I am a big fan of the previous games in the Roll Player series, so I was happy to see that Lockup: A Roll Player Tale would expand the universe. This time you are in prison trying to become the most powerful crew in the joint. You see, each year the prison holds a battle royale for a chance to win your freedom. So, how well does Lockup stack up against its sibling games? Let’s take a look.
What is Lockup?
Lockup: A Roll Player Tale is a worker placement game and is yet another game from Thunderworks that is based on their Roll Player series of board games. Roll player was the first to be released and was an excellent puzzle game with a unique RPG like character generator theme. Then Cartographers came along and quickly became my favorite roll and write game. Now in Lockup, instead of drawing maps or creating a character, you are inside a prison trying to climb your way to the top.
Each player takes on the role of a different prison gang trying to become the toughest crew around. Each crew has its own worker tiles that will be placed on the game board with the hopes of earning resources. Resources can be used to craft items and recruit goons that give you points. But there are only so many resources to go around so only the strongest crews in a given area of the prison will get those resources.
- Ages: 10+
- Players: 1-5
- Play Time: 45-90 Min
- Designer: Stan Kordonskiy
- Artist: Luis Francisco, Lucas Ribeiro
- Publisher: Thunderworks Games
- Year Published: 2019
How to Play Lockup: A Roll Player Tale
The main mechanic in Lockup is worker placement. Each of your crew tokens has different values that represent your crew’s strength in a given location on the game board. Each location has different rewards, like resource cubes, depending on if your tokens have the highest combined total there. You then use your resources to gain points by crafting items and hiring goons.
What’s Inside the Box
In order to understand how the game plays, let’s look at what you get inside the box and I will give a brief rundown on how they work. Lockup includes quite a few components including:
- 1 Game Board: The board has 8 different locations where players can place their crew tokens.
- 30 Crew Tokens: Each crew has 6 tokens that will act as your meeples.
- 5 Holding Cells: These hold your crew tokens and act similar to a scrabble tray.
- 5 Crew Boards: Crew boards are double-sided. One is for advanced play and the other is for beginners.
- 5 Reputation Markers: These keep track of your points on the game board.
- 65 Resource Cubes: There are four different types of resources in the game with different rarities.
- 22 Power Cubes: Power cubes are used to strengthen your crew.
- 12 Suspicion Cubes: These are no good and can wind up costing you a lot of points.
- 34 Item Cards: Crafting items by using resource cubes is one of the main ways to gain points in the game.
- 33 Goon Cards: Recruiting goons by spending resource cubes is another way to earn points in the game.
- 28 Tome Cards: These cards give you one time abilities like crafting an extra item.
- 18 Goal Cards: There are three types of goal cards that give you extra points for completing them throughout the game.
- 18 Trait Cards: Trait cards give you extra starting resources and points at the beginning of the game.
- 5 Reference Cards: These are handy when you’re learning to play. They run-down end game scoring and phases.
- 1 Round Marker: There are 6 rounds in Lockup and this guy keeps track of them.
- 1 First Player Marker: Whoever has this token gets to go first at the beginning of each round. It also is worth two points at the end of the game.
- 1 Guard Board, 22 Guard Cards, 8 Location Cards: These are used when playing solitary mode. More on this in the gameplay section of our review.
Whew. That was a lot of stuff to get through, but you made it and we can take a look at how all of these components work together to make this game work.
The setup for this game is pretty simple considering all of the components.
The goon, tome, and item cards are all shuffled and placed into separate piles on the game board. The round marker is placed on the round one spot on the game board. Place one of each of the goal cards faceup near the game board.
Goon cards are drawn and placed on each of the five available spots on the board. Some goon cards have resource and suspicion cubes listed and are added to the locations on the game board. This gives players a chance to gain extra resources at that location but also may gain suspicion, which is bad.
Item cards are drawn and placed on the available item slots. You only place item cards equal to the number of players plus one.
All suspicion cubes are placed on the game board in the area marked suspicion. The resource and power cubes should be placed on the table within easy reach of all the players.
Each player gets to pick which crew they would like to play as and take these components:
- Holding Cell: Place the holding cell in front of you.
- Crew Tokens: Place all of your crew tokens on your holding cell.
- Crew Board: This is where you will store your resources, items, and goons. Everyone takes one power cube and places it on their crew board.
- Reputation Marker: Everyone places their reputation marker on the 10 points spot on the track.
Pick who goes first and give them the first player marker.
That’s pretty much everything there is for the setup.
Lockup is played over six rounds and each round has three phases.
Roll Call Phase
During this phase, players take turns placing their crew tokens to locations on the game board. You can place as many of your crew tokens as you’d like at a location but once you have a token there, you cannot place anymore to that location. The other kicker is that you are able to have up to two of your crew tokens facedown. This way your opponents won’t know the values of your tokens. The only location you cannot place your crew tokens at is the Library. More on this later.
Lights Out Phase
During this phase, each location is resolved in numerical order. To resolve a location you do these steps:
- Determine Crew Strength: Reveal any facedown crew tokens at the location and then total the strengths of each player’s crew tokens at the location. While most of the crew tokens have numbers on them, there are two that have symbols. The fist symbol represents your enforcer. His strength is equal to the total number of power cubes you have. The eyeball symbol represents your lookout. His strength is 0, but he still can gain rewards from locations and he avoids any suspicion cubes at the location.
- Gain Suspicion: Whoever had the highest strength at the location takes any suspicion cubes that are there. If they had a lookout at the location then the crew with the next highest strength takes the suspicion cubes and so on.
- Collect Rewards: Starting with the player with the highest total strength, each player gains the rewards listed at the location.
- Move Stragglers to the Library: In some cases, a player may not be able to collect a reward. If this is the case then all of their crew tokens from the location are moved to the library.
This is basically the cleanup phase. Follow these steps to complete the patrol phase:
- Check Resource Limit: If you have more resource cubes than storage spaces on your crew board then you must discard down to the allotted spaces.
- Refill Item Display: Draw and place new item cards to fill any vacant item slots on the game board.
- Advance Goon Cards: All of the goon cards get moved one space clockwise. The goon card at the chow hall location is discarded and then fill any empty spaces with new goon cards on the game board.
- Add Suspicion Cubes: At each location that is occupied by a goon, place as many suspicion cubes at the location as indicated on the goon card. If you are ever unable to place a suspicion cube then a raid is initiated.
This phase is skipped during the final round.
The game is over at the end of the sixth round. One final raid is initiated no matter how many suspicion cubes are left in the supply. After the final raid, players perform final scoring. The player with the most points wins.
A raid is initiated whenever you cannot place a suspicion cube. Everyone then looks to see how many suspicion cubes they have on their crew board. The player with the most suspicion cubes loses eight points. The player the second most loses four points. All suspicion cubes are placed back into the supply. After a raid, the game continues as normal.
There are three types of goal cards in the game:
- Leader Goal: Once a player has met the requirements for this goal they take the card and place it in front of them. This card can be stolen however by any player who surpasses the requirements listed on the card.
- Instant Goal: Whoever is the first player to reach this goal instantly scores the points listed.
- End Game Goal: Some end game goal cards can only be scored by one or two players and are rewarded at the end of the game.
Our Thoughts on Lockup
Art & Components
I really like the artwork for Lockup. Roll Player and Cartographers didn’t really feature too much artwork and what they did have felt more generic fantasy to me. While the other games had a darker color palette, Lockup feels like they really wanted to add some more flavor to the art and make it more vibrant and fun. The features on all of the goons and crew members are all slightly more exaggerated giving it more of a cartoon aesthetic. Even the other components are all lighter colors.
Each crew is a different species and they have different members in their crew. Each one feels unique and I really love the designs for these creatures.
If you have played any of the other board games in the Roll Player series then you may find some familiar symbols. They did a good job of making all of the symbols easy to understand by looking at it. They also reuse some of the art from Roll Player for some of the cards that have a similar effect in their other games. This adds a bit of continuity between the games and makes it easy to pick up.
At first glance, Lockup looks like your typical worker placement game. You place your workers on the board to collect resources that you use to get your points. But what Lockup does differently here is that they added a sort of bluffing mechanic to the genre. You see, every crew token has a strength value that determines who wins the rewards at each location. Since you are able to place up to two of your crew tokens facedown it adds an extra layer of strategy to the game. Plus it’s a lot of fun to play mind games with your friends as you try and figure out who placed what.
Another mechanic that I found interesting is how you resolve each location. Each location is numbered and they are resolved in numerical order, starting with the exercise yard. This is extremely important to pay attention to since the rewards you earn from locations that are resolved early on can affect how locations are resolved later on.
For example, if you win the power cube reward from the exercise yard first, then that will give your enforcer crew tile extra strength and could potentially win you more rewards as you resolve each location. Or, if you don’t get the rewards you need from early locations then you may not get the resources you needed to craft that item card you wanted.
There is one location in the game that you cannot directly place crew tokens and that’s the library. The only way to go here is to not receive a reward from another location or by passing on your reward. The library introduces tome cards into the game which you can play to give you one time effects. This may give you the incentive to want to fail at a certain location just to go here. It’s also nice to have a sort of safety net in place if you don’t get the reward you wanted then at least you get something. The only issue I have with this location is that it doesn’t get used as much in two or three player games.
Goon cards act as end game points and can even give you extra resources or maybe even get rid of a suspicion cube. They also add a bit of set collection to the game as some goon cards give you more points the more copies you have of that goon card. Although goon cards can be helpful they can also be trouble because some goon cards add suspicion cubes to locations.
Suspicion cubes add a bit of suspense to the game. Once they run out, a raid is initiated and whoever has the most suspicion cubes loses a bunch of points. You can keep an eye on the supply of cubes and kind of figure out when a raid might happen, but it’s always this looming threat. There is a way around picking up these pesky cubes. Placing a lookout tile at a location that has one of these cubes allows you to avoid taking it and potentially passing it on to an opponent. I like this system a lot as it really forces you to weigh your options if multiple locations have suspicion cubes since you only have one lookout crew tile to use. Raids can also help close the gap from more aggressive players that take an early lead. So more cautious players still have a chance to take the lead as more raids happen.
The first player marker doesn’t switch hands in the traditional way. Usually, after a round ends the first player marker moves clockwise through the group. Fittingly in Lockup, players must fight for the right to go first. Whoever controls the exercise yard when resolving locations gets to take the first player marker. But going first isn’t necessarily a good thing. If you go last then you are able to see what tiles your opponents placed and you can make a more informed decision on where to place your tiles.
The only thing I wish that they did would be to add a bit more distinction between the different crews. All of the crews play the same way, but there is an advanced side of the crew board that can be used. It still doesn’t really add enough to make too much of a difference. A special ability of some kind might spice up the game a bit more, but this is more of a nitpick.
There are a few small rule changes when playing the advanced mode including:
- Everyone starts at 0 points instead of 10.
- Everyone gets a trait card.
- Everyone flips their crew board to the advanced side.
I would definitely recommend playing the advanced mode. It helps differentiate the crews a little bit. Each crew board is double-sided and the advanced side shakes things up. Depending on which crew you choose, you get different starting items like power cubes, tome cards, and item cards. Also, some crews are able to hold more resources than others. Trait cards make each play through a bit different. These give you things like extra starting points, tome card, and starting resources. All of this really helps the replayability of the game.
Solo mode has you playing against the guards of the prison. The core gameplay remains the same, but the guards are automated so there are a few new components to go over. Guards get a guard board, location deck, and a guard deck. The guard board acts the same as your crew board. The location deck is used to show where you place guard cards. And the guards use cards instead of tiles, but they work the same way. The guard cards are separated into four different colors with each color being a different difficulty. You take two of the colors and combine them to make the guard deck.
The guards are pretty hard to beat. They don’t have a resource limit so they can really rack up and potentially take almost all of the cubes of a certain color. One guard card is drawn every time you place your crew tokens at a location. So the longer your turn, the more guards that will come out. This adds a sort of push your luck mechanic and makes you think about how you can get the most out of your turn without having to place more guards on the board.
Since guards don’t have a resource limit, you really don’t want them to be at the cell block location to craft an item. Guards always purchase the item with the highest point value that they have the resources for. More often then not, they will have the resources for a good item and they will earn a whole bunch of points.
Guards also have an advantage when taking goon cards. They don’t have to spend any resources when taking goon cards and they are able to take two of them, whichever two have the most suspicion cubes. The good thing is that if they do not come in first for this location then they don’t get anything. So you definitely want to try and win this location if they are there.
Guards aren’t able to use tome cards as you can. If they are ever at the library and come in first or second there then they score a point. There’s really nothing you can do to stop this, but hopefully, you at least prevented them from getting something useful at another location.
Overall I found the solo mode to be enjoyable and it plays similar enough to the normal game that it was still a lot of fun.
Once again, the Roll Player series is taken in a new direction with Lockup. They expand the universe further in this game by giving us a peek inside the prison system in this fantasy world. Just by looking at the cover art for this game I knew I was going to like the theme. And unlike the other games in the Roll Player series there is actually a cohesive story to get behind:
When King Taron’s loyal soldiers put down the Dragul Invasion of Nalos, they threw the captured minions into Kulbak Prison, where the enchanted gates and ruthless Construct guards make escape all but impossible. Once every year, the king releases the toughest gang of prisoners into the royal colosseum.
You play as a squadron of minions — Gnolls, Kobolds, Bugbears, Goblins, or Insectoids — that were captured on the battlefield and locked up in Kulbak. But in six short weeks, King Taron will visit the prison, and he might give you the chance to fight for your freedom. Can you build a reputation and establish yourself as the prison’s most powerful crew
I also like how the theme and the gameplay blend together. The idea of having to craft magical shanks and hire goons to prepare for this battle royale is a lot of fun. And how you’re trying to accumulate power and kind of take control over certain areas of the board to gain resources, all while trying not to raise suspicion of the guards and initiate a raid. All of this flows really well into the narrative.
If you are a fan of worker placement games then I think Lockup has a unique enough take on the genre to warrant purchasing. The bluffing mechanic is a lot of fun and adds an extra layer of strategy to the game.
If you are a fan of the rest of the Roll Player games then this is a no brainer. Although it is totally different than the other games it definitely feels like a Roll Player game.
Similar Board Games to Lockup
- Wingspan: This is an excellent card drafting game with a bit of worker placement thrown in. This game has won quite a few awards and its so pretty.
- Call to Adventure: This is another fantasy board game that has some of my favorite artwork in any game out right now.
- Cartographers: Another entry in the Roll Player series. This is my favorite roll and write game.
- Roll Player: The board game that started this whole thing. Roll Player is an excellent puzzle game with a unique RPG character creation theme.
Lockup is my favorite board game in the Roll Player series. All of these games have been great so far and I can’t wait to see what comes out next. My favorite part of the game is the bluffing mechanic. Trying to figure out who placed what and playing mind games is a lot of fun. I really just loved the theme of the game. Having to accumulate power in this prison set in a fantasy world and crafting weird items is a blast. I can’t recommend this game enough.
Lockup: A Roll Player Tale has become my favorite entry in the Roll Player series and is one of the funnest worker placement games I have played.
- The bluffing mechanic is a lot of fun.
- The game offers plenty of strategy.
- Very easy to learn.
- Play time never felt too long.
- The theme and gameplay mixes perfectly.
- I wish the crews were a bit more distinctive.