- Will Bain, Oct 3, 2013
Speed card games have a special place in my heart. Well, maybe not so much in my heart but in the adrenal gland that punches my heart every time I’m told to “GO!” when I’m holding a handful of cards. It takes me back to those evenings in my family’s cramped breakfast nook when my younger sister is slamming cards down on the table like a tommy gun, and I’m worried that if I try to put out a card I’ll pull back a stump.
Those were the Dutch Blitz years. I’ve written about that game and its cousin Ligretto before. Both are Major Fun.
And now Clumsy Thief steals up to take a place at the kitchenette table next to these finger-breaking, card-bending, blood-pressure-threatening speed demons. To be fair, the pace of Clumsy Thief is somewhat slower than Dutch Blitz and Ligretto. Don’t get me wrong. You still have to be fast. After our first game about a quarter of the cards looked like we had been playing with hammers instead of hands—attesting to frequent bursts of frenzied activity. But speed will only get you so far. It’s also good to be sneaky.
The deck of cards consists of 94 cards. Most of these are money cards in various denominations. There are also six Thief cards and two Jail cards. The goal is for players to collect the most money by the time someone runs out of cards or the deck is empty.
The game starts with players making piles of two cards that add up to $100. Once these starting piles have been made, the stealing can begin. You can steal a pile by putting a money card on top of the pile but the total of the top two cards must always equal $100. A Thief card will also steal a pile but money cards can no longer steal that pile. The Jail card can steal a pile with a Thief on top. A stolen pile is moved in front that player but unless a Jail card is played on it can be stolen by any player.
Over the course of the game, some piles can be worth thousands of dollars while others are worth only a few hundred. Players want to move fast to grab the largest stacks of cash, but being first never guarantees that you will keep the pile (unless you play a Jail card on it). The money moves around quickly and it often happens that while you are reaching for someone else’s precious hoard, an opponent is reaching for yours. Whenever all players have exhausted their possible moves but no one has run out of cards then all take a card from the draw deck and play continues.
When a player runs out of cards or the draw deck in the middle runs out the game ends.
There are odd moments of calm as players check out the available piles, scan through the cards in their hands, or wait for a draw. These quiet stretches are punctuated by flashes of hands slapping and slamming and retreating.
And the yelling. Lots of yelling and laughing.
Like all things Major Fun, the art of Clumsy Thief is clever and colorful. The instructions are simple and clearly illustrated on a single sheet of paper. You’ll probably play one game just to get used to the stacking mechanics, but once that little bit of dust is blown off, you’ll discover the joy of stealing your neighbor blind.
The Clumsy brand of grand larceny is indeed grand.