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LOOTING LONDON

Reviewed by Herb Levy

LOOTING LONDON (Gryphon Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, 30 minutes; $24.95)

 

London is under attack by criminal elements as no less than five rare treasures have been looted in a single night. But not to worry, the best sleuths (notice the familiar figure on the box cover?) are on the case, attempting to solve these dastardly crimes and be heralded as the finest detective in the land. Thus begins Looting London, a new game from Reiner Knizia and the 7th entry in Gryphon Games’ bookshelf series.

The game consists of 72 cards bearing the likenesses of witnesses that you might expect to find around the London of the late 19th Century. You have 18 each of Organ Grinders, Waifs, London Bobbies and High Society Dames. There are also 25 square evidence tiles (in green, red, yellow, blue and purple), each with a certain point value. Finally, there are 5 “Loot Disks” which indicate the crimes committed (a green 2 displaying a Van Gogh, a red 3 for an Incan artifact, a yellow 4 for Top Secret files, a blue 4 with gold bullion and a purple 5 with the crown jewels).lootinglondon

The five Loot Disks are placed face up in a line. Beneath them, the square evidence tiles are randomly placed to create a 5 by 5 grid. Witness cards are shuffled with each player receiving four. Four witness cards are also placed face up with the remaining cards forming a draw deck.

Only evidence tiles on the BOTTOM of a column in the grid are eligible to be claimed and, on a turn, the first thing a player may do is meld cards in his hand to collect evidence. A meld consists of cards of the same type (all Waifs, for example) and you collect an evidence tile if you can meld the specified number of cards of that particular witness as indicated on that tile. To make things a bit easier, you may play any TWO witness cards as one joker. So, for example, if you need 3 Waifs but only have 2, you may play 2 Organ Grinders along with your 2 Waifs to meet your 3 Waif requirement. But playing two of the same card has another ability as well.

Two witness cards of the same type may be played together (before making a meld) to destroy evidence! This removes an evidence tile from the game but requires you to IMMEDIATELY make a meld to claim the next evidence card in the same column! More than one evidence tile may be destroyed in this manner but only one evidence tile may be claimed per turn.

Finally, after melding (or not melding), a player ends his turn by drawing one card. He may draw one of the face up witness cards on display or draw, sight unseen, the top card from the draw deck. (Should all four cards in the display be the same type, they can all be immediately discarded and replaced with four new cards from the draw deck.) There is no hand limit.

Once all evidence tiles of a color have been claimed, that case is considered solved. The player with the most points in that evidence tile color receives the bonus Loot Disk of the matching color. The game continues until only one color of evidence tile remains. When that happens, the game is immediately over with that final case remaining unsolved! Now players total up their points in collected evidence tiles and Loot Disks. Evidence tiles of the unseen case color are worth no points! The player with the highest total wins. (The rules recommend playing 3 games, totaling the points for all three, and declaring the player with the highest accumulated total, the “Master Sleuth”!)

Looting London is a card game dressed up in the flimsiest of themes. Despite the box artwork, there is no sign of Sherlock Holmes or Professor Moriarty here. Although there are 25 evidence tiles and five colors, surprisingly the evidence is not “balanced”. There are seven yellow, six purple, five blue, four red and three green tiles (rather than the five each you could reasonably expect). You would think that this would somehow link to the Loot Disk values but it doesn’t work that way. (For example, the Loot Disks for yellow and blue are worth 4 yet the purple is worth 5!) Although light, there is undeniably some strategy involved here. Determining which cases to try to solve with an eye to bonuses available is important. (A 5 Loot Disk bonus can swing the game your way.) Also, the ability to use doubles of a card to destroy evidence so you can get at a needed tile to solve a crime (and get that Loot Disk bonus) or, just as critical, prevent someone from grabbing a high valued tile, gives the game some interaction and should not be minimized. The game plays quickly, but being limited to only one card draw per turn can be a bit frustrating. Perhaps a two card draw might increase the sense of urgency in solving the crimes.

Although Looting London could have been licensed as a Great Detective tie-in, the link to Sherlock Holmes isn’t really necessary. While not as meaty as some of Knizia’s better known works, Looting London stands on its own merits. It works well as a filler, either as an opener to a gaming evening or as a closer when just one more game before calling it a night is needed. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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