You’ve just scored the big one.
After this you’ll disappear to a beach somewhere with no extradition, and yes, pina coladas. But that has to wait. Right now, you need to escape; quickly. Can you avoid the cops and find the most money before they close in? Find out in Escape Plan.
Designer: Vital Lacerda
Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games
After becoming the master of heavy crunchy Euro games, Vital Lacerda tried creating a simpler game in Escape Plan. Make no mistake though, this is still a heavy game.
The goal is to get as much money as possible, and then escape before the end of the third day. If you can’t escape, you’re eliminated. Which means you get to skip end game scoring, yay! But you also lose, aww. This ticking time-bomb is always in the back of your mind; am I going to make it? And am I going to make it with the most money?
It’s that second question that gets you.
All money received is hidden, and given in random amounts. For instance, if both you and I go to the art gallery, I might end up with 100 dollars and you might end up with 50. So you’re never sure how much someone has, only the amount of places they’ve visited. Intriguing isn’t it?
Visiting places is one part of the core game play loop. Each turn you’re moving to some place, you’re avoiding the coppas, and you’re performing the actions of the location. This usually entails reading the rulebook first because there are 8 unique types of locations, and each has their own rule set.
It’s a lot to remember.
It’s also a symptom of a larger problem with Escape Plan’s design. It’s over stuffed with great ideas that it loses focus over what it’s trying to be. It has all of the trappings of Vital Lacerda where you have your primary action, your executive actions, then a slew of location abilities. But it’s also got a lot of chaotic randomness that you don’t see in his other games. For example: Where tiles and locations are placed, where the Exit tile appears and how much money each player gets from a location.
It’s as though Vital tried to make a medium-heavy racing game, but then couldn’t free himself from his past work. The resulting game feels like there’s a split down the middle. And while I like both sides individually, together they are like cookies & concrete – the worst ice cream flavour known to man.
For instance, there’s the notoriety tracker. If you have high notoriety, the police chase you like a dog after a bone. Which you wouldn’t think you’d want, but gaining it nets you upgrades you can use right now. However, if you can’t get rid of your it by the end of the game, that’s money lost. It’s an interesting mechanic, but because of the Euro-ness of Escape Plan , you can’t gain or lose notoriety quick enough for the mechanic to shine.
Similarly, businesses around the board close if too many people visit them. It’s meant to create the low stakes tension I love to see in the board games. That moment, where you have to decide between the place I want to go, and the place that I’ll no longer be able to go. Very reminiscent of a chaotic, medium-heavy racing game. But it’s too forgiving in Escape Plan, and given that there’s so many locations across the board the mechanic becomes a non-factor.
These are just a couple of examples, but it’s the same story throughout a lot of the mechanics in Escape Plan. Sometimes, the game commits to one of these designs paradigms, and you see the brilliance of the designer shine through. For example, the movement is really punchy and a great puzzle in and of itself. I really enjoyed it.
The best part of the game is the components, but at the hefty cost of $180 AUD you would expect nothing less. Double layered player boards, large thick cardboard map tiles, metal keys for the safes, and beautiful art and graphics by Ian O’Toole. Some of his best work. But the thing I realised is that components are a multiplier, if a game is great you want it to have the best components possible because it increases the enjoyment. If a game isn’t good than you are more judgemental of the game because it doesn’t live up to the cost.
Escape Plan falls into the second category. Where it would be a great game if it was streamlined – a lot. As it stands, it falls into the chasm between fast and frantic, and slow and thoughtful. In my opinion your money is better spent elsewhere on games like On Mars.
Thanks for reading my review, I’m currently ranking all my board games in one digestible list. You can see Escape Plan’s initial ranking below.
While I didn’t mention it in the review, one of the things I loved about Escape Plan was how the rulebook was sprinkled with quotes from famous heist movies. From Heat, to Reservoir Dogs it really set the tone for the board game we were about to play. So my question to you is this. What’s your favourite rulebook, and why?