It may seem odd to start a review by talking about another game, but ….. my daughters and I play a lot of Splendor. And, I mean … A. Lot. It is one of our go-to games because it was easy for them to learn, it’s simple to play (yet has some great strategic elements), has great replayability, and they love to beat me at it. A. Lot.
So when I first saw Thief’s Market (from Tasty Minstrel Games) on Kickstarter, I had to back it and add it to my collection. Though it plays very differently, I saw a lot of the same elements in it that bring Splendor to our table so often. But … does it live up to my expectations? Let’s find out.
To set up a game of Thief’s Market, separate the three decks of cards into their “A,” “B,” and “C” stacks. You’ll recognize these by the letter on the back of the cards (as well as in the lower right corner on the front of each card). Then, shuffle each deck separately and randomly remove enough cards from each so that you have 13 “A” cards, 12 “B” cards, and 11 “C” cards, returning the others to the box without looking at them. Arrange the decks along one side of the table and turn the top five cards of the “A” deck face up to form the Market. These will act as the first five cards available for purchase to the players.
Each player will be given a player mat and one gold token. Throughout the game, players can earn additional gold tokens, so make sure the remaining tokens are within reach of all players along with all of the Infamy tokens. The gold tokens are always public knowledge and will be left on the table for all to see. Infamy tokens, however, are not. When a player earns an Infamy token, it should be placed under their player mat.
The game comes with 13 custom dice. If you have five players (the maximum the game can support), you will use all 13 dice. For four players, return two of the dice to the box, and for three players (the game’s minimum), remove three of them. Finally, give the Start Player Marker to the person who most recently stole something.
In Thief’s Market, players will compete to earn the most Notoriety points. These points will be earned by purchasing cards from the Market, as well as gaining Infamy tokens throughout the game. Let’s take a look at how this is done.
The four gems will be used during the Making Purchases phase to buy cards from the Market.
The yellow bag will be turned in at the end of a round for a gold token.
The purple mask is exchanged at the end of the round for one Infamy token, which is worth one Notoriety point at the end of the game.
Thief’s Market is played over a series of rounds, each broken into two phases – the Split The Loot phase and the Making Purchases phase. At the beginning of each round, the first player will roll all of the dice and place them – along with the Start Player Marker – in the center of the table. This roll will act as the loot that the players have stolen, and will determine what objects are available to be split. Once the dice have been rolled and the Start Player Marker added to the loot, the Splitting The Loot phase begins.
Splitting The Loot
The player who rolled the dice (the start player) will take any quantity of objects (dice and/or the Start Player Marker) from the center of the table and place them in front of themself (being careful not to change the face of the dice as they are moved). Play then moves clockwise to the next player. On their turn, each player chooses to either take any quantity of the remaining items from the center of the table or steal the entire pile of loot in front of another player. If a player chooses to steal another player’s loot, they must keep at least one object and return at least one object – rerolling any dice – to the center of the table. This means that a player cannot steal loot from any player who only has one object in front of them. Play continues clockwise until each player has a pile of loot in front of them. If play gets to a player who already has loot in front of them, that player is skipped. Only players who have no loot continue taking turns. If there is only one player remaining with no loot, and they choose to take objects from the center, they must take all remaining objects from the center. This means that once all players have a pile of loot in front of them, there will be no objects remaining in the center of the table (which means someone will always have the Start Player Marker). When all players have a pile of loot in front of them, the Making Purchases phase begins.
Beginning with the player who now has the Start Player Marker and continuing clockwise around the table, players will use the dice taken during the Splitting The Loot phase to purchase cards from the Market. Each player will be able to purchase a single card on their turn – unless they have a card that allows them to purchase more. The cost of each card is shown on the left side next to the illustration. When dice are used to purchase cards, they are returned to the center of the table. Each gold token acts as a wild and can take the place of any gem on a card’s cost. When spent, gold tokens are returned to the pile. It is important to remember that yellow bag die are not counted as wild. They will be exchanged at the end of the round for gold tokens, which can be used as wilds beginning with the next Making Purchases phase. Each player will have one chance to make a card purchase with their dice. If a player has a card that allows them to purchase more than one card, all purchases are made on the same turn.
Once all players have made their purchase(s), each yellow bag die is exchanged for one gold token, and each purple mask die is exchanged for one Infamy token. All dice are then returned to the center of the table – even the dice that were not used for purchases. The Market is refilled from the active deck. For example, if two cards were purchased from the “A” deck during the phase, the top two cards will be drawn from the “A” deck so that there are, once again, five cards available for purchase in the next round. If the “A” deck is empty and there are still spaces that need refilled, immediately draw five cards from the top of the “B” deck and place them next to the “B” deck. These cards will be available for purchase in addition to any still left over from the “A” deck, so there may be instance where the Market will contain more than five cards. Cards purchased from the “B” deck will be replaced (any cards left from the “A” deck that get purchased are not replaced). When the “B” deck runs out, add five cards from the “C” deck to the Market. The game ends immediately when the “C” deck does not have enough cards in it to completely refill the Market. So … what can you purchase?
There are a variety of cards available for purchase in the Market. Some cards are worth Notoriety points at the end of the game. Some will give you end-game Notoriety points based on the types of cards you’ve purchased, and some will be worth less if your opponents have purchased cards of certain types. Quite a few of the cards allow you to manipulate the dice during the Making Purchases phase, allowing you to change the face of a die. There are also cards that have an immediate effect. If you purchase a card that grants you a special ability, you can use that ability during the same turn. Once cards are purchased and placed in front of you, they cannot be stolen by other players. An example of some of the card abilities can be seen in the picture to the right. If the iconography on some of these cards is confusing, don’t fret. The rules contains a list of every single card available in the game – listed alphabetically – that says (in plain English) what each card does. So you’ll never have to guess what a particular card will do for you. For your first few playthroughs, I’d recommend keeping the rules close by for reference.
Once the game has ended (not enough cards in the “C” deck to refill the Market), the scoring phase begins. The player with the most Henchman icons in the upper left corner of their cards will receive three Notoriety points (not tokens). The player with the second-most is awarded one Notoriety point. The player with the most gold tokens earns three Notoriety points. There is no second place for gold tokens. If there is a tie, the tied players will each get one less Notoriety point than they would have otherwise received (for example, if there is a tie for most Henchman icons, each tied player would gain to Notoriety points). Players then add these Notoriety points to the total points from all of their purchased cards, as well as the total number of Infamy tokens received during the game. The person with the most Notoriety wins. If tied, the tied player with the most cards wins. If still tied, the tied player with the most Infamy tokens wins. If there is still a tie – and this is according to the rules – the winner is the first player to grab the Start Player Marker and run from the room shouting, ” You fools! Muahahaha!”
So, is Thief’s Market the next Splendor? Did it live up to my expectations? Well, let me start by saying that the game plays quite differently than Splendor. There is some resource management and some set collection (like Splendor), but it is handled differently. So, no. Thief’s Market is not another Splendor. That being said, I absolutely love playing this game. It’s a simple game to teach, plays in 30-60 minutes, but still has a ton of strategy to work through. The concept of either taking available loot or going more “take that” and stealing form one of your opponents keeps the game changing all the time. No two games are alike, and that makes the replayability factor very large. The fact that random cards are removed before every game also makes the game highly replayable. I would highly recommend this game to anyone looking for a light (but still strategic) filler game. Thief’s Market won’t be the staple of your game night. It’s simply not long enough for that. However, when the time comes to play something light (either between games or while waiting for others to show up), I could see this hitting the table quite often. Thief’s Market is currently finishing up its shipment to Kickstarter backers, and will hit your FLGS soon. Tasty Minstrel Games does it again!