Time is called the fourth dimension in the context of the relativity theory and forms an inseparable unit with the height, width and depth of the space - the space-time. The time runs in only one direction and is not reversible, however, the time concept is relative in itself and in the theory ... Let's leave it with the simple description of Albert Einstein: "Time is what you read on the clock" and dedicate ourselves to the time machine of Dr. Faux. He tries to create vortexes with clones and rifts in space-time to destroy the known universe. We as Time Agents of the agency should try to prevent this. If this was too abstract for you, here is an understandable summary: in The Loop, which was released in 2020 by Pandasaurus Games, we play together against an evil enemy who wants to destroy everything. Shouldn't be a problem, should it?
Start into the future
For the first game setup, you should allow some time to familiarize yourself with the concepts of the game. The main element is the heptagonal game board. Each era on the game board corresponds to a time period. At the bottom of the eras are hidden mission tiles, two of which are revealed at the start of the game. The uncovered tiles show the missions that must be completed by us. The central element on the game board is Dr. Faux's time machine. Above it, in the course of the game, red rift cubes are placed in the individual eras.
The game mode tile and the Faux- and Artifact cards are placed on a separate game board, the HQ board. Depending on the number of players, Clone tokens and Artifact cards are also placed on or near the game board. Two random eras start with a red rift cube. All other eras receive a green energy cube. Each player chooses an Agent pawn, the corresponding Agent tile and the matching deck of six Artifact cards. Now the game is ready to start.
The Loop and the energy
In The Loop, players take turns making their moves until the game is won or lost. Each move consists of five consecutive phases:
- Faux Phase
- Action Phase
- Acquire Artifact
- Complete Mission
Directly in the Faux Phase the mad doctor strikes. In this phase, the actions are handled by the HQ. First, depending on the cycle, new cards and clones are placed on the board. Then a Faux card is drawn. This decides at which era the time machine will be placed. Then red rift cubes are thrown into the machine. The number is changed by the number of duplicates. The more clones and red rift cubes are on the board - the worse for us.
Now comes the big time for us agents. At the beginning of the Action Phase, the agent draw three Artifact cards from his deck. These determine his action options in this round. In addition to his special ability, each agent can move once an era without paying for it with a green energy cube. The cards on the table can be played without cost. A played card is turned 90°. On all cards there is a dark field in the upper left corner, which indicates to which dimension the card belongs. Besides moving, an agent can also perform a loop as an action. This costs energy, but the agent can reactivate all cards of a dimension. Looping can be repeated as often as needed as long as there is enough energy. If many cards of a dimension are available, looping is especially worthwhile.
If the active player cannot or does not want to perform any more actions, he has the possibility to strengthen his deck by one card. Provided that he is in an era where there is a card above the machine part. In the Complete Mission Phase the active player can archive a mission part and thus fulfill a mission. In the Refresh Phase, the active player discards his deck of cards and turns his agent chart to the side with the full battery. Finally, all players draw cards from their deck until they all have three cards in their discard.
Destroy the time machine
Once the time agents have completed three missions, the game is won and Dr. Faux's diabolical plan is foiled. The players lose if a fourth vortex comes into play, or a vortex comes into a place where there is already a vortex - and experience shows that this happens faster than you think. So it is important to keep an eye on the rift cubes and clones on the different eras. Otherwise, chance will quickly get in the way and destroy an era, especially if more than two red cubes roll out of the tower due to the clones.
Back on time
The fascinating thing about The Loop is that right from the start you are pulled into a time vortex where everything around you blurs. With sweaty hands the rift cubes are thrown into the devilish machine of Dr. Faux. More than once, this machine ruins already planned moves. Nevertheless, with our deck of cards and a loop or two, we try to harm Dr. Foo somehow and prevent the next Vortex. This is not always successful, because the difficulty level is quite crisp from the first mission on. Precise coordination among each other becomes more important from round to round.
The Loop does have mechanical similarities to Pandemic. However, the dice distribution mechanism doesn't feel as static, which is of course due to the time machine and randomness. The missions add more challenges and ensure that the game doesn't get boring anytime soon. Like most cooperative games, The Loop can also be played solo with slightly modified rules. This works surprisingly well, but it lacks too much of the cooperative play for me.
Getting started with the time capsule was not quite as easy as I would have liked. The manual is well written and includes numerous examples, but it uses a lot of abstract terms that have to be understood and used first. But once you are in the loop, you get an immersive game experience with a special design and a high replay appeal. If there was a prize for the best cooperative game, last year's prize would definitely have gone to The Loop for me.