Ever have one of those days where you wake up disoriented in an underground government laboratory, surrounded by military guards and alien clones? Yeah, me neither … that is, until I got the cooperative board game Level 7 [Escape] (Amazon) from Privateer Press.
I’ve reviewed several Privateer Press games before and one of my favorite things about their games is the strong emphasis on story. Level 7 [Escape] is no exception to this trend, as between 1 to 4 players (Yes, it can be played as a solo game.) use cunning, speed, and brawn to negotiate their way through 7 levels of terror in the hopes of reaching the surface before the base goes into full lockdown. What’s up with the alien clones? Why were they released from their cryogenic chambers? Who is orchestrating all of this? Will the escaping prisoners be able to work together and make it to the surface in time?
The game is certainly not for the faint of heart. The rules are fairly elaborate and take several games to really understand how everything fits together. I won’t even pretend to try to explain all of the rules, but I’ll hit on a few highlights to give a feel of the game:
- Each character starts with a base template, containing the same core Strength, Intelligence, Speed, and Toughness traits. In addition, you draw two Skill cards, which represent the individual modifications for your character. This essentially guarantees that no one will play the same character twice. Each time you play, you will have different strengths and weaknesses.
- The “board” consists of a series of tiles, which are gradually revealed as you proceed through the game. If you’ve ever played Betrayal at House on the Hill (one of my favorite games which, according to Amazon, looks like it’s out of print), you’ll be familiar with the basic mechanic. So the board is different each time you play.
- Event cards are triggered by certain tiles and they dictate three things: whether Guards or Clones are spawned, what strange event takes place, and whether Guards and/or Clones are activated.
- Guards move toward the target with the greatest Threat trait, which grows as you battle the guards.
- Clones feed on fear, so they move against the target with the highest Fear trait. In addition, the Fear trait modifies other attributes. Low Fear increases Intelligence rolls, while high Fear can increase Strength and Speed (and also cause Clones to crawl out of airvents).
- Customized dice with Strength, Intelligence, and Speed icons that determine the outcome of the various challenges in the game.
- Challenges can also be modified by Adrenaline cards, which trade increases/decreases in Fear for temporary stat bonuses or other special abilities.
The game comes with tons of tokens to track different elements of gameplay. There are tokens to provide a countdown to Lockdown for your level and other tokens to indicate your current Threat level. Other tokens indicate different room effects on the board, from a dark room (which increases your Fear) to a locked door, as the base proceeds toward full Lockdown. If you are not able to escape from your level before Lockdown, then you lose the game.
As you may notice in the graphic, the characters and enemies in this game are not miniatures, but are represented by cardboard tokens as well, which is a bit of an unusual choice for Privateer Press, a company that rose to prominence on the strength of a distinctive and high quality line of miniature wargames. If you prefer miniatures, you might want to consider the sequel, Level 7 [Omega Protocol] (Amazon) … but I’m not reviewing that game yet, so don’t get ahead of me.
The game contains a Rulebook, but also a Scenario book that outlines 7 scenarios, tied to making your way from Level 7 (which is, of course, the natural place for a covert military organization to keep their cryo-chambers full of kidnappees for experimentation with alien DNA) up through Level 1. As you progress up the levels, things get more and more tense, but you also have the option of gaining Item cards that help give you extra bonuses.
Each scenario comes with a basic difficulty level, but modifications of the victory conditions are offered to allow for an “Easy Mode” and a “Hard Mode.” I’ve played this a couple of times with my 8-year-old son and we beat levels on the Easy Mode … barely. Both times, I made it back to the elevator on the last turn before full Lockdown. (It’s a bit much for him at that age, but I streamline the rules a bit.)
Overall, I’ve found Level 7 [Escape] to be a fun, dynamic game. Cooperative games are really great for families, where you can explain the options to the players who might not be as up to speed on the rules or as adept at tactics, although the horror theme of this one is a bit intense for younger kids and it’s definitely not a starter game for young players who aren’t from hardcore gamer families. The game has a lot of tokens to manage and the set-up is customized for each scenario, so it’s not the most intuitive of games, but once you’ve played through a couple of scenarios, the basic mechanics are fairly straightforward. If that doesn’t intimidate you, then this game might just be a winner to add to your collection.
Other Games of Interest:
- Level 7 Lockdown Expansion – Review coming soon
- Deck-Building Battles with Warmachine High Command
- A Touch of Evil: Colonial Gothic Horror Board Gaming at Its Finest
- Board Game Review: Forbidden Island
- Board Game Review: Lords of Waterdeep
Disclaimer: Review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.
Andrew Zimmerman Jones is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. He has been a finalist in the Writers of the Future contest and received Honorable Mention in the 2011 Writer’s Digest Science Fiction/Fantasy Competition. In addition to being a contributing editor to Black Gate magazine, Andrew is the About.com Physics Expert and author of String Theory For Dummies. You can follow his exploits on Facebook, Twitter, and even Google+.