We backed Escape the Dark Castle on Kickstarter because we loved the (controversial) art style, and theme. In the game, you pick one commoner and you are tasked with escaping a prison (the "Dark Castle") before you run out of life and luck as you make your way to a final boss confrontation.
Custom Class Dice: Each player will pick a card that has a basic occupation on it (Baker, Tailor, Miller, etc.) Each die's values are weighted to vaguely represent that occupation (the Abbot has a lot of Spirit, while the Butcher has a lot of Strength.) This is a really neat gameplay idea, and the custom dice are nice and oversized, and feel really good to roll.
A Randomly-Generated Story: At the beginning of the game, you will pick 15 random cards from a large stack of 45 to represent the challenges you must overcome in the game. Each card includes a large illustration to illustrate the scene and a few sentences of text to set the scene. The challenges are to either make a decision, attempt a skill check, or win a combat. Because of the large amount of content, you will get a unique experience every time you sit down and play this game, although the likelihood that you will see a card you've seen before is fairly high after a couple of plays.
Unique Dice Combat: Whenever you get into combat, the enemy will have a set number of fixed dice symbols, and then you add dice based on the number of players. This scales pretty well (although the more players, the easier the game gets.) What's nice here is the idea that you roll your character's dice, and you remove the enemy's dice to deal damage. If the enemy survives the round, it automatically damages everyone in the party. There's no strategy here, but it's about as fun as straight dice-rolling can be.
What We Liked
The game takes the '0 Level' RPG idea that Dungeon Crawl Classics has popularized and puts it into board game form. Thematically I love the idea of "real world" classes being played in the game. You aren't playing an adventurer with superhuman powers, just a guy or gal with some strength, a bit of wits, and a dash of cunning.
This theme plays very well with the story elements as they are uncovered. The events are grim, and can be fun to experience and discuss with multiple players.
What Could Be Improved
The game is very light. In fact, there's not much strategy at all to be had in the game. There occasionally are some decisions and the ability to press your luck in some challenges, but generally speaking you're just rolling and hoping for the best in combat. This seems like an odd decision paired with the theme, and I would have welcomed at least one or two deeper layers to the strategy.
Part of the fun of playing hapless non-superhuman adventurers is that they can die at any moment. There's so much delight to be had in having a one hitpoint adventurer survive a combat knowing that any attack at all will kill him. Unfortunately, the combat in Escape is predictable and not surprising at all (once you've resolved all the precombat setup.) In fact, the game itself is just a resource-dwindling experience; it's impossible to keep your character's health up as it is slowly dwindled by multiple combats.
Finally, the art is inconsistent. While the cover art, the portraits, and many of the art pieces on the cards is excellent, some of the card art does feel a bit too "doodly" and uneven.
Escape is best played as a party game with four players taking turns reading the card text and passing the artwork around. The strategy is ultra light and probably could be played by severely drunk players (and probably better-enjoyed.) This odd mismatch between the theme and the complexity of gameplay may turn some off, but I still think there's some interesting gameplay innovations here.
Original Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1998318065/escape-the-dark-castle
Backed at: 25 GBP level (Game + Expansion)
Anticipated Delivery: December 2017, received December 2017
Final Rating: 7 - Good - usually willing to play.
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