Tuesday, July 06, 2010

LOOT AND SCOOT: A Win for Victory Point Games?

I am a sucker for dungeon crawl themed board and card games. I own the vast majority of the games included in Board Game Geek's Definitive Dungeon Crawl Geek List. When I saw that the scrappy independent game company Victory Point Games had developed what they believe to be a "Euro Style" and "Family Friendly" version of a dungeon crawl game, I knew that I would have to add Loot and Scoot to my collection.


Adding the game to my collection is one thing, keeping the game on the "keep ready at a moment's notice" shelf is quite another. I own quite a few games, but only a few manage to find their way onto readily accessible shelf space. Most games end up in one of my gaming closets, or even banished to my storage unit where they rest until my wife and I manage to make the millions necessary for a house big enough to house a proper gaming library. Given that we live in Southern California, that truly means millions. Storage games do get played from time to time, but such occurrences are rare and must be planned. TSR's All My Children and Fantasy Flight Games' Fireborn are both games that are currently trapped in storage. If my gaming group shared certain affections with me, Fireborn wouldn't be there but she is.

What is the fate that awaits Loot and Scoot?

My friend, and fellow board game aficionado, Eric visited my house the other weekend during a non-roleplay gaming weekend and we tried out a number of games to test their merit and Loot and Scoot was among those games we played.

Loot and Scoot is one of many genre themed games published by Victory Point Games designed by Chris Taylor, or as VPG calls him the "Maker of Games." It would be fair to say -- attempting to not tip my hat on this particular evaluation -- that Chris Taylor and I have extraordinarily similar tastes in game themes. In addition to designing the pen and paper FALLOUT game that accompanied FALLOUT: TACTICS, Taylor has designed FORLORN HOPE (an Aliens/Space Hulk inspired game), NEMO'S WAR (a solo game inspired by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), and has a number of free web-published games. Let's just say that based solely on his attempt to design a solo game based on a Jules Verne novel places Chris Taylor among my favorite designers.

Premise

Loot and Scoot is a game of exploring dungeons, training adventurers, and scoring the most "loot." Each of the two to four players in a game of Loot and Scoot takes on two roles. Every player is a dungeon owner and a band of hearty adventurers seeking to kill the monsters and take the stuff from the other players' dungeons. In this manner, Loot and Scoot combines elements from FFG's excellent Descent game with the progenitor of all Dungeon Crawl games TSR's Dungeon.

Descent has players in direct opposition to one another as one represents the Dungeon Master and the others represent the adventurers. In Dungeon all of the players are adventurers seeking to loot the same dungeon and the first player to meet certain victory requirements wins. In Loot and Scoot players stock their own dungeons and loot those of their opponents. Games with more than two opponents can see some players' dungeons become the focus of several players for a time.

Basic Flow of Play

At the beginning of each game session players select a map they will use as their own dungeon which they will stock with an array of dastardly creatures in the hopes of creating a challenge for their opponents. Each player also begins with two "level 1" adventurers and two hirelings. Players will use these character to explore the dungeons of their opponents, a player can never explore his/her own dungeon.

Once the players' dungeons have been stocked, the players' work as "dungeon master" is finished and the only ways that the dungeon will change are due to the successes of the opponents' adventurers. Monsters don't leave their rooms once they have been placed. It should be noted that the dungeon stocking phase of the game shares some qualities with Stratego. Players want to place their Dungeon Bosses -- really tough monsters -- in such a way as to make their opponents work hard to get to them.

During a player's turn he/she may use money that has been acquired, either through adventuring or using an action to "beg funds," to recruit adventurers and hirelings, train adventurers, or purchase buildings where adventurers may be trained. Different adventurers are more, or less, effective against different monsters and players are well served to have a well-balanced and highly trained party. The game's design is such that there are not enough characters, or buildings, for every player to have multiples of each character type or training facility. This can lead to trading and auctioning activities when a player encounters a monster that his/her adventurers are less than effective against. Having limited resources adds a nice level of depth to the play and increases player interactivity.

When looting an opponent's dungeon, players go from room to room (revealing and combating monsters as they go) attempting to acquire as much loot -- and defeat as many monsters as possible -- before encountering the dungeon's Dungeon Boss. Defeating a Dungeon Boss ends the game and points are scored at the end of a full round of play after the Dungeon Boss is defeated. This activity sounds easier than it actually is in practice. Defeating an individual monster is no easy task, an adventurer has either a 1/6 chance or no chance at all of defeating a monster. Certain monsters can only be defeated by certain character types. For example, the Werewolf may only be combated by the Mage, the Cleric, and the Fighter. Any Rogues in the player's party are of no use. Additionally, only one of each of those characters can contribute in a battle against a Werewolf -- each needing to roll a six in order to defeat the beast. It is guaranteed that players will lose hirelings/take damage while they are adventuring, but it is up to the player to decide how far he/she wants to push their luck as they loot dungeons. Play too cautiously and opponents will run away with the game. Play too loosely and you will never acquire enough victory points to win the game.

The game play has a nice balance of luck and skill. The luck comes in the form of the die roll resolution, but the skill comes in rationally analyzing your odds of success. This kind of luck/skill balance is common in Eurogames and is one of the reasons they have such a broad appeal. Having elements of luck in play allow less skilled opponents to win, and thus expands the number of those who can have fun while playing. Having elements of skill appeals to those who find the whimsical hand of purely luck driven games dull. Taylor's design in Loot and Scoot has the right balance of the two, both in the "planning" stages and in the eventual "adventuring" stages of the game.

Component Quality

Like all of Victory Point Games' games, Loot and Scoot is well designed graphically. Also like all Victory Point Games' games, there is a "hand made" quality to the components. This is because VPG games are designed by people with excellent graphics skills who are actually making the game by hand. The game features hand cut die-cut counters that had their graphics printed on a high quality ink jet printer.


At $17.95, the components compare well to other die-cut counter games and are far superior to the components of early Microgames like Ogre (those Microgames have an inflation adjusted price of approximately $10.00). As a die-cut counter game the components are good, but for those who prefer miniatures/meeple/wooden blocks this game won't quite meet expectations. The game also included one of those microscopic 6-sided dice, something that I actually would have preferred they left out of the bag. Did I write bag? Yep. The game, like those old Microgames, comes in a ziplock bag.

Some of the above comments regarding the components read a little more critical than I intend them too. I just want you to know what you are getting for $17.95. This is the 2010 version of a Microgame, inexpensive components and a reasonable price.

Overall

Components and rules aside, whether or not a game gets played repeatedly or gets its place on the "keep ready at a moment's notice" shelf is determined by two major factors -- is the game fun to play and can it be played repeatedly? In the case of Loot and Scoot, I can give a resounding yes to both questions.

There are a couple of things that set this game apart from other dungeon crawl games and make me want to have it as readily accessible as Descent. The game sets up and plays quickly. The games mechanics encourage player interaction due to a scarcity of resources. The game has internal mechanics that prevent one player from feeling "beat up" on for more than a short time. All in all this is a fast and furious game, and I cannot wait for the expansion.
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