This review is based on a retail copy provided by Breaking Games for the Board Game Exposure group I am a reviewer for. You can see opinions of the same game from other members on this facebook group.
Everyone likes a good prison break don’t they? Wronged people breaking out to right a wrong, get home to their family in time for Christmas etc. We all know the tale of individuals put away for crimes they didn’t commit, only to escape and launch themselves from a rocket whilst the planet shakes around them! No? Well, fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
You Spin Me Right Round
Let’s start this by taking a moment to look at this insane board and really appreciate it:
There are so many things to play with on this board: the yellow ball is on a little dial attached underneath the circles in the middle and spins round the side of the board, the yellow ‘moon’ spins separate from that. In addition the circles in the middle spin around the mount they are on, though they are sometimes a little on the sticky side. Let’s not forget the ‘Die-solation Cell’! Top pun work guys.
The excellent board aside the game drips with colour and cartoon themes from the nice little standees that represent your escaped prisoner down to the cards that will be your eventual victory or defeat. The production values are high on this one with a pretty decent rulebook as well, I don’t recall us running into any issues
The Great Escape
The alarms are ringing, the moon is quaking as one might expect and it’s time to make a runner. The game is card driven and though it use the term ‘hand’ what it actually means is that you have a bunch of cards face down in front of you at any given moment. One of these cards represents your Alien whereas the others might represent things that will hinder you or others when they are revealed: turrets, moonquakes and the like.
As you bounce around the planet you will shoot at other players, revealing cards as you do so some of which will simply miss, others may bounce shots around or push the attacker or defender all sorts of things could happen. If your Alien is hit then you cant move as fast, you are ‘Revealed’ and you’ve got to scarper into the landscape of the planet again before making you way towards the shiny rocket atop the hill.
At the start of every turn any Alien still hiding moves up a level, towards the ultimate goal of escaping in the rocket. Anyone revealed gets a few more cards and rearranges their ‘hand’ effectively hiding in the landscape once more. This race to the centre out of the way the current first player takes the Die out of it’s ‘Diesolation Cell’ and rolls it for each ring, shoving the rings round as indicated on the die. The rings can stick a little so you might need a hand moving reach ring around.
As well as shooting at your fellow escapees you can spy at their facedown cards, zipp around the ring you are on, steal unready equipment from another player or draw more cards to hide with. All this comes at the cost of battery power, randomly determined at the start of the turn by spinning the moon, so there is a decent amount of choice for things to do on your turn.
On top all this is a variety of equipment, the most fundamental of which is a shield that can stop your facedown cards from being spied on or shot away. Other equipment will neutralise negative effects from the cards that you have facedown in front of you, allow you to crack through shields and store power for a coming turn.
You can’t just escape from a prison without someone noticing you of course, and as the turn ends the guard will follow you, shooting everyone on his level, allowing one more card to be taken from you and bringing your Alien closer to being spotted. When the guard shoots cards it doesn’t activate their abilities so there is a slight tactical element to be investigated here.
Lessons in Advanced Escaping
The basic game consists of only crater terrain and doesn’t allow you to play around with the cards as much as in the advanced version. There are various ‘rules modules’ you can attach to the game and we tried all of them at once. These make the game a bit more interesting in that equipment can now be played facedown in your hand rather than being forced revealed. The guard shoots and moves differently and some equipment can act differently but most importantly you can hide in craters, we will come back to that. It’s nice that their is this modular nature present in the game without an expansion needed.
Do not pass go
The main problem with Moonquake Escape is that it takes way, way too long to play. We found the basic version very long as when you get up towards the rocket everyone is just trying to shoot the leader at all times. The person who won just happened to get lucky with enough cards to survive being shot at, so despite all the choices present their was very little in the way of real tactical decision making.
The advanced version sped the game up to a degree in that hiding in craters makes you immune to being zapped, so that allowed us to get up to the final ring with a bit more alacrity. There we came across the same problem where the obvious leader was zapped into submission and then attention passed to the next player down the ladder.
I’ve played a few games recently which seem to have a time versus complexity problem. It’s ok for a game to take a long time to play, but that game needs to develop as it progresses: new mechanics coming in, significant choices for the players etc. If your game is simple, keep it short. Moonquake is a perfect example of a game that if it lasted 30mins I would be praising it. As it is, it takes a lot longer and we just found ourselves willing the thing to end by the time we wrapped up.
Total Eclipse of the Heart
I can see Moonquake Escape working for younger players and as an introduction to a light bluff mechanic it would probably be pretty fun. The art is great and the board is a neat thing to play with so I can totally see it slipping into a collection as a family game. I really want to like more than that but it’s just not quite there, staying just a bit too long for what it is and somewhat spoiling what could be a great, fast paced game of escaping and bluffing.