placed on the BOTTOM of a stack. Are YOU going to pull out this large box to make a purchase when a bunch of other games are sitting on top of it? You might but, then again, you might not. Those metal tool pieces are also impressive; the wirecutters and knives actually opened and closed! These pieces (along with the thick board) were expensive to make making the game a bit more expensive than others on the shelf, another obstacle in attracting buyers. And those metal pieces, as wonderful as they are, are small! In today’s world, with the safety restrictions we have, there is no way this game could ever have been marketed. Possibly customers back then thought safety was a factor too. Perhaps, most critically, is the theme itself. Sure the theme is different and exciting and the artwork seems light and fun and clever and non-threatening but… jewel thieves? Can you imagine a parent in 1970 being excited enough to buy an expensive game that encouraged their children to break the law and steal? A game where you win if you’re the best crook? No, I didn’t think so. (This game cries out for a theme change. Instead of stealing jewels, how about the four players representing different secret intelligence agencies of four different countries trying to obtain four vital pieces of information held by an evil entity? Works for me!)

Despite clever play and superior production values, Caper: The Great Jewel Robbery Game, unlike the thieves in the game, got caught – caught by marketplace forces that conspired to undermine a great game classic.

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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