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[Review] Thieves of Bagdad

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  • Tom Vasel
    I have to admit that I came into playing Thieves of Bagdad (Tilsit Editions, 2000 - Francis Pacherie) with a negative attitude. I had read some bad press
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 29, 2004
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      I have to admit that I came into playing Thieves of Bagdad (Tilsit
      Editions, 2000 - Francis Pacherie) with a negative attitude. I had
      read some bad press about the game on the internet, and I wasn't too
      impressed when I first saw it; it looked a little gaudy. Still, I love
      any theme that has the Arabian Nights as its backdrop, and the game
      purported to be a negotiation game; something I'm quite fond of. I
      finally got a group together and tried the game out, but with poor

      And I loved the game. The negotiation phase was one of the most fun
      parts of a game I have ever enjoyed, with outright lying, wheedling,
      and threatening all occurring with everyone enjoying themselves and
      having a great time. The decisions in the game were varied, and there
      seemed to be quite a few different strategies and tactical decisions
      one can make when playing the game. I like a game that has
      negotiation, resource management, and tough decisions, and Thieves of
      Bagdad meets exactly those requirements.

      A board is placed in the middle of the table, showing the city of
      Bagdad. The city is made up of five districts, placed in the city in
      a clockwise order from least important to the richest: Bazaar, Harbor,
      Sauk, Kasbah, and Palace. Each district is made up of a grid of
      hexagonal spaces that are one of two types: city or street. Each
      district is surrounded by walls, but gates connect each district to
      the next higher district. A desert, in which all new pieces start, is
      connected to the Bazaar district. A pile of district cards for each
      district is shuffled and placed near the board. Each player picks a
      thief card and matching thief token, as well as a pile of tokens that
      are the same color as their thief card. A Grand Vizier piece is
      placed in the desert, and one Grand Vizier order card is secretly
      given to each player, along with a small black bag. A pile of gems of
      different types and colors (yellow, gem imitations; blue, sapphires;
      green, emeralds; red, rubies; and clear, diamonds) are placed near the
      board. Each player takes two of their caravaneer tokens (marked with
      an "A") and their thief and in turn order, then they place them
      somewhere in the Bazaar - the two caravaneer tokens on a shop hexagon
      - and the thief on a street space. The youngest player receives an
      oriental slipper piece, allowing them to go first, and the game begins.

      Each turn has three steps, with the first being income. A player
      receives one trade card that matches the district in which he has a
      token on a shop space. Pieces that are in the streets gain their
      owner nothing. Each trade card shows a type of commodity (such as
      lead or sheep), and the values that the commodity is worth to each of
      the different thieves. For example, "Lambs" are worth six dinars
      (coins) to Said, because he deals with animals, while only one coin to
      Sheherazade, and two to Sinbad. Some trade cards are equivalent to a
      gem of a certain type, and other cards are known as "Surprises" (one
      is worth one coin, two together are worth ten coins, and three are
      worth fifty coins.) Players cannot show each other their cards or tell
      each other the values on them. They can announce the title of the
      cards, if they wish, and may lie about what they have.

      The next step is the exchange phase. Players can trade or give each
      other cards, as long as they come to an agreement, exchanging cards
      face down. When all players have concluded trading (and have
      finished yelling at the liars), the purchasing phase begins. The
      player with the slipper goes first and spends one or more of his cards
      on one of the following purchases: Cards may be combined to get a
      larger total, but only one thing may be done with each purchase, and
      no change is given. (The cards are discarded to the bottom of the
      matching district pile.)
      - Purchase a gem: A player may buy a gem with cards worth the correct
      amount of dinars or more or with the card that allows that gem to be
      taken. Each gem costs a different amount, with the diamond being the
      most expensive.
      - Purchase a new agent: A player may buy one of four different agent
      tokens and places it in the desert. They may buy caravaneers (5
      dinars), merchants (9 dinars), traders (12 dinars), or assassins (12
      - Purchase a move: A player may move one of their pieces (or the
      Grand Vizier) one space for each dinar expended. Moving from the
      desert to one space bordering the desert counts as one space. Tokens
      can move in any direction and through other tokens, though they may
      not go through walls or end their movement on the same space as
      another token's. When the piece is moved, it may also utilize a
      special ability against a piece adjacent to it after its move is
      finalized. A merchant piece can "banish" (send back to the desert)
      any caravaneer piece. A trader can "banish" any merchant piece. An
      assassin can "kill" (remove) any piece on the board but is then
      banished (killed if the victim is also an assassin). A thief can
      steal from any other thief piece, by reaching into that players bag
      and blindly taking one of their jewels for themselves.
      When a player is done with their purchase, they may make another one,
      or pass the slipper to any other player who still has cards. Players
      must eventually spend all of their cards, or discard them.

      The game is over at the finish of the turn when the Grand Vizier is
      moved to one of the Palace district shop spaces. Each player reveals
      their Grand Vizier order card. If they have the required jewels
      requested on the card, they win (a joint victory is possible). If no
      one has met their requirements, then the player with the highest
      monetary value of gems is the winner!

      Some comments on the game...

      1.) Components: All of the components of the game are very bright and
      colorful, almost garish but certainly remiscent of the bustling
      ancient Arabian market. The board, while initially seeming very
      "busy", is rather simple; and it's quite easy to distinguish the walls
      in the city, and the difference between shop and street spaces is
      quite easy to distinguish. The tokens for the different pieces all
      have a different portrait on them, as well as a letter, helping to
      easily distinguish between them. Charts are placed on the board,
      showing the values of each gem, as well as the cost for the different
      agents. The artwork on the tokens, board, cards, and especially the
      thieves is tremendous and certainly adds to the mysterious flavor of
      the era. The plastic clear jewel pieces really were nice eye candy,
      and everything fit nicely into a good plastic insert in a decent sized
      box. (although I still bagged almost everything)

      2.) Minor Gripes: I had a few small irritations with the components
      of the game. The bags for the jewels were very small, and it was
      quite difficult for some people (me) with their fat fingers to get
      them into the bags. Also, a pile of district plates was provided with
      the game in several languages. While this was nice in theory, I could
      have lived with the name of each district in another language, with
      the price of the game lessened. I hate having to place them each
      game, so I'm going to just glue the English versions to the board.

      3.) Rules: While the rules weren't in color, I really liked how they
      were laid out with excellent formatting. One impressive feature was a
      two-page illustrated spread of the game board, with different markers,
      denoting the various features. The back page of the rulebook was also
      an excellent synopsis of the game for quick reference. I found that
      the game was simple to teach, although proper values for the cards
      took a bit to understand.

      4.) Strategies: Players have a wealth of strategies to pick from.
      One strategy can be buying as many caravaneers as possible, moving
      them into the city to gain that player more money so that they can
      afford anything they want. Other players are more aggressive and
      purchase assassins to kill the other's minions, while using their
      thief to steal the jewels others have collected. Still others buy
      amounts of the worthless fake jewels to load their bags up to protect
      themselves from other pesky thieves.

      5.) Fun Factor and Negotiation: This, for me, was the most fun part
      of the game. It was a real riot to watch players excitedly tell
      another player that they had an extremely valuable card for that
      player then give them junk. It was even more fun to watch that player
      scream about the deal, while just having done the same thing to
      another player. Of course, this means that thin-skinned people would
      probably dislike the game, but as long as everyone knows that double
      crossing will occur every turn (just like in Organized Crime), then
      nobody should hold a grudge. And players must learn to recognize if
      it's more important for them to have a pile of small valued cards or a
      few large valued cards.

      6.) Time: The only negative thing I have about the game is that it
      can take a good two hours to play. I thoroughly enjoyed those two
      hours, but this may be a turn off to some players. It's possible for
      players to fall into the trap of "analysis paralysis", and take too
      long deciding what to do each turn, but I haven't run into a huge
      problem with it yet.

      Thieves of Bagdad, which is loosely based on the movies by that name,
      gave me a very enjoyable time, and everyone I played the game with
      raved about it afterwards. I will state that I played the game with a
      bunch of thick-skinned folk, and I certainly don't recommend it for
      people who tend to take their games too seriously. But if you love
      player interaction, with a lot of "take that!" play, then this game
      will be right up your alley. The time factor may be important for
      some, but there's usually very little downtime for players (unless
      analysis paralysis kicks in). The entire game is about dealing with
      the other players, and the person who does this the best will win!

      Tom Vasel
      "Real men play board games."
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