Introducing Looting London

The Gryphon Games bookshelf series has a surprising number of entries by prolific game designer Reiner Knizia, among them being Money!, Gem Dealer, High Society, and Masters Gallery. Imagine Herr Knizia taking the mechanics of Ticket to Ride, and turning it into a clever card game with a detective theme. That's perhaps the best way to describe Looting London. Originally published in German as Tatort Themse, it's now available for an English-speaking audience (with a few small changes to the graphic design) as #7 in the Gryphon Games bookshelf series.



Five of the rarest treasures in London have been stolen, and players must draw and play Witness cards to collect Evidence tiles that will help solve the five crimes and score points to win the game. Let's hop on the Knizia train and head to London to find out more about the looting that's been going on there!





COMPONENTS

Game box

The game box is the same size as the others in the Gryphon Games series:



Who stole the crown jewels? It's partly your job to solve this mystery!



On the back of the box we learn the theme of the game:
"London has been looted! Five of its rarest treasures have been stolen on the same night: an opulent crown from the Tower of London, gold bullion from the Bank of England, top secret files from Big Ben, a priceless Incan artifact from the British Museum, and a Van Gogh's celebrated "Sunflowers" from the National Gallery. You are a famous London sleuth who needs to find the witnesses, collect the evidence, and recover the loot!"
Sounds like we get to visit some famous London landmarks, and recover some famous treasures!

The theme, admittedly is thin, because the main mechanic is a Ticket-to-Ride style system of drawing and collecting sets of cards (Witnesses), and playing them to earn point-scoring tiles (Evidence). As the back of the box explains:
"Players collect witness cards, then trade them in to acquire (or destroy) evidence tiles which score victory points. The object is to be the sleuth who collects the most evidence on each crime, thus solving that crime and taking the appropriate loot disk as a bonus. But watch out! The last crime will remain unsolved and all evidence (and points) relating to that crime will be lost. The winning sleuth is the one who collects the most evidence and bonus points, and thus solves the Looting of London!"
With that, my friends, you have the basic gist of the game mastered already!

Component list

The inside of the box has a solid plastic component tray for storing the contents of the game:



Here's what you get:
● 72 Witness cards
● 25 Evidence tiles
● 5 Loot disks
● 1 Rule book



Rule book

This is the usual Gryphon Games series booklet, a sheet of thin folded card:



Of all the games in the series, the rules of Looting London are probably one of the simplest and easiest to learn, and there's no real ambiguities or points where you can get confused. You could probably read the rules in 10 minutes, and already be set to teach and explain the game to other first-timers.

Loot disks

The five round Loot disks represent the five treasures that have been stolen from London:



● Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" from the National Gallery
● Incan artifact from the British Museum
● Top Secret files from Big Ben
● Gold bullion from the Bank of England
● Crown jewels from the Tower of London

These are made of lovely thick cardboard, feature attractive artwork, and are durable and of good quality. Players will solve the five cases together, the number on each of these five disks represents the amount of bonus points that will be awarded to the player who collects the most evidence in that colour/case.



Evidence tiles

There are 25 Evidence tiles, also made of solid cardboard.



These come in five different colours, corresponding to each of the five Loot disks:



They represent 'Evidence" collected towards solving each of the five crimes, and each crime will require different amounts of evidence to solve. Each Evidence tile pictures one of four different witnesses - players must collect the matching number of Witness cards to earn that tile. The four witnesses are evenly distributed across the five cases (i.e. each witness is just as important), but a look at the overall distribution shows that some cases are easier to solve than others:



● Green (Van Gogh painting) = 12
● Orange (Incan artifact) = 14
● Yellow (Top Secret files) = 18
● Blue (Gold bullion) = 18
● Purple (Crown Jewels) = 22

Witness cards

The deck contains 72 Witness cards.



There are 18 cards each of the four types of witnesses:



● Organ Grinder
● High Society Dame
● Waif
● London Bobby



If some of the artwork looks familar, that's because it is. Artist Paul Niemeyer has recycled some of the artwork from the Gryphon Games edition of High Society (left) for the High Society Dame in Looting London (right).



Here's a Looting London evidence tile on the High Society game box:



At any rate, during the game, players will be collecting Witness cards, and using sets of matching cards to collect Evidence tiles for points.

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

1. The Loot bonus disks are placed face-up in a line.
2. The Evidence tiles are shuffled and placed face-up in five columns beneath them (it's recommended that the top tile of each column matches the adjacent Loot disk, to ensure that each case as an equal chance of being solved).
3. The Witness cards are shuffled, and each player gets four cards as a starting hand, while four more cards are placed face-up in a line next to the face-down deck.

For a two player game, the resulting set-up would look something like this:



The variable arrangement of the Evidence tiles is what changes the game each time, and helps increase replayability.

Flow of Play

A player's turn consists of the following:
1. Collecting an Evidence tile (optional)
2. Drawing a Witness card
So most of the time players are drawing cards, occasionally playing cards at the start of a turn to earn an Evidence tile.

1. Collecting Evidence (optional)

Playing cards: At the start of your turn, you can play Witness cards that match an Evidence tile at the bottom of one of the column, in order to get that tile. The number of cards played must correspond to the value on the tile.

For example, here a player plays four High Society Dame witness cards, to collect a Purple Evidence tile (Crown jewels) worth four points:



Jokers: You can use two identical cards of another witness as a Joker. For example, if the player above only had three High Society Dame witness cards, he could play two identical Waif witness cards that would count as a Joker for the required fourth High Society Dame.

Destroying evidence: You can access Evidence tiles that are not at the bottom of a column by playing two identical witness cards to "destroy" evidence.

For example, here a player plays two High Society Dame witness cards to destroy the Blue Evidence tile (Gold bullion), which is discarded from the game, and then goes on to play two Waif witness cards to earn the Orange Evidence tile (Incan artifact) worth two points:



You can even destroy several Evidence tiles from the bottom of the same column, as long as you play two identical witness cards for each (Jokers can also be used for this purpose), and as long as you go on to earn an Evidence tile from the bottom of that column. In the above example, destroying the Orange Evidence tile would have required playing another two High Society Dame witness cards. Note that because of the mandatory requirement to earn an Evidence tile from a column after destroying an Evidence tile, the tiles at the top of each column can never be destroyed.

Collecting all the evidence tiles of a particular colour means that this case is solved, and the player with the most Evidence in that colour gets the Loot disk for that case and its bonus points (nobody gets the bonus points in the event of a tie).

2. Drawing Witness Cards

On your turn, you can draw one of the four face-up cards and add it to your hand (and replacing it with the top card from the deck), or you can draw the top card from the deck. If all four face-up cards are identical, they are discarded and four new ones revealed.

Scoring

The game ends as soon as the fourth case is solved. The Loot disk of the fifth case is discarded, along with any Evidence tiles for that case - this case is regarded as unsolved, and its Evidence tiles score no points! This is a typical Knizia twist that adds a delicious tension to the game, much like the rule in High Society that the player who has spent the most money cannot win. As the game progresses, players must try to evaluate which case they think will remain unsolved, since those Evidence tiles will be worthless at the end of the game! This is one of the great parts about playing Looting London!

To determine the winner, players add up the values of their Evidence tiles and the bonus points from the Loot disks - the highest score wins.



In the example from a two-player game pictured above, the player scores 32 points, including bonus points from the Loot disks for green and purple (as a result of having majorities in both of those cases). The orange case was unsolved, and so the single orange evidence tile earned no points.

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

● Yes the theme is pasted on. But who's surprised? It's a Knizia! And who cares? It's a Knizia. The appeal of most Knizia games comes from the clever game-play rather than the theme, and this is no exception.
● The components are very solid. Thick chunky cardboard tiles, quality cards, and colourful artwork. They're not going to wear out any time soon!
● Scalability is somewhat of an issue. I wouldn't buy this game if you're primarily hoping to play it with 4 or 5 players, because it's probably best enjoyed as a 2 or 3 player game.
● I find that the two player game is a touch too long for the weight of the game. I have proposed a variant that shortens the two player game slightly by playing with columns of 4 tiles (instead of 5 tiles) - this leads to a slightly faster and more tactical game that is as satisfying as a regular three player game. Details about this variant in this thread.
● As a card game, Looting London is light and casual, and the set-collection mechanic does have a slight Ticket-to-Ride type feel as others have pointed out.
● It's a Knizia. Technically, each Witness card should result in a point, but there are some clever Knizia twists that make it much more interesting than that: majority bonuses, being able to two cards as Jokers in order to get a key Evidence tile, being able to play two cards to destroy Evidence tiles, and best of all, the fact that Evidence tiles for a single unsolved case are worth no points at all at the end. It's how you work with these elements that often determines the outcome of the game. There's some luck involved, but especially towards the end of a game there can be a delicious tension that is somewhat reminiscent of the tension in the end game of other Knizia games like Lost Cities. It's nothing ground-breaking, but it's these elements that make the game worth playing for me, and turn it into a reasonably successful filler.

What do others think?

Of the critical voices, the biggest concern is that the theme is pasted on, although there is one well-articulated contrary opinion (perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek?):
"Yet another clever little Knizia majority game. But in Tatort Themse, the theme is so well integrated into the mechanics that I really felt like I was an amateur detective, pounding the dirty, wet London alleys, pulling in all types for near-Guantanamo level interrogations, then finally pulling all the evidence together like Scooby Doo." - Jonathan Takagi

Most of the critics appreciate some of the Knizia-esque twists and find the game-play interesting, but conclude that it feels too ordinary and that in the end there is not enough to capture their enthusiasm. In other words, say the critics, Looting London has elegant rules with a pasted on theme, and is not sufficiently captivating to get too excited about it. Yet the general consensus seems to be that it's not a bad game as such, and in fact there are also quite a few positive comments, such as these:

"A set-collection game with an interesting tactical/positional element. Has a Ticket to Ride feeling but without the board. Instead of competing for the longest-route (or most-tickets) bonus, players are competing for a bonus VP disc in each color. Definitely worth additional plays! Maybe the 2nd best of the current Gryphon line" - Snooze Fest
"The artwork and production quality for this game are both very well done. Although a relatively abstract card game (it is a Knizia after all), the theme comes through well. The gameplay is quick and there are enough decisions to keep the game entertaining." - Topher Frisco
"There's set collection, majority bonuses and that typical Knizia twist that lifts it above all those average and mediocre similar card games. In this case, it's paying extra to get the card you want, and/or eliminate cards you want to deny others." - Peter Hein van Mulligen
"The theme has nothing in common with the mechanics however the game is very nice. It somehow reminds me of Ticket to Ride." - Krzysztof Miernik
"A cute little set collection card game." - Nathan Beeler
"This one's worth a second and third look. Especially the rule about eliminating consecutive clues (instead of collecting them) makes for a really clever twist. ... very competitive and tense! Recommended." - Stephan Koehr
"Typical 'abstract Knizia' concerning the connection between the theme and gameplay, but pretty good." - Mario Pawlowski
"A fun abstract game with a theme that doesn't really matter." - Greg Frank
"Very nice card game by Knizia. It has that familiar set collecting mechanism, combined with interesting card play." - Peter Hein van Mulligen
"Ticket-To-Rideish card game with a typical Knizia twist, ideally played with 2 or 3." - Pee di Moor


So even the critics concede that the gameplay is decent, and there are more than enough fans of the game who find it clever and satisfying.



Recommendation

Is Looting London for you? It's not the best in the Gryphon Games lineup, but it's definitely not the worst either. It will primarily appeal to those who appreciate the cleverness, balance, and tension that Knizia can bring to a game. So if you enjoy a card game that can be played fairly quickly, casually, and yet retains some tension, this might be for you. It's in the lighter filler category, but if that's what you're looking for, as something suitable for 2-4 players, Looting London is certainly worth investigating further.



------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
81 
 Thumb up
4.00
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Hank Panethiere
United States
Kirkwood
MO
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Another great review...I don't know how you do it, but keep doing it.
7 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
tom moughan
United States
Rochester
New York
flag msg tools
badge
ahh....I love the smell of a stack of sketchily placed animals in the morning!
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Great review. Certainly this game sounds like quite a few Rummyish games I own and/or played before, but I like the idea of the columns and the ability to destroy evidence. This game looks quick, easy, teachable, and I'm sure is relatively fun.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Richard Abrams
United States
Tarzana
California
flag msg tools
mb
An amazing review! Adding the graphics made all the difference. Thank you for taking the time to put this all together. A truly valuable service. You told me everything I need to know to decide whether or not to buy the game. I don't even need the rule book. I suspect it's not as good as your review.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Dallas Roberson
United States
Tallahassee
Florida
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Thank you for this review. The game is rather cheap ($2.50 + shipping) right now on Amazon, so I think I will pick it up!
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Johannes Wentu
Italy
Parma
Unspecified
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I played it today for the first time in 3 players and we find it perfectly enjoyable. We aren't looking for themes but for some time spent outmanevring each other during lunch-breaks. It's perfect for that.
And we also missed the most important rule that also the witness cards of the unassigned color are worth nothing!!
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls