Posted by: gschloesser | August 5, 2011

Loot / Korsar

Designer:  Reiner Knizia
Publisher:  Gamewright
2 – 6 Players, 20 – 30 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

Loot is the re-release of Reiner Knizia’s Korsar, which was actually a re-release of his previously titled Pirat.  You have to give the good doctor credit, as he is the master of getting his games re-released!  This certainly is to the advantage of Dr. Knizia as I am sure it translates into a few more English pounds in his pocket! Often, it also benefits gamers, too, as games that may have went out-of-print get new life and are once again available. The potential draw-back, however, is that some of these games may not be the good doctor’s best.

Loot is produced by Gamewright, which has recently been getting many of their games into mainstream markets.  In the case of Loot, this is a good thing, as it has the potential of exposing more folks to European style games.  Add to this a price-point of less than $5.00, and you have a game that could sell quite well. 

The new version is identical to Korsar, released previously by the German companies Nürnberger Spielkarten & Heidelberger Spieleverlag.  Save for more cartoonish artwork, the game is identical.  I will say that there was some color confusion with the new version, as the tone was quite dark and difficult to distinguish.

The predecessor to Korsar was Pirat, a game I played only once and that was back in late 1988. I was not terribly impressed and found the game to be rather “vanilla” and a bit heavy on the
“luck of the draw” scale. So, when I learned that the game was going to be re-released, I was not terribly interested. However, a few session reports by some folks whose opinions I respect piqued my interest, so I managed to give it a few plays.

The games were all played in teams, which was new to this version. That certainly is an improvement, as was the quality and artwork on the cards. The sleek, elongated, black packaging also was also very attractive. Unfortunately, I found the game itself to still be heavily dependent upon the luck of the draw as during several games, I drew an inordinate amount of merchant ships and precious few pirates. Of course, my team got stomped. A few games were a bit more even, but in some we still had the great misfortune of drawing zero pirate leaders. Again, we were stomped.

The deck of cards depicts a variety of merchant ships, valued from 2 – 8 gold pieces each. The wealthier ships are rarer, while those valued at 2, 3 and 4 are plentiful. In total, there are 100-points worth of ships to be captured. In addition to the merchant ships, there is also an abundance of pirate ships in four different colors. Pirate ships carry strengths of 1 – 4, with each color having one pirate leader. Completing the deck is one admiral, who can be played in defense of any merchant ship.

The object of the game is to capture merchant ships whose cumulative value exceeds that of those captured by your opponents. Merchant ships are captured by the team who has played the greatest value of pirate ships against that ship. When a team’s turn arrives, each merchant ship on the table is examined and if the team has more pirates played to a ship than their opponents, they capture the ship and all pirate cards played to that ship are discarded. If no one has played any pirate ships against a merchant ship by the time the team who played the ship to the table turn arrives, then the team captures that ship without a conflict!

Each player is dealt six cards to begin the game. Teammates may show each other their hand of cards and discuss strategy, but may not pass cards to each other.   A player’s turn is quite simple: either play a card to the table, or draw a card.  If a team plays a merchant ship, it is angled so that the stern of the ship faces the team who played it. This is important so as to avoid confusion as to which team actually played the ship. Pirate ships are played beside merchant ships, again making sure it is clear as to which team has played which color of pirate ships. Once one team plays a certain color to a ship, the other teams may not play the same color against that ship.

Pirate leaders may only be played in an attack if the team has already played pirate ships of the same color against that merchant ship. Leaders act like a trump card and will win the day for the team who played him (or her!) – UNLESS the opposing team follows with another pirate of the color they were playing to that ship!  In that case, the last pirate played will win the ship. The admiral may only be played in defense of a merchant ship and works in an identical fashion as a leader, with the exception that he does not require pirate ships to have already been played.

The game ends when there are no more cards to draw from the draw pile AND one player is out of cards. Players then determine the outcome of all unresolved conflicts still on the table, then tally the value of all of the merchant ships they captured.  From this total, however, they must subtract the value of all merchant ships they still hold in their hands. So, as the game nears an end, there is a pressure to play merchant ships as quickly as you can so you will not be stuck with an abundance of negative points in your hand!

I do not want to sound too negative. The game is certainly amusing, but one’s fate is largely – perhaps overwhelmingly – determined by the cards you draw. Draw a bunch of pirate leaders or high-valued pirate ships and you should have little trouble winning. Draw a bunch of merchant ships and few pirate ships and you are doomed. I have been on both sides of this boat and honestly did not feel I did anything clever when I won, or anything particularly wrong when I lost. Still, I cannot say that I did not have a decent time playing. The game is amusing and is certainly a pleasant way to close an evening of gaming.

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