One of the best aspects of tabletop gaming, and what sets tabletop gaming aside from many other forms of entertainment, is the interaction that the various players have with each other when they get together for the shared experience of playing the game. There are a plethora of ways that games encourage interaction between players from working towards a common goal in a cooperative game, to fighting directly against the other players in order to win some conflict, to wheeling, dealing, bribing and coercing the other players to accomplish your goals in the best or quickest way possible.
Thief’s Market casts players as a group of theives who, each round, have to decide how to split the loot from the heist they just pulled. Being the good, greedy thieves that they are, each player is determined to garner the most Notoriety, ultimately earning the title King of Thieves. The goal is simple enough: secure the biggest, most valuable share of the loot as often as possible and laugh all the way to the bank. The other players, each fancying themselves as the greatest thief of all, will probably take umbrage with being left with a less than optimal share though, and it’s in the interactions between the players, as each tries to spirit away the best share while taking just enough that the other players won’t mind, where Thief’s Market really hits its stride.
The game’s loot is represented by a pile of custom dice, which are rolled at the beginning of each round to show what the thieves have brought back to divvy up, and the First Player token gets tossed into the mix as well. The dice have four faces that show colored gems, one face that shows a money bag, and one face that shows Infamy. Infamy dice are generally worth Notoriety points on a one to one basis. Gems aren’t really worth anything themselves but can be used to purchase cards, and money can score points at the end of the game, and can also be used as a wildcard to replace gems when making purchases.
The person who ended the prior round as First Player then claims a share of the loot, followed by each other player in order. This is where things get really interesting. Each subsequent player gets to choose where to take their share from. They can either take a share from the center, if there is anything left, or steal from someone who already has taken a share. If they take from the center, play simply passes to the next player, but if they can’t resist taking from someone else, they have to choose at least one thing and return it to the center. If they return a die, they re-roll it before returning it. The only thing limiting the size of the share that a player can take is the other players, and the round won’t end until every player has some share of the loot. The interactions between players as they try to get as much loot as they can, while simultaneously keeping the other players from stealing from them, range from maddening to hilarious. It’s easy to form and hold grudges, but, due to the diminishing returns of stealing from other players, there will come a time when the loot that has been returned to the middle is more tempting than stealing from the player who stole from you.
It’s not just about the size of your share in Thief’s Market. At the end of each round, players use their gems to purchase cards from the Market that give them special abilities and score them even more Notoriety. The cards have a wide variety of effects from simply being worth a set amount of Notoriety at the end of the game, to more complex actions, like allowing players to buy more cards each round, use gems as wildcards like money, etc. Many of the cards can be used in combination with one another, allowing players to pull off some really lucrative maneuvers if they can manage to hold on to the right things once the loot has been divided.
The cards themselves are split into three decks lettered A, B, and C. The Market is refilled each round with cards from the lowest numbered deck, and the game ends when the Market can’t be fully refilled. The complexity and cost of the cards increases deck to deck as well. Since all of the information in the game is open, splitting loot becomes even more contentious as the game progresses, as players can see what loot will work in concert with their opponent’s cards and, as cards get more expensive, it becomes more obvious what each player will be trying to purchase at the end of a round. The decisions become more interesting as the game plays out, and players are forced to weigh the options of trying to get what they need against trying to stop their opponents from getting what they want and need. The game shifts from simply trying to grab what you can and make the most of it to a more strategic game of getting the loot that will let you do the most with what you can grab. It’s a fun tonal and motivational shift that encourages players to adjust their focus from avarice to cunning.
A note on “chrome”: The custom dice in Thief’s Market are great, and the cards are good quality. The art is cartoonish and vibrant, and help set the not-too-serious tone of the game wonderfully. The rules are on a foldout, which I don’t normally like, but the rules themselves are laid out well, and card references are super easy to find. The Infamy tokens are the only real negative to the components, and it’s a minor one. The 1 and 5 value tokens are the same size, and the purple color of the font makes them difficult to tell apart.
The bottom line:
Thief’s Market is a great game to play with a group of friends who like to mess with and play off of each other. It’s tricky to find the balance between taking the share of loot that you want, versus taking a share that the other players will let you keep. The option to take from other players is fun, and the diminishing returns on stealing from other players is a great mechanic that stops the game from spiraling into a constant back and forth, and makes the decision to steal from another player a strategic one. Thief’s Market encourages a constant, rolling, light-hearted banter between the players as they try to convince each other that their share is just the right size, while simultaneously trying to keep their next move, and card purchase, from being so obvious that the other players want to block them. Since each player is playing off of the other players as much as playing the game, the replay value in Thief’s Market is very high, and the moderate play time means that it is easy to get to the table.
Get this game if:
You like games that let you build combos.
You like games with high levels of player interactivity.
You want a fun hybrid between resource management, deck/engine building, and direct player interaction.
Avoid this game if:
You don’t like the idea of stealing from other players or having other players steal from you.
You tend to hold a grudge when another player hampers your plans.
The copy of Thief’s Market used for this review was provided by Tasty Minstrel Games.
Thief's Market not only encourages a prodigious amount of player interaction, but it does so in a way that marries the theme and mechanics to the way that players naturally interact, creating a fun, grin inducing experience from start to finish.