Introducing the original edition: Exxtra
Excape? Or Escape? No, it's not a typo, because the X factor is an important element of this game. In fact, this game was first published way back in 1998 by Amigo Spiele under the name Exxtra - yes, with an extra X!
Introducing the new edition: Excape
Canadian publisher Filosofia has done us a favour by getting this game into print for the English speaking market, now under the name of Excape, and with revised components.
Introducing press your luck games
So why should you check out Excape? Because it's a Reiner Knizia game. And it's a push-your-luck dice game. The classic of the "push-your-luck" genre is Can't Stop, which has a well established reputation, and Excape has been favourably compared with it. But first: what is a press your luck game? The BGG glossary suggests the following definition:
A game where players can repeatedly choose to perform a random event on their turn. They temporarily collect points each time, but usually receiving nothing on the turn if an unfavorable event happens. They must voluntarily end their turn to permanently keep the points. Examples: Can't Stop, Diamant/Incan Gold, Pass the Pigs
Games like Can't Stop and Diamant are considered staples of the genre. The appeal of press-your-luck games is the relationship between risk and reward: the greater the risk, the greater the potential reward - or loss! As a result, they are usually games that feature lots of excitement, exciting yelling and groans of disappointment. Their rule-set is also usually quite simple, and these features make them perfect to recommend for non-gamers. For this reason, when creating the 2008 Board Game Gift Guide, there was an overwhelming consensus of opinion that press-your-luck games are the perfect kind of games to recommend. There's a list of press your luck games here if you want to see some examples, and Knizia's own Circus Flohcati is one of the entrants. But since Excape is another Knizia candidate, using dice instead of cards, how does it fare? Let's find out!
First of all, the box cover:
Clearly people are trying to escape from...something! We don't know what or why, but apparently it looks rather urgent! Does the back of the box help tell us more?
"Quickly, you must run towards the Excape! Roll and reroll your dice in order to place the best result possible on one of the steps! If at the beginning of your turn your dice are still in place, you will be able to move your pawn.
But be careful, one too many roll could include an X, thus ending your turn and forcing you back a few spaces!
Will you know when to stop?"
The theme of escaping is somewhat thin, but it does capture something of the press-your-luck element that is integral to the game-play. Will you be the first player to get to the X?
Here's the complete list of what you get inside the box:
● 12 dice in 6 colours
● 6 wooden pawns in 6 colours
● X-shaped board
● 1 rule book
The rulebook has six pages in English, and six in French:
Learning the game is a breeze: someone can read the rules in five minutes and be ready to teach the game. You can also download an English translation of the original Amigo Spiele the rules in Microsoft Word format here. Unlike the Amigo rules, the Filosofia edition does not include examples of play.
Each player gets one pawn in their colour.
The game-board consists of four puzzle pieces, which are placed together to make a board in the shape of an X.
Around the outside of the board are the numbers 1 through 20. Each player will have a pawn in their colour on this board, and the objective is to be the first player to get your pawn past 20 onto the X:
In the center of the board is the "ladder", on which the players dice will be placed - this will be used to determine how many steps forward a player can move on his turn.
There are 12 dice, two for each player.
Note how each player gets two different dice, since the sides on these two dice are as follows:
Dice #1: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and X
Dice #2: 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 and X
This is done in order to vary the amount of possible combinations of two digit numbers created by rolling the two dice. When rolling the dice, you place them together as a two-digit number, e.g. rolling a 3 and a 5 would count as 53. The higher, the better, because the game involves comparing your roll with that of other players, so the highest result possible is a 76. Rolling an X on either die, on the other hand, is bad and ends your turn (except on your first roll, when it counts as a 0).
The board is assembled, and each player places the pawn of their chosen colour on the starting space, and takes the matching two dice of the same colour.
In turns, each player does the following four actions:
1. Move your pawn (except on the first round)
If your dice are still on one of the steps of the ladder at the beginning of your turn, you get to move your pawn that many spaces forward.
For example, if it was the start of Green's turn in the picture below, the Green player could move his pawn four spaces:
2. Roll your dice
Roll your dice to create a two-digit number (the higher the better!). If you don't like the two digit result, you can re-roll as often as you like. An X counts as a zero on the first roll, but on any subsequent rolls it ends your turn, and you must move your pawn back for each X you roll. Should you risk re-rolling and hope you'll get something big? Only you can decide!
Special rule: if you roll a double-1, double-2, or double-3, you can immediately move your pawn 1, 2 or 3 spaces forward respectively, and then continue your turn as normal. Bonus movement, yes!
Here's an example of Yellow rolling a double 3 (to move forward 3 spaces), but then rolling two Xs (to move backward 2 spaces):
This is where the push-your-luck element comes in: should you risk rolling again to try to get a higher number? Or is the risk of getting an X and moving backwards too great? Ah the agony of making this decision, especially when the crowd around is all urging you to roll again and get something big - secretly hoping of course that you'll fail!
3. Place your dice
Assuming your turn hasn't ended by rolling an X on a re-roll, you can place your dice on any vacant step on the ladder. Each step can only hold dice from one player.
4. Remove opponents' dice
If any dice combinations on steps higher than the step you placed your dice have an equal or lower number than yours, they are removed. This means of course that these players will not get to move their pawn at the beginning of their turn!
Here's an example of Green placing a 71 on the second rung to remove Red and White's dice from the higher rungs (because 70 and 61 are both less than or equal to 71):
This will happen a lot, and is a big part of the fun the game offers! It also results in some interesting decision makings: if you roll high, should you put your dice on a high rung and hope to move ahead a large amount on your next turn? Or should you put your dice on a low rung and knock off your opponents' dice so they don't get to move at all on their next time? Fun, fun, fun!
End of game
The game proceeds around the circle, each player taking turns to do these four actions (if applicable). The game ends as soon as one player reaches the final X square, and that player is the winner.
Example of play
Unfortunately the Filosophia rulebook does not contain examples of play to illustrate how the game of Excape works. To help people learn how the flow of play works, I've added some pictures to some of the examples from the original Amigo rules, to provide a pictorial illustration of game-play. You'll find the pictorial play example here:
Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: Two sample rounds of Reiner Knizia's push-your-luck dice game Excape
What do I think?
I'm glad to see that Filosofia has picked this up and made it readily available in North America, and there's lots of good reasons why:
Excape has wide appeal. Press-your-luck games are the kinds of games that are very versatile, and can be enjoyed by both gamers and non-gamers alike, and this is a particularly good one. People of all ages and tastes like it because it is fun!
Excape compares favourably with other push-your-luck games. I'd probably opt to play this ahead of Incan Gold, simply because it's less fiddly and easier to teach. I personally haven't played the classic of press-your-luck games, Can't Stop, which some gamers prefer saying that it has less down-time, but Exxtra/Excape has been compared with it favorably. I think I'd easily rate it higher than another press-your-luck game from Knizia, Circus Flohcati, because it features more drama and tension and is just more fun. The moments of excitement and risk-taking reminded me somewhat of Reiner Knizia's Decathlon (which I highly recommend, by the way - it's free, and all you need to play are standard dice!), but that game has the disadvantage that it takes longer to play and is harder to teach because of a more complex ruleset. In the end, like other push-your-luck games, Excape is fun!
Excape handles three to six players. Even in a six player game, down-time hasn't been a significant issue, because it's tense and exciting to watch the other players press-their-luck, but I'd concede it's probably not the ideal number of players for the game. The decisions aren't complicated, and the outcome does depend largely on the dice - but isn't that the point, and the fun? The feel of the game is different depending on the amount of players, but we've found it fun in all cases. And in the end, that's what this game is about - it's not a serious game by any means, but is mostly about having a good time in 20-30 minutes, with highlights of fun and excitement, especially in the closing stages of the game. Win or lose, with three, four, five or six players, you'll have a blast and lots of fun!
Excape looks attractive and is well received. Excape has great components, is easy to teach, has very fun game-play, and is highly accessible. We've taught this game to several different groups over the last few days, and in every case it was very well received, and more than once there came the inevitable question: "I love this game - where can I buy this? This is fun!"
Excape has simple and tense decisions with a high fun factor. The decisions are fun, and you'll find yourself cheering for other players to take down the current leader! And on your turn, what will you do: Do I place my dice on a lower rung, gaining less, making them less likely to get knocked off and get nothing? Or do I place them at the top rung for potential maximum movement and hope nobody rolls higher than me? Should I roll again and hope for a bigger number? Or will I roll an X and will I end up losing rather than gaining? As with most press-your-luck games, gameplay features lots of whooping and hollering, cries of excitement and groans of frustration. This game really promotes an atmosphere where everyone is loudly encouraging other players to risk big and take down the leader - and maybe lose big in the process! Isn't that fun!
Excape is fun! Oh, and did I mention yet that Excape is a lot of fun!?
What do others think?
Here are just a few representative comments to give you an idea what other enthusiastic players are saying about Excape and Exxtra:
"I like this one better than Can't Stop, not because of the choices, but because I think the downtime between your turns is shorter and more interesting. Its like a game show - the crowd doesn't want to see you play it safe and take the toaster, they want you to keep pressing until you win big, or fail miserably!" - Charles Hasegawa
"A super-filler and a favorite of many of the non-gamers to whom I've introduced it. This gets requested more than almost any game in my collection!" - Tim Fiscus
"Amazing little mathematical game from Knizia. One of my favorite Knizia's." - Joel Weeks
"Quicker than Can't Stop. Less Fiddly. More fun." - Jim Cote
"Great little push-your-luck dice game. Very popular with my game group as a filler." - Alex Smith
"Push your luck with a nice element of screw your neighbor, in the quick-playing filler category. Six-player awesomeness in a small box!" - Jim Paprocki
"A nice Can't-Stop type game that's provided us a lot of fun and trash talk over the years." - Patrick Brennan
"I had to raise my rating from a 7.5 to a 9. I don't think I'd ever turn a game of this down. Always drama!" - Ryan Wheeler
"I just upped the rating for this one AGAIN. Its quick, its easy to explain. And yet there's strategy beneath all that... A perfect filler" - Felix Rodriguez
"Quick enjoyable filler, a lot of talk on the table... groans and cheers to take down the leader." - Willie Chieng
To those who have played both Can't Stop and Excape/Exxtra, which do you prefer, and why?
The final word
Every game collection should have a press-your-luck filler - even non-gamers should own one. This one is particularly good - highly recommended!
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596