Each year, at Spiel, BGG does a Buzz system where they track the games getting the most positive reception at the convention. This year, the game that topped the charts for pretty much the entire weekend was
Escape: The Curse of the Temple is a new game from Queen Games and designer Kristian Amundsen Østby. It’s a 1-5 player cooperative adventure game for ages 8 and up that takes 10 minutes to play. Wait. 10 minutes? For the #1 game on the BGG buzz? Weird. Apparently, this game bears some similarities to the popular iOS game Temple Run, as you are trying to escape a temple in real time. I feel like I’ve been hearing about this game for a long time, especially since it finished its Kickstarter game six months ago. More on that later.
Escape comes with 6 main chamber tiles, 13 basic chamber tiles, a gem depot, 25 gems, 25 dice, 5 adventurer figures, 5 adventurer tokens, a soundtrack CD, and a couple of expansion modules. At the start of the game, you’ll take the starting tile and two random tiles (drawn from a mix of basic and main chamber tiles) on the table. The exit is mixed into four tiles at the bottom of the draw pile (in the middle of the pile with 1 or 2 players). You’ll put 7-16 gems in the gem depot, according to the number of players, and two gems beside the depot. Each player puts an adventurer on the start tile and takes five dice (seven if you are playing solo).
This game is played in real-time. You have ten minutes, as tracked by the CD soundtrack. When the CD says “ESCAPE!”, everyone starts rolling their dice. You want to roll as quickly and as often as you can, accomplishing tasks and exploring the temple, trying to find the exit. Most importantly, at first, you’re trying to activate gems and get them out of the depot.
The way it works is this: you roll dice, looking for symbols needed for the action you want to take. You may reroll as much as you want, setting aside dice for future actions. once you’ve used a die for an action, you must reroll it. You have five action options:
- Enter a chamber: If an entrance is not blocked, you may enter a chamber by rolling the symbols indicated on the tile. These most likely include an adventurer icon, a key, and/or a torch.
- Discover a chamber: If an unblocked entrance has no tile on the other side, you may use two adventurer symbols to draw a new tile and place it so the stairway entrance of the new tile lines up with an entrance on your current tile..
- Activate magic gems: Some tiles you enter will have magic gem icons in them, either one or three. Each magic gem symbol will be accompanied by a dice requirement, such as rolling four torches. If you get the indicated symbols on your dice, you take a gem from the depot and place it on the symbol. The rooms with three symbols have options to get one, two, or three gems from the depot (requiring more symbols). Players can collaborate to fulfill the requirements. Once a magic gem has been activated in a chamber, no other gems may be activated there.
- Escape: If you are on the exit tile, you can escape by rolling as many keys as there are gems remaining in the depot plus one. This is why you need to get rid of gems in the previous action choice. Once you have left the temple, you may give one die to any adventurer remaining in the temple.
- Provoke a turn of fate: As you roll, you may roll black skulls. These are cursed, and may not be rerolled until the curse is broken. You can break curses in two ways. Rolling one gold skull can break the curse of two black skulls (you can help others in the chamber you currently occupy). The other way to break the curse is to take one of the two gems outside the depot, and move it into the depot. This is the turn of fate – you may now reroll all cursed dice. However, you’ve made it more difficult to get out of the temple.
As the soundtrack plays, you’ll hear three countdowns. Once the gong sounds for the first two, everyone must make their way back to the starting tile. At the sound of the slamming door, anyone who didn’t make it back loses one die for the rest of the game. The third countdown warns you of the end of the game. If any adventurer does not make it out before the temple collapses, the whole team loses. If everyone made it out, they all win.
This game sounds like a lot of fun. I was initially shocked by the 10 minute time, but it goes well with the concept. And there’s nothing to keep you from playing several in a row. I’m reminded of Space Alert, where the game itself really only takes 10 minutes. However, the experience is much more than the play time. Escape looks like a fun romp, with some real tension added by the real-time element. You have a specific goal – get out. To accomplish that, you need to try to get gems out of the depot. You also can’t stick too close together – I’m sure you need to spread out a bit or you won’t get rid of gems well enough. So, this looks like a very fun game in a small time frame.
This game was successfully Kickstarted back in April. I have a friend who got in on the campaign, and has been complaining that he hasn’t gotten his product yet for a while – I should check to see if he has it now. But the larger point I want to address is Queen’s abuse of Kickstarter. Queen Games has been around since 1992, and they’ve published some of the greats in the industry – Wallenstein/Shogun, Alhambra, Thebes, Chicago Express, Fresco, Kingdom Builder, and so on. And yet, they’re using Kickstarter. Why? Ideally, Kickstarter should be a site for people and companies who couldn’t get their funding otherwise. Queen has been using it as a preorder system, and it ticks me off. It just doesn’t seem right. They are established. They don’t need Kickstarter. And yet, they’re using it, and doing well for themselves. My guess is that’s based on their reputation, but I worry that it’s taking the spotlight away from other games that need it.
Grumbling aside, Escape looks like a fun game. Thanks for reading.