App Reviewed on: iPhone SE
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As someone who plays and reviews a lot of mobile games, I have (unfortunately) become very accustomed to engaging with gambling-like mechanics. It's gotten to the point where I am almost entirely immune to their charms and their mere presences acts more as a deterrent than something to keep me coming back. But, then there are always exceptions, like Luck be a Landlord, a game that is basically a glorified slot machine that manages to compel me thanks to some ingenious roguelike design hooks.
Gamble rent to pay rent
Luck be a Landlord is a game in which you spin a virtual slot machine to earn coins in hopes of racking up enough dough to pay an ever-increasing rent that is due in a certain amount of spins. At the start, the slot machine just has a few symbols, but between spins you get the option to add one of three random symbols to create more chances to win more coins over time. Also, between each round of paying rent you may earn some other bonuses like tokens to remove symbols, reroll symbol selections, and even items that provide passive, constant bonuses for the remainder of your play session.
With these simple tools, you are tasked with mastering different synergies of symbols based on the options given to you on any given run in order to keep up with the rate at which your rent increases. You "win" a round when you've been able to clear seven rent payments, at which point you can elect to continue playing in endless mode or take on a more challenging version of the game in a new run.
Spinning a slot machine and depending on random items to help you clear a run makes Luck be a Landlord sound like a pure game of chance, but this game rises above that label through some smart design choices that give you a lot of ways to take advantage of its random elements. Whether it is snagging an item that suddenly enhances the effectiveness of certain icon types, symbols that benefit from destroying other items to clear your board, or even items that shift the probability of finding rarer (and more potent) items, there's always some new possible way forward lurking just beyond the next spin.
The way the items and symbols in Luck be a Landlord can combine to let you overcome its challenges is dizzying, and leads to rounds of play that almost never feel the same. They synergies you can develop can also become so powerful that you trivialize the rent barriers of the base game, but reaching this point also gives way to other secret challenges and items to uncover, creating new ways to play and test your slot machine manipulation abilities.
A lot of the tricks Luck be a Landlord employs to be as compelling as it is are familiar systems from other genres like roguelikes and auto-battlers, but placing them into a slot machine distills the action into a potently pure form. This is to say that the mileage you might get out of the game depends somewhat heavily on your desire to experiment and optimize different "builds" or strategies, as outside of that the game is simply pressing a lever and seeing what happens.
Along these same lines, though, this is precisely what makes the mobile version of Luck be a Landlord especially great. As a portrait mode game that is super easy to pop in and out of at a moment's notice, it is the exact game I've been gravitating toward whenever I am between things, waiting for the bus, or just spinning a few times before putting my phone away for the night. The only problem with this is that the allure of stumbling across the exact right item I need after "just one more spin" has resulted play sessions that are often longer than I've expected or wanted them to be.
The bottom line
Luck be a Landlord successfully merges a slot machine with the roguelike and deck-building mechanics that make those genres feel so dynamic and imminently replayable. The result is an experience that is super easy to pick up and very hard to put down.