07 September 2017
Save Einstein from being eaten by dinosaurs in this rollicking adventure
You need only take a look at the box art for Kevin Wilson’s Escape from 100 Million B.C. to know exactly what you’re in for. A fabulously pulpy illustration showing a muscly soldier pursued by dinosaurs as a volcano throbs ominously in the background and a jumbo jet materialises out of a lightning storm, it brings to mind old comics, choose-your-own-adventure books and Indiana Jones posters.
Escape nails this escapade tone, dropping players into the middle of a sprawling map as one of a number of B-movie stereotypes, from the intellectual paleontologist and money-rich investor to the battle-ready soldier, each with a set of unique skills and stats. The adventurers must venture out into the randomly-generated land, flipping over hex tiles in a variety of environments (water, swamp, mountains, plains) in the search of the parts needed to repair their broken time machine – the number of parts needed varies with the difficulty level – before the central volcano explodes.
It’s not just Instagram photo opportunities and sunbathing back in 100m B.C. Tiles can reveal the chance to acquire modern equipment scattered by the crashing machine – from grenades and machine guns to useless (but delicious) chocolate bars, which must be recovered to stop further timeline disruption – but may also lead to encounters with the local fauna, which will often attack if disturbed. In a nice break from the ‘if it bleeds, kill it’ mentality of many games, slaying animals messes with the space-time continuum and brings the volcano closer to eruption, meaning running away or scaring creatures off by exploiting brawn or speed (and lucky dice rolls) is much more advantageous – albeit harder. Those T-rex don’t frighten easily.
Complicating matters is the occasional arrival of famous figures from throughout history who have been mixed into the time stew and will wander around the land until convinced to join you and returned home, closing the rifts they tore open. Leaving with Einstein, Nietzsche or JFK stuck in the past can mean a game over even once the time machine is fixed – plus, they can end up eaten by the roaming dinosaurs, which generally isn’t a good thing – meaning it’s vital to save them as you romp around. The celebs in peril are an amusing mix of obvious icons and slightly more obscure pop culture references (we laughed out loud plenty of times), and cement the goofy but satisfying premise. After all, who hasn’t wanted to fight Velociraptors alongside the real-life inspiration for the Mona Lisa and the Dude from The Big Lebowski?
Escape is incredibly easy to learn and massive fun to play – but that doesn’t mean it will hesitate to kick your butt. The final trip home once the machine is repaired is brutal, pushing the paradox track as high as it can based on any surviving temporal castaways or out-of-time items left in the deck (symbolising the forgotten chocolate set to destroy us all) – which often comes down to little more than pure luck, but does encourage full exploration of the map before leaving to reduce the chance of a last-minute game over.
Much of the players’ success hinges on dice rolls, offset by the use of will tokens for additional dice to avoid things becoming too frustrating or cruel, and the abundant items keep things interesting and stop it becoming a total rollfest. Capping off the jaunty experience is a series of potential narrative outcomes to your meddling in the past based on your final paradox score, which provides a charming and comic conclusion to the hugely enjoyable hour-and-a-half or so.
Escape from 100 Million B.C. doesn’t boast the tightest set of mechanics to ever grace the tabletop, but that’s not what it’s going for. What it does aim at – capturing the rollicking spirit of adventure stories in a sub-two-hour board game, being laugh-out-loud funny and balancing tense luck with a dash of involved strategy – it absolutely accomplishes, and then some. Sit back and strap in for a heck of a ride.
As if being gloriously silly, charmingly comical and easy to learn wasn’t enough, Escape from 100 Million B.C. lets you recruit Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt to fight dinosaurs. What more could you possibly want?
Time: 60-90 minutes
This review originally appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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