Your team of intrepid adventurers has embarked on history’s first time-traveling expedition, only for the Professor’s Time Machine to malfunction, crashing into the lip of an active volcano and stranding you 100 million years in the past! Re-assemble your Time Machine without altering the past or causing paradoxes. This cooperative, big box adventure game was designed by Kevin Wilson (Descent, Arkham Horror and TMNT) for 1-6 adventurous gamers.
Explore volcanoes, jungles, and prehistoric swamps while searching for valuable technology and avoiding dinosaurs. Return wayward historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, who’ve been pulled into the past by rippling time paradoxes, all while racing against a volcano that’s about to explode and obliterate your entire team!
Escape from 100 Million B.C. seemingly materialized out of thin air in spring 2017. Dinosaur board games that can be enjoyed by adults are few and far between, and I remember no advance buzz for the title. The game appears to have disappeared as quickly as it appeared, with only a few copies remaining for sale on many retailer websites—at least at the time I’m writing this. That’s a shame because it is a fun title, although one more for players who want to engage in a storytelling experience than be challenged by gameplay mechanics.
Escape is a cooperative board game in which one to six players are stranded in the prehistoric past and must reassemble their time machine to travel back to the future. The catch is the longer the players stay in the past the more they change the present. If they stay too long and make too many changes, then the accumulated paradoxes cause the volcano at the center of the board to explode, wiping out the time machine and presumably all of existence. So, no pressure.
Paradoxes are tracked by a score track that runs along two edges of the board. The volcano erupts if the score on the paradox track reaches 33. That high number seemingly would give players a lot of wiggle room, but the truth is the higher the score, the more they change the future—and not for the better. If they rebuild the time machine and escape with a low score, then very little changes. Maybe people now worship cats as gods. (“The change is barely noticeable,” the rulebook states.) A high score could mean the Nazis won World War II or humans never evolved. A list of different outcomes is presented in back of the rulebook.
Players have three objectives:
1) As mentioned, find time machine parts scattered across the board. The number of parts depends on the difficulty of the game. (More parts = more difficult.)
2) Find and return “time castaways” who have been dragged back in time with them. Many castaways are famous people from history, like Abraham Lincoln. Others are just unlucky, unknown souls, such as Jeff, who may remind you of a certain “dude” from a hit cult film. If castaways are killed or not returned to their home time periods when the time machine leaves, then they add to the total paradox, resulting in a higher score.
3) Gather as much equipment as possible and take it back to the future with them. The more junk players leave behind after escaping, the higher the score on the paradox track.
Players choose from six characters who have different stats and abilities. Starting from the center, the different characters explore a hex board with five different terrain types. When entering a hex for the first time, a player draws a random tile corresponding with the terrain. Each tile has numbers at its edges that are used for determining the direction that creatures and time castaways move on the board. The tiles also have symbols representing discoveries, which could be equipment, time machine parts, adventures, or creatures. (Sometimes more than one.) With the exception of time machine parts, each discovery has a separate deck of cards that will present players with challenges they must overcome or helpful items they can use.
The board also has six “time rift” spaces from which castaways emerge. The more rifts that are open at any given time, the more likely the game’s paradox score will rise. Players can close rifts by returning castaways to the rips in time, but castaways also have special abilities that aid players in their hunt for time machine parts. One of the more interesting decisions in the game is deciding how long to hold onto castaways before returning them to their own time.
Another interesting decision comes when deciding how to deal with dinosaurs. Killing the animals may seem the most logical answer, but each dinosaur that dies increases the paradox score by two. Players also have the option of running away, which doesn’t increase the paradox score but leaves the dinosaur alive to wander around the board, where it could be a nuisance later. Players will eventually find weapons that allow them to drive dinosaurs away instead of killing them, which both prevent the paradox score from rising and removes the animal from the board.
The outcome of most actions in the game is determined by rolling dice. A lot of dice. The game comes with 11 white dice and one red die. Each character has four stats telling players how many dice to roll when making a skill check. A roll of 4, 5, or 6 is a success, with players getting to roll one additional die for every 6 they rolled. All challenges are determined by rolling a second set of dice, with the number of dice determined by the difficultly level of the challenge. Say a character has a Speed skill of 3 and must do a check against a Speed challenge of 4. That means the player rolls three dice for his or her character and four dice for the challenge. If the player’s roll matches or succeeds the number of successes made by the challenge roll, then he or she passes the test. Players can also use “Will” tokens to add a die to their rolls, which comes in handy as some creatures get to roll eight or nine dice in their attacks.
There are more rules and gameplay elements I could dive into, but at its heart Escape is a simple game. It is a dice chucker where player success is largely determined by how well he or she rolls. That may turn off people who expect more strategy from board games, but I found it pretty fun. I was amused by the story I created about all these historic figures spilling into the prehistoric past while my heroes raced around the board scooping them up before dinosaurs could eat them. What Escape lacks in depth and strategy it makes up for in storytelling opportunities.
That said, there are some problems that can’t be overlooked.
1) The rulebook needs a lot of work. Many rules are just unclear. There also is a huge mistake that could potentially break the game. In describing creature/time castaway movement, the accompanying illustrations show both moving multiple hexes in a single turn. The reality is creatures and castaways only move one hex per turn.
2) The card illustrations are nice, although a dinosaur nerd like me could nitpick the scientific accuracy of many animals. Still, that is a tiny complaint. A far larger problem is the bland design of board and hex tiles. Different land terrains are represented by different symbols that look like they were designed by someone new to Photoshop. The board and hexes are functional, but they don’t bring the theme to life the way an illustrated map would.
3) This game has a large footprint. You will need at least a good three feet for the board and cards, and that is not counting the separate boards for the time machine and characters. I know that is not a problem for some people, but for those of us with limited space, smaller footprints are always welcome.
4) The box says gameplay is about 60 to 90 minutes. That is not true. A typical game will last more than two hours, maybe even three.
Complaints aside, if you just want something where winning or losing doesn’t matter and you just want to take part in an adventure for an evening, Escape will fit the bill. Give it a try if you can find a copy.
* This review first appeared in a different form on Boardgamegeek.
More information about Escape can be found on its BoardGameGeek page.