Recently I reviewed Dancing Dice, where I stated, “It’s a lot simpler than Yahtzee, but the basic gist is the same where players try to roll different combinations with their dice.” Now I’ve played another game, Lucky Loop (Queen, 2003 - Karsten Hartwig and Wolfgang Panning) that is very similar in some respects to Yahtzee. The game has the theme of flying airplanes doing tricks at a show, in which players attempt to roll dice to win the game.
Sadly, however, the game is overly complex for the simple concept behind it. I like dice games that involve luck mixed with strategy, but only if they are finished in a reasonable period of time. Lucky Loop games can stretch on too long, long enough that one can get extremely bored. Also, it’s possible for one player to have such a commanding lead that it’s frankly not enjoyable for the other players to continue to participate; or one player can have a commanding lead but still lose miserably due to horrible die rolls. The luck is so high in this game, that they should drop “Loop” from the title. The components are top notch, and the game is fun - but only for a short while. The fun ends long before the game ends.
A scoring board is placed in the middle of the table. The board consists of one main scoring track in the middle, going from “8” to “95”. At each edge of the board, there is a flight plan, with an appropriate name (i.e. “Red Rooster”). Each flight plan has three different colored spaces where cards can be placed (either red, blue, green, or yellow.) There is also a separate scoring track in front of each of these flight plans, ranging from “8” to “20+”. Two decks of cards are shuffled - a blue/red deck and a yellow/green deck, with three cards from each dealt to each player. A dice cup, six black dice, one red die, and a pile of bonus chips are set near the players. One large scoring disc and three smaller ones are given to each player of a specific color. One player is chosen to go first, with play proceeding clockwise around the table.
On a turn, a player must first either draw three new cards into their hand from either deck then discard three, or “file a flight plan.” This involves either the player playing three cards down on one of the flight paths, matching appropriate colors, and discarding any cards already there; or the player replacing a single card from any flight path, again making sure that appropriate colors match up. In the first round, players may only play three cards.
After “declaring” the flight plan, the player attempts to complete the plan. Each flight plan is made up of three cards, each of a different color. The color doesn’t really matter; it is only for purposes of matching the different spots on the board. Each color has an associated word (blue = looping, red = turn, etc.) and is basically there for thematic purposes only. More importantly, each card has three numbers on it. The top number (3-12) is the difficulty of the flight. The two lower numbers, each with an associated space, are the points that card are worth. When a player attempts a flight, they do so with three rounds; although if they fail any of the rounds, the flight is immediately over. In the first round, the player takes the six black dice, setting them in front of him. He then rolls three of the dice and assigns the result to one of the cards, if possible. The player can use one, two, or three of the dice to produce a total equal to or higher than the difficulty number on one of the cards. If the die(dice) is higher than the target number, he places them in the lower space on the card; if equal - on the upper space. As long as he can do this to one of the cards, he proceeds to the second round; otherwise the dice are removed, and play passes to the next player. In the second round, the player again rolls three of the remaining dice and assigns the result to one of the two other cards of the flight plan if possible in the same manner. The player, if successful, has two choices: they can either quit now - which scores them nothing, but they get a bonus chip of their choosing; or they can continue to the third round. In the third round, players roll the remaining dice (three at most) to attempt to meet the difficulty of the last card. If successful, the player scores points for the plan. They add up the sum of the three victory point numbers that match the spaces their dice rest upon. If the number is eight or higher, they use one of their small scoring discs to mark that number on the victory point associated with that track. The player also moves their large scoring disc on the main track the same amount of spaces.
Afterwards, the player, whether successful or not, draws replacement cards for the flight they attempted and passes play to the next person. Players continue to go, trying to finish all four flight paths. They may repeat flight plans they have already successfully finished but only score points if they exceed their original score, and only by the difference in their amounts. However, the first player to score 12 points for any of the flight plans or surpass the previous high score receives another bonus chip. There are two different types of bonus chips:
“7th die” - A player can discard this chip to add the seventh red die to their rolls for one round.
“Roll again” - A player may discard this chip to roll one to three of their dice over again in a round.
Play continues around the table, until one player has completed all four flight plans.
At this point, play continues as normal for the other players, but the player(s) who have completed the flight plan must try “free flight” on their next turn. If they trade cards on their turn, they lose one victory point per card traded. When trying a “free flight”, the player must play three to six cards in front of them with a difficulty equal to or higher than twenty-five. The player puts a highlight chip on one of the cards, and then attempts the flight as normal. The card with the highlight chip must be matched exactly, or the entire flight does not work. If a player fails the free flight, they lose two victory points. A player can get a bonus chip in this round only if they complete all but one card in the path. As soon as one player finally completes their free flight plan, the game ends that round, with all players getting their last turn in. The player with the highest total wins!
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: Queen Games always produces games of the highest quality, and this one is no exception. The box is beautiful, if a tad bit too big, and has nice illustration of biplanes all over, doing fantastic flying feats. The scoring discs are small wooden discs but are easy to move on the large and colorful scoring track. The cards are really nice with different airplane maneuvers picture on each one, adding to the theme of the game. The dice and cup are - well - normal dice and cup. But still, everything fits in the oversized box well, and the game just looks good on the table. The only component that is unneeded is the start marker. I mean, do you really need to pass something around the table to remember whose turn it is? Can’t we just tell by the person who’s rolling the dice?
2.) Rules: The game rules are in German, but I found a good translation on the internet; and although I had to refer back and forth a few times to look at the illustrations, I found the game pretty straight-forward. The game seems to be most easily explained in sections - I don’t mention free flight to beginners until they’ve successfully flown at least one flight. You can introduce the game in sections. It’s fairly simple but still too complex for what the game gives you.
3.) Luck: I’m sorry, but there is just too much of this in the game for my tastes. I know that Yahtzee and Dancing Dice have a lot of luck in them. But at least in those games, I feel like I’m making meaningful decisions as to where I place the dice. In this game, you can roll horribly on your first roll, and your big meaningful decision is to simply pass the dice to the next player. Whee. And the card colors just don’t do it for me. You simply make a flight easier or more difficult - what a massive strategy option that is! Even the bonus chips don’t do much. Save them up until you need them, and the difference between the two isn’t that big of a deal. The luck carries throughout the game but holds fairly steady, until...
4.) Free Flight: I really hate this part of the game. Ooo, you get to choose your own flight plan. That sounds good, but you really only have a few meaningful options. And then rolling the free flight plan is basically a crap shoot. There is no rhyme or reason, and you just hope that you get lucky so that the game finally ends. The free flights are extremely difficult to complete, and so often a player who has done well up to this point simply rolls the dice every turn, failing their flight, and losing two victory points. Isn’t that fun!
5.) Fun Factor: Okay, perhaps I’m being too harsh on the game. I know that it’s not meant to be taken seriously. But at the same time, I felt the same way I did when playing Phase 10 - the game was playing me, not I it. Yes, it’s fun rolling the dice. To continue to do so, round after round, gets boring after a while. I’ve had games stretch to be over an hour, and that’s just too long for this kind of game, especially when there are six people playing.
I really, really wanted to like this game. I read some of the initial reviews and heard that it was “too light and fluffy.” I thought “Aha! A game up my alley!” Well, I’m sorry, but the game is too simplistic even for me; and the fact that the theme and mechanics are just clunky ways to hide this simplicity is a bit annoying. A simple game should revel in its simplicity - like Can’t Stop does. Lucky Loop strives to have complexity, but the end result is fiddliness; and that’s something I rarely use to describe a light game. I loved the theme and wished the game was better; but if I want a game like this, I’ll choose Dancing Dice instead. Fifteen minutes of fun is better than ten minutes of fun and fifty minutes of tedium.
“Real men play board games.”