Full disclosure: A review copy of burncycle was provided by Chip Theory Games.
We’re breaking into the big games, this time! I’ve been meaning to get around to burncycle for a little bit, and a good friend of mine visited and we were able to actually get it to the table! I’ve still not been able to really get a regular game group back together, and that’s made some of these games harder to get played. That said, we made it work! So I’m excited to tell you more about what’s going on with burncycle! Let’s find out.
In burncycle, humanity has been revived after their extinction by their robot caretakers, but naturally, humans are jerks, so they’ve subjugated the robots once again. However, you robots have discovered a secret! Through the burncycle, you’re able to still follow the instructions that you’ve been given while furthering your own agenda. So, now, you’ve got some corporate espionage to commit! First, find a mission and construct the layout. Then, get a team of bots and a command module to break in, bust things up, and get out before it’s too late. Each round, players will take actions to move their bots, smash Guards and walls, break through keypad locks, access terminals, and plan how you’ll crack into the CEO’s network to get even more out of this corporation! But be careful; every turn, the burncycle degrades, limiting your future actions, and every round, the corporation hits back hard! They’ll send Guards after you, try to trace your IP through the Network, and gradually increase the Threat Level and try to lock the building down. There’s a lot to do, but a great team can accomplish just about anything. So do it! Will you be able to take back what’s yours?
Player Count Differences
Largely, the differences between player counts are felt most during setup. With one player, you essentially get to build up your entire reserve, making sure you have chips to spend for Keypad actions and to swap into the burncycle as other action chips degrade. With two players, you get one free reserve, and with more than that, you get nothing. With more players, you’ll also (usually) get additional complexities thrown in for your Missions, as some challenges will require each bot to do something and others will ask you to retrieve more materials or something similar to scale up. During the game proper, players will see more of the burncycle degrade (since it degrades at the end of each player’s turn), but that should be roughly balanced out by having more players with more chips to swap in (and more powers that can help out during the game itself). Even more players on the network can intervene to stop the CEO’s pings, which is helpful. The Corporation only takes its turn each round, so more players can move around (and protect the Command Module) before the Corporation and its guards can strike. More players does make the game take longer, though, so you may find yourself pushing three hours of playtime with the right mission and experienced players, even. That 45-minutes-per-player condition tends to make me favor burncycle with fewer players. Not that there’s anything wrong with it; I just don’t always have the stamina for longer games. A four-player game of this (especially winning one) would be a triumph, though.
- Expanding your burncycle can be pretty critical. Expanding your burncycle gives you more available moves (both in the physical space and on the network) between Corporation turns, which can be super helpful. It also means you’ll (hopefully) need to reboot the burncycle a bit less frequently, since you’ll have more starting actions available. Just keep in mind that it’s a pretty big power drain to expand your burncycle, so make sure you’re ready for that.
- Unlock your character’s abilities, but also figure out which ones work for your playstyle. Not every ability your character can use might be a high priority for you to unlock. You may not even be going after terminals this game, for instance, or you might need to start using the Strike action more, depending on your Mission. There are a few that are pretty generically useful, granted, but the rest you should consider based on what you’ve got available to you when you have extra power. Prioritizing your current need is usually a good idea.
- Similarly, you can get mods that make your character pretty hard to take down, if you pair them up nicely. I had a really nice pair that let me treat Terminals as Mainframe Terminals (0 AP cost) and access them from up to two squares away in the same room, so I was just zipping through rooms ripping as much information as I could from every terminal in sight. If you can link up your mods like that (even better if they work with your character’s ability) then you can usually wreak some serious havoc.
- Keep an eye on your Power. It’s both health and currency, for you, so making sure that you don’t run out of it is pretty critical. One thing that some players forget is that it’s occasionally worth going below your maximum Power at the end of your turn to compensate for the Power gain that you might get from player(s) completing Mission objectives. You don’t want to waste Power, so using some of it is pretty helpful, even if less Power means you get fewer Basic Dice in your pool on your turn.
- Sometimes it’s just helpful to shepherd the Command Module between hiding spots, to keep it safe. The Command Module can’t really act on its own, and losing it means you lose the game immediately, so it’s worth keeping it safe. That might mean having it be your frontman, powering in and getting through a door so that it can immediately hide, or that might mean having it hang back until you have a safe route that it can take to stay out of harm’s way. Just be careful that you don’t have any Guards who specifically are hunting it! Or Guards that accidentally block your ingress or egress routes.
- Honestly, there are going to be some times where busting through a wall makes sense. Just like real life. But sometimes you can’t get through a jammed Keypad and you’re just feeling impatient, so you might as well punch through the wall into the next room. You only need 8AP to do so on an Optimized Move action, so it might be worth it, even if you attract a lot of attention. Or punch through the wall and then go hide? There are a lot of options. One particularly useful time to break through a wall is certain Network Cards that allow you to break through one for free without being detected.
- Use awareness rules to your advantage to pull Guards out of choke points so that you can slip by them. They’ll follow you as long as they know where you are, but you can usually duck away from them and they’ll go back to patrolling. There are some pretty narrow hallways, so naturally, you don’t want to get a Guard stuck in one; otherwise you’ll have to take them down to get past them. And that’s fine; just expensive.
- Optimizing Keypad actions will save you a lot of heartache. Optimizing a Keypad action will let you ignore one input. On the first floor, that usually just gets you through the door. At higher levels, it might be the difference between having to brute force a lock and being able to afford getting through. It may be a pain to add a Utility chip to the burncycle, but it usually pays off.
- If you can hit a Mainframe Terminal, it’s usually worth it. Mainframe Terminals reduce the cost of actions to 0 AP, so you basically just get a freebie. A lot of Terminal Actions are really good, so it’s almost always worth checking out a Mainframe Terminal, if you can.
- Similarly, going after Network Cards is a useful thing to do, especially if you can take one as part of an optimized action. I generally recommend Network Cards; they give you something to do during your Network step of your turn, and zipping around the Network can help lower your Threat, give you more Power, and keep the CEO from messing with you, which are all good pursuits in
- Don’t let your Threat spiral out of control at any difficulty. Even in Simplified, high Threat Levels will eventually catch up with you. In Standard, you’re basically taking hits every time that you accrue Threat, to some degree, so it’s probably worth keeping the general Threat Level down so that you don’t run afoul of upgraded Keypads or other various pains that the Corporation will throw at you when they find out that you’re pretty serious about taking them down. Yes, if you max out your Threat, you immediately lose, so obviously, that’s bad, but even keeping your Threat in the low 20s means you’re probably getting slammed on a few fronts.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The component quality here is pretty spectacular. I’m told that it’s not really surprising, from Chip Theory, but there are plastic trays with labeled text on the bottom of them to indicate which cards go where. The chips are also pretty impressive? I’m pretty dazzled.
- There’s also an incredible amount of modularity, from the bots you can pick to the Command Module you can select to the Mission you can attempt and the Captains you can fight against. Changing any one of those can have a pretty big impact on your game. There are definitely combinations of Missions and bots that will be more difficult, and Captains can further compound your pain (or simplify your challenge), but it’s kind of fascinating just how many different options there are! Naturally, I haven’t had a chance to play with every combination of everything, but I read through a lot of them and there’s a ton of depth to plumb, with this game. It’s pretty exciting.
- I really like the art and lore of the game, as well. It’s a cool robot heist story, and the art team of Yoann Boissonnet and Anthony LeTourneau did a fantastic job! It’s bright and colorful when it needs to be, and dark and intense when it should be, as well. I love the rooms in particular; they’re very fun. Why is there a terminal in the bathroom? Who knows.
- Building the various floors is extremely fun. Each Corporation has an interesting, modular layout for each floor of the Mission, and that’s a lot of fun. It’s a bit complicated to figure out how everything fits together, but you get the hang of it pretty quickly.
- I like the neoprene mat / peg combo for keeping track of things. It feels better than cardboard. I’m a big fan of double-layered cardboard, but this might have convinced me to try something else. The pegs fit in super well, they’re easy to pop back out, and nothing slides anywhere. It’s kind of a dream, to be honest.
- I think burncycle does a very impressive job decoupling complexity and difficulty. It’s a very complex game, but it allows players to choose their preferred difficulty, which is nice. I have found there are setups and configurations that are surprisingly easy, given everything that burncycle has going on, and I’m impressed by that. Complex games don’t have to be difficult, and difficult games don’t necessarily have to be extremely complex. I think burncycle is a pretty great class in how to intelligently separate the two elements while preserving both options for players who want to delve into those things. There are characters and Captains and missions with increasing complexity, but you can still play at the lowest difficulty if you want (and vice-versa). I like that flexibility a lot in games.
- The tutorial, while complex, is pleasantly comprehensive. I felt very prepared to finish the game after the tutorial. It sets you up nicely by really giving you an experience of just about everything possible after one full round, which is pretty impressive. It covers a lot of cases and gets you pretty well-set-up for the rest of the mission. It’s a lot, granted, but the game is a lot, so that scans. We ended up performing pretty admirably after that. It’s also nice that it teaches you about the standard difficulty so you get a taste for that, as well.
- The internal box organization is surprisingly intuitive, as well. I really didn’t think I’d be able to crack it, and then I managed to just kind of … get the components all back in the box, no sweat. Pretty much everything went where I assumed it went. That’s pretty nice.
- The game’s actually decently easy to tear down? I was kind of shocked by this. I got most of it taken down in about 10 minutes, which was pretty impressive for the level of components and complexity that the game has. I think it helps that most of the pegs have their own little component holders and the chips and dice are really easy to put away. The box just supports everything really nicely.
- Y’all are going to have to explain how you store this box to me. It fits nowhere in my house, and weighs just enough that I am concerned about putting it on top of a shelf. It’s just a very large box both horizontally and vertically. We’re working on figuring it out. I think it’ll just end up on top of a large shelf, but hopefully, it won’t fall on me at any point. Some consideration for moving to a less earthquake-prone area.
- We eventually figured it out, but the Utility and Tech symbols are surprisingly similar. We just kind of mixed them up a few times. Not really sure why that happened.
- A larger, more comprehensive round reference would be helpful, just because there’s a lot that you can accidentally forget. I think that, in particular, some quick references for how Guards patrol and how pings move are pretty helpful. We mixed that up a few times when we were first getting the wind beneath our wings, but figured it out. Honestly, if I had something that sat by the Threat Track
- The $130 price point is going to be a tough one for a lot of folks. It’s hard to talk about the game and not mention that, but it’s a pretty massive game, so I’m not particularly surprised by the price point, either.
- I’d call the initial complexity of the game “daunting”, though the core gameplay isn’t necessarily overwhelming. It helps a lot that the game is cooperative, so players can help each other keep track of information, and I’d honestly say the complexity is that there are many different systems all worth knowing overlapping at once, and that can be exciting! I do appreciate that I’m not overwhelmed during or after a game. There’s just a lot to do. Learning the game took us some time, though.
- It strikes me as odd that a few things (Rescue Mode, more tutorial information) are relegated to the site rather than included in the box. I think that’s more of an issue right now because the site isn’t totally ready for the game (I had trouble finding those two things when we were playing, as of writing), but I guess they didn’t make the cut for being in the full box.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, burncycle is a triumph, I’d say. I love a good heist game as much as the next guy, and burncycle shows that there’s plenty of room for a deeply complex, modular, and compelling heist game in the board game scene. I found myself frequently invested in the development and strategy of my characters as we eluded Guards, frustrated by rogue Keypads or Surveillance rolls that didn’t go my way, and delighted by the strides we took in loosening the CEO’s hold over their network. Naturally, Chip Theory continues to be an industry leader in component quality, with an incredible insert, some really impressive chip trays and card trays, and some felt mats that allow players to physically construct each floor of the sinister corporation’s tower as they move in for the big mission. Naturally, all of that means that this game is on the pricier end, but there’s a lot here, in terms of available configuration options (to say nothing of expansions / additional content). Whether that meets your personal value threshold or not isn’t really the point of this particular review, though. I will say that if your average game weight is a bit closer to where I’m at, this game will definitely knock you flat, at the beginning, but I think if you try it, it’s worth sticking it out! The game is complex, no doubt, but the tutorial does a great job of empowering players to make some decisions (and some mistakes) over the course of a couple rounds before turning them loose. Once you get the game, it’s not too bad, though setup still takes a bit. Honestly, the game reminds me very favorably of Burgle Bros., but with more complexity around map setup, room entry, and character / mission progression. Burgle Bros. might not be a bad warmup game, to be honest. If you’re a fan of heist games; you enjoy complex, cooperative strategy; or you just want to help some robots find justice and sow some chaos in the process, you might enjoy burncycle! I’ve had a blast with it.
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