Reviewed by Herb Levy

MASTER THIEF (Breaking Games, 2 to 6 players, ages 10 and up, 15-20 minutes; $25)


There is a lot of valuable stuff in the museum and you and your cohorts are thieves seeking to liberate those expensive items and stash them for your own benefit. But you have to avoid security and that may take some doing which may require a little cooperation from your fellow thieves. But, as this game attests, only ONE of you can be the Master Thief.

Master Thief, designed by Jacob Parr and Jake Spencer, is a game utilizing three decks of cards: Black, White and Gray.

The 36 Black cards represent what can be found in the targeted museum. These cards display a valuable item with a “Black Market Credit” (BMC) value (i.e. Victory Point value), an icon representing the type of item it is (gem, mask, painting etc.) and how many Thief cards a player may draw and add to his/her hand. Some cards are “Charmed” which means they are worth less in points but create a beneficial condition that stays sin effect as long as the card is in play. Finally, there are Alarms! If drawn, they “go off” and can only be silenced by a player giving up one of that card’s demanded type of item. (Three unsilenced alarms end the game immediately!)

The 70 White cards are Thief cards and they are subdivided into 3 types: Action, Reaction and Utilities. Any number of Action cards may be played on a turn in an attempt to steal items from other players, stash items a player may be carrying. grab a Thief card from someone’s hand etc. while Reaction cards are played out of turn to stymie such actions on the part of opponents. Utilities can only be played on a player’s turn and create an effect that remains in play until that player has his or her next turn. All players are dealt a starting hand of 4 of these cards.  

The 6 Gray “Calling” cards are dealt out, one to each player (any excess removed from play) and kept secret. These cards give added BMC points to two specified types of Museum items. These cards are revealed and applies at the end of the game.

The Black Museum cards are mixed and spread out, face down, on the table. All players draw one and this card is placed face up in front of the player to represent that item being “carried”. (There is a limit of four carried items per player.) If a Alarm is drawn, another card is drawn instead so that everyone begins with one piece of loot. The Start player is randomly chosen and the game begins. 

Each turn, the active player draws one card from the Museum pile. If a treasure, he/she adds it to his/her “carry” display and draws the amount of Thief cards noted from the deck. Now, that player may play any number of Thief cards on themselves (to “Stash” a carried treasure so it is less vulnerable to being stolen or “Swipe” a carried treasure from an opponent or “Steal” to take one more card from the Museum and so on). If a Thief card is played on an opponent, that opponent may rebuff that card’s effect by playing a card that will negate it (if they have it) such as “Grip” to hold on to a carried or stashed item. But if an Alarm card is drawn, it must be dealt with before proceeding. 

Alarm cards call for a player – ANY player – to discard a particular type of treasure.  A discarded treasure – AND that Alarm card – are shuffled back into the Museum pile. But, if no one is willing or able to discard the called for card, the Alarm card is placed aside. The player who drew that card may continue to play Thief cards if desired but may not draw another Museum card.

At the end of a turn, the active player may leave the museum (unless stopped by the play of a Thief card). That player is now safe from the loss of any accumulated treasures but can no longer get more loot. If all players but one have left the museum, the remaining player has one more turn before that player MUST leave. The game also ends if the deck of White Thief cards runs out. But if three Alarms are not “deactivated”, the game also ends IMMEDIATELY and players lose ALL of their carried items. In all cases, we then score. 

Players add up the BMC value of all of their stashed items plus any carried items they still have. In addition, two points are awarded for each treasure that matches the type specified on their Calling cards. The player with the most total points is the Master Thief and the winner!

Master Thief is fast and furious as cards can fly around the table. While it is tempting to play as many Thief cards are you can (the only restriction is that you cannot play two of the same type of card on your turn), reducing your hand size to two or fewer cards telegraphs to your fellow players that you will have a hard time stopping them from stealing loot from you! It is a good idea to keep them guessing so that you are not as an attractive target for their Thief cards as some other player. Rather than drawing from a deck of cards, the black Museum cards are mixed into a pile and players CHOOSE which card to draw from the pile to loot the museum. This gives the illusion of control. In actuality, this is really no different than a blind draw from the top of the deck. But that illusion works well and is a nice touch.

Master Thief is a bit of push-your-luck, a smattering of cooperation and a hefty dose of “take that”! The game plays quickly – it can last a good 30 minutes if you’re lucky or end in the blink of an eye if you are not – and comes small boxed so that it can be taken just about anywhere. Because it can handle up to 6 players, this is a great opener or closer for a gaming session. There is a surprisingly amount of value here. In short, Master Thief is a steal! – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy

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