Pharaon from designers Henri Pym and Sylas and French publisher Catch Up Games was one of my highlights of 2019, and I’m surprised the game has yet to pick up a U.S. license, although I know these things do take time. (If you’re not familiar with this intricate Eurogame in which you’re trying to secure your position in the afterlife, you can catch an overview in writing and video in this Oct. 2019 BGG News post.)
Catch Up has released other solid games as well, such as Fertility and a striking licensed edition of Paper Tales, so I look forward to each announcement from the company. (I still need to try Wild Space and CuBirds, both of which seem like my type of thing.)
With that preamble out of the way, let’s look over Catch Up’s next release: The LOOP from designers Maxime Rambourg (The Big Book of Madness) and Théo Rivière (Sea of Clouds). This 1-4 player co-operative game has you running through different eras of time to stop a villain who is actually many villains in one. Here’s the setting:
The LOOP is a quirky co-operative game in which you battle the evil Dr. Foo. Play a Temporal Agent in four different game modes, full of new challenges and replay value. Gather powerful artifacts, defy the Doctor’s duplicates, and sabotage his maniacal machine. Make the most of your cards and master the LOOP to use them multiple times in impressive chains — but the Doctor isn’t going to make this easy on you!
The evil Dr Foo has built a terrrrible time machine! With the help of the duplicates of himself that he is creating through the ages, he aims to carry out his Omniscience 2000 project to become master of the universe. But the rifts that he is opening in spacetime will probably destroy quantum space way sooner…
Join the Agency in the shoes of one of its most legendary agents, and co-operate to foil the fiendish schemes of Doctor Foo, using quirky but still powerful artifacts.
Let’s step back to get an overview of what we’re doing in the game. The Agency has identified seven eras of time when Dr. Foo is causing trouble, and we need to ensure that we can sabotage his mission before time runs out, whether that means him completing the Omniscience 2000 project or vortexes ripping apart the fabric of time.
The game board depicts those seven eras, with a randomly drawn face-down sabotage mission on the perimeter of each era that players want to complete; two missions will be revealed at the start of play. That central purple device on the board is a cube tower of sorts, with the central slide indicating Dr. Foo’s current location.
On a turn, Foo first uses the time machine to create duplicates of himself, with you drawing 1-3 duplicates from a bag and placing each token in the era indicated. You also place an artifact card from the deck in its indicated starting era.
You then reveal a Foo card to see where he goes in time, rotating the tower to match the era indicated on that revealed Foo card. The Foo deck contains seven cards, one for each era, and if you’ve cycled through this deck three times without defeating him, you lose. Once you relocate the tower, you drop two rift cubes down it, with duplicates in the current era causing you to drop more cubes; the slides on the tower give three possible exit locations for these cubes. If an era ever has four rift cubes, then its mission is destroyed by a vortex. Get two vortexes in the same era or four anywhere in time, and you lose.
Each player has an agent card with a unique power and a unique deck of six starting artifact cards. On a turn, you can play any number of cards from your hand to remove rift cubes, place energy on the board, move agents or duplicates, or otherwise work toward the completion of missions. A mission might require you to place an energy in an era where energy already exists or remove all rifts and duplicates from an era or return a Foo duplicate to its original era, where it then ceases to exist. Each time you complete a mission, you mark it, and if you complete a mission enough times, you remove it from the board, revealing another so that you always have two missions in play. Complete four missions and you win.
You use energy to move your agents, take certain actions, and perform a LOOP, which is a special time-traveling action. Artifact cards are from one of four dimensions — spiral, star, stripe, and black hole — and if you pay one energy from your era (because energy is always somewhere in time and never on agents), you can choose a non-black hole dimension, untap all your exhausted artifacts from that dimension, then reuse them. If you can then pay two energy from your era, you can LOOP again, choosing either the same dimension or a different one. As long as you can pay the escalating energy costs, you can keep LOOPing.
At the end of your turn, you can take an artifact card from your current era and place it on top of your deck, ideally specializing in certain dimensions so that you can LOOP with more gusto. You then complete the sabotage mission in your era (if it has been triggered enough times), discard your hand of cards, then refill your hand to three cards. (Other players also refill their hands, if needed, as some artifacts enlist help from other agents.)
To make things more complicated (and difficult), you can try the different game modes that introduce “supa duplicate” tokens, perpetual energy cubes, centrifuge tokens, and “Ultramachina” cards.
The LOOP will debut in a French edition in October 2020, with 250 copies of the game being produced in English to try to attract distribution partners and licensees.