- Designers: Maxime Rambourg, Theo Riviere
- Publisher: Pandasaurus
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 12+
- TIme: 45min
- Played with review copy provided by Pandasaurus
In The Loop, you are part of a group of Time Agents that will go back through the different eras of time to stop the nefarious plans of Dr Faux. The different eras of the time space continuum are seen in the seven wedges on the board, and in the center, you will find Dr Faux’s time machine, which is a cleverly disguised dice tower with three exit ramps.
Each wedge of the board gets its own sabotage tile (2 of which are face up at the start of the game). Your team’s goal is to meet the criteria on these sabotage tiles in order to cripple the time machine. If you are able to beat 4 sabotage tiles, your group will win! However, if you fail on a sabotage tile, that era of time becomes a vortex. If you create 4 vortexes, then your team loses. They will also lose if you try to make a vortex where there already is one. Dr Faux’s 7 card deck (one for each era) is shuffled and placed on the HQ board. There are 3 slots here, and they help track the progress of the game. The team must complete their task before the Dr Faux deck runs out for the third time! This is the other way that they can lose the game. There is a game mode tile – and before the game starts, the group should choose which mode they want to play this game and put the appropriate side face up on the board.
Each player chooses one of the 5 Time Agents and takes the starting hand of 6 cards for that agent. These are shuffled and 3 cards are dealt out for a starting hand. This hand is placed face up on the table. Before the game is started, the Artifact deck is shuffled and some cards are dealt out and put near the Era to which they belong. Finally, the bag of Dr Faux clones is shaken and some clones are drawn out of the bag. One side of the clone tells you where to put it, while the other side tells you what era to go to in order for it to be destroyed.
The game is played in a series of turns until one of the game end conditions is met. On each turn, the player goes through all five phases.
1] Dr Faux phase – Look at the current position of the Faux deck and place clones and cards are shown above the deck. Then reveal the top card of the Faux deck and turn the time machine so that the middle ramp is facing the shown Time Era. The drop 2 Rift cubes + 1 Rift cube for each clone in the designated area into the top of the tower, and see where they pop out, then add them to the Rift Spaces in those areas. If you cannot place the Rift cube in a space (i.e. it is the 4th Rift cube), that whole area becomes a Vortex. Place a Vortex marker on the era, remove the Mission tile from it and any artifact cards that were there.
2] Action phase – The active player can now take as many actions as they want (and are able to). You can do the same action more than once in a turn. You can move to an adjacent Era by spending an Energy cube from your current Era. You can also make one free move action per turn – this ability comes from your character tile; flip it over to show that you have used it this turn. You can tap a card in your hand and apply its action – the costs for this are stated on the card. You can also do a LOOP; this allows you to untap all the cards of a particular dimension (lines, stars or swirls). It costs 1 energy to do this the first time on your turn, 2 for the second, … Also, each agent has a specific unique action on their character tile that only they can do. As you are taking your actions, check the Sabotage tiles to see if you have met the requirements for it – if you meet them, add a Damage counter to the Sabotage tile.
3] Add a card to your deck – You may take one card from the Era that you ended your movement on. Add this card to the top of your deck, and it now becomes a permanent part of your deck.
4] Archive a Sabotage tile – if there is a sabotage tile that has the requisite amount of damage, you can remove it from the board and place it near the HQ board. If this is the fourth tile here, you win! If not, reveal the Sabotage tile in Dr Faux’ current area. If this is already revealed, go clockwise until you can reveal one. Also, the team gets a bonus – reveal N+1 Artifact cards and each play can add one to their deck.
5] End of turn – discard all the cards in your hand and then all players with less than 3 cards in hand draw up to 3. Make sure that your character tile is back on the active side. Check the HQ board to see if there are still cards in Dr Faux’ deck. If not, shuffle the cards and then move them to the next slot in the track. If this is the 3rd pass thru the deck, you lose at the end of that deck!
The game ends immediately when any of the end game conditions are met
- Win if 4 Sabotage tiles are destroyed
- Lose if 4 Vortex tiles places
- Lose if you have to place a 2nd Vortex on any Era
- Lose if you go through the Faux deck three times
My thoughts on the game
The LOOP is an interesting cooperative game. After my first few games, i’m still interested in exploring it more. The random arrangement and assignment of the Sabotage tiles keeps each game feeling fresh, and the four different modes of play also allow you to change up the feel and the difficulty of the overall game. Most of my games have been played with the basic “Sabotage” mode, and the game has been plenty difficult without anything extra added in; and once we feel proficient enough with the base, we can add in the extra geegaws for the other modes. Additionally, having five different agents, each with their own special ability, allows you to shape your strategy depending on which special actions you choose to include.
The flow of the game is pretty simple. The team has to work together to defeat the immediate threats (the Rift cubes) and the long term threats (the clones which continually pop up) while trying to work on the Sabotage tiles when possible. Players generally don’t have time to do all three things on a given turn, so you have to prioritize your plans.
There are plenty of obstacles which can get in the way. First, you have to have drawn the right cards to do the things you want to do. For instance, if you don’t draw any cards that remove Rift cubes, there’s nothing you’ll be able to do about that on your turn. Second, you’ll need to have energy cubes in the right place. Perhaps you’ll have cards that will provide them for you, or maybe they’ll just be on the board from a previous turn – but you’ll need them to move around. And, while you’re taking your turn, you’ll also need to consider how you are leaving the board for your partners as they’ll need the green cubes too!
I like the way that you can see the cards of the other players. Some of the strongest Artifact cards (IMHO) are the ones that let you use cards from another player’s hands. Sure, you’ll lose the ability to refresh them – as those partner cards are generally discarded or destroyed after use – but you can often get maximum benefit from a card when you get to use it at the right moment. Also, there is a reduced penalty on this use as your partner(s) will be able to draw cards to replenish their hand to 3 cards at the end of your turn, so it’s not like you are depriving them of a card to use on their turn.
Because of the visible hands and the opportunity for sharing, there is a larger chance than most for quarterbacking – but at this point, your gaming group should have already figured out how to deal with this issue in cooperative games, and it’s no worse than say Pandemic. If your group can play Pandemic, this has the same sort of feel. In our group, we just discuss before each turn, but in the end, we let the active player do what they want to do after the discussion.
I do have a small issue with the scaling of the game. Some of the Artifact cards and some of the Sabotage tiles use the location of Time Agents. It is much easier to have the right combination of locations when you have 4 Time Agents in the game as opposed to only 2. It’s a small quibble, but it has led me to consider playing with a dummy player (who we just quarterback around) when we play the game with 3.
The components are well done, and I really like the little dice tower/Time machine widget in the center of the board. The three-way ramp system is a good way to add randomness to the distribution of the Rift cubes – and it’s just fun to dump the cubes in and watch where they land.
The rules were pretty clear. Lots of examples and explanations in the rules, as well as clarifications on some of the cards. We didn’t come across any questions in our games that weren’t easily found in the rules. But, before I give a gold star for the rules, I have to take away some for the color scheme. The rules are a combination of violet, pink, and beige. And if it seems like those colors are close and would be hard to distinguish from each other…. Well, you’d be right.
The Loop has been enjoyed here thus far, and we have had close games trying to defeat Dr Faux. We still have two game modes to explore, but heck, even if we didn’t have those, the game has been quite enjoyable and we’d have been happy to just have those two modes. Given the mild scaling issues, this is probably a game I’ll save for the full 4 player count, but it isn’t a mandatory thing. The game has played fine with 2-player and 3-player counts so far.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
James Nathan: Mechanically, The Loop is a solid logistics puzzle co-op, in the tradition of something like Pandemic, but it’s nice to have the varied goals for each game. It didn’t quite click with me, but that’s mostly a theme thing, as I have trouble getting into games with sci-fi settings.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y
- Neutral. James Nathan
- Not for me…
Small quibble: You only get to archive a sabotage tile if you end your turn on that tile’s era.
Great review :)