Dale Yu: First Impressions of Loop, Inc

 

Loop, Inc

  • Designer: Scott Almes
  • Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 20-40 minutes
  • Times played: 2, with review copy provided by Eagle-Gryphon

loop inc box

Loop, Inc is a game that I wasn’t overly familiar with when hearing the title – but after a short email chain with the guys at Eagle-Gryphon, the designer’s name (Scott Almes, who has also done Harbour and Kings of Air and Steam) as well as the theme (time travel) had me pretty interested in checking this one out.

In the game, players work at a time travel agency putting together trips into the past.  Each player has three time machines at their disposal, and as it turns out, you will end up getting three attempts at putting together the best trip(s).

The game is played over three days (each day is a round of the game).  Though, because of all the time travel weirdness, it’s really the same day, played three times in a row.  On each day, you get to take three new actions.  But to make things more complicated, in Days 2 and 3, you will also have to take the same actions that you took on previous days

In the center of the table, the time travel agency is set up – there are areas for all the different chits as well as a few areas for you to get equipment for your time machines.  Beneath these areas are action cards that correspond to them.  There are also a few other types of actions cards available in that row (more on this later). There are also a number of trip cards in the display showing you the different places you can send your time machines.  Each of these cards has two locations, and each location has a set of components that your time machine will need in order to successfully visit that location.

The travel agency

The travel agency

On a turn, you have limited options.  First, you must choose an action.  Over the course of each round, you must choose three new actions from the tableau.  In days 2 and 3, you must also be sure to use the actions that you had chosen in your previous runs through the day – because, remember that you are going back in time to the same day, so you need to still do the same things you did before!  Then, after you’ve taken an action, you have the option of launching a time machine.  In each round, you get one new time machine to use – so you will launch one machine in round 1, 2 in round 2 and 3 in round 3.

Yellow player's three time machines - he has started to improve the left-most one

Yellow player’s three time machines – he has started to improve the left-most one

When you choose a new action, you take the card from the central tableau, do the action and then place the card down on the table in front of you, making a row from left to right of cards played this turn.  If you are in days 2 and 3, you will also have a hand of cards – which are kept in the exact order as how you played them in the previous round.  You can choose to replay an old action, but you must choose the first card – i.e. you must play the old cards in the order they are in your hand.  When you play a card from your hand, it is placed on the right end of your new row on the table.

So what are the possible actions?

  • Garage – you can add a wheel or propeller to an unlaunched time machine.
  • Shop – you can add a camera or net to an unlaunched time machine.
  • Armory – you can add a piece of armor to an unlaunched time machine
  • Exchange – return any component from an unlaunched time machine and replace it with any other available component
  • Move – move any component from one unlaunched time machine to another unlaunched time machine
  • Advertise – place an Ad token in your color on one of the Trips. This reserves the trip for you – but if you fail to go on that trip, you’ll suffer a penalty.
  • Trash – remove one or more components from your unlaunched time machines
  • Anomalies – special actions that are unique – just read the card and do what it says
Possible upgrades to your time machines

Possible upgrades to your time machines

Examples of the "basic" actions

Examples of the “basic” actions

Whenever you take an action, you must try to complete it.  If you cannot, you cause a tear in the space-time continuum, and you must take a Tear token.  Possible reasons include: playing a Garage card but there are no wheels or propellers available in the supply to pick, procuring a component without havin a time machine to place it on, etc.  Tear tokens are VP penalties: -1 point for 1, -3VP for 2, and -6VP for three.  Worse yet, if you get four Tear tokens, you are eliminated from the game!

Tear tokens

Tear tokens

After you take an action, you then have the option to launch a time machine.  Each of your time machines has a token.  You launch the machine by moving the token from your player board and placing it on one side of one of the trip cards.  In order to go to a location, your time machine must have the required components as noted on the Trip card.

Also, only two time machines may visit a particular location in each round, and the second player to arrive must take a Tear token for being the second visitor.  If someone has placed an Ad token on a location, only one other player may go there, and that player is always considered the second player to arrive.  Furthermore, you cannot send your time machine to a location that you had visited on a previous round – you will know this because previous time machine tokens will be left above each location.

Once you’ve placed your time machine token, you check for waste.  If there are any components on your ship that were not specifically needed for that location, you remove them from your ship and turn them to the “-1” side and put them in your penalty area.  Then, score VPs as written on the location card for placing your time machine (and appropriately subtract for penalties).

The round ends when all players have played all their actions for the round – that is, chosen three new actions from the board as well as playing all cards in their hand from the previous round(s).  Then, any time machines that had been played are moved to the side of the Trip card (to show you where you’ve already been).  Any unlaunched Time machine tokens are discarded.  Any unfulfilled Ad tokens are flipped over to their “-3” side and placed in that player’s penalty area; that player’s score is also appropriately modified.  All time machines remain equipped with the components still on them.

The board is then reset, each room is filled with one component of each type per player, a number of anomaly cards are drawn equal to the number of players, and then each player carefully picks up the row of action cards in front of them – making sure to not change the order. These cards will become your hand of old actions for the next round.  The player with the fewest VPs is the starting player in the next round.

Example of anomaly cards

Example of anomaly cards

At the end of the third round, you don’t worry about resetting the board because the game is over.  The player with the most points is the winner.  In the case of a tie, the player with the fewest penalty points wins.

My thoughts on the game

Loop Inc ventures into a genre of board game that I have always been interested in.  I love reading books that involve time travel or alternate history, and playing a game with a similar theme scratches that same itch.   One of my earliest Essen memories is getting my friends to run around and look for a copy of Khronos.

Players of Loop, Inc definitely get to relive their prior trips through the day, and I must say that I really like the mechanic which forces you to re-perform the same actions from prior trips through the day.  It really makes you stop and think about how and when you want to accomplish things – because you will also have to keep the same order for those actions in the next run as well!

The game rounds scale fairly nicely, and the action is generally tight – there are not quite enough time machine widgets to go around, so there is some competition to get your hands on them… but if you are too quick to get them, your hand next round may be too full of acquisition cards and that could turn into a new problem for you! It’s OK to take a tear token or two – but if you plan poorly, you might just take yourself out of the entire game…

In our first game, I didn’t really use the reservation tiles well, as I didn’t see why I would want to use them.  In later games, the competition to use a particular tour can be fierce – and while there is some overlap in the time travel machine equipment needed is usually somewhat different, so you’ll end up with some pieces that get wasted along the way.  With repeated plays, it’s nice to be able to reserve a place so that you can concentrate on getting the right pieces for that voyage.  The only downside to reserving a location is that you definitely give some clues to your opponents as to which actions you might want to take, and then you could end up being blocked.

The components are well done, though I do have two comments – I wish that the icons on the trip cards were a little bit bigger.  There is a lot of squinting or asking people what is shown on the cards.  Sure, I get that there are a lot of icons that need to be placed on the higher value cards, but I would have preferred two rows of larger sized icons as opposed to a single row of micro-icons.

CameraZOOM-20160207141018363

see how small the arc of icons is? Imagine this from 4′ across a table

 

Also, I find that the scoreboard is really visually confusing and hard to follow.  The squares are not evenly shaped, the lines that separate the spaces are hard to see, and the path meanders all over the board.  We always had to spend a little bit of extra time trying to make sure that we had counted spaces correctly.  While it looks nice, the graphics gets in the way of actual gameplay – and that’s a negative for me.

loop inc scoreboard

Once you understand how the game flows, it plays quickly.  I think that our group will get this down to about 30 minutes of actual play time with experience.  There still is a bit of time taken to get things set up at the start of the game, but this is unavoidable.  There is a little bit of housekeeping to be done between each round, but if the jobs are split up, it shouldn’t take more than a minute to get the game ready for the next round.

The first round goes by super quick because you only get 3 actions, and they must all be taken from the board.  This generally means that you’ll take a 2 or 3 icon trip, and that’s all there is to it.  I’ve found that the first round is best spent setting yourself up for rest of the game.  Again, the actions you take in that first round have to be repeated at some point in the next round (and in the same order that you took them in the first round).  The second and third rounds become necessarily more complex because now you are juggling actions from both the table and your hand, and that’s what I really like about the game.

 

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Larry (2 plays):  I got to play this twice as a prototype.  The base idea and the internal logic behind it really excited me and it’s very clever.  I found this to be quite the brain-burner, which is something I like.  Meeting your goals while keeping all your programmed actions valid is a very nice challenge.  I’m not certain about the game’s replayability, but I’d love to check out the published version.

 

Dan Blum (1 play): The core mechanism of having to repeat the same actions each round while adding new ones is interesting. Unfortunately the rest of the game isn’t, as it’s mostly just basic set-collection. The action repetition also doesn’t end up working as well as it should because of the limited quantities of time-machine components – players can be locked into playing many of their repeated actions early to make sure they’re not wasted. You can see that coming well in advance – e.g. if lots of destinations require armor, you’d better get armor early and often – but that still doesn’t make it interesting.

Brian Leet (1 play): This game certainly has some clever puzzle elements to it. The use of the specialty parts in later rounds helps shake up what would be otherwise be a very incremental process of working through which players will want which actions in what order. I like the ideas in this game, but my initial experience was that it was a bit too dense and the actions too ‘samey’ through the course of play to really grab my interest in repeat plays.

 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, Larry
  • Neutral. Dan Blum, Brian Leet
  • Not for me…

 

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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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