Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Wednesday 19 September 2018

The Game Shelf Previews:- Lockup

Game: Lockup

Publisher: Thunderworks Games

Designer: Stan Kordonskiy

Year: 2018

Lockup follows the trials of a group of minions locked in the King's dungeon -- the gnolls, the kobolds, the bugbears, the goblins, or the insectoids. There's no escape but you can gain reputation amongst your peers, as well as gaining goon followers and crafting contraband.

Lockup is a worker placement game, set in the Roll Player universe. After the amazing success of Roll Player - a game we were surprised to really enjoy, we were really pleased to get an early look at the next game in the same universe from Thunderworks Games. Lockup can be played with 2-5 players and also includes a solo variant, which will be a bonus for many fans of Roll Player who love to play it solo. We've been playing the game with two players and are excited to tell you more about it.


Lockup takes place over 6 rounds, at the end of which the player with the most points wins. Points are awarded in game for items bought, and at the end of the game for goons hired and objectives completed. Each game there are 3 objectives available, 1 that is awarded to the first person to meet the requirements, a second which is given to someone as soon as they reach the requirements, but should someone outdo them then they get to take the achievement from them (like the longest road in Catan), and a final which is only evaluated at the end of the game.

Each round players will take turns putting their gang tiles out in the different rooms. Tiles are numbered from 2-5, along with 2 special tiles with slightly different rules. The numbers are important, the player with the highest number (first player wins ties) gets to take the full reward for their room, while second place gets lesser rewards and later positions may get nothing at all (well they actually slink off to the library, a special room for losers). To make things more complex each player may place multiple tiles in 1 room, though they must commit everything at once, and 2 tiles per round can be placed hidden so the other players don't know your plans. Rooms act as worker placement spots, but are evaluated in a strict order.

The prototype board, set up for two players. Note that this is not the final production.
The first room grants you the first player maker, and also powers up one of your special tiles. Rooms 2-5 are all variants of gaining the 4 main resources: junk, potions, iron and gold. Room 6 allows you to spend resources hire goons, these often give minor benefits upon hiring, but can be worth a large number of points. Of particular note are the dwarves and ratmen who work as 2 different set collections. Room 7 lets you build items, these are a variety of shivs or magical items which you can craft in the prison, they are typically where the majority of your points come from. room 8 lets you pass off suspicion (the guards shake down the most suspicious players from time to time) while room 9 lets you get books which give you one off powers such as recalling your tiles during the placement phase.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Lockup is a game that turns typical worker placement on it's head, instead of wanting to be the first person to grab a worker spot you often want to be the last, so you can evaluate how much strength to assign to each room. There is the potential to have a very bad round where you win almost nothing, but when that happens it's simple because your opponent out-predicted you. Since most rooms offer a reasonable reward for second place, and goons and many items require resources of your choice it's rare that you are completely ruined by a bad round, even if you don't get to do what you want to do.

We certainly found that the round where you place your workers is by far the longest round, the tug of war as you commit your gang across the board works very well, being able to pace two in secret provides just enough misinformation to keep things interesting and preventing too much tile counting. It also gives some hard choices between committing strongly to the rooms you need vs spreading yourself thin so you are guaranteed to get *something*. Once workers are down the rest of the round is often a quick cleanup as you dish out resource cubes and buy cards.

I really appreciate the isometric dungeon-prison that they have concocted, even on the preview copy the art is bright and characterful, with the order of rooms being illustrated by the one path through the prison. It has to be said that I do question the prison design that has the exercise yard access being through the sewers which are only accessed by the infirmary... I particularly enjoyed the goon hiring which lets you customise your goals, you only need to hire a couple of goons that reward, for example, magic symbols (available on some items and goons) and soon your priorities on which items to buy shift hugely. The most disappointing thing for me was the suspicion mechanic, while you could manipulate suspicion to gain some points. The amount of points rewarded for it never seemed to balance out with the effort required and the rarity of guard raids being triggered. Overall Lockup is an enjoyable worker placement game that encourages a lot of player interaction and contingency planning and one I certainly look forward to playing more!

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Lockup is a worker placement game with one main twist, in how to bid for the different locations on the board. The bidding definitely makes things interesting but isn't an aspect of the game that I particularly enjoy. Fortunately, there are other elements in the game that are really interesting. I like how crafting contraband gives you different goals to work for throughout the game - you can focus on gaining particular resource cubes to ensure you collect high value contraband and you just have to bid high enough to buy contraband first, or hope no-one else wants the same one as you. The goons also add an element of set collection and can sometimes guide you towards specific types of contraband, which is helpful to guide your strategy but can also provide some information on what contraband other players might want to focus on.

The 3 objectives  provide variety in each game that can really change up the early game strategies or can alter the relative value of different contraband. This adds some good replayability that I enjoyed and again provides more layers of information to read your opponents. It's definitely not just guessing, like in some basic social deduction games, it's working with the information you have and applying some actual deduction once some workers are out on the board, or using some library cards to provide you with even more information to make your deductions.

In spite of my overall enjoyment of the game, sitting down to a game of Lockup initially fills me with a little dread. I'm really not a fan of worker placement games where there is a chance that my workers don't succeed at the action they are placed on. Champions of Midgard leaves me cold for the same reason. However, as a game of Lockup progresses, it starts to become easier to watch and understand what your opponent is working towards and this element of deduction really wins me over. In the early rounds you might be denied cubes for no obvious reason, but in the later game it's a puzzle and a cost-benefit analysis to figure out where best to allocate your different value workers.

Unfortunately, the one thing that makes the game unique amongst worker placement games is the one thing that puts me off. If you enjoy blind bidding and social deduction games, then Lockup is a really great game. I definitely appreciate it but there is too much initial apprehension to bring it back to the table.

You might like...
  • The blind bidding brings something unique to the game that we haven't seen in other worker placement games.
  • There's a real puzzly aspect to this game as you try to deduce and out-think other players and ensure that you mitigate the chances of having too few resources to execute the actions you've planned for.
You might not enjoy...
  • Placing workers that go to waste can be pretty frustrating. This might happen less often in higher player count games when more reward are available at each location.
  • The game is set in the 'Roll Player universe' which basically means it has a generic D&D fantasy theme which isn't very unique or appealing to us.

The Verdict
Lockup is a pretty unique worker placement game with lots of player interaction. If you like thinky worker placement with some bluffing and out thinking your opponents, then Lockup is definitely worth a look. It's totally different from Roll Player, but a strong worker placement game in its own right.

Lockup was a review copy provided to the Board Game Exposure reviewer collective. It will be live on Kickstarter during September 2018 and you can check out the campaign here.

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