Board Game Review: Sneaks & Snitches—Doublethink Run Wild

One of my all time favorite designers is Vlaada Chvatil. Through the Ages is perhaps my personal number one game and Dungeon Lords was my game of the year. This week, we take a look at one of his lighter designs, Sneaks and Snitches. In Sneaks and Snitches, the players are competing international thieves trying to score the most loot. But, they also have contacts in law enforcement and hope to rat out their competitors.

The Basics. Between six and eight location cards are placed on the table depending on the number of players. The locations are lettered A through H. Each player, in turn, takes a color of cards that are lettered A through H. They also take one boss. Then, goods cards are placed beneath each location. They can be gold, rubies, artifacts, or art. Between two and four will be on any given card. Then its time to start thieving.

Players select two cards to play near their boss. To the boss’s left is the sneak. The player intends to steal the goods at that location. But, on top of the boss is the snitch. Rather than be content with their own theivery, the player makes an anonymous tip that a crime is going to happen at that location. Once all selections have been made, everyone reveals their choices. Sneaks stay near the loot, and snitches guard the location.

Red and Green collect their prizes, but Blue gets snitched!

Any sneak by itself will get the loot. Any snitch by itself does nothing. But if there is a sneak and a snitch on the same space, then the sneak is prevented from getting the goods. They get nothing. If two sneaks are on the same space, then they end up getting in each other’s way and just take a random card.

The cards are then taken back and new loot cards are placed down on each location. The cycle repeats until the location loot is exhausted. Scoring shifts based on the number of players, but generally the players score points based on who has the most of each type of good. Most blue? Three points. No points for second place. But most red? Also three points, but the second place in red gets two points. So, it is important to watch what other players have. The game lasts about twenty minutes.

Gold, art, rubies, and relics. All for the taking!

The Feel. “Clearly I cannot choose the wine in front of me.” If you recognize that quote, then you’ll know how the game feels. The goods cards come out and you spy a nice juicy location with four pieces of artwork just begging to be stolen. That would give you the lead in artwork (blue). But, with so tantalizing a prize, it’s likely that one of your opponents will snitch it. Maybe you should go for the location with only three artwork in it.

Unless … your opponent knows you are more likely to choose the “safer” spot and is going to place his snitch there! Well, you shouldn’t fall into that trap. Better select the location with four artwork. But … maybe your opponent has run that same game in his head and he’s back to placing it on the betters pot. So, you’ll want to select the three spot after all. And thus it continues.

Sneaks and Snitches is a great little game of reading your opponents and determining what you can get away with. You want that loot. Even if this particular haul doesn’t put you in the lead in a color, it only sets you up to do that on a later round. So landing on a snitch (even though it will happen) can be painful. Likewise, you want to figure out what your opponents are likely to want from the current landscape – and then you want to snitch that place like its no tomorrow. He’d do it to you. In fact, you can see him over there trying to do it to you. Get him first.

Sneaks on the left, Snitches up top.

And, you also don’t want to end up with another sneak at your location. If you do, you’re only going to get one good – and a random one at that. While this is sometimes helpful (random goods are not revealed until the end game so other players can’t count your true level of goods), usually it means getting far a far less helpful haul.

The game would have a lot of back and forth if it was just various kinds and colors of goods. But, there is more than that available at the locations. Some locations have special items that are simply worth victory points at the game end. Typically only one point (though there is a two pointer), they are nevertheless attractive because they can never be taken away or superseded.

On top of that are cards that allow three goods of your choice, a draw of bonus cards, or even that allow the player to trade up to three of his loot for another color. Fallen too far behind in green? Now you can trade those three green away for other colors to potentially give you the lead in other areas.

But the most intriguing card is the insider information. Four insider informations appear throughout the game – one in each color. When stolen, all players (except the one who took that information) immediately lose half their cubes of that color. If someone is high in a color – or if two players are competing, then seeing the insider information can be a game changer.

A few of the special items that can appear at the locations

Now that double think goes into overdrive. Your opponent is obviously going to snitch that location. So obviously that he won’t really do it and will save his snitch for somewhere else! Or, perhaps he will snitch it, which means you will have the ability to save your snitch for something else.

The interesting aspect is that this sort of double think tends to increase as the player numbers go up. With four or five players everyone starts to think, “Well, I’m sure someone will put a snitch on it. I should place my snitch elsewhere.” And, after revealing, it turns out that no one snitched it and somebody got one of the better pieces of loot.

Upon reflection, it is actually quite difficult to find any negatives with Sneaks and Snitches. It plays quickly, has great interaction, is fairly intuitive, and results in great fun. The only potential negative is that it does not feel like a Chvatil game. It’s not a grand epic. It’s a fun, brief diversion. But once that initial surprise wears off, Sneaks and Snitches is highly enjoyable.

Today’s sneak is tomorrow’s snitch

Components: 3.5 of 5. The pieces are fine, just nothing really to write home about. The iconography is very good and everything flows nicely. There are great reminders on the cards, and there is little worry that the cards will be damaged easily. This isn’t a game that needs paintablie minis or other extravagances. Still, I’m not a fan of the artwork; while Green, Blue, and Red have passable bosses, Yellow and Purple are terrible. Yellow doesn’t seem like a master criminal and Purple looks like a game show host.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4.5 of 5. Luck is marginal in Sneaks and Snitches. Sure, the items come out randomly, but they come out for everyone together. So it does not tend to favor one player over others. Instead, it provides a random distribution that results in unique challenges and memorable consequences.

Mechanics: 5 of 5. The beauty of this game is that it is incredibly intuitive. You want to get the loot and you want to stop others from getting it. Simple as that. The challenge and strategy of the game really is a combination of the loot on the table and the dynamic of the group playing. It’s especially entertaining to play with longtime friends or family since you may be more familiar with their play style or risk assessments. It results in some pretty fantastic times.

Replayability: 4 of 5. Sneaks and Snitches is wonderfully replayable. You don’t play the game, you play the other players. It’s all about reading what they are likely to do and counteracting it. You want to get inside your opponents’ heads and figure out what they are sneaking and what they are snitching. It’s a great game and one that is very replayable – especially given its shorter play time.

Spite: 2 of 5. Lets face it, the whole “snitches” part of the game is basically a vehicle for spite. And, sometimes, you can spite someone pretty directly. If you are the leader in blue, and someone else is in second, you may know that they want to get the blue location. So you snitch it. That can feel spitey, but no player is locked into anything. So if you know your opponent is going to snitch that blue location, that leaves you perfectly free to take the gold next door. Plus, the simultaneous reveal really prevents targeted snitching.

Random cards. Their little pity bonuses when others get in your way

Overall: 3.5 of 5. Sneaks and Snitches is just a fun time. Easy to learn and teach, it succeeds with casuals and serious gamers alike. And, even better, it can be played at many different levels. Serious gamers can engage in all the double think and try to outwit their opponents at every turn. Less serious players can have just as much fun deciding between one or two options and going for the big prize. Though it’s not a brain burner like Dungeon Lords, everyone should check out Sneaks and Snitches.

(A special thanks to Czech Games Edition for providing a review copy of Sneaks and Snitches)

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