Loot is a card game for 2 to 8 players. It was designed by Reiner Knizia and published by Gamewright. In earlier versions, this game was also known as Pirat and Korsars. The premise of the game is to capture merchant ships, thus earning gold. The pirate with the most gold at the end of the game is the winner.
Out of the Box
The game comes in a small card container with 78 cards and some very simple and easy to understand rules. Of the cards, there are 25 merchant ship cards, 48 pirate ship cards equally divided among 4 colors (blue, green, purple, yellow), 1 pirate captain card in each of the four colors, and 1 admiral. Pirate ship cards come in varying strengths, with each showing from 1 to 4 skulls. Merchant ships come in varying values, with each being worth from 2 to 8 gold pieces. Playing time is listed on the box as 20 to 30 minutes; that seems to be accurate, as most of our games check in at about the 20 minute mark. The cards are nicely illustrated, but they’re more cartoonish and zany than the previous editions, from what I’ve been told. While other themes could’ve just as easily been used, the pirate theme fits the game play pretty well.
Set up is short and sweet. Shuffle the cards into one deck and deal 5 cards to each player. The remainder of the cards are placed in the middle of the play area, forming a draw deck. The player to the left of the dealer starts and play revolves clockwise.
During your turn, you must do one, and only one, of five options: 1) You can draw a card from the draw deck and add it to your hand; 2) You can play one merchant ship card face-up in front of you; 3) You can attack a merchant ship (or strengthen an attack) by playing a pirate ship to the side of the merchant ship that’s closest to you; 4) You may play a pirate captain to strengthen your attack on a merchant ship; and 5) You may play the Admiral to defend your own merchant ship. In order to play a pirate captain card, you must’ve previously attacked a merchant ship with a pirate ship, and they must be of the same color. You may only play the Admiral to protect a merchant ship that you’ve put into play.
When attacking a merchant ship, you must keep a couple of things in mind. First, you can only attack in a color that’s not being used against that particular merchant ship. For example, if 2 other players have already attacked a merchant, 1 using green and the other using blue, you could only attack that merchant with a purple or yellow pirate ship card. Second, if you’re adding a card to a previous attack, it too must be of the same color as the previous card(s) that you’ve played.
Strength of attacks is measured by how many skulls there are on your pirate ship cards; the more skulls present, the stronger your attack. Strength is cumulative; if you attack with a purple ship having 4 skulls and next turn you add a purple ship with 2, you have a total strength of 6. The pirate captains and Admirals add even more power to your attacks, but there are restrictions. The pirate captains can only be used in addition to a previous attack using ships of their color; for example, if you’d attacked previously with a blue ship, you could supplement that attack next turn with the blue pirate captain. As for the Admiral, it can be played alone, but only to protect a merchant ship that you put in play. Attacks with pirate captains (or a defense with an Admiral), take precedent over all pirate ship attacks no matter what the strength. In a case where there’s more than one pirate captain (to include the Admiral), the one played last is the most powerful.
Whenever your turn comes back around, you capture any merchant ship in which you currently have the strongest attack. You add those merchants to your prize pile while other cards involved in the attack are discarded. If you put a merchant ship in play and no one attacks it by the time your next turn comes around, you collect it and place it into your prize pile as well.
The game ends when the draw deck is depleted and one player runs out of cards. Merchant ships which are still contested are declared uncaptured and discarded. Players will count the total number of gold coins pictured on each of their captured merchant ships and subtract the number of gold coins from any merchant ships still in their hand. The player with the most gold is the winner.
As with many card games, there’s a decent amount of luck involved; the more powerful cards can some times be unevenly distributed. However, there’s some strategy and it’s mostly straightforward. Ideally, you want to save your more powerful cards (3 & 4 skulls) for the more valuable merchant ships (6, 7, & 8 coins). That being said, the other players will probably be doing the same thing, so it might benefit you to go for the mid-tier ships (4 & 5 coins); you might be able to score several of those, while the others are slugging it out over the larger prize ships. You’ll also want to keep account of the pirate captains and the Admiral; knowing which have been played can be most helpful in planning attacks, as well as preventing a major faux pas. Another strategic ploy to consider is when to play a merchant ship. If there’s a couple of highly contested merchant ships already in play, you might be able to steal some cheap points by putting a new one in play, preferably a lower valued one that won’t draw much attention from your opponents. You’ll also want to play any merchant ships from your hand as the game draws to a close, to keep from having those count against your score.
The rules also include an option for partnership play. The partnered pairs sit next to each other and play revolves basically the same except that you can consult with your partner before each makes his/her play. While you can’t exchange cards with your partner, you can look at his/her cards when consulting, and you can attack in conjunction as well. The partnership with the most total gold, wins the game.
I was pleasantly surprised to find Loot to be as much fun as it was. Every one has enjoyed playing it and we usually find ourselves laughing a good bit. While there’s more luck than I usually like in a game, it didn’t detract from the enjoyment. It’s very light, plays quick, and is an amusing diversion, making for a solid filler. Even my nephew’s son (he’s 6) was able to grasp the basics of the game, and he really enjoyed the pirate theme. It might go down a point in the future, but right now I rate Loot a 7.