Based on the box art I thought this was going to be a visual-spatial awareness game like the train mini-game of the Brain Age video game series. I was wrong, this family-friendly game is a nice combination of strategy and luck, but you don’t need to have any spatial awareness, which is good because I am terrible at that train game as I crash the train all of the time.
Loose Caboose is a route-building and push-your-luck game for 2-4 players that take about 15 minutes to play. You can play Loose Caboose with kids ages 5+ (or 4+ with help).
In Loose Caboose, players are working to extend the track to prevent the runaway, or Loose, Caboose from falling off the rails. If the train falls off the track, (am I the only one who immediately started singing Black Sheep after that line? “Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up… anyways back to the review) the active player collects penalty cards from the back of the line. The player with the fewest penalty points wins.
The track cards have a value of 1 through 4 and the gameplay goes as follows:
The initial track is three cards long with the caboose in the middle track. Each player draws 2 cards to start the game. On your turn, draw one card and then you have the option to play track cards onto the existing track or pass.
- Play track card(s): Play as many cards with the same value to the end of the existing track and then roll dice equal to the value on the card(s) played. The dice have blanks, one wheel, or two wheels on them and you must move the caboose the number of tracks equal to the total wheels rolled. If the caboose moves past the front of the tracks, it derails, if it derails you must collect penalty cards from the back of the track equal to the number of spaces you went past the front of the track. Collect them one card at a time, in order, and add them to your penalty pile.
- Pass: If you cannot play a card because it does not fit or would make the track complete a loop or choose not to play, you can pass. When you pass, the caboose advances one track space, if it can, and you collect one penalty card.
Collecting Penalty cards: Each time you collect penalty cards you place them one at a time on your penalty pile, If the value is the same as the card on top of your pile you cancel both cards and remove them from your pile and place them in the discard pile next to the draw pile.
Broken tracks: There are 4 Broken track cards. When the caboose passes over or stops on a broken track you take one penalty card and place it face down on the bottom of your penalty pile. These penalty cards can never be canceled.
While this light game is simple and easy to play with kids, it does have enough strategy to keep adults or advanced gamers attention. The ability to cancel your penalty points makes you pay attention to what cards are at the back of the track and figure out if it actually benefits you to derail the train on purpose to cancel a card or cards from your penalty pile. Or should you pass to insure you only get one penalty card with a lower value? However, the cards in your hand also count as penalty points at the end of the game, so you do need to play cards which can result in picking up penalty points depending on how well you roll.
Then, there are the dreaded Broken Track cards. These cards are great when you can play them against your opponents and mess up their strategy by forcing them to take a penalty that can’t be canceled, but they frequently derail the plans of the player who plays them if the roll of the dice is not perfect. (Pun, as always, intended). Each turn and the game overall does not take long, we finished on average in less than 15 minutes which allows multiple plays in an evening or as a quick reward for finishing homework before dinner. Set up is simple and clean up takes no time.
Loose Caboose is a solid light family game, we were even able to convince Grandma to play, as we told her learning the game and playing the whole game would take less than 20 minutes. A bit of luck with the dice evens this game out for younger or less strategic players and the broken track cards spice up the game enough to make it rather enjoyable.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – Very Solid light game that can be played with all ages and when you have limited time to play a game. It mixes enough luck and strategy to be enjoyable even if not the deepest game.
• Quick playing
• Easy for all ages 5+, 4-year-olds can play with a partner for their first few games and likely get it.
• The combination of luck and strategy ensures that anyone can win.
• The cancellation scoring system and broken track cards up the strategy component and can also lead to fun opportunities to derail your opponent’s plans.
• There is not much depth to the game for more “serious” gamers
• The cards can almost always fit leaving very few opportunities for players to get stuck and forced to pass, which seems like another mechanic to add luck to the game that was not maximized.