Now and then a game comes along, that can turn a person’s preconceived notions upside down. STEAL is one such game. I’m not shy about the type of games I favor, and I’m open about it to readers, viewers, publishers, and designers alike. The words heavyweight, complex, and long playtime are my love language.
You can find a video version of this review on my YouTube Channel.
STEAL is none of those things. It’s probably the lightest game I’ve played. Its rules are contained on a small single sheet of paper. Many of which are suggestions rather than rigid laws, and it can be taught within seconds. Despite all that, STEAL stole my heart the moment I started playing and seduced the rest of my group just as fast.
There’s something magical about a group of people who are normally entrenched into calculating the details of engine building, in a game such as Terraforming Mars. Suddenly cackling with glee because one player turned another player’s Yak into Yankee and stole it.
That’s the real key to STEAL’s heist. It’s a simple word game about flipping tiles and spelling words, and none of its ideas are particularly new. But the entire game is focused on stealing other players’ words by adding one or more letters, then tallying points at the end. That little detail makes a massive difference.
It’s pure chaos. The more words a player spells, the more opportunity everyone has to take them. The groans and giggles constantly shift around the table as players triumphantly think they created an unstealable word only to have it taken five seconds later. I’m still bitter that I proudly spelled Jarl (thank you Skyrim!), and someone turned it into Jailor.
The thing is, even players who would normally be averse to a “take that” style game would enjoy STEAL because it isn’t serious, it’s hilarious, and the thefts never feel personal.
|Gideon’s Bias||STEAL Information|
|Review Copy Used: Yes||Publisher: STEAL NZ|
|Number of Plays: 20+||Designers: Neil Charles-Jones & family|
|Player Counts Played: 2,4 and 5||Player Counts: 2-8|
|Fan of Genre: No||Genre: Word Game/Party Game|
|Fan of Weight: No||Weight: Light|
|Gaming Groups Thoughts: Loved it||Price: $32.90|
Components & How it Works
STEAL consists of 150 plastic tiles with letters on them, a sheet of paper, and a bag. STEAL is extremely fast to set up and put away, can fit in most pockets or bags, and takes up very little space on the shelf. At the same time, the bag looks so cool and distinct. That it’s never in danger of being lost or forgotten among the massive board game boxes that surround it.
The tiles are solid and strong. I don’t have any concerns about them holding up to frequent play overtime despite the fact that they are constantly being flipped and moved around.
The rules are crystal clear and easy to digest, and the scoring system is easy to understand. You simply take turns flipping tiles, and someone can shout out a word at any time and form it. Flipping stops while they form the word, but stealing doesn’t. You can shout out a new word and take it at any time by adding one or more letters and forming a new word.
At the end of a game, the first three letters of a word are together worth 1 point, and every individual letter after is an additional 1 point. So bigger words are worth more. If a word has a colored letter, the points granted by the word are doubled, if it has two it’s tripled, and so on.
There are a few restrictions. No misspelled words, abbreviations, proper nouns, or plurals and verbs ending in S. That way you can’t cheaply STEAL a word like Car by adding an S at the end. You could, however, turn it into Scar.
The price is likely a bit high for a pack of plastic tiles. But there is more to a game than its pieces and, what’s there is high quality.
Stealing our Attention
STEAL may be made from traditional game concepts, but its spin on Anagrams sets it apart from other word games. The way you have to think about letters and words is unlike any other word game I’ve played. It is incredibly simple, but scanning tables worth of words and trying to quickly figure out how to add letters to turn them into something else is a massively fun cerebral exercise.
I never really felt myself improve in games like Scrabble. It always felt like your performance was predetermined by your spelling ability when you entered it. You improve in STEAL organically and visibly. Our entire group is terrible at spelling and went from blabbering out every three-letter word possible to doing more and more complex words that were more difficult to STEAL instead.
Stealing another player’s word feels a great deal more rewarding than simply making one, especially when a player arrogantly believes they have a word locked down. The whole table is essentially getting dopamine boosts the whole game.
It’s not satisfying in a mean way either, even the sorest loser of my group took it in stride. Although he had the habit of blurting out gibberish toward the end and hoping a word would stick. It was hilarious, and we all learned new words. Did you know that Doggo is a word? Neither did I, and it doesn’t refer to a cute dog either!
The game itself is fast-paced but also leaves room to analyze as the group more or less sets the speed. It’s one of few games that managed to keep people off their phones (except to check the dictionary) as we were all leaning over in deep thought, adding letters to anagrams in our minds.
Verdict on STEAL
STEAL is one of those rare games that is incredibly light but almost infinitely replayable. Every game is different and requires a new approach depending on the letters that show up and what the players do with them. It’s enough to keep a table of heavy board gamers hunched over and scratching their heads the same way they would if they were in an intense game of Spirit Island.
The game is super simple, but it really scratches that itch in our brains that is usually only touched by the complex decision-making of a much heavier game, and it does so without any of the mental fatigue that follows. You’re just spelling words after all.
The rules are easily moldable too. We decided to use Plurals and Verbs ending in S, but only if you rearranged the existing word into a new word first. For example, turning Time into Mites. STEAL will work for you in whatever way you need it to, and that’s a much better solution than pausing to constantly check a dictionary.
Any complaint I have is superficial. I wish it had a little pamphlet with the letter distribution because, at times, I sat and waited for a letter when there wasn’t one left. But that’s incredibly nit-picky, and I could do it myself if it was that important to me.
The greatest thing about STEAL is that come-back victories are common, and there’s never a clear winner until the end. A player with only one or two words can make a comeback by stealing high-scoring words from another player, especially if they have colored letters.
I never believed a lightweight casual game would bear my Golden Shield award. However, STEAL has stolen its seat among giants and is by far the best word game out there.
I review light games knowing that they are unlikely to leave my shelf once the review is done. But my skills and experience in gaming go beyond my personal tastes. I take pride in finding an audience for a game that isn’t for me, which is why I still review them.
STEAL is a light game I actively look forward to playing. Its replay value and ever-changing nature appeal to me, and my group is happy to see it hit the table before we bring out something bigger.
The massive popularity of Wordle clearly shows there are a lot of word game lovers out there. If STEAL was able to win me over the way it did, I’d imagine that if you have an actual interest in word games it will never leave your table or pocket.
At heart, I’m still the heaviest of heavy board gamers, so it’s not going to replace my favorites. However, I will always be eager to play it. Finding an audience to recommend STEAL to is easy. Everyone. Casual gamers, hardcore games, even non-gamers. The young, the old, and everyone in-between. Anyone with the ability to spell has the ability to have a great time with STEAL.
I don’t think STEAL is a gateway game. It’s not a game you use to bring a Monopoly player into the wider world of hobby gaming, because frankly, STEAL is even simpler than that. It’s just a game you can play with anyone to have a good time. The most important thing a game can do is serve as the catalyst for a good time, and STEAL does that, down to the letter.
Pick Up STEAL from These Stores
- Fast set up and tear down
- Fit’s in most pockets or packs
- A unique and great looking custom bag
- Exceptionally simple to learn
- STEAL’s spin on anagrams is satisfying to puzzle out
- Stealing another players word never gets old and yours being stolen is funny rather frustrating
- Highly replayable
- Full of simplistic depth
- Potentially pricey for its size, especially for international customers amid the ongoing shipping issues in 2022
Who Would Like STEAL?
- Fans of Scrabble, Boggle, Anagrams, Wordle or virtually any other word game.
- If you want a game that can be played with nearly anyone in your life, gamer or not.
- If you want something fast and easy that still tickles your brain.
- You’re intrested in a “take that” style game that is more comedic than competitive.
- If you need a small game to travel with, STEAL is a great choice.
Who Wouldn’t Like STEAL?
- People who have issues spelling beyond just being bad at it.
- If you are very adamantly against any type of unfriendly player interaction. You are stealing words and, by extension points from other players and vice versa.
- Exceptionally bitter people that are against games existing as a whole, or think they are a waste of time.