The game was at a fever pitch. Five adventurers were charging through the growing maze of an underground temple, desperately seeking to discover the gem rooms that would ultimately enable their escape.
“Someone give me a gold mask! Does anybody have a gold mask?” One of the girls was stuck by herself and implored her fellow adventurers for help. There was the constant clatter of dice and pitched shouts when another gem room was unlocked.
The players were frantic. And I hadn’t even showed them the stressful part yet.
Escape: The Curse of the Temple
is a cooperative Indiana Jones-type adventure that was gathering dust on my shelf until a recent party that found my stepdaughter in charge of entertaining a group of girls as young as six and as old as 14.
“Let’s play this!” said one of them, pulling Escape off the shelf. I set it up for them, did a brief walkthrough and tried to referee and mentor as chaos overtook the table. You see, there are no “turns” in Escape. You start the game with a fistful of dice in a central room with all the other explorers. It’s your job to discover and navigate the large pile of face-down room tiles on the game table. One of those tiles has an exit, and when the starting gun goes off, each player has to chuck their dice over and over again, collecting the symbols on them to reveal new tiles, enter rooms and perform actions. Either you all escape together or you all lose together.
Some of the tiles contain gem pedestals. It’s key to converge on these rooms and hit the specified number of dice symbols required to “unlock” these objectives. If you don’t do this, it will be impossible to leave via the exit tile, providing you even find it. You have to roll certain combinations of symbols to reveal new tiles, certain others to enter them…and the fun doesn’t stop there. Every die has a “black mask” face. If you roll a black mask, that die is cursed and you can’t use it again until you roll a gold mask on one of your remaining dice. Woe the adventurer who gets off in a room by him or herself and a bunch of cursed dice. You’ll be stuck there until someone else in the party can get to your room and bless you with one of their golden masks. This predicament often generates wails of animal anguish.
“I think we’re ready for the timer,” said one of the more precocious girls at the table. She had grasped the rules quickly and saw me remove the little hourglass at the beginning of the game.
I liked her courage, but this group wasn't close
to ready for the timer. You see, this is also a timed affair. You must assault the maze in three stages, each one timed by a small hourglass that comes with the game. At the end of the third charge, the game is over and the temple collapses. Moreover, at the end of each segment, you have to sprint all the way back to the starting tile before the hourglass runs out. If you don’t, you lose a die. It’s brutal. And if that’s not enough stress for you, there are advanced tiles that contain additional curses and challenges.
The stress levels of this game are preposterous, bringing the most tension and excitement you can probably fit into a game that runs about 10-12 minutes. Did you all die? That’s OK. Shuffle the tiles and give it another go. I’m glad our youthful guests picked it out and reminded me of its charms.
Nate Warren is a Colorado Springs-based copywriter who offers both the veteran gamer and the uninitiated a local window into the burgeoning and wildly creative world of hobby and designer board games enjoyed by fanatics and connoisseurs — around the corner and and across the globe.