Board/Card/War/Mini Tabletop Game Review

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Level 7 [Escape]

From: Privateer Press
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Level 7 [Escape] is a new Board Game from Privateer Press.

You awaken on the cement floor, naked and covered in goo, surrounded by huge tanks with other humans. You see that you have fallen out of a similar tank, conduits and wires dangling. You are in some kind of experimental facility, dark and strange, and all you know to do is ESCAPE!

Thus is the basic premise of Level 7.  It has the feel of other games similar to it with some interesting twists.  It is a heavy thematic game with interesting mechanics.  One to four players can play a character who must escape from the Subterra Bravo facility while dodging armed guards and alien clones.

From the website:
“You are a captive of Subterra Bravo, imprisoned in the facility’s deepest laboratory, the hall of nightmares known as LEVEL 7.”

Because of my role playing game roots and my propensity to envision a story while I play a game, no matter what type of game, I lean towards thematic games over puzzle solving games.  Puzzle solving and min-maxing type games just don’t give me the thrill that a good thematic game gives me.

From the perspective of theme, in the myriad of zombie and Lovecraftian games, this game was a breath of fresh air.  This is probably one of the reasons it attracted me the most.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good zombie or Cthulhu themed game every once in a while.  However, something different always seems to catch my eye.

The game is basically tile based.  Random tiles are placed around the starting tile defining surrounding rooms.  Players play characters trapped in this facility and go from room to room encountering things, finding things and/or performing tasks.  Characters can encounter clone gray aliens, alien hybrids, and facility guards.  The dynamic in these encounters is at the center of what makes this game different.

Each game is driven by a scenario.  The scenario booklet defines seven levels of the game.  In each scenario there is everything you need to setup and play that particular level.  One of the challenges I had initially was understanding the scenario setup.  I recommend that you read the entire entry.  The scenario outlines tile stacks, the number of enemies in the scenario, the scenario goals, and special scenario rules.  Once you go through the instructions of the scenario setup, the game board is ready to play.  Every scenario is different.  Each has different goals to get to the next level and each progressively presents more and more bad guys and challenges.

There are four characters to play.  The characters’ stats are all identical to start with.  The basic stats are what you would expect – intelligence, strength, speed and toughness.  They represent the number of dice you need to roll.  They are modified by two random skill cards, differentiating each character from each other.  You can have a Sneaky Amateur Boxer or a Cautious Bookworm.  The skills from the skill cards add to existing stats or give certain abilities.  Any bonuses from these are translated as extra dice.

Each character has two other important stats – threat and fear.  These go up and down during the game.  These two stats are what make encounters so different.  Enemies also have threat and fear, as defined in the scenario.  Enemy threat and fear may shift based on conditions defined in the scenario.  The alien clone enemies experience a sense of euphoria when they feed off a frightened human.  They generally are attracted to the target with the highest fear – which may be the guard or it may be a player.  On the flip side of this is threat, which attracts the guards.  Again this may be an enemy in the room or a player.

There is also vitality, which is basically hit points but is more than just life in the game.  Vitality is a measure of the maximum hand of Adrenaline Cards the player can have.  Adrenaline Cards are quite literally the life of a character.  They have three functions – special one-time abilities, one-time boosts or immediate fear adjustments upon discard.  Each player has a number of cards to start with and various things can burn cards throughout the game.  If you run out of cards, you get knocked out and taken to the infirmary where you have to crawl your way out.  Characters can also be killed in the rare event their vitality score reduces to the “skull” icon or if they are knocked out during a special condition called “lockdown.”

From the back cover website:
“There is no Subterra Bravo. Officially, the top-secret military facility doesn’t exist. There is no record of it: no blueprints, no photographs, no credible accounts. Rumors persist, but no one has ever found it. And those who have looked have disappeared.”

In game play, encounters occur on some tiles.  There are Event Cards that tell what happens there.  Sometimes it is a test called a Challenge, and the player rolls a number of dice to check for success or failure.  Certain things happen depending on success or failure, and many times there are consequences that affect the other players.

The game is described as semi-cooperative.  I love that term.  It’s cooperative until you have to make a hard choice – help a buddy out or leave him behind because he has the higher fear or threat.  As you traverse levels, you might work together on the goals but when push comes to shove, you may end up leaving someone behind.  Event cards also tell you when to spawn enemies and when you “activate” them.  Each time you activate enemies, all enemies of that type do something – move, attack or recover.  The catch is to remember to draw an event card whether the tile has an event icon or not.  You always see if enemies activate regardless of whether there is an event or not.

The game-flow is fairly smooth and easy to catch on.  Once you get the details down and the special rules when they come up (like Lockdown, Guard Posts and Clone Nests), you have this game down fairly easy.  My major issue with the game was that I never really felt the tension that it supposed to have.  I never really felt like I was in a big hurry to get out or felt the fear that I might not make it out.

The game materials itself are a little disappointing as well.  For a game company that does such an amazing job with minis in Warmachine and Hordes, I thought I would see some of that craftsmanship in this game.  Unfortunately, everything is card board stand-ups.  For a game at that price, I would have hoped that I was paying for a little more plastic and a little less cardboard.

Additionally, for a game with so much theme, the events seem lacking.  In some events, there are challenges but they never really give you an in-game reason for why they must be performed.  I know that might not seem like a big deal to a regular board game player, but from a theme stand-point I think a little more flavor text in the events would go a long way toward increasing the tension.

The game mechanics are much like other games I have played and did not impress me much.  They were simple enough but did not get in the way of the game, but unfortunately they did not enhance the game much either.  My major issue with this though is the specialized dice.  I am not a big fan of specialized dice.  If you lose them, you are screwed.  You cannot substitute your own dice.

In conclusion, Level 7 is a pretty good game that could have been better.  It has a great theme but seems to fall short in exploiting that theme.  It seems a little over priced for what you get and from a company that does so well with miniatures, I would have thought that some cool minis would have been included in this one.  When I played the game, I really felt like the game was missing something. Maybe expansions will enhance the game better but the base game did not blow me away.

For more details on Privateer Press and their new Board Game “Level 7 [Escape]” check them out at their website http://www.privateerpress.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 11

Product Summary

Level 7 [Escape] From: Privateer Press
Type of Game: Board Game
Game Design by: William Schooonover, Matthew D. Wilson
Cover Art by: Nestor Ossandon
Additional Art by: Ed Bourelle, Lain Garrett, Chris Walton
Number of Pages: Rulebook: 15.  Scenario guide: 15
Game Components Included: 47 Map Tiles, 138 Cards, 4 Character Sheets, 133 Tokens and Markers, 28 Stands, 8 Special Dice, Rulebook, Scenario Guide
Retail Price: $ 54.99 (US)
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Player Ages: 14+
Play Time: 30 min+
Item Number: 62001
ISBN: 75582-01172
Website: www.privateerpress.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

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