Lobotomy

Imaculata

Adventurer
I picked this game up at Spiel in Germany, mostly because of the awesome looking miniatures and solid presentation. Usually I have a rule against such purchases. Games with large boxes and tons of miniatures are often style over substance, and have pretty sub par rules. But I really liked the theme of Lobotomy, so I picked it up anyway.

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Lobotomy is a game from Titanforgegames, and was originally a Kickstarter game. Titanforgegames is mostly known for their miniatures (surprise, surprise). In Lobotomy the players assume the role of mental patients attempting to escape an asylum. They see the other patients and staff as monsters, and thus try to fight their way to the exit. The box is very heavy and packs an impressive amount of content: Tons of beautiful miniatures, several boards that are printed double sided (with different boards on either side) and one very large rule book. Oh dear, here we go.

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In many respects, Lobotomy is a great journey into bad game design. A lot can be learned from Lobotomy's design mistakes, since it seems to wander into every single one. But it isn't all bad. Once you master Lobotomy's convoluted inconsistent rules, it makes for an enjoyable dungeon crawl. It even has a few game mechanics that are truly unique, and have potential. But this could have been such a better game with better rules. As of writing this, a second rule book is already available for download. It solves some of the issues with the terrible lay out of the original rule book, that has you constantly searching back and forth for that one obscure rule. Player handouts have also been made by fans, and scenario guides. These really should have been included with the game.

One of Lobotomy's biggest flaws though, is its incapability to commit to one consistent rule. Each player character has several different abilities, which are involved in various checks during the game. But every single ability-check works differently, which is incredibly confusing.

Now I played through my first scenario yesterday, over the course of several hours. So you'll forgive me if I haven't committed every single inconsistent rule to memory accurately. I will go through some of the worst and best rules quickly:

The bad design

Actions - These determine how many tiles your character can walk, and are also used for attacking, and other actions. But if you spend your entire turn running, you get 2 extra actions (you run two tiles further). You'll find that this is a trend with Lobotomy; almost every rule has an exception to the rule that is somewhere hidden in the manual.

Ah, but if that wasn't confusing enough, monsters ALSO have actions, and they use the same icon for this, even though monster actions work completely different. Monsters use their actions exclusively for movement (then why isn't it just called movement?!) and they always get one free attack. And what the rules mean, is that monsters always attack once, which doesn't cost an action, unless it is a special monster that can attack multiple times. Yes, there is that exception to the rule again!

Imagination - A character's imagination stat is used to overcome skill-checks, such as opening a door, or overcoming a memory-challenge. If you use it the normal way, you roll a number of D6 equal to the stat. Every 4 or higher counts as a success. Unless you are doing an imagination check for a memory-challenge, where you have to roll 2D6 and roll lower or equal to your stat. Cause F consistency!

But it gets better!

Attack - A character's attack is used for combat of course. Do you roll a number of D6 equal to the stat? -I sense you wondering. God no! That would be way too consistent. When you roll for combat, the attack stat indicates what number is considered a success. So if your attack is 5, then you need to roll a 5 or higher to hit. But how many dice do you roll then? Well, if it is an unarmed attack, you roll 3D6, and if it is a weapon or special skill, then you roll what ever number of D6 is indicated on that card. Special skills can also sometimes add +1 to the results, or add an extra die. Skills also differ in the amount of actions they cost, and some don't seem to use any actions at all. Skills also tend to list multiple options, with different amounts of dice that you need to roll.

But monsters also have a combat stat. But when monsters attack, you roll a number of D6 equal to what is indicated on their monster card. But monsters sometimes have multiple attacks, whereby an extra roll of the D6 is used to randomize what attack they use. Apparently the designers felt that one attack per monster was not enough. We must roll more dice!

Monsters also have an overwhelming rule. If multiple monsters share the same tile, after the initial monster has attacked, each following monster adds one more die to their attack. This is one of those rules that has a dramatic effect on the difficulty of combat, yet is easy to forget.

Defense - This stat subtracts a number of successes (not dice) from what an enemy rolls against you, or what you roll against an enemy (if it is the enemy's defense). It is really a chore to keep track of this during combat. Often you'll forget to subtract a success.

But lest you be mistaken to believe combat was this simple, you are mistaken sir! (or madam!) Because when monsters and players take injuries, you are expected to track this by placing tokens to track their wounds. For players you can place these on their player boards. But for monsters you have to place them next to the miniature on the already crowded board. And when the monster walks (which they do at the end of each turn) you have to move the tokens along as well. This turns the whole board into a mess of tokens.

Attacks also have special damage types, and you'll be looking up what each damage type does all the time. These effects should have just been listed on the weapon and monster cards.

Imbalanced characters

Some of Lobotomy's player characters really are only good at one thing. And if that thing isn't combat (which Lobotomy is mostly about) then that character clearly is the weakest link. For example, one of the characters has only 2 actions and no defense, making that character almost completely useless in combat (and terribly slow too, in a game where time is of the essence). Other characters have huge health pools, lots of actions, and really good skills. Some of these skill sets not only do good damage, but also provide good healing. It seems some characters are clearly much better than others, but that is just my initial impression.

Doors

I like that the game has doors, but do we really need to track the damage we've done to barricaded doors by placing yet more tokens on the board next to each door? Couldn't they have simplified this, by simply demanding a full round action to remove the barricade? Doors can be either locked, unlocked, or barricaded. A barricaded door needs to be smashed down by dealing damage to it, either by using actions each turn until it breaks, or by bashing it down with your weapon, at the cost of its durability. You place tokens next to the door to track the damage done to it. Locks need to be picked, which requires your imagination stat again. But every additional attempt to pick the lock increases the challenge. Once again an extra rule that you have to remember.

Searching

When the player wants to search a closet or dresser for items, they first need to turn over the token, to reveal what is on the bottom of the card. They then make an imagination check by rolling a number of D6 equal to their imagination stat. Every value of 4 or higher counts as a success, and these success are then spent to obtain the items listed on the bottom of the token, which all have different costs. This is again one of those rules that could have been simplified so easily.

The good design

Sanity - Arguably one of Lobotomy's more interesting mechanics gets buried underneath all this mess that I just listed. Sanity allows characters to boost the result of their die rolls (with the Chaos Die), add actions, or conjure up an imaginary closet full of items out of thin air, by making themselves more mad. If your insanity tops out, it starts increasing the cool down of your skills. And if it increases beyond that, you die. I really like the idea that these characters are imagining weapons, which may just be ordinary items.

It is a shame that this reality bending concept is not featured more prominently in the game, and that there never is any resolution regarding what is real and what is not. Sure, the characters are imagining monsters and weapons, but for the sake of the game, it doesn't matter if they are. There could have been moments where the characters snap back to reality, and the consequences of their delusions become clear. But this is a potential they left untapped. I also feel they could have taken the reality bending aspects a lot further. A good concept, but some wasted potential.

Skills - Skills are special powers that allow your character to do something really powerful. The only down side is that skills have a long cool down. So the game demands clever juggling of your skills, their cool downs, and your weapons. That cool down is also increased if your character becomes too insane. You want to use these skills as often as possible, but you also want to have them ready for those dire situations. The skill cool downs make Lobotomy's combat truly fascinating.

Weapons - Weapons lose durability over time. Whenever the player rolls any 1 when attacking with a weapon, that weapon loses 1 durability, until eventually it breaks. I think this works well in combination with the skills. But it's a mechanic that again requires the player to place tokens on a card. There is just way too much tracking of numbers in this game. This is a board game, not a computer game. Lobotomy tries to bring computer game mechanics to a board game, but does not make enough use of the strength of abstraction that makes board games so wonderfully different from computer games.

The Warden - This boss enemy serves as a timer, who slowly but surely passes through every room on the board. Once it has gone full circle (or on harder difficulties even sooner) the players are forced to fight him. It is a fight you have very little hope of winning. This is a rare case where Lobotomy actually manages to unify two game mechanics and have them work well together. The Warden uses the same numbers on the board that are used to randomly place monsters and tokens. He is a constant death clock for the scenario, but because he also wanders through the halls of the asylum, he is a foe you don't want to run into. Lastly, he also acts as a final boss.

In conclusion

Lobotomy is a very flawed game, but once you've mastered it's convoluted inconsistent rules, it can make for an enjoyable (if lengthy) dungeon crawler. There is way too much dice rolling and tracking statistics with tokens. But Lobotomy's strength is it's solid presentation, premise and setting, along with a lot of content, and good quality miniatures and boards. But expect to spend at least an hour (if not longer) setting up the game the first time you play it. It takes a lot of time to figure out how to set up the game correctly, and the terrible lay out of the rule book doesn't help. This is not the kind of game where you simply sit down with your friends to play it. You need to dedicate a whole evening to it.
 

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Phototoxin

Visitor
I do love Lobotomy and I have to echo your sentiments that there is sometimes/usually too much going on at once. The concept of these people are crazy but their delusions are real (and dangerous) is really thematic and (for me at least) injects just enough silliness to prevent it from being too dark of a survival horror type game.

The amount of stuff in the box is great if at times overwhelming and I hope that a future edition or even just a few rules tweaks will make it more practical to play.
 

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