If someone were to tell you that a fairly simple 10 minute game could make you literally sweat, that it could make you walk away with an adrenaline high like coming off a roller coaster, would you believe them?
Yeah, I didn’t either.
Then I played Escape: The Curse Of The Temple – and now I understand.
In Escape: The Curse Of The Temple (I’ll just refer to it as Escape from here on) players take on the role of Indiana Jones-like tomb raiders that are working together to explore and escape a cursed temple. The catch is that the game is played in real time – there are no turns – to a 10 minute soundtrack. Players have only until the end of that soundtrack to get everyone out or the entire team loses.
Image from Queen Games website – it also shows Curses and Treasures expansions
In Escape, each player gets a pawn that starts in the center of the temple – this is the “safe room”. Players move about the temple, adding rooms and activating gems in order to find the exit and get everyone out.
The way that players accomplish their goals is by rolling a set of five custom dice. Dice can be rolled as often as a player wants, unless they roll a black mask symbol – this locks the dice in place until it’s unlocked by a gold mask. A gold mask can unlock up to two black masks.
The other icons on the dice – a green running man, a red torch and a blue key.
Image courtesy of Goodsound on BoardGameGeek.com
Players will roll their dice, use the dice by setting them aside to perform an action and then re-roll. Players can choose to re-roll any of their dice, apart from locked dice, at any time, resulting in a frenzy of dice rolling.
So for example, if the room next to the player has a green running man and a red torch icon on it, players must roll those icons in order to move into that room. Once rolled, they set the dice aside, move their pawn, and then they are ready to roll again. If their initial roll only had a green running man, they could keep re-rolling their other dice as fast as they want to get the required torch.
Players explore the temple by adding rooms to the layout. To do this a player uses two green running man symbols and takes a tile from the stack and adds it to the room they are in – but they must add it a side that has an open doorway.
The players are also burdened with a certain number of cursed gems that they must “activate” at places in the temple in order to lift the curse over the exit door. Once they are in the exit chamber, to successfully escape each player must roll one blue key symbol for each un-activated gem plus one in order to leave the temple, so getting gems activated is very important.
To make matters even more “interesting”, twice during the game, the soundtrack will signal (with a gong sound) that players have 30 seconds or so to rush back to the “safe room” in the temple or suffer consequences (in the form of losing a dice for the rest of the game) as the walls crush them. (Note that the designers included a sand timer that can be used if you don’t want to use the soundtrack)
One very helpful part of the game is that if player’s pawns are in the same room, they can work together on certain objectives. So for example if they are working to activate gems and it requires seven torch icons to activate two gems each player can contribute torches to the seven total.
Another example is black mask “locked” dice. If all of a player’s dice are locked up, another player in the same room can let the first player use one of their gold masks to unlock two of their dice.
In fact, if a lot of players dice are locked, the players can vote to “Provoke Fate” and add one more cursed gem to the stack they need to activate. This action instantly unlocks all black mask dice for all players, but it makes it just that bit harder for the team to win.
The coop dice sharing portion leads toward some interesting strategic decisions in how you approach the challenge– do we pair up or move as a group, do we have one team work on exploring while another works on unlocking, etc…
Players simultaneously roll and perform actions as fast as they can to find the exit tile, activate enough gems and get all players out as the soundtrack provides eerie ambiance and signals impending doom.
(Image courtesy of EndersGame on BoardGameGeek.com)
(The sound track has two different tracks – one more ominous than the other – but there are tons of other soundtracks online to download as well.)
If this all sounds a bit overwhelming, it sort of is. The first play through is generally the most frenetic but we’ve found that players become accustomed to the fast pace and begin to really get into the game after a play or two.
This game is frenzied and fun. Play tends to be loud and boisterous as people shout out objectives they are working on or ask for help. The tension of only having 10 minutes to win also has a sweet side – if you lose, it only takes another 10 minutes to try again. You can play multiple rounds and still have time for something else – that is if your nerves can take it. (This web comic from Tiny Wooden Pieces pretty much sums it up. 🙂 )
I’ll be honest and say that the first time I played this, we squeaked out a win at the buzzer and I sat back with my heart pounding and my hands nearly shaking. Board gaming tends to be slower and more thoughtful, but this has the real time engagement that is more akin to a fast paced video game.
The intensity and difficulty of the game scales with the number of players – a 5 player game is far harder and more nerve wracking than a 2 player game – but I also find that a 5 player games is also a bit more fun.
Escape does have a learning curve and once the basic skills are mastered, the game can be a bit repetitive. (This has sometimes been leveled as a weakness of the game) Once you have the basics mastered, unless your luck turns against you greatly, you’ll likely be able to get out with time to spare.
But wait – there’s more. Queen Games has added additional modules, such as Curses and Treasures, as well as challenges, that ramp up the difficulty and continues to change the game so that it doesn’t get stale and constantly provides a new experience. There are quite a few expansions available as well as other versions such as a zombie-themed version called Escape: Zombie City.
Overall this is a fun quick co-op game. It’s simple enough to learn and play with a range of ages and playing experience but complex enough and unique enough to keep even seasoned “gamers” coming back.
We’ve found that it’s a good “gateway” game for people not normally into the more complex world of gaming – that is, if they can enjoy the real-time nature of the game. The addition of extra modules (if you have them) and challenges keeps the game fresh for even veterans.
So if the idea of a fast paced short co-op dice rolling game sound appealing, definitely check out Escape: The Curse Of The Temple
A frenetic full co-op dice roller that takes 10 minutes – a great filler game if you like real-time games.