Review of In Limbo
When I first played In Limbo (Playroom Entertainment, Michael Schacht - 2007 - also known as Diabolo from Amigo Spiel), I was immediately reminded of another game I enjoy - Loco (or Quandary, or whatever name you may know it by.) In both games, players are attempting to control the value of different colored cards, while also attempting to collect cards of the colors whose values are increasing. Luck is certainly prevalent, making them fillers; but I found that while Loco is fairly entertaining, I found In Limbo to be too dull and boring to be enjoyable.
Players can simply be quickly destroyed in a round by accidental or deliberate play of their opponents, and drawing the wrong card at the wrong time can lose a player quite a few points. There is little tension in the game; and while I'm certainly willing to overlook a pasted-on theme, this one just seemed to really miss the mark. My plays of the game were not bad, but I was left with a very mild distaste for the game, while idly wondering what other games we could play instead. It would be a nice, simple card game, but the lack of any real strategy keeps it too easy going to generate interest.
Five Limbo cards are placed in a vertical line on the table, each a different color (blue, green, purple, red, and yellow). A deck of Number cards (in the five colors, and numbered "1" to "5") are shuffled, and six are dealt to each player, along with a "Doubling" card. One player takes the first turn of the first round.
On a turn, a player first draws a Number card from the draw pile then plays a card from their hand on either side of the matching-colored Limbo card. Players can place it on the "good" (positive) side or the "bad" (negative) side. Rows can have a maximum number of five cards total in the row; when the fifth card is played, the row is considered to be "locked". As soon as two rows are locked, the round ends.
At this point, all rows are scored, starting with the top row. Players total the numbers on each side. If the positive side is greater, then the row is "good", and it scores positive points. Players are allowed to play their doubling card (once per round) on a positive row at this point. Then, players reveal the cards in their hand of that color. The player with the highest total value scores that many points, double if that player has also used their doubling card. Those who played the doubling card and did not have the highest total sadly get nothing.
The same thing happens if the row is "bad", because the value on the negative side is greater. The player with the highest total value of that color in their hand scores negative points of that amount. Doubling cards cannot be used on negative rows. Finally, if the row has an equal amount on both sides, then it is considered to be "in Limbo" - and nothing happens.
Players keep note of their score, and the next round begins, with a new player as the dealer. After everyone has had a chance to be the dealer, the game ends; and the player with the highest score is the winner!
After looking over these rules, you might notice some similarities to other games. The initial one that comes to my mind is King of the Beasts, which is a simple game that utilizes the same idea: use cards to either advance a color or hoard them to score points in that color. In Limbo takes this idea and plays with it a bit, having the possibility to get negative points, and adding the doubling card. The doubling card is an interesting idea; but since players can only play it on a positive row, and there are usually only three or less positive rows in a round, the tension is completely taken away.
You see, players have almost no idea what another player has in his hand. I might collect a pile of blue cards, but how do I know if Joe isn't doing the same? There are a few obvious tells, of course - if someone is loading up a color with negative points, they are most likely not going to be keeping blue cards in their hand. Other than that, it's mostly guesswork.
And the guesswork continues, because a player really never knows what cards they are going to draw into their hand. A player may spend a few red cards to force the red down into the negative zone then draw a few red cards. If the color is locked, there is nothing they can do. If the player draws a red card as their final draw, they don't even have a chance to get rid of it. This is annoying at best - a killer of a player's fun in the game at worst. I don't mind the luck of the draw, but how a player is supposed to play, not knowing what cards that they might draw doesn't make much sense.
I was curious to know how the Heaven/Hell/Limbo theme was going to work with the game. Not surprisingly, the theme meant nothing at all, and it is merely there as window dressing. The cards and art are of good quality, but with a game that has "Limbo" as its title I would expect something interesting about that term. In fact, a color that reaches the "Limbo" status is the most boring thing about the game, since no scoring happens at all.
A typical game includes the player watching as other players seemingly randomly place cards down; and since only two rows need to be locked up, the entire affair is mercifully short. The idea of using the same cards as points, or as a way to further your own goal is a good one, but the game throws too much luck into the affair for it to be fun.
In Limbo is a game that I will highly recommend folks to stay away from. It is saddled with a meaningless theme and has too much randomness to please people. It has a few tendrils of strategy, but not enough to intrigue me. The game is simple to play and learn, but it just isn't enough fun to overcome the frequent frustration of card draws.
"Real men play board games"