Designed by Kristian Amundsen Østby and published by Queen Games in 2012, Escape: The Curse of the Temple is a cooperative game of collecting gems to weaken the curse until you are able to escape. It sounds too simple and because it a cooperative game, it is. In this occasion the catch is time in a very literal sense. This game is played to a sound track that lasts only ten minutes and that is all the time you and your friends have.
The bits you get in the box are: 25 nicely produced custom dice (these are really well made to live up to the sheer quantity of handling they will get). 5 wooden Indy-meeples, 25 plastic gems, some cardboard chits, a timer, a stack of thick board room tiles, a sound track CD and three sets of rules. There is quite a lot in this box and the quality of all of it is good and will survive the frantic play that follows opening the box. The meeples are a good chunky size for grabbing across a table and all the chits and room tiles are of a good thickness for endurance. The three sets of rules are because of the different ways to play the game and all are well laid out and easy to understand.
Set up for this game is nice and simple. The start tile is placed in the centre of the table and the exit tile is shuffled in to the last five in the deck, including any module expansion tiles you’re playing with. Every player takes a meeple and places it on the start room, and five dice. A room is placed on either side of the start room, gems for the number of players are placed in the gem store and the disc is set ready to play.
Start of play is simple too. Start the CD and wait for the voice to shout ESCAPE! Then everyone starts rolling their dice, any die that shows a black mask is locked and cannot be rerolled until it’s unlocked. Whenever a player rolls a golden mask they, or a player in the same room, may unlock up to two dice with the black mask on them. The other sides of the dice are two adventurer symbols (green runners), a torch (red) and a key (blue). What use do we have for those other faces? Well, the two rooms we placed to the side of the start room each have a pair of symbols to the right of the stairs on them; these are usually a pair of adventurers or an adventurer with either a torch or a key. If you can match the symbols after rolling your dice, you can set those dice aside(for rerolling as soon as you next feel you need them) and move your meeple to that room. Once you’re in the next room you’ll need to explore more of the temple to dig for the exit tile which is sitting right near the bottom of the deck of rooms. To discover more rooms you need to set aside a pair of adventurer (green runner) dice, once again only until you want to reroll them; in fact the only thing that stops you rerolling dice is black masks. If you do you roll matching adventurers, you can draw the top room from the rooms deck and place it with its grey stair, connecting to an available door on the room you’re in.
So now we can search for our way out of the temple. All we need to do is escape and that means we need to roll a number of Keys equal to one plus the number of Gems left in the gem bank. To remove them from the Gem bank you need to activate special rooms with gem icons. Next to them are a number of torches or keys you need to have rolled in order to remove those gems from the bank and add to those rooms. Some of these numbers are seven and ten pictures though (well, it is a cooperative game) if you want any hope of achieving these, you will have to work together to complete them, but everyone completing the task must be in that room. This is enough of a task in itself but there is one more challenge the game is going to throw in. Three times during the game you will hear a gong. The first twice this begins a countdown until you hear a door slam, to run your meeple back to the start room, if you don’t you’ve lost one of your dice forever. The third time, you have to run for the exit and escape. If anyone is left in the temple at the end of the ten minutes, you all lose.
The crowd I played this with had a mixed response to it, for my part I enjoyed it. This game makes no pretence to be more than it is, it’s light, fun and frantic. If as a group you can’t communicate under pressure this game is going to be a strain as getting those bigger gem challenges seems to be key to winning. However all it takes is a badly timed gong to send the plan scrambling. Granted, the soundtrack isn’t great and the tutorial tracks on it are far from a complete run through, although I will admit if you haven’t played for a while it may well serve as a good reminder. The rules are great, the components are great and the game play is fun, frantic, chaos. If it has a down side it is that, if the game is this light how is it so hard to win? Granted, we were getting better at it but we had still got nowhere near winning after several plays. Is it too hard for a light game? I don’t know. I do know I had fun and that I would gladly play it again. I don’t own it but at the right price I’d happily add this to the collection for when my kids get older.
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