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This is a game for 2-5 players by Aaron Haag. It has good artwork from Mariano Iannelli and a Rules Booklet that is easy to read, understand and play from, well edited by Paul Grogan. It is published by WHAT'S YOUR GAME and PEGASUS SPIELE

Games take from 30 minutes to an hour to play, the 30 minutes being when the 2-player Rules are invoked, otherwise with 3-5 players you are looking more to 60 minutes and over than 60 minutes and under. Like many games where the rules are rearranged for 2 players LOOT ISLAND comes across as a multi-player game that has been fiddled with for the sake of forcing it to accommodate two players when it is obviously better suited for 3 or 4. For five players it is okay but it just lengthens the game with more of the same, adding nothing except extra time around the table.

I know that the background stories to board games is often just piffle; time wasting tales that add little or nothing to the game and often don't even set the scene satisfyingly. The game background for LOOT ISLAND is similar to a lot of these, you probably won't remember it when you are playing the game, but it is worth reading for its amusing take on the Pirates on the 17th Century and their equivalent, the Treasure Hunters of the 20th Century - in this case that'll be the players. 

This is quite a hard game to actually win. The island may have treasures for you to find but it is also cursed, in fact, if you believe the background, the island itself is (almost) a living entity - it is as if it can breathe, think and act for itself against all interlopers. The Curses are found in the form of small black cubes, and player characters collect these mini-curses during various Actions and Events, often the other players have a hand in giving Curses even though to a point the players are supposedly working together. Yes, this is one of those games that is cooperative until it isn't - everyone works together - but then in the last legs it turns into a race to be the outright winner. When the game ends if any player has collected and still holds 13 or more Curse cubes then they are eliminated no matter how much Treasure/Loot they have stock piled.

The Truth: This type of game isn't my sort of game. I say that upfront now before continuing to chat about LOOT ISLAND itself. I am not biased against it, I just generally like games to be black & white - cooperative where all players win or all players lose, or every player for themselves, not cooperative until one player screws the pooch.

Apart from the main island there are seven Small Island Tiles, each of which has an effect that can be used by players who determine to Discard 2 cards of the same colour during their Turn, actually as their Turn as it is one of the options open, along with Playing Map Cards to the Main Island or Pass. 

The map/board shows four rectangular spaces around the edges along with dotted lines that run from these spaces off the board in an arc as if there were routes through the sea connecting them; the Ship token sails from space to space activating the Landing Docks opposite them on the Main Island - it is against the Landing Docks (circular spaces on the board) that players play their Map cards, one colour only per Dock but as many cards in a Turn as the player wishes to. When you place a card or cards next to a Dock you may place one of your Compass Discs on that Dock. If all your Compasses are in play already you may move one from another Dock. When scored the Docks are known as Big Loot or Small Loot. The Compass actually touching the board (ie the one at the base of any pile) allows its owner to choose a Treasure first but beware, some treasures come with Curses. Luckily there is always the choice of discarding the treasure as soon as you get it, in which case you re-bury it alongside it 2 Curse Tokens from your hand. If the Treasure has Curses on it by re-burying it they (the Curses) do not affect you. Having Amulets [a type of Treasure] is particularly helpful as you can also ditch 1 Curse per Amulet at this time; if you decide to keep Treasure found it cannot be discarded later on in the game, it's yours to keep until the end of the game, after the 5th Round.                                                                                 

 

Despite my reservations about the game's genre, LOOT ISLAND is more than just a 'semi' cooperative game, in fact the cooperation is not as heavy as in most other games that you can tie into this category. Here what you are doing is helping each other by adding Map cards to Landings so that there are enough cards in the column to allow the Landing Dock to be scored - it depends on the number of players how many cards are required - without enough Map cards the Landing gives up no Loot. Event cards (a small shuffled random deck of one A card and a number of B cards placed in the centre of the Island) determine the event for the entire Round, a new one is flipped over at the beginning of each new Round and it affects all players. 

The Healer Deck is made up from the 14 shuffled Healer cards, the number of cards to be used being equal to the number of players and come into play at then endgame. Map cards can be played to any Landing Dock not just the ones where the Ship is visiting, however once the Ship sails on any cards left behind, that is cards that didn't make a successful exploration, are discarded. When placing cards on the Landing Docks there are only two stipulations. One is that each Landing Dock has only the same colour cards placed next to it; different Docks can have the same colour cards as each other but there can be no mixed columns. The second is that the numbers (values) of the cards have to be equal to or higher than the previously placed card, thus if you are placing, for example, Green cards, 5,2,7 and 7 from your hand you would place them in this order, 2, 5, 7, 7; anyone else playing cards to this Dock column has to play a 7 or above - this is where you might cooperate with each other by letting on what value numbers you have so that you can ensure the column has enough cards in it to score. To help with the building of these columns there are 'special' cards with Stars which are sort of Jokers.                                   

 

Because this is Pirate Treasure it is made up of all different types of valuables from Amulets to Gold; in fact there are 6 different types which include the aforementioned plus Books, Jewels, Crowns and Skulls, each with a numerical value - Books being the pivotal Treasure as they can be paired with other Treasure cards; the value of the Book being multiplied by the Curse value of the Treasure card to add extra Gold Coins value to your final count - remember though if you have over 13 Curses then it doesn't matter how many Treasures you have or what their values are.

LOOT ISLAND can be found in the stores and online for around £25.00. This is an excellent price for a game with this quality of production and playability.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015