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Subject: Escape: The Curse of the Temple - A Quick Review rss

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Bill Reed
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Escape: The Curse of the Temple is from Queen Games, released in October 2012. It was their first game to be funded, at least in part, using Kickstarter.com. It's a cooperative, dice-rolling, real-time adventure game with the theme of trying to escape from a cursed temple (which should be no surprise) before the timer runs out.

Components
The primary components of Escape: The Curse of the Temple are high quality cardboard tiles which represent rooms of the temple, custom embossed wooden dice, plastic "gems", and wooden meeple explorers. The components are language independent, and I found the small amount of iconography clear and easy to remember.

There were some initial reports on BoardGameGeek of missing components, or misprinted dice. In my copy there was one die that had the blue and red colors for the key and torch symbols swapped. I emailed Queen Games in the midst of the 2012 Spiel fair at Essen, and didn't hear back from them until the fair was over. It seemed reasonable to me, and within another week, they had airmailed a replacement die.

Also included in the components is an audio CD with a tutorial, and two 10-minute soundtracks that regulate the real-time gameplay. The soundtracks provide ambient background noise for the game, and at three minute intervals there's a gong with some frantic drumming to warn the players that one of the checkpoints is approaching. All three tracks can be downloaded from Queen Games, as well as a fourth digital file, that has a "silent soundtrack". The silent track hasn't any music or background noise, but does have the three-minute gong checkpoints. For game session environments in which there's not a CD player available, Queen includes a three-minute sand timer.

Gameplay
I don't like to teach rules in my reviews, so my description here will not give a detailed explanation of what the rulebook does well already. Instead, I'd rather try to give readers a sense of what the experience of gameplay is like.

The gameplay of Escape: The Curse of the Temple is frenetic! Gameplay is cooperative, gameplay is timed, gameplay is simultaneous, gameplay is chaotic, gameplay is loud! Gameplay is fun!

The thematic goal of the game is to explore a ruined temple in which your group of explorers has been trapped. The group must explore new rooms, searching for the exit, and also activating magical "gems" which will unlock the exit. The more gems that are activated, the easier it is to escape.

Setup is fairly simple. Among the room titles are two special tiles referred to as the Start Tile and the Exit Tile. Most of the other room tiles are randomized and placed in a stack on the table, and the Exit tile is mixed within the five tiles on the bottom. Players won't know exactly which one.

The group begins by placing their explorer meeples on the Start Tile, and draw the top two room tiles, placing them according to the directions in the rulebook.

Each player takes five of the custom dice. Each die has the following six symbols, one per side: torch (red) , key (blue), mask (golden), cursed mask (black), adventurer (green), and another adventure (green). As a player participates, she rolls her dice, setting some aside and rerolling others, as she tries to generate specific combinations of dice to take actions. For example, sometimes she needs two dice to be showing adventurers. Sometimes she needs to have 4 dice showing torches. Sometimes she needs to have a torch and a key. The desired combination depends on the action the player is trying to take.

Setup is complete. Take a deep breath, because pandemonium is about to begin.

The CD is started. A voice says, "Escape!"

Players start rolling their personal set of dice. There are no turns, everyone plays simultaneously. To move to a room, look at the symbols on that tile, roll those symbols on your dice, move your meeple.

Are you trying to activate magical gems? Or do you want to explore a new room to try and locate the exit? Quick, decide! Roll your dice! Change your mind? That's okay, but what dice do you need! Reroll the ones that aren't helping!

What's this black symbol mean? The cursed mask? That means you cannot use that die anymore- it's locked! Until you roll a golden mask which can unlock up to two black masks. What?! All your dice came up cursed? NOW what? One of your fellow players needs to roll the dice necessary to move their meeple explorer to the room you're in and roll some golden masks to unlock your dice.

Hurry! Because the CD just played a loud "Gong!" which means you have about 40 seconds to get your meeple explorer back to the Start Tile. If the CD plays the sound of a door "slamming" closed, you're too late! You lose one of your five dice for the rest of the adventure! But the CD is still going, so keep exploring!

Hey! That room says that if you can roll 10 keys, you can activate 3 of those magic gems! But you only have four dice. "Hey! Green and Red Meeple Explorer Players! Move to this room and work together to roll 10 keys!"

Twice more the "Gong!" will sound, you can lose another die the second time. But the third time, if the entire exploration party hasn't found the Exit Tile, AND rolled the necessary number of keys to unlock the Exit, EVERYONE LOSES!

The entire experience lasts 10 minutes - maybe less time than it's taken you to read this review so far. But at the end of those ten minutes, you will likely be out of breath, your heart will be pumping, and you'll often feel like you physically ran around exploring that temple. And you'll likely want to reset everything and do it again. And maybe once or twice more.

And maybe the next time you'll add in the room tiles with curses and treasures that affect the game in ways such as prohibiting speaking by certain players, or by restricting a player to using only one hand. Will you still be able to Escape the Curse of the Temple?

Pros
Quick play
Simple Rules
Frenetic Tension
Expandable/Expanded
Beautiful
2-6 Players
Sturdy Components
Timer AND Soundtrack

Cons
No time for analysis and strategy
Players with an aversion to chaotic gameplay will probably hate it


Summary
I really enjoy this game! Every time I play it I feel exhausted! The chaos has the cliff-hanging feel of an Indian Jones or Romancing the Stone movie scene, and I honestly feel the anxiety of trying to get out before the temple collapses.

It is a noisy game, as players are calling out for help in certain rooms, giving advice, lamenting at a handful of black dice for which they need help, all on top of the noise of up to 30 dice rolling on the table at the same time.

People are reaching across each other as they move their meeple explorers, draw new room tiles, reach for gems to activate, and try to catch dice that are rolling away across the table.

The ambient sounds and music of the soundtrack enhance the mood, especially during those seconds after the "Gong!", when the music tempo gradually picks up, beating faster and faster until the door slams closed.

I rate Escape: The Curse of the Temple 8 out of 10. I will play it almost any time someone asks, but after an hour or so, I'm ready to put it away...well, maybe after one more play. It's only ten minutes long, after all.
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Sam Peavy
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Great review! You have captured the pure frenzy of the game play. The last time we played, five of us managed to lose three times in a row but no one regretted the experience. Super fun time for all and ZERO down time.
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Twizted Nature
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Great review! Answered every question I had about this game =)
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Bryan McNeely
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Played it for the first time this weekend with three other folks.

I don't think we collectively hated a game as quickly as we did with this one. The game should be called, "Escape: Hope Someone Gives You Golden Masks."

Too many tiles that have to be laid and by the time you get them out, you have virtually no time to deplete the gem depot. It is stupid how the entire game is co-op, yet walking through the exit is oddly individual. If the team didn't get rid of enough gems, why can't they pool their keys together at the exit to leave together?

Black masks are sadistically plentiful. The timer is equally as nasty with all the annoyances of purely random dice rolls causing bothersome worry over managing golden masks. There isn't a better way to slow down the adventurers?

The chaos sucked big time, but not because of time restraints, but because of the stupidities of what needed to be micromanaged amongst the explorers.

Probably the worst game I have ever played.

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Bill Reed
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Are you saying you laid out all the tiles before activating the gems? Why did you do that?

I find that the cooperation at the exit comes when an adventurer leaves the temple, and permanently gives one of their dice to a player still inside. in my imagination, only one can squeeze through the exit at a time, but he can leave behind a die for one other person. But I see your criticism, people who haven't left should be able to pool for one person to escape at a time. But once you're through the exit, it doesn't make sense to keep rolling dice, either.

Setting aside dice, like golden masks, for when you need them is a strategy some groups use. So is staying in groups of two or three so that there's always somebody there to help out with black masks.

I've never played with anyone who's had as strong a negative reaction. Too bad you didn't enjoy it.

What do you play when you want an "adventure game"?
 
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