[Expect a spirited conversation when you talk with Ben Baldanza. That may be because, in real life, he is the CEO and President of Spirit Airlines. But even successful business executives need to relax and Ben has been playing and collecting games since playing card games with his family as a child. Ben plays regularly with gamers, formerly in the Washington, DC area and now in Florida, and has even taught introductory board game classes through local adult education programs both in the Northern Virginia area and Florida. He is a regular contributor to several internet forums and game publications including Gamers Alliance Report. Ben made his GA Report debut in the Fall 2004 issue with his review of Martin Wallace’s presidential election game, Election USA. In our silver anniversary issue, Ben generously “sneaks in” his 12th review!]
(Czech Games Edition/Fred Distribution, 2-5 players, ages 9 and up, 20-30 minutes; $29.99)
Reviewed by Ben Baldanza
Everyone, at times, has been a sneak or a snitch. In this game by designer Vlaada Chvatil from the Czech Republic, players get to be both each turn. The goal is to steal things from various locations while simultaneously guarding the loot at other locations where you expect your opponents will attempt their pilfering. It’s blind bidding to the max, so players who dislike this common mechanism should be fairly warned. But for those who accept the uncertainty and chaos that comes with the territory, Sneaks and Snitches is fun way to spend 30 minutes.
The loot available to steal comes in four varieties, represented by plastic colored cubes in four colors. For those insistent on the theme, the colors stand for information, artifacts, jewelry, and gold. Based on the number of players, a specific number of location cards are placed in the center in the table and below each a “loot card” is placed. The loot card shows what is available to steal from that location in the turn. There are various types of loot cards, and it is here that the clever design is evident as with only various amounts of the four goods available, the game would be a bit boring. More on this in a minute.
Each player has a set of cards that correspond to each location in the game. In addition, each player has a “boss card.” After the loot cards are placed, each player places two of their location cards face down. One is placed to the left of the boss card, and this designates the location where you’d like to steal (sneak). The second is placed above the boss card and designates the location the player will guard (snitch). The boss card helps make it clear who is the snitch and who is the sneak, but otherwise plays no role.
After each player has placed both their snitch and their sneak, all placements are revealed. Each sneak is placed below its chosen location, and each snitch is placed above its chosen location. The locations are resolved in order starting with the “A” location, and one of four possibilities can result:
- If no cards played at the location, the loot card at this location is discarded from the game.
- If one or more snitches were played, no loot is stolen. The sneaks at this location get returned to their owners and the loot card stays there for the next round.
- If only one sneak went to the location and no snitch was sent, the sneak is successful and takes the loot card. This is obviously the result that each sneak wants.
- If multiple sneaks go the same spot, with no snitch, no one gets the loot card. It stays for the next round, but each sneak takes a card from the “secret stash” deck. This is a set of cards that each shows one color, and acts the same as gaining a cube of that color for scoring.
As mentioned earlier, it is the loot cards themselves that give the game its unique and worthwhile aspect. There are seven different types of loot cards, and most earn the successful sneak loot but a few work differently. Most of the cards show one or more cubes in the same color. A few cards show one of each color and, in this case, the player gets one cube of each color. Blank Check cards lets the player take three cubes of their choice while Intrigue cards let you exchange three cubes with other players. When used most effectively, this action lets you improve your scoring potential and weaken your opponent at the same time. Safecracking cards let you draw three of the secret stash cards and this is the only other way to get these cards other than the way described above. Some loot earns victory points directly and a final card type forces everyone else (other than they player who steals the card) to discard half of their tokens in the matching color.
Since the loot cards are public before the placement bids are made, the loot cards strongly affect the think and double-think about where to sneak and where to snitch. This is true not only for the type of card but also for the way the scoring works. Scoring is similar but slightly modified based on the number of players. Blue cubes score only for the player with a plurality in any case. Green cubes score for the top two in any case except for the two player game, while red cubes score for the top three players except in the three player game. Gold cubes always score for everyone except the last place holder. While getting different numbers of cubes affects the scoring, the sum of the scores wins. Thus, earning three points by having the plurality in blue is in absolute worth no more than earning three points by being one of the top four in gold in a five player game. The blue is worth more relatively, of course, because the winner is the only one who earns it.
Keeping track of your relative position in each color is important but even this is not always certain because of the secret stash cards. This exemplifies the uncontrollable nature of the game, however, so while there certainly is strategy in deciding where to sneak and where to snitch based on the loot card available, in the end, the best plans don’t always quite work out the way you hope them to. This will frustrate many gamers, but knowing this upfront and seeing the game for its designed weight and family nature helps to mitigate this somewhat.
The rules also include a two-player variant and this works but is a bit contrived. Basically each player controls one boss, but alternates having the support of a second boss. The scoring is always only for the majority. Frankly, with two players there are many better options to play but it doesn’t hurt the game to have this variant included in the rules.
The production from Czech Games Edition (CGE) and Gryphon Games is excellent, with nice cards on heavy stock, clear rules, and a box properly sized for the components. Sneaks and Snitches is a filler that is worth playing for a while until it is likely replaced by another in a few months. Will we all be playing it years from now, or even keep a copy like we all probably have kept For Sale (Fall 1997 GA Report) or High Society (Spring 2009 GA Report)? Probably not, but it’s a solid diversion the follows nicely after a good Martin Wallace effort.
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