The Most Fun I’ve Had In A While
Level 7 Escape is a brand new “semi cooperative” survival horror board game for 1-4 players from Privateer Press set to debut on September 19th. In this game you are fighting for your life and attempting to escape from Subterra Bravo, a secret underground facility riddled with aliens (called “clones”), elite guards, and numerous other horrors.
Memories of how you got to Subterra Bravo are hazy, and as one of many escaped test subjects it is up to you as to whether you work with your fellow escapees or use them as bait to save your own neck. Be warned: Subterra Bravo is no walk in the park, and you’ll need to outwit not only your enemies, but facility itself in order to make it out alive. The very walls of this place seem hellbent on keeping you there. This game is awesome to say the least, it plays fast and it’s full of tension, let’s jump right in!
Pull Those Tubes Out of Your Flesh and Move! (Setup)
I did an unboxing video of the game earlier in the week and ran through it pretty quickly, so if you’d like to see all of its contents in “raw” form be sure to check it out. I however did not actually do the game much justice in explaining the pieces as I was doing so – mainly due to the fact that I’d not played or read the rule book yet. So I made another short video to attempt to justify my rather uninformative unboxing one.
Setting the game up is pretty quick as you’ll really only need to pick out a few designated tiles and build the reserve and threat pools and such as provided by the scenario you’re running. The scenarios are all awesome by the way but we’ll get to that in a bit, for now just know that the prep time on Level 7 Escape is minimal. Before your first game I suggest reading the rule book cover to cover one time, it’s not a long read but it’s best to not skim over the rules the first time – especially the parts about how enemies move and where they spawn. Enemy movement is governed by a strict AI that all guards, clones, and other enemies must adhere to in this game and you won’t want to mess it up or you’ll spoil some of the fun and possibly make other players want to cut you.
The Escape (Gameplay)
First off I should say that this game is challenging, not unfair, but challenging. It evokes a lot of great atmosphere and strikes a near perfect balance of tension just after the first few turns and manages to ride that tension out at a steady pace for most of the game. That is until cranking it up to 11 toward the end of the scenario – especially once lockdown starts.
The game box states that it plays in 30 minutes to one hour, which is actually strikingly accurate and a pleasant surprise for me personally. All too often I think some games have delusions of grandeur regarding how long they actually take to play. The game is also coined as “semi cooperative” for good reason as well, because how you team up, outwit, or bait your fellow subjects is really up to the people at the table and it makes for some truly rad and memorable moments.
The Pawns of Subterra Bravo – You (Characters)
Each subject (character) that you can play as in the game starts with identical stats and the only thing that sets them apart is their artwork, but the skill cards they are dealt at the beginning of the game really helps set them apart. Skills are a wide range of stat boosts to conditional modifiers and specializations a character might possess. Each subject has 4 stats: Intelligence, Strength, Speed, and Toughness. These scores are what determine how many dice you roll when performing “challenges”, which are like checks in D&D, you roll dice and attempt to achieve a target number to succeed. On your turn you can move and explore tiles, pick up an item, trade an item, and perform one challenge such as: fight a guard or clone, get through a locked door, attempt to outwit enemies to move out of the room, or bull rush past them. Each of these challenges provide equal amounts of risk and reward, which gives the game a really dynamic feel and things can certainly turn on a dime in Level 7 – so never give up, and never get too cocky!
The Ever Changing Gauges
Each subject has 3 critical gauges that govern how enemies interact with them and the general well-being of their character, these are Fear, Vitality, and Threat.
Fear is a measure of how horror/panic stricken your character is, it rises when you are attacked, crawl though vents, or leave a darkened room. It modifies your stats as the track moves up and down as well. For example: if you reach the bottom of your fear track, you can think more clearly (+1 INT) but have lost some of that pulse pounding aggression (-1 STR). As your fear climbs you’ll also gain some fighting prowess and speed, but also be a lightning rod for clone attacks, that’s right – the aliens can smell your fear.
Vitality is a representation of how much punishment you can take before being knocked out, it also governs your max hand size. Each turn you’ll draw 1 adrenaline card unless you are at your max hand size (equal to your vitality), you can play adrenaline cards all throughout the game to both raise and lower your fear in exchange for temporary stat boosts, manipulating guards/clones, cancelling certain event elements, or screwing over your fellow escapees. Note though that each time you play an adrenaline card you are bringing yourself one step closer to being knocked out. You can never play your last adrenaline card voluntarily to knock yourself out however, it must be lost due to being forced to discard it.
Threat is similar to fear but instead your threat governs how guards will prioritize their attacks and who they will hunt down first, you gain threat by breaking down doors, attacking guards, and through event cards and scenario conditions. Each scenario has a finite threat pool and once it’s all used up, lockdown will begin. Lockdown has its own special set of conditions as described in each scenario but one thing that it always means is that the tokens are pulled from the pool once each turn until they are gone – at which point the facility seals and anyone who’s not escaped is doomed!
A few other things you can do on your turn is attempt to breach locked doors by either breaking them down (which you’ll gain threat for) or hacking them (which you’ll be able to leave open or lock behind you). Clones can’t travel through locked doors, but all the other enemies can so watch out! You can also travel through vents, each tile that is placed when you explore may or may not contain vents on it, vents allow you to move around the facility very quickly, but will also cause your fear to go up unless you’ve got a flashlight or a skill that says otherwise. Oh I should also mention…the clones can move through the vents too.
Combat is dead simple in this game, you roll a number of dice equal to your strength and for each fist icon you score, you compare that to your opponents toughness. If you meet their toughness they are knocked down, if you double it they are removed from the board. When an enemy attacks you, you’ll discard a number of adrenaline cards equal to whatever the difference is between how many fists they rolled, and your Toughness score. I’m still not sure if PvP combat is allowed as I don’t think I read anything about it in the rule book, but I most would assume not.
If you lose all of your adrenaline cards you are knocked out, which means you slide your vitality marker down a notch, lose one threat, go back to 4 fear, put yourself in the infirmary, and re-enter the board on your next turn through any vent tile. That doesn’t sound all bad, right? Well be warned because if all players wind up in the infirmary at the same time, you all lose the game immediately! Also if you’re in infirmary when lockdown begins, sorry but you’re never getting out again, you’re out of the game!
Speaking of the tiles that you lay, each one has a name which are sometimes relevant depending on which scenario you’re playing, and a few icons. Some rooms have labels (lab, generator, elevator, control panel, etc.) that come into play with certain player skills or scenarios, and some tiles also have event icons on them which will either be Fear, Security, or Facility. Some tiles have icons indicating medical supplies (draw extra adrenaline cards) or storage crates (draw item cards) as well.
This Place Will Be The Death of Us (Events )
When you do draw a tile that has a Fear, Security, or Facility icon on it you must immediately draw an event card and resolve its contents. If you happen to end your turn and avoided drawing an event card because of a tile, you’ll draw one anyway and just skip the event step, this means you might still be spawning enemies and activating them as well. Some event icons have a glow around them meaning that they reactivate, what this means is that instead of only when you first uncover the tile, every time you pass through it even after its initial reveal you’ll be activating an event all over again.
Event cards have 3 parts to them – spawn enemies, resolve event, and activate enemies. You’ll spawn whatever enemy type the card shows at the top into a legal spawning place – guards spawn on security tiles and aliens spawn on fear tiles, if there is no valid point for them to enter the board they simply don’t spawn. Some scenarios however use zones which allow for more spawn options, for example when the alien zone is in effect in a scenario, clones can also spawn on any tile where a vent exists.
You then move on to the event portion of the card and perform whatever challenge or action that corresponds with the appropriate event icon from your tile and do as it says. Often times you’ll be faced with a challenge of some sort and the level in which you succeed or fail will also govern additional effects as described on the card. The last thing you’ll do with an event card is activate enemies as indicated in the order on the bottom of the card, if the guard face is above the clone, then you activate (move, attack, or stand up from being knocked down) the guards first or vice versa. Sometimes there is only one enemy type, and sometimes there are none – the 1-4 indicator at the bottom corresponds with how many players are in the game. So with this example event card I have shown in a 4 player game no enemies would activate.
Escape or Die, One Floor At A Time (Scenarios)
There are 7 Scenarios in total included in Level 7 Escape, each one is very well written and the narrative does a great job of conveying the absolute terror that fills the halls of Subterra Bravo. Each scenario is actually connected to the others in a sense that you can play through them in order in attempt to feel like you’re actually escaping the facility. Each scenario represents a different floor of Subterra Bravo, this makes for an awesome ‘campaign’ style board game for groups who want to really soak in the experience the game has to offer. The scenarios in order are as follows: A New Level of Fear, Activate the Elevators, The Hybrids, Out of the Frying Pan, The Swarm, Rock and a Hard Place, Escape.
Each Scenario has 3 difficulty modes, by default when you play one you are in “normal” mode which gives no additional modifiers to bump up or lower the difficulty. Each one does give the option for “easy” and “hard” as well through various means such as bumping up your starting vitality or starting the game with an item card, to lowering your starting health or manipulating the pool sizes of various elements of the game – it’s a really nice touch that any glutton-for-punishment video game junkie like me can appreciate.
Anomalous Materials (Production Values)
As noted in my unboxing video, the quality here is top-notch. The tiles are a great, durable and good quality cardstock that’s not warped (like some tile builders). The cards are a good quality that lend well to smooth shuffling, even the little cards for items and skills. All of the pieces have a slightly textured matte finish to them which can create a bit of a glare at certain angles but it’s not really an issue in my book. The dice that come with the game are extremely well made, colorful, and have a very nice weight to them so it feels nice to toss them around the table.
The cardboard standees are set into small plastic bases that can be removed after every game but I’m just keeping my bases on and storing them in the box underneath the divider because I’m anal retentive about the pieces not getting too many notches carved into them. I should also mention that the box provides ample storage for the game’s contents as well, but you’ll want to get yourself a plastic bag to store the smaller tokens in (there are a lot of them), unless you like picking through them all.
As an added touch, you can head over to Level7Film.com and create your own subject card and put yourself and your friends into the game for a personal touch of terror. There’s also a 10 minute film that was created just for the game, it’s pretty gritty, I suggest you check it out.
What I Escaped With
Level 7 Escape is a blast. It’s a quick and dark, creepy romp that I’m getting addicted to playing more than Guild Wars 2 it seems. I’ve been looking forward to the game for a while now and am glad that it lived up to my expectations. It’s not a game you’ll be playing with tons of people, but if you’ve got a small solid group of people you can play consistently with I guarantee this one will be hard to put down.
The ‘campaign mode’ I spoke of provides a lot of potential for situations like this as well, imagine playing where you must all survive each level or start over from the beginning! It also supports single player for those nights when you just don’t want anyone else ruining your chances to get out alive. You’ll be able to buy it this week (September 19th) at your friendly local game shop. Enjoy, and good luck making it out alive!