Designer: Cyril Lee, Kenneth YWN
Publisher: Blackbody Lab
Blackbody Lab were kind enough to send us a preview copy of their game for us to review prior to it's launch on Kickstarter.
In a hectic world, how you manage your time and resources is everything. The careful balance between the need to work for income and leisure time to decompress and unwind is a challenge that the majority of us all deal with on a day to day basis. Coupled with a limited amount of resources, is it possible to break the loop of consumerism and be truly happy?
Work, Buy, Consume, until Death? Do you think you have what it takes to break this L.O.O.P.? - Summary from the publisher.
In Loop (short for Life of Ordinary People), players ultimate goal is to be the happiest they can possibly be. This is achieved by completing recreational activities such as DIY, Cooking, Music and Games and achieving goals such as Emotional Wellbeing, a Family and a Sense of Belonging. To complete these activities, players will need to buy materials like Glass, Metal and Food from a finite and dwindling supply.
The cost of materials is determined by the quality of the material chosen by the player, as tends to be true in real life, the cheaper lower quality goods break sooner and end up in landfill quicker. In order to afford to buy materials in the first place, players will need to go to work to earn money, even if makes them unhappy!
Players start off by taking a player board, 2 coins, a random Material of 2 quality, 3 random goals and a career card from a choice of 2 that are randomly dealt to players (although for your first few games you’ll be Interns fresh out of University). Each player will also get a random draw of favour cards depending on the number of players.
The player board has a few key areas, towards the top is the happiness meter, where players keep track of their reputation and the area where materials that are purchased from the market will be kept.
In the middle of the player board, there are 3 slots for completed activities. Players can complete as many activities as you want over the course of the game but if this section becomes filled, players must discard one of their previously completed activities to the discard area on the main board.
There is also a section for players to keep their chosen Career card, a Landfill for any spent materials and a space for any credit cards taken out during the game.
On the main board there is a space for the remaining Favour cards, Event cards, Coins & Credit Cards and 5 face up Activities & Materials along with discard areas.
To start a player's turn, they first check to see how many favour cards they have in their hand, if they have less than 5 - they draw up to that number. They then have one of 3 options available to them: Work, Buy or Consume.
To Work, players check their occupation to see how much money they earn as well as how doing that job affects their happiness. Any money earned is taken from the general supply and happiness effects are applied to the player board.
In Buy, each player can buy up to 3 resources from the face up area on the main board. The cost of the material is determined by the player and is based on the quality of the material. A material can range from 1 to 4 in quality and has pips on the edges of the card to show this. For example, if a player wants to buy a 4 quality Food, they would pay the bank 4 coins and add the material to the top section of their player board with the 4 pips at the top of the card. Any materials that are taken from the board are replaced from the face down pile.
This is also one of the triggers for the end of the game, if the last card in the materials supply is ever turned over, the resources have been depleted.
This means players will have to be careful and resourceful of how they use materials throughout the game to avoid it ending too early.
Finally in Consume, players use the materials they have acquired to perform the activities from the main board and adding them to one of the 3 slots on their player board and scoring any happiness from them immediately. The materials required are shown by the colour at the top of the activity card and when the card is taken, the used materials cards are rotated to the next pip value down. If any material card would go from 1 to 0, it is taken from the top of the player board and placed in the players landfill. If a player already has 3 activities on their player board, they can still complete new activities but a previously played activity must be discarded.
Along with colour, each activity has 2 symbols which can be used to score the players 3 goals dealt to them at the beginning of thegame. The goals will likely need a variety of different activities on the players board to be completed. Once they are completed the scored goals go to the left of the player board with and happiness from these is adjusted.
If a player ever reaches the final spot on the happiness track, the round continues until everyone has had a turn (to ensure that all players get an equal amount of turns in the game), the happiest player by the end of this round wins the game.
Outside of Work, Buy and Consume, players also have the option of playing a number of favour cards anytime on their turn. When a player chooses to use one of these cards, they play it in front of one of one of their opponents who has the option to accept or reject it. In the majority of cases accepting favours earns the player who accepts reputation.
The favour cards are all linked to the use of Materials and are called Acquire, Barter, Recycle, Resell and Share.
Aquire allows a player to buy a material from another player, paying them the coin cost equal to the quality of the material.
Barter facilitates the swapping of materials but in the exchange, the player who played the favour card can only take a material of an equal or lower quality than the material that you swapped.
Recycle means that the player can take a card from the landfill area of another player, paying the cost to the supply to determine the quality of that material and adds it to their player board.
Resell gives the opportunity for the player can give one of their materials to another player who must pay for it from their coins based on the quality.
Share allows you to consume another player's material from their player board to help you complete an activity.
The system of favours is the only way to gain reputation in the game. Reputation can be spent to temporarily boost one of the main 3 actions or to reject a favour card played to you, It can be used to gain extra coin when Working, Increase the Quality of a material in Buy for no additional cost or score an extra Happiness point when Consuming.
The last 2 mechanics which can be added in a later playthrough for a more complicated game are credit cards and events.
Events are triggered whenever a player moves into one of the 3 sections on the happiness track (including moving down into a lower section) and are split into Continuous and immediate events. Continuous events only effect the individual player on their turn and will continue to apply until the end of the game or until they are replaced by another continuous event. An immediate event affects all players and is discarded once all the players have implemented the effect.
Credit Cards can be applied for by any player at any time and players who take one get an immediate 4 coin bonus and a 1 quality material from the supply. The player must pay at least 1 or 2 coins per turn to the card until there are 5 coins on the card at which point it has been paid off and the card can be discarded. If a player is unable to pay off the card, they must take out another credit card to assist with paying off the first card. It is worth noting that some events may force the players to take up credit cards as part of their effect.
LOOP also has a short campaign mode which not only sets the narrative tone for the game, it also introduces the cooperative mode in which all players are trying to reach a goal of 11 happiness each as well as a Solo mode in which you are trying to reach 11 happiness by the end of the game.
So, what do we think of LOOP?
When we were approached by Blackbody Lab to review LOOP, we were immediately attracted and intrigued by the unique concept of the game. The game definitely met and exceeded our expectations.
LOOP approaches the subject of work/life and the relentless consumerism of modern society in a really thought provoking way. The balancing act of trying to achieve and maintain happiness while being mindful of the resources you use is a very interesting and difficult challenge.
In our first game with the learning rules set, Ben tried a strategy of gaining as much happiness as possible, as cheaply as possible to negate having to work and losing happiness. As a result the materials pile disappeared very quickly causing the depletion of resources and ending the game well before either of us could finish our plans. What became evident to us was that to be able to get towards the top of the happiness track, there needs to be an element of resource sharing between the players around the table through the use of favour cards.
This does not however mean that the game is cooperative. Whilst the Share favour card is the most friendly way of splitting resources, cards like Acquire and Resell are a much more direct way of utilising other players resources, especially if that player does not have enough reputation or favour cards to successfully reject the favour.
The events that are added into the full game are thoughtfully implemented with each card not only explaining how it affects the game, but also having text and sometimes sources and statistics to add the background behind the card.
For example the event ‘Everything is Online’ requires players to take up credit cards to be able to purchase anything discusses the concept of the Pain of Paying, where if we have to physically pay for items with cash, a negative emotion can be triggered in our brains of making a visual loss and using card/online payments can bypass these emotions.
The game also features a short campaign which helps to frame the gameplay and gives a really interesting narrative over the next 40 years of humanity depending on if the game finishes with or without resource depletion.
The artwork in the game is brilliantly simplistic with the graphics mainly drawn from a singular continuous line. This not only perfectly compliments the subject of the game but also creates a striking visual effect that we have not seen before in other games. The player boards are double sided with one side showing prompts and text while the other is very minimalist, highlighting the artwork. Overall the art and design in the game is beautifully bold and extremely eye catching!
LOOP is a fantastic gaming experience, and is both easy to learn and teach but with many layers of strategy in working out the best way to maximise the decisions that you take and the resources you use.
It is an incredibly thought provoking game and really makes you stop and think about the impact that we have upon the world in our day to day lives and creates a really impactful message.
In a true reflection of the theme in LOOP the physical components of the game are all made up of recyclable materials, the board, and all of the cards and tokens are made with cardboard, and the cards are even printed using Soy Ink - there is no use of plastic throughout.
We really enjoyed LOOP and can’t wait to bring it to more players and who knows, maybe we can all work together and break the cycle?