I am a big fan of Tim Fowers’ game Burgle Bros. It does so much that is absolutely right, and still maintains a mischievous sense of fun from start to finish. The components, art design and rules are all indicators of the level of thought that have gone into the game, and it also has that wonderful quality of being something that you can teach as you go along – the learning of it is modular, if you like. It is a strong contender for one of my top new games of 2018, with the year still barely five months old, and you can read my effusive thoughts about it here.
New from Fowers is the game Fugitive, a simple two-player game that probably takes place in the Burgle Bros. universe. In fact, the title character could even be one of the crew of safe crackers from that other game, if it makes you feel better. With art once more provided by Ryan Goldsberry, such a strong point of Burgle Bros., this surely has the potential to be another feisty, heisty winner, so let’s take a peek and see what lies inside the box.
Clever even from the outside.
How is the box? I’ll be brief!
The first thing a prospective player will notice about Fugitive is that the box is not your standard lift-the-top-off thing. Just as Fowers’ games wear their theme on everything, including their packaging, so it is here, because the box is designed to look like a briefcase, and it even opens the same way. The side snaps open and you lift open the lid on the hinge at the back. It is almost guaranteed to make its prospective players smile from the very start, and in terms of getting people involved emotionally in the game it is a whole world better than those efforts where you lift the lid to find various components adrift in an insertless interior. Even the logo for the game points left to right as if it needs to go somewhere in a hurry. You know, like a fugitive, maybe. Again, this is smart and clever, something so many other designers and publishers should bear in mind.
Inside, the components are suitably minimalist. There is a small board on which decks of cards will be placed, that same deck of cards, numbered from 0 to 42, a dry erase marker and a laminated notecard. It is small, simple, clean and clear, with the rule book laid neatly on the top and the components noted on the inside front cover. I’ll keep saying this, but it bears repeating over and over and over again – this is a designer whose products are quality-led in every single aspect.
It even opens up like a briefcase.
The answer to life, the universe and everything? This goes to 42!
Illustrations of the components are also laid out on the inside of the box cover, so it is easy to make sure that everything is in place, and the compartments keep everything from milling around. A quick glance through the cards also reveals something wonderful about this game, that Fugitive’s narrative is laid out in order from 0 to 42, a beguiling and crafty story of heist, chase and escape. It even acts as a little puzzle, because you will find yourself trying to spot the chaser and the chasee on each of the cards, and will easily find yourself drawn into the story of the game. It is another great touch, as if we needed any further convincing of how much thought has gone into the design.
There are turn order cards as well, included even though the play of the game is quite straightforward, and Events that may be played in one of Fugitive’s variants. In fact, it seems to be something of a design philosophy in Fowers’ games to provide variants at the back of the rules, to allow players to tweak the game to their own preferences. In many ways this is laudable, but at times it does make me wonder what the proper version of the game actually is. As we shall see later down the page, this is one aspect of Fugitive that has made it just a little tricky to assess with complete objectivity.
List of components – check. Turn order cards – check. Lovely art – check.
Playing the game is as simple as 1-2-3…almost!
The aim of the game is pretty straightforward. One player, the titular Fugitive, is trying to get away, while the other, the Marshall, is trying to catch them. The Fugitive begins the game with four cards in hand, numbered 1, 2, 3 and 42, with some extra ones drawn from the remaining cards, and attempts to get from one end of the numbered sequence to the other without being caught. On their turn the Fugitive plays a card face down, representing their new hideout, but it must be within three numbers of the previous card in the sequence unless they also play some other cards face down underneath it. Each card has a number of footprints printed on it as well as a number, and each footprint allows the limit for placement to be extended by “sprinting”, so playing two footprints would allow the Fugitive to place a card worth up to five more than the previous card. Although the Fugitive must declare how many of these extra cards they place, they do not have to declare how many footprints there are, or even use them at all. Get to 42 and it’s a win.
The Marshall needs to guess all of the facedown cards in the Fugitive’s trail, and they do this by a process of elimination and intuition. On their turn they can pick a single number and if it matches anything the Fugitive has placed, whether a hideout or a sprint card, it gets turned the right way up. The Marshall can also guess multiple numbers if they like, but in this case all their guesses must be correct for any cards to be turned face up. This cat and mouse process extends to the three draw decks which are laid out on the rather fancy board, which is surplus to requirements but undoubtedly a very nice touch.
Great art, hideout numbers, and sprint icons.
Simplicity itself! But is it good?
Fugitive can be taught in about a minute, and that is probably a good thing. Unfortunately, it can also be over in about a minute, and that is definitely a bad thing. It is possible for the Fugitive to begin the game with a hand that severely curtails their possibilities for movement, in which case a decent guess by the Marshall has the possibility to bring the game to a swift and unsatisfactory conclusion. There are mechanisms built into the game to mitigate against this, but it remains something that can happen. Over and done in a minute or so is a rather unedifying experience, even though you could argue that the beginning of a getaway is possibly its most perilous phase, so Fugitive gets thumbs up for thematicism at least.
The game can also play out as a puzzle of logic and probabilities, with the Marshall eliminating numbers from their checklist and then working out which numbers to call to give them the best chance of success. As such, Fugitive is never likely to provide the meatiest of experiences, even if it has to be admitted that a stated play time of around ten minutes is going to find depth a real challenge. As it is, therefore, Fugitive is very, very light indeed…
You’ll be needing these.
So-so as it is! Better with events!
…that is, until players begin to explore the variants and throw in the Events, which brings me back to my earlier remark about what constitutes the “proper” version of a game. These Events are shuffled into the main decks, and drawing one of these causes a certain wrinkle to occur in the game. These are all wonderfully thematic and feel as if they belong in the universe of the game, just as the events in Burgle Bros., and, thankfully, they turn Fugitive from something almost feather light into a game with more substance, intrigue and fun, even if it remains very airy indeed. A little more involving, certainly, and always beguiling to look at, but a long way from the knockabout fun of its bigger and better burglary brother.
One of the problems that the game has is that, while this kind of slot appears to be the perfect place for light and quick plays, there are plenty of boxes of cardy goodness out there that offer much more meaty decisions in the same amount of time, and ones that have far greater longevity too. For this kind of game and this kind of length my touchstone is always going to be the joy that is Jump Drive, which offers tough decisions aplenty in the same kind of game length, but which plays differently every time and which, thus far, has sustained nearly a hundred plays in my house.
Continues the Fowers brand…but not quite great!
Fugitive undoubtedly possesses all those trademarks that Tim Fowers has put into his games thus far – fantastic art, decisions that bear the heady perfume of quality from the ground up, humour, fun and solid gameplay – but this is so light and airy next to his other games that it feels like a vol au vent instead of the main course. You will remark, rightly, that it is not intended to be a main course, that the game is light by its very nature and design, but what differentiates this from something like Burgle Bros. is that here all those wonderful facets of Fowers’ productions merely serve to garnish the fact that there is so little here in the way of the game itself. Marvel at the artwork, rejoice in the box, delight in the humour…and then guess numbers for ten minutes. Harsh? Perhaps. Fair? Maybe.
So it is hard to recommend Fugitive with the same kind of love I expressed for Burgle Bros., and I feel a little disappointed at that outcome, because I was definitely hoping for this to be the kind of game my partner and I could come back to again and again. After all, Letters From Whitechapel, to which Fugitive has often been compared in an admittedly tangential way, has been a real hit in our house, and I was hoping that this would provide all those same thrills and spills, the “gotcha” and “doh!” moments that happen when guesses are right and wrong, but it just didn’t. Our only reaction to the thrill of the chase, the ducking, diving and dodging, was a shrug of the shoulder and an “ok, what shall we play next?”
Eliminate the negative, accentuate the positive…
It has its place – but not in our collection…
For those after lighter fodder, and especially for those who have partners who are not necessarily gamers, Fugitive will probably go down quite well. It is easy to teach and easy to pick up and play. For the rest of us, though, for those of us who desire more meat on the gaming bones, there are other games that do this kind of tussly stuff much better, and which provide more entertainment and greater longevity in a similar time frame. Of course, the production is drop dead gorgeous, and Fowers remains a designer I admire greatly, but Fugitive was not a hit with us, and will surely make a bid for freedom from our collection very soon. If you do decide to go for this, though, then you’ll certainly need to throw in the Events as soon as possible, but even so I just cannot give it more than 7 out of 10, especially in today’s crowded market.
All that promise…
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I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and I'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.