“Oiy din’t do nuffin!”…mind you all inmates say that. We’re all innocent, don’t you know?!
I’m just gutted the smarmy gits of Taron’s army collared us… caught on the outside dunny, taking a morning constitutional thinking about getting away for the summer when they unceremoniously kicked in the door and dragged me off to clink…and me only in my carpet slippers and Wednesday Trilby!
…now I’m off for a holiday at his majesty’s pleasure…
Press play for a subtle incarceration ambience to accompany your read
During the Dragul Invasion of Nalos, King Taron’s loyal soldiers throw captured minions into Kulbak Prison, where enchanted gates and Construct guards make escape all but impossible. Once each year, Taron releases the toughest gang of war prisoners into the royal Colosseum.
What’s All The Fuss About?
Fuss indeed? I have to openly confess not having indulged in Roll Player at all. I had, prior to receiving this preview copy, no knowledge of the Roll Player world at all. I was a complete ignoramus. A spot of quick research was in order….So what is it all about, this Lock Up?
We command a squadron of the aforementioned captured Dragul. We are tasked with acquiring goons and craft contraband to raise our reputation. We must keep our suspicion with the guards as low as possible whilst establishing ourself as the most powerful crew in Kulback. In six short days, Taron may offer us the chance to fight for our freedom.
Oooh…so we might get an early release…to an uncertain grizzly demise, no doubt.
“Lockup: A Roll Player Tale is a competitive worker-placement game for one to five players. In the game, players manage groups of minions — gnolls, kobolds, bugbears, goblins, or insectoids — locked up in Kulbak Prison”
Immersion or Subversion?
Being part of the surviving minions left over after King whatshisface Tarron miraculously managed to direct his soldiers into quashing the Dragul Invasion, we have been unscrupulously bunged in the ‘nick’. Yes we are prison inmates at his Majesty’s pleasure doing hard time. The idea is, or the game premise is for us, as a gang leader, to use our loyal crew to basically re-enact the first half of the Shawshank Redemption. This is not a game about escape plans but how we can use the meager resources available within the prison to craft items, potions and disgusting toilet brewed hard liquor. Well, maybe I exaggerate a little.
If this is the backstory then the illustrative style and gameplay very much sling us eyeballs first into the murky depths of prison life…backs against the wall, finding suspicion is rife and reputation is power!.. although you couldn’t run a light bulb from it, but I digress slightly here from the life of the con.
And so we arrive at the hardest part of a review for me… I don’t wish to recant a lengthy prose detailing every last mechanism, every nut and bolt of the game, every detailed nuance. I shall pick a number of elements that have risen to the surface during my play and waved in a friendly manner at me, grabbing my attention, forcing me to take note.
- Locations During Roll Call & Lights Out: Normal game play would see players distribute their crew tokens at various locations throughout the prison. When Lights Out, they all sneak about and contest superiority at each location by comparing crew member strength. Strongest of which get to pick the top action at the contested location (be it collecting resources, recruiting Goons or choosing Items for Crafting). In solo play the game differs a little here and instead of an AI criminal opponent, prison Guard cards are used for our oponent displaying similar icons to our crew tokens. They are shuffled and distributed one to each location. There is an element of bluff with hidden Guard identity and as we place our crew on the board in a vain attempt to out wit the guards, certain opportunities arise to reveal two Guards. This can, in a small way, help with our planning but also leads to high tension for it is mighty difficult task to predict the location of each Guard (strength ranging from 0-6) These Construct guards also gain a strength bonus from suspicious Goons lurking about at their location, making life even more tricky for us. This is probably the most intriguing element of the game as the AI has very much joined in the bluffing element offered in multiplay.
Successfully beating the Guards entitles us to first action choice but cleverly not all locations offer a second or last place option…so sometimes it is all or nothing. definitely food for thought.
- Awards Goal & End Game Goal: There are three types of objective Goal cards that offer additional opportunities for us to score Reputation during the game. Instants are not used but Award cards change hands regularly as we or the guards meet the win criterion set out on the Gaol card at various points throughout the game. It is, however, only scored at the game end if in one’s possession Come the final reckoning. And the Game End Goal, as its name suggests, scores bonus points at the end of the game id the criteria is met. This adds an extra level of complexity and involvement. Strategies not only focus on, let’s say crafting Items, but need to consider the type of Item…Icons on Goons and Items will correspond to different Goal cards and as such force us to consider not only our future plans. But also those of the AI. Our actions can influence the rewards the Guards actually receive and as such, deepen our strategic planning. Another layer of interest and focus ever-present to engage us.
- Goonery & Crafty Skills: It feels like there is more depth in this worker placement lark than initially meets the eye. We can enlist a variety of incidental inmates to assist in our gang’s bid for supremacy…each bringing their own skill set to the crew. But the Guards are quite capable of rail-roading their way through the milling crowds, picking on unlikely souls and bullying them into becoming…well, basically snitches. So this takes planning and drains valuable resources, especially as we need to keep the Guards enclave of snitches to a minimum or face colossal endgame defeat. Acquiring resources does not simply fulfil a Goal requirement. The resources are vital materials for us to sneak back to the cell block and craft into ad-hock, useful Items…and coincidentally Reputation scorers. Again, as with Goons, simplicity is not a feature. We may craft Items but during their search, the guards acquire, seize or otherwise get their grubby mits on the precious point-scoring junk as well. We need to think what will benefit us whilst simultaneously leave behind meagre pickings that will not benefit the Guards.
- It All Ad Up: The game has its own tensions but End Game Scoring really adds something extra to the tallying up stage of this solo game. The number of games I have had a significant lead by the end of turn six, only to find during the tally that the Guards have managed to recruit a load of Hairy Dwarves who score an incredible set collection bonu…and the shiny stuff too…Icons on Items or Goon cards can just as suddenly add up for the Guards and the tally suddenly wazzes past my marker. Then to see how I did…scoring similarly to the guards, my tally eeks towards the AI score marker…but have I done enough? The tension is palpable. A really great way to end a game.
I suppose what I am trying to say in a rambling fashion is that Lock Up, although a simple game to play and learn, has many hidden depths that conspire to bring us a cunning game of exceptional richness.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
It is always a tricky one for me to comment on when I have a preview or prototype game to play and review. In this case, even though these are prototype components, I would have been hard pressed to tell this apart form a retail copy. The Artwork is excellent, depicting the location and characters superbly. the layout of information is clear and, although all cards are of a small Euro size, they do not feel cluttered.
I don’t know at this stage if the wooden components will remain the same but at this stage they are all of a decent size and finish.
As can be seen above, the board even when populated with resources, Guards and my crew, looks pretty spectacular and, even though I chose to place the resources on each location, it didn’t impede gameplay in any way. I envisage the production copy to be an incredible piece of work …but don’t take my word for it…check out the campaign when Lock up goes to Kickstarter (link coming soon)
Meeples and Standees:
- Game Design: Stanislav Kordonskiy
- Artist: Lucas Ribeiro
- Development: Keith Matejka
- Graphic Design: Luis Francisco
- Game Publisher: Thunderworks Games
- Playtime : 90 mins (this is on the box but solo plays much quicker)
- Gangs of one: 1-5
- Age of Consent: 10+
- DOB: 2018
Lock Up has an interesting label on my preview copy box side…saying 2-5 players… I am assuming this will change because the game has its own dedicated solitaire mode with a set of dedicated solitaire components. So, yes, this does accommodate the soloists amongst us.
Unlike the normal multiplayer game, the solo mode pits our inmate crew against the wits of the Kulbak Prison Guards. These chappies are Construct Automaton looking devices…emotionless Prison Screws with one sole purpose: Keeping us in line.
Rather than matching our crew strength to that of fellow inmates, we match up to the guards instead. There is a set of solo specific guard guards with similar strength number values to ours, included in the game. These are shuffled and distributed one to each location. During play we reveal the hidden guards and compare strengths as in the multiplayer game and reap rewards in a similar fashion. The guards score reputation during the game through collection of items (a hierarchy of acquisition exists for the AI when taking Item cards and Goon cards). The AI doesnt deal with resources as we do but can still sneakily steal Award cards from us when icons on Goon or Item cards meet the requisite figure on the reward.
I like this variation probably more so than the multiplayer game. The idea of my gang of disreputable inmates trying to put one over the system, the Guards…the Man! is somewhat more appealing than simply competing against other inmates.
The mechanics and overall gameplay make for a most enjoyable solo experience and feel in no way forced, bolted on or an afterthought. This has obviously been well-tested in development.
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: Initially, I started to see a way to win regularly (although I was only just squeezing past the AI at the finishing post) but my overconfidence was my down fall…following the first couple of fortuitous games, my plans were regularly scuppered…especially on the harder level. I think that there are going to be a number of additional features to further adjust difficulty levels, but as it stand, I have managed to win a little over 50% of my games but have yet to produce a landslide victory. The game is a very close run thing requiring very careful planning. It is winnable but will never be a sure path to victory.
- Rules is Rules is rules: What can I say? We have before us (in its current prototype state) a fifteen page rule book of which only eight describe rules of play. There are several dedicated to expanding on the way locations work and how certain Goons affect game scring…then just two pages for the solitaire game, pointing out the few minor differences to the multiplayer game. The book is simple to read, clear to understand, free (as far as my understanding of the game) from ambiguity and allows quick access to the game. I would, however, like to see a couple of the Item card/Goon card abilities/costs icons clarifying (especially those with blank die shapes with question marks in them). It is possible from their symbols to ascertain their meaning but it would save us a little time if a reference was made available somewhere. Other than that the rules have managed to achieve a succinct document that sets us off in the world of incarceration.
- Lucky Buggers: There are no dice rolls and all crew/guard strength comparisons are simple numbers on each card (although the guards do receive a bonus +1 from any Goon at a location carrying a Suspicion marker). That said, the ‘luck of the draw’ regarding which items become available each round and the particular Goons out and about is high on the agenda. I can be frustrating at times but that is the randomness of life and is necessary to make us think harder about our strategy… do we go for something we need, do we just prevent the Guards from getting it or are we canny enough to achieve both. The only true ‘luck aspect is the random distribution of guards at each location…but, once again, the game has nicely included a placement mechanic allowing the reveal of certain guards after placement of some of our crew. This can be manipulated by us to help order our placement in area of great import.We can still be surprised, we can still face the inevitable crushing defeat at a location but there is a nice balance between what we gan do to negate luck and what naturally transpires to make a thrilling game experience.
- Highs and Lows: I have little experience of the Roll Player world so this is really my first incite to its existence. High fantasy theme, populated with races we are familiar from role play games to many fantasy books and games. There lies within a rather dark illustrative style. Lavish and wonderful to look at, but with a dark sinister edge. Link that to the theme of incarceration and there is a subtle and somewhat depressing overtone to the whole affair. That said, the gameplay itself, although takes advantage of its setting/theme, has a much lighter feel to it. This does not mean it makes light of the situation but more lightens our gaming experience within this environment… almost abstracting the real life feel.
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: Lock up has a very reasonable table footprint. With a board of 70cm * 46cm, I was able to accommodate board and player components comfortably in a 70cm * 60cm area.
- Build It Up Just To Tear It All Down Again: Although there are quite a sizable number of components (coloured cubes, cards tokens and the like), actual set up is very quick. I piled the resource tokens on their associated locations, whacked out my crew tokens and board, populated the board with goons and Items and placed out a Guard player board with the guard cards (special j just for solo play) This really should’t take us more than five or six minutes and even less to pack away. So we are introduced to a quick set up, quick playing game and an even quicker pack up. For the gaming experience, this has excellent timing.
Me, Myself and I:
In all honesty I really wasn’t sure about this game when I unboxed it. I knew virtually nothing about it beforehand so was pretty much playing as blind playtesters do (only I wasn’t wearing a blindfold and could see the board) Everything looked nicely illustrated and put together but I was not sure about the theme and the prospect of ‘just another’ worker placement.
Game one was awash with giant Cat prison warders which didn’t get thing off to a great start..Spudgun really has no appreciation of the efforts I go to earn, play and review a game!
But everything changed come game two. All the theory of the rules became a physical reality and things slotted into place very quickly. And by game three commenced, I could see ways I would adapt my strategy to take control of the Guard ‘Problem’ and started racing away with copious amounts of Reputation points. My base plan, tactically placing my crew, collecting the resources from the various locations and nipping back to the cell block to craft those all important ‘items’.
The game flowed well, turns proved to be very quick…except when I had tricky decisions to mull over…and before I knew it, it was score time. Crafting items score the valuable Reputation Points as they are made (for both us, the soloist and for the Construct AI Guards so it is a relatively simple task to keep track of who is storming into a disreputable lead.
That said, however, we must not forget the Goal cards and Goons recruited all provide various end game bonuses…which, for me, suddenly added a whole new level of tension. Yes, card counters and number crunchers could probably keep tabs on what both players have next to their respective player boards, but for my games, I managed to storm ahead until final reckoning without the slightest knowledge of how the AI Items and Goons were building up.
I worked out the AI guard’s bonuses and watched dismally as its tracker speed ever further from my own. Then to tally my work…ever close…point by point…and for many games that I won, I just crept ahead…but equally the games I lost, my tracker crept so close to the AI but fell at the last couple of points. There was one exception where the AI collected many Dwarf Goons who had a high ‘collection bonus’ and as such I was walloped by a whole twenty one points defeat. I have spoken to Keith about my games and some of the point balancing is already being looked at re: effects on solo play. This particular anomaly would unlikely raise its head in multiplayer games as everyone is battling it out for supremacy, hiring, bribing and cajoling Goons of all races onto their side, but the way the AI takes Goons in solo play is a little less discriminating/tactical… I am sure by the time it goes to print all solo games are likely to be extremely close, well balanced, tens affairs indeed.
And so…this proved, the more I played (and I clocked up about 12 games) the more I liked it. It was quick, tactical, frustrating, and thoroughly engaging as a solo worker placement. Not something I imagined it would be as most (but not all) worker placements I find rather sterile…especially for solo players. In this case for us, the live player, the game offers an AI that has a role. Namely it challenges our activity as would be expected from a set of prison screws, but it also makes for a competitive opponent whilst offering both AI and us a variety of Goals to further improve our Reputation. Have to say I am well chuffed with the game (English expression meaning ‘very pleased’ with)
Yay or Nay?
This game, without a shadow of a doubt, has, with magical gates and Construct Automaton guards locked up all the trouble makers as well as the BSoMT 1d8 die, forcing a marvelous (8) for its solo gameplay.
This is one I genuinely recommend soloist take a look at when it comes to kickstarter. Set in the Roll Player universe but a very, very different gaming experience.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to sneak past two guards with this toilet seat pinched from the govenor’s personal bathroom stuffed up my jumper…and donkt even think to quiz me about where I am hiding a tin of soft peaches…walking is not the easiest now…
…I have no idea what I am going to make from these items but needs must when one is banged up.
If it’s there, nick it!
Something For The Weekend, Sir?
Lock Up Kickstarter link (link available when project goes live-18th Sept)
Lock Up BGg page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/240855/lockup-roll-player-tale
Thunderworks Games Lock Up web page: http://www.thunderworksgames.com/lockup.html#