Elusive Meeple

Board Gaming Reviews & Strategy

Review

Loot Island – Review

Type: Push Your Luck / Action Selection

Time to play: 30-60 minutes (Teaching: 10-15minutes)

Best played with: 4 Player (2-5 Players)

You are Indiana Jones in a sort of mix between the hunger games and the crystal maze…in other words you and up to four other explorers are racing to points maximise on an island that is also trying to kill you / stop you getting away. You will block, betray or outright attack your opponents only to race to the treasure hidden across this small hidden island!

This game box seems surprisingly small when you read that it’s published by “What’s Your Game” – a group famous for the deep and complex euros that include Madeira and Zhanghou. Also, it promises a short game time and a wide player count. However, it’s 100% correct and therefore incredibly impressive. The excellence of this company has been distilled into a short game perfect for starting or end a gaming session.

What then is the game – take a handful of numbered cards and a small set of options to offer you a tight and tactical game in which you seek to collect sets of treasure cards to gain points. Let’s start at the end. The points here are a masterful set of variations of set collection. Points for cards, points for sets of different cards, points for sets of the same cards and points for holding specific other cards. In Loot Island you will find yourself scoring a complex set of options at the end of the game, but always able to track through the game roughly who is winning and what people want.

However, each of these scoring cards will come with a cost – curses. These curses will build up on your player card and at the end of the game these will decided whether you survive or not. It doesn’t matter what your score is, if you take too many curses you will perish on the island before your loot can be hauled back to your home. So with each card that you need, you must choose whether you can actually afford to take the curses it comes with!

Back to the beginning then – how will you manage to get this loot. You will place cards which represent maps as you explore a region. At the end of a turn two regions will be tested – if enough exploration has been achieved then loot will be found. Each exploration is built of cards from players in their turns, which are placed in ascending numerical order. If explorers push on before you can get a card down then the opportunity to join the exploration may pass you by – i.e. if you have no higher numbers of that colour after others play cards, then you will miss out on the loot!

So two spots, on one side of the coast, get tested for exploration. If there are four or more cards they reveal loot. One will reveal more loot (the one with more cards). With special cards offering to match the last number played or to jump in below the other cards, there are ways of joining the party late – these tactics will be important to participating in as much loot as you can. Now, that larger loot location will pay out all players at least once and perhaps more. The smaller location though will only pay out for specific treasure found on the cards – this may not be enough to pay out players.

As you can see, order now matters as well. Who gets the first treasure, whether you can sneak into a location without playing a card and whether you can ensure that your locations are the ones that are searched this time. This is where a small number of additional actions come into play. Discarding cards from your hand will allow you to pick one of a small number of extra actions. Each one only played once will allow to rotate the order of treasure distribution or moving a players piece. A notable one of these actions will even shift which part of the coast will be explored this time – leaving players having invested in areas no longer being explored.

This is where players start to betray each other, fake investments and even pass curses amongst each other to try and win. This is also a part of the push your luck – trying to invest in a region without attracting attention, or to raise the value of the cards and keep players out even though you might be left as the smaller loot location because of it. Push your luck to even gain the loot, and then push your luck taking on more curses to earn more points. Special actions and cards will remove curses, but will you choose that over investment in the next round or above shifting the boat along the coast?!

This is a tense and tight game, but it’s easy to see where frustrations will lie for some players. This is a game where you push your luck, you must let luck in. You must let the randomness of treasure draws dictate some amount of the opportunity. Also, with so many opportunities to block or manipulate the game against your opponents, some players will feel trapped and frustrated. I heard it said of another game recently, it’s a game where the players can do more to harm another player than they can to help themselves and hence you can feel out of control or unable to overcome challenges.

In my view though, this is a part of the elegance and brilliance of the game. I am impressed with the emergent gameplay. Sure a more purist player might choose QE or bidding games above this, but for a lighter game with a great theme, this is a strong choice.

Last notes,

  • If you like short but taxing games – check this small box deep game
  • If you want to make more positive actions and hate card draws that can seem against you – perhaps check out a pure bidding game
  • If you win, try again  and see how others change their play

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