The quiet thunder of servers and the whistle of sentry drones is broken by the clicking actuators of your robot team of intruders. Through the maze of corridors and corporate offices, you’ll avoid locating and breaking into rooms that want access to the company’s safe operations in order to lock them in.
this is Burncycle, the latest release from publisher Chip Theory Games, a small studio known for its sophisticated designs and chunky components that include signature plastic chips and miles of neoprene mats. It’s a fully cooperative experience with up to four players working together in a complex, stealth-based, tactical game.
There was a chance to preview the game ahead of this year’s Gen Con in Indianapolis and, like Chip Theory’s previous title, Cloudspire, we got a wide game with a wide scope. In different scenarios you’ll cross one to three floors, each similar in width to a small dungeon. This can be quite a commitment, as the longest options take three or four hours to fully complete. There are, of course, smaller missions, but these also provide a mind-boggling challenge of connecting multiple subsystems and processes.
Burncycle Chip Theory’s Signature Poker makes excellent use of chip tokens, which give the game a heavy feel. Image: Chip Theory Games
The internalization of the rules would take a lot of drama and a strong shot of devotion. Players take turns taking actions that are controlled by the burncycle of the same name. It’s a series of chips on a sideboard that you’ll pull from a bag and manipulate during the game. Each represents an action, with some chips enhancing specific action types such as terminal or move. This approach greatly affects the tactical approach you make each round, and how you deal with obstacles on the current floor of the building you are trying to infiltrate. Additionally, the burncycle will wear out over time, requiring maintenance from players as fragmented chips are replaced with new ones.
The dice are rolled to perform each of these barncycle actions, as you progress through hallways, interact with the board, and occasionally tear apart an enemy sentry or two. The layers come quickly, as do the processes of breaking into closed doors, alerting guards, searching rooms, and managing energy. Enemies have their own activation phase and priority system, chasing down recently spotted intruders or on patrol routes.
Chip Theory has swapped out the cardboard components for neoprene where possible, making the game an immersive experience. Image: Chip Theory Games
Our work is not done. There’s an entirely different minigame representing the digital part of your team’s heist. When you balance your priorities between physical and simulated-digital playspace, you’ll take your character’s ping over a webbed network, avoiding detection by an AI opponent. This is done to reduce the level of danger, another system that influences environmental response. There are other things too, such as a command module robot that is shared by players, items to be used, and individual goals called essentials.
Sometimes, it is too much. It can feel more procedural and worked-up than amusing or dramatic. I’d really like to compare the massive amount of play to the emotional resonance of writing software or doing database administration, which is hard to reconcile with the promise of robots. Ocean’s 11, Too much time is spent waiting in rooms to avoid footing with patrol sentries or side-distraction as opposed to real, meaningful progress.
Custom pack-ins help keep track of components. Image: Chip Theory Games
Nevertheless, at its core lies a deep and rewarding puzzle. Understanding this puzzle is a cognitively engaging experience that provides great satisfaction when the other side comes out. It works especially well as a stand-alone effort, allowing you to skip the game setup and get back to the problem at your own pace. It’s also surprisingly modular, offering a plethora of variable content to mix up new bots, corporations, and scenarios. These interlocking options are the game’s greatest strength, with additional aftermarket options allowing for ease of expansion. The core box itself is huge — and expensive, only coming in at $150 for the base game — but the overall system has legs and the publisher has shown dedication through continued support.
Burncycle Is a unique and rich tabletop experience that demands huge investment from its players. It is a very attractive product with attractive view and classy table presence. Publisher Chip Theory Games is in the midst of its second crowdfunding campaign for the title, this time on GameFound where the boxed game and all of its expansions are available for pre-order. Delivery is expected by March 2023.