Designers: Kristian Amundsen Østby
Publisher: Queen Games (2012)
Remember that time when Indiana Jones did a line of coke and then pissed himself as he was jumping over the pit, vaulting down corridors, and frantically throwing glowing gemstones on pedestals? OK, maybe that was a deleted scene from Raiders or possibly a sequence from the upcoming fifth installment (ugh), but it’s the perfect description of Escape: The Curse of the Temple.
This game was originally Kickstarted by Queen Games in early 2012 and was subsequently released to mixed reviews. First off, ignore the nay-sayers; this game is an absolute blast. It is a cooperative real-time endeavor where you have ten minutes to scramble through a temple and unload a haul of gemstones before you can escape. The players will be buzzing around the table, picking up their handful of dice and repeatedly chucking them in an effort to get specific symbols to perform actions.
The dice are quality 6-siders with special symbols engraved. You need different combinations of these symbols to interact with the game and progress. For instance, if you get two green runners, you can explore an adjacent chamber. Each chamber has two symbols listed which are required to move into that tile. Placing gemstones requires several of the same symbol and will often require teamwork as you will want to get 7 or 10 of a specific value, which is impossible to do on your own as you only have 5 dice.
The game comes with gorgeous, high quality components.
The feel of the game is similar to other real-time games as you shit your pants and find your mind fumbling to process information at a rapid pace to enable brisk decision making. You will occasionally yell to other players for help if you get stuck with several dreaded Black Mask rolls, as these dice may not be picked up and rolled until you spend Gold Mask dice (or an ally spends them when they’re in the same room). You may find yourself running into dead ends, getting cursed and not being able to talk, or free-styling it on your own as you’re rolling aces and throwing down gems like mad syncopated beats.
The depth of the game arises from those moments of necessary cooperation where you have to coordinate gem placement or pull off a rescue mission if someone gets stuck. All of this can be made more stressful than is obvious due to the impact of the timer. Besides sounding the end of the game, the timer can be a bitch to deal with due to the fact that you have to return to the starting chamber twice during the 10 minutes, failing to do so means the loss of one of your dice permanently (which stings like icy-hot on genitalia).
The base game comes with an included expansion of “Curses”; I would recommend mixing these in right away if you are an experienced gamer to achieve an added touch of depth. Curses are gained when you explore a new chamber with the Curse symbol. You draw a Curse tile from the stack and one of a myriad of debilitating effects occur. Some of these effects include placing a hand on top of your head, losing a die, the inability to explore or move to other rooms, and many more. Our favorite, by far, are the meta-game Curses which have you doing things outside the actual game but effect your ability to roll or coordinate with teammates (not being able to talk is hilarious). Don’t fret, you can cure these Curses by rolling a set of three symbols that appear on the specific Curse tile. The only catch is that no one can help you so you’re stuck determining when the best time to cure the ailment is or when should you ignore it and proceed to your current goal. This is great because it offers more meaningful decisions besides what dice to keep, which dice to save, and which action to perform.
A shot of the many different Curse tiles.
One of the primary criticisms of this game is that it is at its most fun the first couple of times you play, and that spark of enjoyment fades rapidly. I will wholeheartedly agree that the first play or two you should be completely enamored as your jaw drops and you realize how cool this is, however, I have found the game continues to deliver for my group over an extended period of time. I do recommend that you do not pick up this game with the intention to play it every week, that will certainly cause its buzz to cool off and your group to lose interest. It hits the sweet spot if you play it once a month or so and get in several games with different elements and tile configurations mixed in. The expansion and promo tiles really help in this regard as the game will feel very different depending on what difficulties come out and what problems you have to overcome.
It should be obvious that this is not a deep game, but it is a whole lot of fun in healthy doses. No downtime, intense real-time decision making, and necessary cooperation make this a memorable exercise. It plays up to 5 players and adding in or subtracting buddies is no problem at all. We look forward to bringing this game out and have found new players fall instantly in love. Throw in the CD, warm up your dice rolling hand, and feel your heart pump so that you can forget that awful Crystal Skull crap and recapture the excitement of your youth before George Lucas lost his mind and when Harrison Ford was still a bad-ass.