Beware the wiles of Dr. Faux!
Beware the wiles of Dr. Faux!
Beware the wiles of Dr. Faux!
You won’t have to step into a blue box or twist your necklace to turn back time in The Loop, a recent release from Pandasaurus Games. This cooperative game supports 1-4 players ages 12+, and a game lasts around 60-90 minutes. Do you have the wits to tread and retread ground to defeat Dr. Faux? Only time will tell.
After setting up the central game boards and configuring the game according to player count, you’ll need to figure out just how you want to play The Loop. It’s incredibly flexible, featuring four different game modes with three difficulty levels for each one. There’s an additional book that provides the specific rule modifications for each mode and any additional setup necessary.
Once you’ve done this, each player can select one of the five different agents, each with their own asymmetric player powers. There’s too much to cover each of them in depth, but in your first games you’ll want to stick with the simpler difficulties and the easier agents to play. Try starting with Time Prowler or Cztwyzzek.
At the beginning of the game, two of the six eras on the board will now have an associated mission for the players to complete. Complete four missions to win the game!
Players take turns until the group wins or loses the game. Each turn has five phases:
1. Faux Phase
Before taking any actions, players must place new clones and reveal a new artifact card. Then, they resolve a new Faux card.
Rotate the Faux machine to the era indicated on the most recent card. Then activate, dropping a number of red cubes into the top of the machine. The machine will randomly distribute these cubes to three eras.
If there are more cubes than slots on an era, that era immediately becomes a Vortex. Any mission there (revealed or not) is discarded, along with any unclaimed Artifact cards. Thankfully, the rift cubes are also removed when a Vortex is created.
One way to lose the game is if there are too many Vortices, so try to keep this from happening too often.
Once the bad stuff is settled, it’s time to figure out how to slow down Dr. Faux! The current player may play the cards in their hand to do things like add energy cubes, remove rift cubes, or move (and destroy) clones. They can also move their character between eras on the board by spending energy from their current era, or by using the once-per-turn free move ability.
But some of those card abilities would be really handy to do more than once… this is where the LOOP comes in. Spend one energy and pick a symbol to LOOP all expended cards with that symbol. Ready those cards, and play them again! LOOPing a second time costs two energy, and a third time costs three energy.
3. Acquire an Artifact
At the end of a player’s turn, they may take an artifact card from their era if any are available. This card goes on top of their deck and will be part of their hand on their next turn.
4. Complete Mission
If the players fulfilled all the requirements for a mission AND the current player is in the era where that mission is assigned, it’s finally complete! Every player gets to draft an artifact card to add to their deck. Then add the mission to the completed pile and reveal the next mission clockwise around the board.
5. Refresh / End Turn
Finally, the active player discards their hand. Any player with less than three cards in hand draws back up. Get ready for the next Faux Phase!
Ending the Game
If players complete at least four missions AND fulfill the requirements of the game mode, they win! Congratulations! You’ve stopped Dr. Faux – this time.
But it’s much more likely for our time-traveling team to get tripped up along the way. The game immediately ends if the players need to place a Vortex but can’t, or if the Faux deck runs out for a third time.
Time travel is a tough concept to represent well in a board game, and The Loop does its best to keep things interesting. Characters will keep moving around the seven eras on the board, manipulating energy cubes, rift cubes, clone tokens, and even each other in a quest to stop Dr. Faux.
Dr. Faux is a schlock sci-fi adversary, creating challenges that are as difficult as they are comical. The game leans into the silliness in every element. (Look again at our villain’s name – is he our “foe”… or is he fake?)
It’s a good thing that The Loop offers lots of ways to keep the game interesting, because we found that even at the easiest difficulty (“Employee of the Month”) we could only win about half of the time. Winning feels great when you can manage it, but it often felt like we lost simply because of bad luck. Bad draws or unlucky rift-cube drops can sabotage even the best-laid plans.
The suggested age range of 12+ is about right. Younger kids could play The Loop, but the high difficulty level plus the need to incorporate probabilities into game play will probably leave them feeling more frustrated than fun.
This also leads to another piece of information that is important for families considering this title. The Loop is very prone to both quarterbacking and analysis paralysis. Because the floor of the difficulty level still requires strategy, it’s very easy for one player to craft and push “their perfect plan”.
It also shows the dark side of the flexibility of the game. Between moving, clearing rift cubes, gaining energy, knocking out clones, and nailing your LOOP at just the right moment, it’s easy to stare at the board while the minutes tick by, trying to craft the perfect turn execution. It feels great when you pull it off, but you might need to wake your teammates up afterwards.
The Loop can also be played solo, where a single player controls multiple characters.
BUT! Rather than simply take character turns in order, there is another layer of strategy in this mode. At the end of a turn, the player deals out their Artifact cards from a combined deck, one at a time, onto the character tile best suited for that card. As soon as any character tile has three cards (a full hand), it becomes that character’s turn – even if that means “skipping” other character(s).
I liked this twist on solo play, as it allowed me to choose cards for better distribution of abilities – or to concentrate on matching card symbols on a character so that LOOPing would be more effective. I felt like I was really heading up a team and we could all work together to defeat the menace of Dr. Faux.
The Loop offers an impressive array of characters, game modes, difficulties, and more. We love games that flex and this one flexes in every direction.
The Loop offers a nice combination of strategy with luck, pairing in-depth planning with breathless pause as the rift cubes roll out of Dr Faux’s machine, moving an era precipitously closer to a Vortex. But it also fails to capture the truly epic feeling of a fight against a worthy foe. Sure, Dr Faux’s fingerprints are all over the battle, but where is he? What exactly happens when you complete your missions? The game feels good to execute but is missing the coup de grâce that elevates truly great games.
Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable experience and we do look forward to the next time we face off against Dr. Faux and his clones.
The Family Gamers received a promotional copy of The LOOP from Pandasaurus Games for this review.
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Number of Players: 1-4
Age Range: 12+
Playtime: 60 minutes