Dale Yu: Review of Diabolik – Heists and Investigations

Diabolik – Heists and Investigations

  • Designer: Luca Margano
  • Publisher: ARES
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 13+
  • Time: 90 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by ARES

diabolik

Diabolik was a comic that was unknown to me prior to this week.  Per Wikipedia, it is one of the most popular series in the history of Italian comics, Diabolik was created in 1962 and consists of more than 800 volumes, and has led to the birth of the fumetti neri comics subgenre. The series is named after its protagonist, an anti-heroic thief, inspired by several previous pulp fiction characters from Italy and other countries. Its stories consist of monthly black-and-white, digest-sized volumes.

The series takes place in the fictional town Clerville and stars the titular Diabolik, initially represented as a ruthless and cruel thief who does not hesitate to murder anyone in order to accomplish his deeds, aided by his partner and lover Eva Kant. Over time, the character evolved his personality, developing healthy roots and ethical principles such as honor, the sense of friendship and gratitude, and respect for noble souls, robbing and killing other criminals. Throughout his adventures, he is pursued mainly by Inspector Ginko.

The series sold more than 150 million copies worldwide, becoming one of the best-known and best-selling comics series from Europe. Its success had also inspired two live-action films (which were made in 1968 and 2021 respectively), a radio show, an animated television series, video games, novels, and countless parodies.

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This year, there is now a boardgame released using the characters from this series – pitting a pair of Police characters against Diabolik and Eva.  Regardless of player count, all four characters are used in each game. The teams sit on opposite sides of the board (which is essentially a map of the area around Clerville) with the Police team sitting closest to the Police Station.  Three Heists are drawn at random, with face up locations drawn to show the first clue location for the police and face down locations drawn to show the start of each Heist for the criminals.  Diabolik/Eva have a screen which hides a smaller map, they can mark these locations down on their secret map.  

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Much of the time, Diabolik and Eva are in hiding with their location being unknown. They stay in the shadows and they mark their location with face down location cards in the tracks on the side of the board. If the Police get close, the Criminals are On the Run, and their locations are known; the standees for the Criminals are placed on the board.  There is a Danger track on the board as well, if it reaches the highest level, the Criminals lose!

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The game is played in a number of rounds – each with 3 phases 

A] Secondary Characters – if they are in play, they all do their actions now.  Certain Heists and cards will put these NPCs into play.  Many of them are programmed to head to a specific location.

B] Criminals – Diabolik and Eva can take their turns in either order, but the first criminal must finish their entire turn before the other goes

Each Criminal can take 3 Actions a turn (and can freely use their special ability listed on their card)

  • Move – Move 3 locations on a green highway, 2 locations on a blue state road and 1 location on a purple country road. All movement must be on the same type of road.  Any time they leave, move thru, or arrive in a location containing a Policeman, they must state that there was a sighting (though not where they are or in what order)
  • Advance Heist – If you meet the conditions of a Heist on one of the 3 cards, place your player token on the matching spot on the appropriate card (Cannot do when you’re on the run)
  • Fight – If an adversary is in your space, choose a target, roll the combat die, and score a hit with an appropriate roll. The hit character takes a wound card and adds it to their hand. If a Criminal hand is full of wounds, raise the Danger level. If a Police hand is full of wounds, lower the Danger level
  • Heal a wound – discard a wound card, but raise the danger level by 1
  • Draw, play or discard a card – if you play it, follow the directions on the card  PXL_20220202_232029116 (1)
  • Exchange cards with your partner – if in the same location
  • Go Back in the Shadows – if you are on the run, and there are no Policemen in your location you can go back into the shadows (this counts as a move, so you cannot also move this turn).  
  • Use the Jaguar – if you are on the run and your teammate has not used the Jaguar this turn, you can use this to go back into hiding AND also move.  Interestingly enough, there is a Jaguar in every city on the board as you can use this car from any location.  Good to have lots of getaway cars…

C] Police – Ginko and Morrigan also can take their turns in either order, but the first criminal must finish their entire turn before the other goes.  Additionally, each Policeman first uses their own Police Officers in play before taking their own turn.

Ginko and Morrigan each get 3 actions (and can freely use their special ability), and each police officer gets two (though with a limited choice).  The Police actions are:.

  • Move – Move 3 locations on a green highway, 2 locations on a blue state road and 1 location on a purple country road. All movement must be on the same type of road.
  • Advance Investigation – If you meet the conditions of a Investigation on one of the 3 cards, place your player token on the matching spot on the appropriate card
  • Fight – If an adversary is in your space, choose a target, roll the combat die, and score a hit with an appropriate roll. The hit character takes a wound card and adds it to their hand. If a Criminal hand is full of wounds, raise the Danger level. If a Police hand is full of wounds, lower the Danger level
  • Heal a wound – discard a wound card, but lower the danger level by 1
  • Draw, play or discard a card – if you play it, follow the directions on the card
  • Exchange cards with your partner – if in the same location
  • Investigate – in their current location, they Investigate – if the current location is on one of In the Shadows tracks, the card must be turned face up.  Additionally, if Diabolik or Eva is in that location, they Go On the Run.
  • Bring a Police Officer into play – discard Police cards from your hand to bring officers into play; he can be used starting the next round

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The game continues with the Criminals trying to complete the three parts of the three Heists, and the Police trying to find the clues in their investigations and/or exposing the Criminals to put them on the run.   The Criminals win if they can complete two of the Heists.  The Police win if the Danger Level reaches the maximum level.  In one case, our game ended because we just quit.

The Danger level increases each time

  • The detectives activate a Clue
  • Diabolik or Eva starts their turn on the run
  • Diabolik or Eva heals not in the hideout or if their hand is full of wounds
  • Other things too detailed to mention here

The Danger level decreases each time

  • The Criminals complete a Heist (1 point per clue activated for the Heist)
  • Ginko or Morrigan heal not in Clerville
  • Ginko or Morrigan have a hand filled with wounds
  • Other things too detailed to mention here

My comments on the game

I really like hidden movement games, as Scotland Yard is one of my favorite all time games.  In this game, there is a bit more going on.  You don’t just have to find the hidden movers, but you also need to thwart their Heists and maybe injure them along the way.  The action cards give you a bit more to consider – is it worth using the actions to draw and then play the cards?

The criminals will switch from hiding to being On the Run.  They obviously can’t be on the Run too long as this is one of the things that drives the Danger Level up.  But the game forces the two opposing teams together a lot – you’d think that this would happen a lot. The Criminals are driven to certain locations in order for them to complete their Heists.  The Police have to try to figure out where the Criminals want to go, and then do their best to expose them or beat them up.  However, in our experience thus far, it doesn’t really happen that often.  

The game is set up to give the Policemen clues as the the location/trail of the Criminals, but there are so many possible options from most towns on the board that it’s really feels like dumb luck when you happen to find one of the criminals.  It takes a lot of energy to track someone down, and you have to do it quick as an additional movement away from a known point makes it nearly impossible to even track.  Rather than try to find the Criminals, the Policemen in our games were more motivated to work on their clues rather than trying to reveal a Criminal.

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At first I couldn’t figure out why the characters would want to fight, but man, it’s tough when your hand is limited by wound cards (you have a limit of 5 cards in your hand), and you risk changing the Danger Level if your hand is ever filled with wounds. (And the police officers disappear off the board if they get hit).   If you are ever able to be in the same spot as an enemy, it might be worth it to try to punch them.

In the end, it really feels like there are two parallel pick up and deliver games going on here.  The policemen are racing from location to location on the three clue lines to try to advance the danger meter by achieving these nine tasks.  You will still need to get a few more danger points by getting the Criminals on the Run – but again, this feels fairly random at the start of the game.  It only felt like you could track/trap them at the end when you knew where they had to go to complete certain Heists…  For the most part, the cops didn’t interact much with the Robbers at all.

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The action cards add a lot of variability – and they cannot be ignored.  Both sides will require certain types of cards to complete some of their investigations/heists.  However, the special actions on the cards can definitely be powerful, and most of the “big” turns were the result of playing a card and getting a powerful or unexpected action.

The rules… are definitely not for me.  The organization is just not suited for the way my brain works.  There isn’t really a flow to them; it looks like a glossary with a heading in red and then a few paragraphs talking about the subject.  But, there is no single page where the rules are just laid out as far as: here is how a turn goes.  Many of the initial entries tell you the minutiae of certain aspects of a turn, but you don’t know where that fits into the grand scheme of things for another 6 or 7 pages.  You have to piece it all together from the different headings, and they’re not particularly in the order I needed to learn them in.   Some important rules (such as maximum hand size) are just thrown in a seemingly random fashion in a different section and not easily found.

Now, to be fair, the character sheets have a decent player aid on them with the turn flow on one side and the possible actions of each character on the other – but this was not well communicated by the rulebook at all.  I’m fairly certain all the rules are in the rulebook, but not in a format easily followed.  This is literally one of the worst rulebooks i’ve read in recent memory.

We muddled through a first game, being thwarted from looking things up by the rules, but managed to get through it.  Once we figured it out, the game seemed to work just fine – assuming we played that game that was intended.  A second pass through the game (so I could try the other side) was still fairly stunted.  If you’re looking for something more complex than Scotland Yard or Garibaldi, this might do it for you.  If you’re a Diabolik fan or you like comic-based art, this could be a good addition to your collection. But, man, good luck with the rules.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it.
  • Neutral. Dale Y (the game), John P
  • Not for me. Dale Y(the rules)

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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