For my first review, I thought I couldn't do better than to discuss one of my favorite little games. Enjoy!
What's it about? Pirates! Each player is a pirate clan trying to collect the most valuable merchant ships. The theme is thin, but the game play is so simple that this little bit provides enough narrative.
What are the specifications? 2 to 5 players or up to 8 in teams of two. I've never played with teams but have played perfectly fine games with 6 players. The sessions last between 15 and 20 minutes.
What do you get? Cards. About 80 of them, divided between pirate ship cards (in four colors and with power ranking from 1 to 5) and merchant ship cards (valued from 2 to 8), with four pirate captains and one admiral. The art is in a bright, overblown cartoony style. Not a "serious" looking game, but attractive in its own way.
What's the set up? Shuffle all cards, deal six cards to each player, and begin.
What do you do? On your turn you have a very basic choice: Play a card or draw a card. When you play a card, you can either put a merchant ship in front of you or, if there are merchant ships already in play, you can attack one by placing a pirate card on it. You may only play pirate cards on a merchant ship if yours is a different color than any other pirate ship on it. You may also want to add pirate cards to merchant ships you have previously played on to cement your hold, though you can only add cards of the color you started with.
At the beginning of your turn check to see if you have the largest value of pirate cards on any merchant ship. If so, you take that merchant ship and add it facedown in front of you (discarding the pirates on it). If you do not have the highest value, your turn proceeds as normal. Also, if a merchant ship that you put out on your previous turn does not have any pirate cards on it, you add it to your collection.
The pirate captain cards act as trump and win merchant ships regardless of the values of pirate ships. However, you can only play one on a merchant if you already have a pirate ship of the same color on. If multiple captains are played on the same ship, the last one played takes precedent. The admiral card is the same as a pirate captain with the following adjustments: you don't have to have played a pirate on the merchant ship first, and you can only play him on a merchant ship you played. Many players end a session in heartbreak, not finding the right moment to play a captain or the admiral, but they are usually immensely useful.
When does it end? When the deck is gone and at least one player is out of cards, or all players cannot play. It is important that merchant ships still in contention when the game ends (that is, not claimed by any player) don't count as points. So often it's a valid (but risky) tactic to hold on to merchant ships you don't think you can take and play them at the end so no one gets them.
What's the point? Each of the merchant ships you collect has a number of gold depicted on it. The player with the most gold wins! Beware, however: any merchant ships left in your hand at the end are NEGATIVE points at the end of the game.
How does it play? Loot's simplicity makes the game move fast, so fast that people who are used to more "thoughtful" games may be caught off guard. With experienced players (which everyone will be after one session), this game hauls. "Fast and furious" is a great description for the game, as players will battle back and forth for the high value ships. This isn't a game to necessarily be played by impulse, though. The choice of when to play which pirate card or merchant ship can be hard, and you often must decide to cut your loses on a fight you can't win and invest elsewhere.
There is a sneakiness to the game as well, such as when a player puts out a low value ship while the other players are embroiled in a fight over a high value ship. The game is also great for the moments of stunning reveal with pirate captains and the admiral. "You want that ship? Too bad, I've got a pirate captain!" "Really? Well, BAM! So do I." "Sorry guys, but the admiral says I'M getting that ship." Even the choice of color can be sneaky, as only one player can use a particular color of pirates on a single merchant ship. Because ships are not taken when multiple players have the same value of pirates on them, you'll also see battles over a ship that "stall": all players involved have run out of cards in their color and all either fight over other cards or just draw. The game tends to go in cycles of drawing a lot and then playing a lot.
How much luck? A good deal. The merchant ships and pirate ships are all in one deck, so it's possible for one player to draw nothing but merchant ships or be otherwise screwed by luck of the draw. However, there is a good amount of skill too, tactical decisions about what to play where when. Kids and adults can play together, but adults may find themselves having to hold back if they want to keep the kids competitive.
What games is it like? Nothing I can think of. The back and forth flow of cards is somewhere between trick-taking and bidding, but is really neither. Like many other Knizia games, there is a simplicity of rules somehow leads to a depth of game play.
Special considerations? One thing I hate about this game: blue and green! The shades of color they used look exactly alike. In less that perfect lighting, be prepared the argue about which color some cards are. All of this could have been avoided with a better color selection or some other way to distinguish the cards. Also, the cards are printed "full bleed" and will show wear pretty easily. I consider these both only minor annoyances.
Recommended? Heartily. It's a good buy for anyone who wants a fast and fun game sprinkled with hard choices. Everyone I've played it with has enjoyed it.
It sounds like it has aspects of Great Wall of China with the flavor of Treasure Fleet.