Time to play: 75-90 minutes (Teaching: 10 – 15 minutes)
Best played with: 3 Players (1-5 Players)
Most games about crimes are centred around the main event – the heist, the con, the crime – however Escape Plan picks up this theme and tries to do something new with the moments after the heist. As the gang splits up, hides the money and tries to grab everything they can before getting out of the city. It’s all for one, and one for all the money!
So this should be quite a rich thematic game and for most of the game I would say there is a lot to offer. As a player you control a meeple hiding in the buildings and trying to find money that you can eventually take out of the city. This makes you the player and your avatar in the game completely connected – he is not expendable, he is critical to your score. It’s from this perspective then that the game unfolds.
The nice thing about this is that like all Vital Lacerda games there is an interplay between mechanics and theme. For this game, it’s thematically apparent that the police are on your tail and that time is short – in fact mechanically you have 3 days to escape and that’s 3-5 turns per day (dependent on your actions). Also, the way that you escape is to find the open exit of the board and on day 3 you can leave the city – again linking up the mechanics and the overriding theme.
It’s also worth noting that yes, there will be only 9-15 turns per player and realistically you will probably be capped between 10-12. That is not a lot of turns! Vital’s games are typically very short in the number of turns (thinking of Vinhos and even Gallerist to a lesser degree). These are crunchy decision filled turns, but as always that has the danger of analysis paralysis. Here, the game keeps information hidden – the money that is stored in each safe, the exit, the map – but you can work out enough that some players will want to sit there and calculate not just their next move but the rest of their day. This is an issue for the game as with newer players this can really slow the game down.
What kind of choices? Well you are mechanically choosing to move between locations on the board and most locations are within reach within one or two turns. Each location has a unique offering – that might be a way to get more money from the safe, more cards (with special powers), or more income within the game. You will be trading off building up your ability to manipulate the map through cards, being able to score big points at the end through visiting locations that score end game points and having in game money. These different competing aims pull on you and there are clearly ways to optimise theses – especially to get the extra turns in each day. However, it’s hard to calculate three sets of three stage paths and hold them in your mind – that possible, but difficult decision tree is what gives you analysis paralysis for some players.
Back then to the thematics of these choices – you might be moving between safe houses to unlock the stored goods (drawing from a limited pile and hoping for big cash safes!), or you might be getting in touch with contacts that can move the police / help you move, or you might be getting some income from a local nightclub that you are involved with. The theme holds strong, with the small exception of the impact of chains of actions – i.e. when a series of actions prompt a bonus. Specifically if you visit three businesses of the same group, you get a bonus action. Why? Because it’s good euro mechanics. Sometimes I find these things frustrating but to be honest the board markings make it clear and this tactical offer makes the last (less valuable individually) building worth visiting.
Okay, so you are moving across a map that reveals itself at the start of each day and you are trying to gather up money. Then you come to the grand finale. Running out of the city is all about being at the right exit and getting there at the right time. Firstly, players must leave by the end of day 3. Secondly, the first player out finds it easier to leave than players who wait – if you are going to take your time to leave it better be worth it! The most difficult bit of that is that you better have the money to bribe the officials on the way out – if you don’t you will be arrested and cannot win!
Lastly then you have this big reveal, and that is something I really enjoy. Every player saw the buildings you visited, saw that you opened certain safes, and saw that you took certain cards. Now, at the end of the game you reveal the asymmetric value of those places to you and what you stole. Who came away with the most and therefore wins the day.
All of the actions that you took feel meaningful. The places you visited scored significant points as did the safes. Even the group of contacts you built up gives you points if you got enough of them. There are lots of ways to score here and strategies devoted to contacts or devoid of contacts (the cards) can work well. All of the strategies are situational and interesting to develop. The only one that isn’t meaningful is the cash in game which was just enough to get you out of the city, but has barely any value in the end game.
The negatives then of a game like this are mainly in the analysis paralysis and the complexity of the teach / set up. Once you get through the set up and first teach, it is easy to remember. The only mechanic I would highlight that I didn’t like was the notoriety. There is a clear benefit to keeping notoriety high early / mid game and then reducing it, but the way of doing this is a to follow other players to locations – this is a bit counterproductive and can feel frustrating to play that strategy. Playing a low notoriety can work, but I think against a skilful use of that notoriety you would struggle.
The biggest thing is the analysis paralysis however. I can see in the Gallerist or in Vinhos the path I want to take but that many variables will occur before my next turn, so I don’t try to calculate too far. With Escape plan, I can clearly try to calculate my whole day with very little player interaction – yes some things can go wrong but I might as well. This leads to big amount of down time for a small number of turns and a much longer game than I feel it should be.
- If you like a euro with a difference, then this is a spacial and time restricted version
- If you want no luck, then tile and card distribution will frustrate you
- If you win, try again as the board state will vary reasonably between each game
Superb review. While you mention downtime with larger player counts, I’ve found it to be engaging; watching what others are doing and how if impacts you. Great game and tips.