Escape: The Curse of the Temple
Heads up! If you’re one of those folks who starts breathing heavier at the thought of an eleven-hour gaming marathon, who enjoys a boardgaming routine filled with quiet contemplation and deep chuckles brought on by ironies and reversals of fortune that have brewed and percolated over the course of dozens of turns and actions, who enjoys the type of boardgamery in which you write secret notes and engage in subtle backstabbery fit for smokey drawing rooms filled with chestnut desks and mounted animal trophies, who can think of no better way to spend an evening than slipping into the gradual slumber brought on by only the most robust gaming experiences—
If you’re one of those folks, Escape: The Curse of the Temple is not the game for you.
There’s a Reason All My Pictures Are Blurry
Escape: The Curse of the Temple doesn’t photograph well. You have two options: one, you can have someone sit around not playing Escape: The Curse of the Temple, taking pictures while everyone else is screaming at each other and trying to cheat in secret and becoming increasingly frantic and panicked at the booming sound of gongs coming from the TV. This is sub-optimal. Even if your photographer doesn’t get grumpy that he isn’t playing the game even though it only lasts ten minutes (it is a glorious ten minutes, to be fair), at best he’ll be emotionally drained by all the shrieking and blocked photo attempts as flailing arms get in the way of every single shot. Or two, you can take pictures while screaming at your teammates and trying to cheat in secret and becoming increasingly frantic and panicked at the booming sound of gongs coming from the TV. Either way, the pics you end up with aren’t going to be exactly, say, wedding photo quality.
This is because Escape: The Curse of the Temple is one of those real-time games you’ve heard about. After you’ve excavated the necessary ancient technology out from under a decade of closet sediment, you pop in a CD and listen to ten minutes of jungle noises. Those noises gradually morph into heavy breathing, an accelerated heartbeat, and then a dreaded gong. Now everybody’s really screaming at each other.
Let’s back up.
This is a game about breaking out of a cursed temple. Never mind how you got in — all you need to know is that you’re a team of adventurers, you’re trapped, and you have exactly ten minutes to get out before the temple doors slam closed and you’re trapped for eternity among the spike-traps and poisonous snakes. And possibly Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with a scorpion for a lower body. Who knows. Point is, you want out.
And the only way to do that is by rolling lots and lots of dice!
At first, your knowledge of the temple is rather limited (which supports my personal theory that you fell into the temple, rather than merely walking in). Everyone begins in a protected chamber, and there are two random adjacent rooms. From there, you begin the timer and start exploring.
Want to enter a room? First you’ll have to roll some dice — probably for two adventurer icons, as those are the easiest to roll since they’re printed on two sides, but sometimes you’ll need a key or a torch. Exploring, which means you take a chamber from a stack and add it to the temple, always requires two adventurers. So far so simple, but things get trickier.
See, in order to get out, there are two things you need to do. First, you have to find the exit, though that’s as easy as exploring a whole bunch and surviving any curses or traps you might stumble across along the way. Second, you need to find as many magic gems as possible, and activate them by solving the puzzles that are keeping them dormant. So you’ll come into a room with a simple puzzle, something like “4 torches = 1 gem.” Easy enough. You roll your dice for a while, setting aside torches whenever you get them, until you have four, then you take a gem from the gem depot and put it on that chamber’s pedestal. Gem unlocked!
Then you’ll come to a room that’s a bit more complicated. This one has three gem pedestals, with increasing rewards — but the trick is that you can only unlock one of the pedestals, and while you could roll 4 keys for 1 gem, you can also roll 7 keys for 2 gems, or even 10 keys for 3. Wait a minute! you might be thinking, depending on how closely you’re following along, but don’t you only have five dice? Absolutely correct. In those rooms, you’ll either have to settle for a lesser reward, or have some of your teammates come over to help you work out something better. Cooperation!
Escape Creates Cool Stories…
Even though it only lasts for 10 frantic minutes, Escape is great at creating these little vignettes you’ll be thinking about for days.
Like that one time your spouse rolled five black dice — black means they’re “cursed” and can’t be unlocked until you or a generous teammate roll some golden dice — and he was in a chamber that wasn’t too far away, but one that would still require you to take a long loop around to rescue him. So instead, you explored a couple of brand new chambers, beating a fresh path to save your honey.
Or that time you found exactly the right treasures you needed to solve a tricky puzzle all by yourself while everyone else was stuck trying to catch up, making you the savior of the entire evening.
Or when the gong sounded and everyone was rushing back to the protected starting chamber before the sound of a door closing came over the speakers, which would indicate that everyone outside the protective embrace of that room would have to permanently lose one of their dice — and you were the only one to make it back. Suddenly you were transformed into the sexy go-to dude for solving puzzles, and everyone spent the rest of the game escorting you around the temple and begging for help from the big man with five dice.
… Just Not That Many of Them
Since everything in Escape: The Curse of the Temple comes down to rolling some dice, there just isn’t all that much happening. Yeah, you can find treasures like a pair of extra torches or keys or a guaranteed gold roll, and those give you a one-off handhold of actual control over the proceedings, but ultimately all of the game’s mechanics and storytelling capabilities come down to how screwed or blessed you are when it comes to the random whims of those five cubes of plastic that you’re tossing around the table.
Not that this weakens the game. First, even with the heavy luck elements, the longest game will still take a mere ten minutes. It’s a light game, and it’s more about screaming in your partner’s ears than actually winning anyway.
Second, I’m not saying that luck makes the game devoid of any strategy. As with most luck-heavy games, Escape is about mitigating that luck through clever use of your characters and resources. Knowing when to assign people to groups and when to break up to explore, and who is likely to get things done without micromanagement, and who should go save Thomas who just got trapped again — those all require actual skills like leadership and broad awareness and teamwork.
Still. You’re just rolling some dice. And never really anything else.
It’s as Silly-Hard, or as Silly-Easy, as You Like
Want it to be easier? Put in all the basic rooms that are empty or only contain gimme puzzles for easy gems. Or only include option-giving treasure rooms. Or decrease the number of gems you need to activate before you can escape.
Want more of a challenge? Add in curses. Lots of curses. And if you really want to keep expanding the game’s difficulty, there are already a solid handful of expansions out, like the Pit chamber that you can only solve by rolling lots of curses, or the special linked challenges from the Illusion expansion that allow for even tighter cooperation.
I Recommend It! (provisionally)
Escape: The Curse of the Temple is a great little real-time game, especially for those newer to that flavor of boardgamery. I’ve found that younger people and newer gamers pick it up far easier (and with much less stress) than a heavier real-time game like Space Alert, and even the jaded veteran gamers in my group appreciate it as a filler game. Which means that we recommend it.
Just so long as you’re aware that you’re just rolling dice. I mean, really. That’s it.