Euro-fantasy games may be popular, but they can be a little old hat sometimes. That’s why I enjoy it when a game takes the genre and adds a new perspective or approach.
One of the most enjoyable games of this type was Thunderworks Games’ Roll Player; Keith Matejka created a fantastic game out of nothing more than D&D-style character generation. He continued his craft with the hit expansion Monsters & Minions, and a new one is just around the corner.
When Thunderworks announced they would have a spin-off game, I was curious. Roll Player was unique, so what sort of Euro-fantasy game would they publish this time? How would it be different from other cliché board games in this genre?
In Lockup, players take on the role of a group who’ve been captured in a war with King Taron. Many enemy races invaded Nalos; unfortunately, they didn’t win.
King Taron had each group locked away in Kulbak Prison, to rot for eternity, but granted them a path toward freedom. Every year, he looks for the toughest gang and offers them a shot at freedom via the royal colosseum.
You have six weeks to whip your crew into shape and impress the visiting king. You’ll strengthen your force in the exercise yard, steal resources from different locations, lure goons to your side, and craft the finest wares (or weapons) with which to impress.
Be careful, however, as certain areas will become too active and the guards will become suspicious. If there’s too much activity, they’re going to raid whoever is looking suspect, costing them prison rep.
Does your crew have what it takes to be the baddest in prison? Can you outwit the other gangs while avoiding drawing the guards’ suspicion?
Who will earn the king’s attention and the opportunity to escape the lockup?
Lockup is essentially a worker placement game with some exciting twists. Players begin with a specific Crew (Gnolls, Kobolds, Bugbears, Goblins, or Insectoids) of six members they take turns placing on various Locations in the prison.
The Crew tokens range in Strength from 2 through 5 as well as two special ones: a Lookout (who is worth zero but protects against suspicion) and an Enforcer (who grows in Strength as the Crew does). The goal is to have the highest total Strength on a Location to gain its benefit(s).
Each turn begins with a Roll Call phase which is when players take turns assigning their Crew tokens to the different Locations. The twist comes in several limitations that can require no small amount of strategy and guessing.
First, you can assign more than one token to a spot, but you can’t come back later and assign more. You need to be careful about who you’re assigning and how many, as you never know what your opponent might choose.
Second, each player usually places their Crew face-up, but every turn they can choose two tokens to be assigned face-down. Only you know the Strength (or ability) of who you’ve placed, leaving your opponents guessing, although there may be some clues based on what tokens are visible.
Once the Crew have been assigned, it’s time for Lights Out. During this phase, you resolve each Location in a specific order until you reach the final room.
Whoever has the highest total Strength wins the main benefit of the Location; some spots also provide smaller opportunities for the second (or later) place. Anyone who doesn’t earn anything positive will head to the Library, where they might pick up something useful.
Unfortunately, during the game, roving Goons will bring attention to the activity in various spots. Whoever had the highest Strength also earns any Suspicion at that spot (which might bring the guards later) unless their Lookout is also present.
Each Location has its own rules on what benefits it provides, starting with earning Power (which buffs your Enforcer) and the First Player marker in the Exercise Yard. You can gain different Resources (Scrap, Potions, Iron, or Gold) from several spots (Sewers, Infirmary, Smithy, or Commissary), recruit Goons in the Chow Hall, craft Items in the Cell Block, and borrowing Tomes from the Library.
Players primarily earn immediate points through spending Resources to make Items but can also aim for long-term scoring with Goons and three different types of Goals. Instant Goals give points to the first person to meet their criteria, whereas Leader Goals and End Game Goals are checked at the end of the sixth round.
Tomes are unique in that they earn very little but can often be used out-of-turn or immediately for various effects. Many players may choose to have a crew member “lose” one Location so that they’re sent to the Library and earn them a Tome card.
The Patrol phase helps clean up the board, reset it for the next turn, and is also when the guards take care of whichever Crew has the most Suspicion.
During this final phase, each Crew must discard Resources to their limit, refill the available Items, rotate the Goons, and then add more Suspicion to Locations. If there are not enough Suspicion cubes left in the supply, the guards have had enough, and a Raid occurs.
During a Raid, the players with the highest Suspicion lose reputation, dropping them back in current score. Luckily, they also return their Suspicion cubes to the supply, meaning a Raid is less likely to occur in the following turn.
Once six turns have occurred, going through Roll Call (placement), Lights Out (Location resolution), and Patrol (including one final Raid), the players tally their scores. Although crafted Items can bring around some high points immediately, other players can quickly come from behind in different ways.
Leader and End Game Goals can net an obscene amount of points if the players concentrate on the right criteria. Similarly, Goons also net points based on how many you have of their type or whether they give points for specific amounts and types of Items.
Finally, each player earns points for leftover Resources (especially Gold), Tomes, and even having the First Player marker. The paths to victory are varied, and you have to keep a close eye on your own strategy as well as your opponents’.
What I love about Lockup is that it’s not just pure strategy in worker placement, but there’s some nice bluffing and guesswork. With the ability to hide some workers’ values, you have to deduce (or risk) your placement to earn the Location benefits you want.
Also, you can set people back by springing a Lookout in an area of high Suspicion, as it will fall on them even if you were the winning crew (and took the benefit). Finding ways to plan around Suspicion, including getting rid of (or transferring) your own, can bring unwanted attention and knock opposing teams down in points.
Lockup was also smart in having scaling rules for the number of players as well as Advanced and Solo versions.
The board has two sides that change whether you’re playing 1-2 players or 3-5, including how many Items are available and what benefits the locations provide (including to the next-best Crew). There are also differences in 1-2 player games in how much reputation is lost for Raids and whether there is even a second-place option.
Advanced Setup makes the game much more difficult but also more variable for each player. Each fantasy race has different bonuses and limits, as well as a random Trait that can affect starting points or Resources.
Solitary Mode allows a single player to go against a corrupt crew of Guards, who have their own “player” board. A couple of decks of cards allow them to assign “crew” at random to locations and you attempt to outguess (and defeat) them with your own tokens.
I had a blast playing Lockup and could find very little to criticize, except maybe some rules questions that might be answered in a later FAQ. On top of game design, it’s aesthetically pleasing, with beautiful artwork as well as well-made wood, plastic, and cardboard components.
Lockup works decently at two players but shines at 3-5, where the guessing becomes harder and the strategy more cut-throat. The solo play is nicely done, especially with a variable difficulty level, but at a certain point, it became almost rote without the variability in “AI” that games like Outer Rim have.
Still, for a game that’s a “spin-off” to a unique game, designed by someone completely different, Lockup provides just as much fun and amusement as the others in this franchise. If you like amusing (and different) takes on Euro-fantasy, you won’t be disappointed with this one.
Lockup: A Roll Player tale is available for purchase online. 1-5 players, 45-90 minutes, Ages 10+.
I give Lock Up a suspicions 4 makeshift arsenals out of 5.
(We’d like to thank Gamers-Corps in Ellicott City for providing us the space to playtest and demo this game!)