Monday, 3 December 2012

Escape: The Curse of the Temple

Plays: 4Px1 practice game.

Escape: The Curse of the Temple was very popular at the recent Essen game fair in October. I saw it available at Meeples Cafe when I brought the children there for a family boardgame outing, and gave it a try.

The Game

Escape is a real-time, cooperative game that is played in about 10 minutes. Players explore a buried temple, collect gems, find the exit, and try to all escape within the time limit. The game comes with a soundtrack which acts as the timer. Depending on the number of players, a number of gems are placed on a gem tile. You need to remove enough gems from this tile in order to be able to escape. The game board is modular and is made of temple tiles. It starts with just a few tiles, and as players explore the temple, tiles are drawn from a draw deck and added to the board. The temple exit is among the last few tiles of the draw deck.

Every player gets five dice, and once the timer starts, everyone keeps rolling dice to perform actions. There are no turns. The dice have six sides - 2 x run, 1 x torch, 1 x key, 1 x curse, 1 x blessing. You roll your dice, and then you may use the results to do various things. Dice that have been used can then be rolled again to be used again. If you don't like what you get, you can reroll unused dice too. There is a lot of frantic dice-rolling. The only exception is the curse. The curse does nothing but locks that particular die. You will be one die short. However, if you roll a blessing, you can use a blessing to unlock two cursed dice. You can also ask a fellow player to unlock your cursed dice for you. The other die results are used to discover new rooms, to move, to collect gems and to exit the temple. The cost to discover a new room is shown on the back of the temple tiles. The costs to move into a room is shown on the front of the temple tiles already on the board. Some tiles let you collect gems. How this works is you need to get a certain number of a specific result to move a specific number of gems from the gem tile to the temple tile. In this aspect, it is often beneficial for players to work together, because to move the highest number of gems to a temple tile, you will need at least the dice of two players (e.g.10 keys). Once you discover the exit, and have reduced the number of gems on the gem tile significantly, you can attempt to exit the temple. The number of keys you need to roll depends on the number of gems remaining on the gem tile. So it can sometimes be tricky to decide whether to remove more gems to make the final exit easier, or to hurry to the exit without spending more time on removing gems and hope to get lucky with the die rolls.

In the foreground you can see the five possible die results - run, torch, blessing, curse, key.

The grey room with a large golden disc is the start tile. The two icons on it are the movement cost to move onto it. The tile just above the start tile is one where you can move gems to. You need 4 keys to move 1 gem, 7 keys to move 2, and 10 keys to move 3.

One more challenge that the game throws at you is after every few minutes, the soundtrack will ask you to return to the start tile. This makes it risky to explore too far from the start tile in case you can't get back in time for one of these mid-game checkpoints.

You win the game if every player exits the temple before time runs out.

The Play

I played this game with the whole family, i.e. man, wife and two children (7 and 5). We didn't play a proper game, considering the age of the kids. No timer, and no mid-game checkpoints. So this was basically just a practice game. I'm quite sure if we had used the timer we would all have been buried alive in the temple.

The game is simple and fast-paced. Michelle and I had no time to guide the children, so we let them fend for themselves. We weren't even able to instruct them to collaborate with us in removing gems. We were not very efficient in removing gems because at most it was just Michelle and I working together in removing gems. Chen Rui (5) was very enthusiastic about rolling blessings. She kept rolling for them and asking around for anyone who needed to remove cursed dice. Shee Yun (7) went off in a different direction and explored a different part of the temple. Eventually we all made it out of the temple, of course, since we did not have any time limit. The children enjoyed it.

Aarrgghh!... Three dice have been cursed!

The exit is a grey tile too. By now three players have exited the temple.

The Thoughts

There aren't that many real-time, cooperative games. I own Space Alert, which is very much a gamer's game. Escape is a family game. Suitable for casual gamers. Hardcore gamers will probably not be able to maintain interest for long. There is some strategy, but nothing very deep. The game is mostly about quick, simple, cooperative and frantic fun. This is certainly a game that can work in the mass market (and this is not meant to be a derogatory term).

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