Review by Mark Capell-Helm
In 2017 a company called Themeborne, released a new game going by the name of “Escape the Dark Castle”. In which you were trying to, well, Escape from a Dark Castle with lots of monsters and nasty surprises along the way. People liked it, in fact Quite a lot of people liked it. So much so that several expansions were added. Creating a fantasy set game which played in a very similar way to the choose your own adventure stories.
Fast forward to 2020 and Themeborne have returned with a new title “Escape the Dark Sector” This time we have travelled to the future and are stranded in a prison cell on a large (read huge) space station. You and up to 3 other crew mates must work together to escape your cell, find your ship and make good your escape. Sounds simple enough (ha-ha if only).
The space Station is full of rampaging cyborgs, Alien eggs, Mercenaries and possibly even a little Matrix moment. Across 3 episodes with 4 (sometimes more occasionally less) chapters in each, you will need to work as a close knit team to survive. This is not a case of “Oh poor bill did not make it, we will remember him” You all win or all lose (mostly lose in my experience).
So what’s in the box, how does it feel and is it worth getting if you already have the previous game? Read on to find out.
“What’s in the Box”
inside Escape the Dark Sector’s game box you will find
Over 30 dice, Rules, Item cards, A set of crew cards, Chapter, Scenario and Boss, large tarot sized cards (over 80 all together) and Medical record sheets.
So what do you do with this stuff? I hear you ask. You start by randomly choosing a boss card from 5 (this might not sound many but trust me you wont be seeing much of these cards) then the various chapter cards and finally a Scenario opening.
Note:- There are only 3 opening Scenario Cards which is a shame as being the most used cards more variety would have been nice.
Once you have assembled your ‘Story’ deck you each choose a character. All 6 of the characters have strengths and weaknesses using the stats Cunning, Wisdom and Might. These are reflected in your personal crew dice.
You are then ready to begin..
The rules to Escape the Dark Sector are fairly light and easy to pick up. The game box promises you will be playing in minutes and games taking around 60 minutes to play.
For once I actually agree with the claims with the caveat that the first play through you will make a few clarification checks in the rule book. Barring a very unlucky set of dice rolls 60 minutes is pretty close. I did have one particularly useless crew who failed to escape in under 30 minutes dying horribly after some really bad decision making. But enough about my disasters is it fun?
Play my Story
How do you play Escape the Dark Sector then? You start by revealing the chosen Scenario card and reading the text aloud. This will set the scene for your adventure. After this point you will working as a team chose the crew member to lead you all into the next room. This Crew mate will reveal the next chapter and read the continuing story aloud. Quite often there will be an event that unfolds requiring that person to roll a skill test or take some damage. Following this you will all need to make a decision based on the information given. Rolling dice to try to defeat enemies, collecting items, regaining health or being the victim of some barbaric blood sport. Should you all survive you get a breather to reload guns use healing items etc. before choosing the next chapters leader and moving onto the next section before hopefully facing off against the Boss enemy and escaping in your ship.
While gloriously simple in concept there are some clever little touches. At the start of combat if you have ranged weapons you can exchange gunfire before going hand to hand to try to finish off your enemies. You can use a flanking ability to sneak up on an enemy for a surprise attack, use a medical drone to heal or make use of your cybernetic implants to give you and edge.
The big question is IS IT FUN?
Before I answer that question,
Have you ever read and played a choose your own adventure book? If so you will know that the story is everything. There needs to be atmosphere, tension, immersion, OH-No moments and those all important fist pumping “get-in” moments. Without these the desire to finish the adventure is quickly lost. So are these all in Escape the Dark Sector?
Atmosphere? In short YES although this is quite dependent on your group buying into the story premise. If your not big Sci-fi fans then a lot of the “special” moments will pass you by. That moment when you reveal Alien face-hugger eggs or the Glitch in reality al-la Matrix these and many more are present.
Immersion? Personally I found this to be much less successful. Because the artwork used is much more reminiscent of those Choose Your Own Adventure books. I personally did not feel it quite fit the setting being portrayed in the game as well as it could have. That being said it is nice artwork and is in keeping with their first game so it is consistent. I thought the dice rolling would cause us to lose some of the immersion but my group did not feel that at all and we stayed immersed in our characters throughout.
Tension? Another big fat YES bucket loads in fact. Looking at the expression of your crew mate as they revealed and started to read the next chapter card. Only to realise you were all in the deep doo-doo.
“OH-NO” and “get-in”? YES here as well rolling a bunch of dice will always create those memorable moments. Rolling big to take down a cyborg first strike or rolling badly and slipping onto some laser grids.
So Is it FUN? YES If you like Sci-fi and don’t mind losing often to a game that is very punishing and difficult but which never feels unbeatable.
In the words of my 12 year old son when after playing his first game I asked “What did you think?” he replied “I will tell you after we play again NOW!”
While not being a heavy weight game this is a perfect game for those less familiar with modern gaming. This does mean that it will feel much too light for some. Also the luck elements involved with dice rolling will also put some people off, even allowing for the small amount of luck mitigation you can get within the game itself.
This is a game that will stay on my shelves and I hope to see more scenario opener cards in future expansions. Escape the Dark Sector is different enough from it’s predecessor to warrant owning both as they both scratch different parts of the same itch. I look forward to seeing where the next “Escape the Dark…..” takes us.
Disclaimer- Themeborne sent me an unsolicited copy of Escape the Dark Sector to review along with the Playmat. No Obligation to provide a positive review was asked nor offered. I have endeavoured to be as impertial as possible.