Escape the Dark Sector is a sci-fi incarnation of Themeborne's successful Escape the Dark Castle. The game features simple mechanics, with dice rolling, some choose your own adventure style choices, a varied storyline on each playthrough with randomized adventure decks, and Dark Souls-esque difficulty. Sound like your type of game? Read on.
Anyone coming from Escape the Dark Castle will know what to expect with Escape the Dark Sector. The same concepts follow through both games, random cards drawn from decks to create an adventure, a simple and dark thematic art style, limited rules to keep the action going, and a difficulty that lets you get oh so close, then crushes your chance of escape. Escape the Dark Sector adds in range combat, and also a new flanking maneuver for some extra tactical leverage.
The simple mechanics start with the game set up. Players draw a start card, 4 cards from each of the 3 act decks and a final boss to create their mission deck. Players then each pick a character, who's only real mechanical difference is the amount of symbols on their character dice from the game's 3 stats (Might, Wisdom and Cunning). The item deck is then shuffled and you're ready to go.
The game plays with players turning over the top card of the mission deck, reading the description of the card and then taking the actions detailed. The cards range from combat with broken droids, navigating ventilation ducts, escaping trash compactors, dueling teleporting assassins, navigating through alien egg laid corridors, and escaping bounty hunters. There's usually a group choice, a combat, or an event that occurs to the player who turns over the card. Players decide between them who turns over the card, which usually ends up being the player with the most health as you have no idea what's coming next.
Combat is the only complex mechanic in the game and players get a choice between ranged and melee combat, unless a mission card forces them into a specific style. If players are in close combat, they can't revert back to ranged, so choosing the optimum moment to close the distance is a tactical choice. Both combats work slightly differently. In ranged, players expend ammo dice from weapon items, along with rolling a hit dice to see if they take damage back. In close combat players roll their character dice, and get to remove a matching symbol from their enemy's health dice, taking damage back unless they roll a shield on their character dice.
Players can also take actions like reloading, nudging the healing bot and flanking for an extra damge opportunity, instead of attacking, but that means you're not dealing damage that turn, so whatever is attacking you, is still trying to put the hurt on your group. Players start with 12 health, and with 12 mission cards and 1 boss to get through, you watch it tick steadily down over the game and if 1 of the crew falls, the mission fails for everyone.
Games of Escape the Dark Sector are pretty brutal. There's not much opportunity for healing, so you simply attempt to protect the crew members who are the most badly hurt while you work from encounter to encounter, trying to make sure you're in the best shape for the final battle. The final battle usually doesn't care what shape you're in though and provides a solid challenge. Once you're familiar with the rules, which takes a single game, you can complete a mission in around 45 - 60 mins, which gives plenty of time to try again. And usually again.
The straight-forward dice mechanics, combined with the rules details on the mission cards and limited character actions means that you can focus on the action and emerging story. Group mission card choices and the combined group failure if one member dies keeps it tense and cooperative. All that, combined with the limited, but thematic black and white art style make Escape the Dark Sector a great package. It's also always great to see a game that's light on components, but deep on gameplay and replabability.
The Bottom Line
The challenge level of Escape the Dark Sector won't be for everyone. If you don't like easy wins, and enjoy simple mehcanics, tactical choices and a deep sense of cooperative gameplay, then this tight package of a game will be for you. It's easy to teach and quick to play, and those who enjoy a challenge will find great satisfaction in multiple attempts to win.
Get This Game If:
- You love a challenge.
- You want a great cooperative game.
- You want a game that's light on rules, but deep on tactical choices.
Avoid This Game If:
- You don't like to lose.
- You really don't like to lose.
- You don't like other player's choices or dice rolls making you lose.
The copy of Escape the Dark Sector used in this review was provided by Asmodee UK.