I not-so-recently purchased a copy of Escape: The Curse of the Temple by Queen Games from a buddy, and I have to tell you, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I never really looked at it as anything but a simple, light little dice game that I knew very little about, other than it had a soundtrack. From my experience with Flying Frog Productions’ soundtracks, I was more than a little wary. As it turns out, this game may be the best “gateway” or family game I’ve played in the last few years. I was surprised how much I like the game, as I like a little bit more depth than “shallow puddle”, and I’m starting to cool a bit on new co-operative games thanks to the advent of what I call “Pandemic Clone Ad Nauseum Syndrome”. So, as much as I dislike surprises, I was pleasantly surprised that Escape turned out to be a truly fun, and quite novel, little dice-chucker.
It has taken several months to get to writing about this game thanks to a half-house remodel, but after 50 plays at this point at every player level and with several “expansions” I think I am ready to discuss it. Mike Barnes at No High Scores and Fortress: AT among other sites, has come up with this catchphrase that I rather love, called “Fun First Design”. Maybe he didn’t come up with it, but it is something he uses a lot and I can’t help but like what it stands for: Games that don’t give a shit about “elegance” and bring back the FUN to gaming. Games that aren’t about complex rules and cock-measuring, but games whose sole purpose is to pass time with loved ones and friends in a truly fun way. Escape is most assuredly from that school of thought, because it’s absolutely stupid as a “strategy game” but brilliant as something that can be played from soup to nuts in 20 minutes and that you will likely play 4 times in a row, because it is just that much fun. It is, without exception, my wife’s favorite game.
With regard to the components, I can’t really give the game any marks as the the wooden explorer meeples aren’t really anything to write Mom about, and the art, while having a very Tikal aeshtetic, isn’t gorgeous or anything. If there is a star of the game, it’s got to be either the dice, which are a chunky, well inked affair, or the little odd-shaped, geeen plastic gems which for some reason just look cool as ice. It’s not a bad game from a “bits” perspective, it’s just nothing special, although it does carry the setting well enough. It’s very basic, I’d say, but if this were made by FFG and were Terrinoth branded, it would look brilliant but be about fifty dollars more, so I’m very content with the quality and art direction because the street price of $36.00 US is perfect for a family-oriented game.
Moving back to the gameplay, the whole idea is that you’re these adventurers who have to put these gems into these little sockets while attempting to escape a temple of dubious ethnic origin, and that some mechanism of questionable plausibility will lock down the temple if you don’t all get out in about ten minutes. The game starts with a measly three tiles on the table, and as you explore the temple, adding tiles, you’ll find tiles with one or more sockets, tiles with nothing, the exit tile, or if you’re playing with micro-expansions, tiles with treasure, tiles with pits, or tiles with curses. Did I mention that this game comes with a soundtrack of bongos and eerie music which acts as the timer? I also might have neglected to mention that this game is played in real time, sans turns, and thus there is zero downtime from the moment you press play on your CD player until either you win, or the CD plays the sound of a crashing ~something~ indicating that you are all wholly fucked. Yes, it’s a simple game, but it somehow manages to take something that sounds totally rubbish and make it work incredibly well. The trick is that the players are always under pressure because of the limited time, and because you’re always active.
There aren’t even really anything that I would consider mechanics in the game; to do anything in-game, you simply chuck dice infinitely until you get the rolls you need. as indicated on the tiles themselves. There’s even some true teamwork required in the game, as some gem sockets require that your co-explorers join you in a room and you all chuck dice to combine the little symbols in order to get what you want. Once you’ve found the exit tile, you’re still potentially fucked, because to exit, you need to roll as many “torch symbols” as you have unplaced gems, which is a one in six endeavor per die, so you may end up finding the exit but not be able to actually escape because you didn’t fill enough sockets. I think the best description is “Raiders of the Lost Yachtzee” in many ways, but that’s probably oversimplifying because there is a modicum of strategy involved in working together to gain a joint victory.
I’d argue that the game has no glaring inadequacies, other than that which plagues all co-operative games: The Alpha Player. It’s arguable that this game also could have the propensity to push over-analytical players toward paralysis, but because the tempo is so fast, this isn’t something I can see happening, although I’ve been wrong before. The Alpha Player problem, however, is amplified considerably by the tempo, because instead of that player just calmly telling you the optimum move, they will scream it across the table like a cracked out Captain Kirk. This is just conjecture, since we don’t have any of those kinds of fun murderers in our groups, but I can totally see the stress of the CD timer and the rapid tempo of the game, combined with the sound of 25 dice rolling simultaneously, ending up causing a brother to get knuckled up for being a dick.
All in all, I’m really happy with this game, and everyone we’ve played with really adores it. The game just has this addictive quality, and it’s really common for us to play several times (and by several, I mean up to including four times) in a row until we have a successful adventure. I’ve played the piss out of it, and we still break it out fairly often because it’s a rules-light, simple, fast to set up, fast to play, yet deceivingly fun little game. I totally recommend this game for anyone with kids above the age of eight years, and especially if you have four people. It is eminently playable with as few as two players, as it scales really well, but four people is the sweet spot in my opinion.
Why I Never Want To Escape This Game:
– So much fun in such a small, simple package that I can’t see anyone not liking this game
– I’ve played much more expensive games far fewer times and have had less fun with them
– Great for almost all ages, and language independent to boot thanks to zero text in-game
– Huge replay value means that you’ll rarely have the same setup twice
– The 10 minute playtime and great CD music timer keeps the game very intense and engaging
Why This Temple Is Made Of Dooky:
– While the art isn’t bad, it’s just kind of plain, and the components aren’t all that snazzy either
– If you’re an analysis paralysis prone player or a Alpha Gamer, you shouldn’t play this game
I just really adore this game, and just writing this is making me want to play it right now. It’s fun, fast, fast-paced, and addictive, and that is pretty much the gold standard for the kind of game you want to break out with your family or as a lightweight filler game while waiting for other players to arrive. If you need a game like this, this is the one to get.
Learn more about Escape from the Cursed Temple here: