"I am the one who knocks..."
The Settlers of Stavanger Reviews: “Escape: The Curse of the Temple”
The game at a glance:
Suggested Age: 8+
Number of Players: 1-5
Length: 10 minutes!
Learning Curve: Simple
Recommended Event: Anytime - it’s so quick!
Skills: Dice Rolling, Tile Placement, Co-operative play
In “Escape: The Curse of the Temple” you and your fellow adventurers are trying to escape from a temple that is closing all around you. You will be racing against the game timer in which you’ll have exactly 10 minutes to make your way through the temple and find the exit before it traps you inside forever. Teamwork is crucial if all of you are to make it out alive. If just one of your group of adventurers becomes trapped inside the temple at the end of the game you have lost.
Players should look through the deck of temple tiles for the start tile which is denoted by a big gold dish. You will also need to find the exit tile which is darker than the other tiles and has a distinct doorway which has light pouring in from the outside. Setting these two tiles aside for the moment, the remaining tiles are shuffled together and placed face down so that the side with “Escape” written on is facing upwards. The exit tile should now be placed face down at the bottom of this stack. The starting tile is placed in the centre of the table and 2 tiles are taken from the stack and placed face up on either side of the starting tile. Players are given 5 dice each and an “adventurer” meeple token & “Escape” counter in the colour of their choice. The adventurer meeples are placed on the start tile and when ready the players press play on the CD track.
Once all this is done, the game is ready to begin!
How to Play:
Players will be trying to find a way out of the temple before the time runs out. They will do this by revealing new tiles and unlocking magic gems. More on them later…
Each identical die has a set of symbols on it which correspond to a matching symbol on the game tiles. These are, in no particular order: a green “adventurer” icon, a red “torch” icon, a blue “key” icon, a “golden mask” icon and finally a black “cursed mask” icon. Players will roll all of their dice in front of them and can discover/flip a new tile provided that they rolled 2 green adventurer icons on their dice. Each new tile has this as requirement before it can be revealed. Once a tile is revealed, it is placed next to the tile that the meeple pawn for that player is currently on. The main rule requirement for placing a tile is that the “entrance” spot (denoted by a set of grey steps) must be placed at one of the doorway spaces on the tile that the player is currently on. Players are not allowed to change the orientation of the tile to what best suits them if it clashes with the placement rule. Players also cannot reveal additional tiles for neighbouring rooms to the one they just revealed unless they are in said recently revealed room already. This prevents players for seeing how the temple layout will develop until they are ready to explore further.
Once the new tile is placed there is a requirement that must be rolled before the player’s pawn can actually enter the room/tile they just revealed. There are always two symbols required for each room and they can be any combination of “adventurer”, “key” and “torch” symbols. The torch and key symbols are frequently required to unlock the green magic gems that are needed to help the players escape the temple. Working together is the definitely the best option here as the higher the number of players there are on one tile the greater the chance that players can pool their dice to unlock more magic gems. This is important because when the players reach the exit tile they each have to roll a number of keys equal to the number of remaining gems. If there are only 2 or 3 gems left this should be an easy task for the player to complete but if there are 6 or more (for example) then it will require support from the other players to make a successful escape.
Rolling a black “cursed mask” is bad for the player as it means that this particular dice cannot be re-rolled until a “golden mask” is rolled. One golden mask dice result unlocks up to two black cursed mask rolled dice and so it can be easily negated - except that the dice can be very mean indeed, forcing you to rely on the other players for assistance. The effects are cumulative and so for each black cursed mask dice result that appears that dice must be set aside until it can be unlocked by one of the golden mask dice results. If you have rolled nothing but black cursed mask dice, you will need the help of another player or multiple players to continue rolling your dice. The catch however is that the other player needs to be in the same room tile as you in order to share one of their golden mask dice to unlock one of your black cursed dice. This often leads to cries for help from one player or more to the others who then have to try and get back to the stranded player in time before the next gong sounds and the temple doors shut! Oh, and if you decide to use one of your golden mask dice to help another player cancel one or two of their cursed dice you cannot also use the same golden mask dice to unlock any cursed dice that you yourself rolled! So this helps create a cool tension where you have to decide whether to help others before you help yourself first.
There are three “gongs” in the game soundtrack. The first and second gongs inform the players that it’s time to run back to the starting tile before they are sealed in another room, while the third and final gong (which sounds different by beating more than just once) signals that it’s time to get out before it’s too late. If at any point one or more players failed to make it back to the starting tile room before the doors seal shut, then they are required to discard one of their dice for the remainder of the game. Understandably, this can easily make it much harder and slower for them to progress through the temple but this rarely happens more than once per player so it doesn’t break the game.
How to Win:
As already described, players need to amass enough gems to unlock the exit and escape the temple. It is beneficial for the group to try and acquire as many gems as possible throughout the game before reaching the exit tile as the number of remaining gems left plus one is the number of keys that must be rolled by each player in order to escape. In order for the players to win they must all escape from the temple before the time runs out. If one or more players fail to escape the temple before the timer runs out, then the group loses the game collectively. This sounds tough, and it certainly can be, but any players that have already escaped the temple can give another player still inside the temple one of their dice to add to their pool of dice.
My thoughts on the Theme:
As the game is only a rapid 10 minutes long there is not a huge amount of depth to the game or much done with the theme but I don’t see this as a bad game since the game is so short to begin with. The theme could probably just as easily work on a spaceship where the systems are failing one-by-one and the crew members need to get to the escape pods before the ship explodes. But that being said, I think the “Indiana Jones”-esque feel to the game works better than my spaceship suggestion or even the zombie city themed version that also exists as the theme feels fresher and a bit more thematically interesting than either of those two alternatives in my opinion.
My thoughts on the Mechanics:
Dice rolling games are a lot of fun but they are also hugely dependent on luck by design. This could cause some issues if a player rolls badly but starting with 5 dice means that you’d need to be pretty unlucky to roll 5 cursed mask dice results at once. And if it does happen, you’ll probably have a fellow adventurer close by to lend a hand (or dice to be precise) so I don’t see this as an issue. One other minor issue is that in the frantic dice rolling of the game you need to make sure to correctly place the tiles so that the “steps” lead from the room you in to the next room. I’ve seen players make this mistake and while it might seem like a “rules lawyer” thing to say, it’s important not to do this as it can make it much harder visually for the players to quickly see the route back to the starting tile. Placing the tiles correctly makes this easier as the game can be pretty frantic without having to scan the board for the route back to the starting tile when the gong sounds.
My thoughts on the Components:
The components for “Escape” are top notch. The cardboard tiles are printed on nice thick card stock and the design is simple and uncluttered which is essential in a real-time game as frantic as this one. The dice are really nice and the icons are easy to understand for new players. The adventurer tokens and meeples are simple and effective - not much more to say on that! The CD is functional but with the increasing advance towards fully digital media it’s nice that you can download MP3 files of the CD’s soundtracks from the publisher’s website. A sand timer is also included for people who don’t have either a CD player or the files downloaded on their phone or PC so you are all set to play regardless of what setup you have. If I had to give a negative it would probably be that I wish the box was a little smaller as it feels too big. You could argue though that it leaves more room should you wish to buy the expansions so I won’t be too harsh on this but it does feel a bit big for such a short, light, filler game. I also recommend playing on a table with a tablecloth underneath as it deadens the sound of the dice and makes them less likely to bounce off the table - unless that’s what you want!
My thoughts on the Rulebook:
The rulebook is clear and concise with lots of picture examples. I was able to read it once very quickly and explain it to the other players with no issues. The rulebook also has translations in other languages which will certainly be appreciated by those that might need it.
My thoughts on the Replayability:
This one is a bit tougher to assign a score to as in my game group we tend to play “Escape” either at the beginning of a games night or, more often, at the end. This is partly because the game can get quite excitable and frantic as I have mentioned several times already and often by the end of the 10 minutes’ people are almost panting! This is fantastic that the game can offer this experience but we find that we rarely want to play it more than 2 or 3 times in one night. It’s best in short bursts to round off a games night in my opinion and I think it could easily get repetitive if you played it too often. But of course everyone’s experience will be different here. I should also add that the game has a set of Cursed Tiles and Treasure Tiles and also options to make the game more challenging without adding extra tiles. While I have only played with these tiles once or twice they are pretty cool and add some different challenges to the game like having to roll with one hand on your forehead, or being prohibited from talking, and one curse where if you lose a dice off the table that’s it gone forever! The Treasures module lets you place chest tiles face down which you can try and unlock to get bonuses that help you. Examples include a special key that lets you teleport to another part of the temple, or a tile that lets you bridge two existing tiles to create a passageway that wasn’t there initially and so on. This game has been well supported by Queen games and has received many additional expansions but they will not be reviewed here as I don’t own them - yet.
Final Score: 4.6/5
Check it out if:
You like a game that is easy to learn and play but still provides a challenge.
You want a game that can be played quickly in an evening.
You want a game that feels really tense and exhilarating in short bursts.
Give it a miss if:
You like your games a bit more sedate and not so tense.
You are not a fan of co-op games as the “all win or all lose” aspect might annoy you when other players make poor decisions like running off to explore tiles on their own as they will be easily stuck if they roll badly.
You want a little more strategy in your games than mostly luck-based dice rolling. Analysis paralysis prone players will probably not like this.
Thanks for reading!