3 Chits, 4 Giggles
I light a few candles, put on the perfect mood music and set everything up on the table. There is some yummy chocolate mousse in the fridge for later. My wife and I take a seat, but this is not a romantic meal, oh no. We are about to play Escape the Dark Castle.
This game seeps theme like no other title released in the last few years. It's a game of nostalgia for everyone who grew up watching Knightmare or playing Heroquest on the kitchen table. Every picture and every bit of text builds on the dark fantasy theme. ETDC is the first game from Themeborne, and their name says it all. You can even go to their website and buy an old music cassette with a special Dark Castle soundtrack on it.
The game is deviously simple. You win if you all escape the castle, but you lose if any one character dies from losing all their health points (which is the more likely scenario of the two... no, really!) At the beginning of the game, you all pick a character that has their own unique die, which makes them better or worse at dealing with the different challenges throughout the game. It's very wise to pick characters that complement each other with their different values of might, cunning and wisdom.
The Castle deck that you draw from as you escape is built from the starting prison cell card where you begin your quest for freedom, fifteen unique chapter cards where you face numerous horrors and finally a boss card; a terrifying, brutal enemy. Each time you complete a chapter card, you'll get to flip the next one, as if turning the page of a book. Whoever chooses to turn the card over is often the target of its effects though, so be careful...
Each chapter card usually has a trait based challenge or a monster on it. To defeat an enemy, players have to roll their character dice and use the results to eliminate the traits on the chapter dice of the beastie, which are indicated via the card. Challenges and monsters have anywhere between one and OH MY GAWD HE'S GOT EIGHT DICE!! It a simple roll and match mechanic that often comes down to luck, although you can try and work out the probability of rolling each characters traits to better your chances of success. However, If you're looking for that one 'might' roll to defeat what ever creature stands between you and the next room, you can bet your rusty blade that you'll roll everything but 'might' for the next four rolls.
You'll take damage every time you fail to kill an enemy, though rolling a shield can protect you in the majority of circumstances. This damage soon adds up though, and every wound you take is a terrible blow to your chances of escape. I once lost half my health to a minotaur in the second room as the rolls were against us. We sure didn't escape in that game...
This game is tough! Often you won't even make it to the boss as you'll be eaten by wolves or fall to your death down some rickety stairs long before you get to knock on the Big Bad Boss's door. There are some fantastic item cards that can really help during your escape, which you'll get at the start of the game, from certain cards and after you defeat enemies. These range from a mouldy apple all the way up to a golden axe and can do anything from helping you regain hit points to re-rolling those pesky dice. They are very, very good at mitigating your bad dice luck.
To help you survive together, a player can also rest during a round of combat, meaning they don't roll their trait dice, to gain a single health point. Used tactically this can literally be a life saver.
One of the areas where this game really shines is through the choices you can make on some of the chapter cards. You can choose how to attack certain enemies, and sometimes you can sneak right past an encounter, where you won't get the rewards but you won't take any damage either. These are just some of the tough decisions your group will have to make. It's tense, its thematic and most importantly it makes it fun to lose at this game. You will want to try again. My wife and I played three games and had that victory chocolate mousse in the fridge if we made it out of the castle.
Well, the mousse is still in the fridge.
The art design is perfect. Scratchy black and white drawings transport you straight back to your first taste of horror as a child, when you hid under the bed sheets with a torch reading Fighting Fantasy books late into the night. I can't wait to try and Escape the Dark Castle again. If you're a fan of those old choose your own adventure style games then I recommend you pick up a copy. The chapters deck has fifty three cards and with only fifteen used each game, your adventure changes each time you play. There are plans for expansions too with the first, Cult Of The Death Knight, arriving next month. Themeborne have already teased the idea of more 'Escape the Dark' games and I look forward to attempting to crawl, scratch and scream my way out of anything else they have to offer.
THERE WILL BE VICTORY MOUSSE!
Review by David Murcutt
BONUS: Check out a full playthrough video for this game right here!