If you’re an Indiana Jones fan, you’ll be familiar with those climactic scenes where Indy and pals escape the collapsing temple in the nick of time. In Escape: The Curse of the Temple, you might not be so lucky…
Escape: The Curse of the Temple is a real time game in which you and your fellow players have 10 minutes to escape a cursed temple before it collapses. You’ll achieve this by rolling your five dice, which will enable you to discover and explore the temple chamber by chamber. You'll activate magic gems to break the temple’s curse and then find the exit chamber and escape.
All this frantic dice-chucking is accompanied by an atmospheric soundtrack which paces the game and tells you when the temple has collapsed on top of you (or not, if you manage to escape…) There’s a fair amount of luck involved, although players who think clearly and work together will succeed more often than not. It’s suitable for almost any audience (solo, family, group, gamer, non-gamer) and, most importantly, it's lots of fun!
Okay! Lets lift the lid and find out what treasures are inside...
What's in the Box?
While not as desirable as the Ark of the Covenant, Holy Grail, or Crystal Skull, Escape: The Curse of the Temple's components are nonetheless excellent quality.
You get 19 well-sized and chunky cardboard chamber tiles for the basic game, plus one narrower gem depot tile. On top of that, there are 13 curse and treasure chamber tiles for the built-in expansions. These are accompanied by 14 cardboard curse cards and 13 treasure tiles.
There are five fedora-wearing wooden meeples, which aren’t the weightiest but are perfectly adequate for the job, as well as five coloured cardboard player tokens (so you don’t forget which meeple is yours.)
The 25 green plastic magic gems look suitably sparkly and gem-like, while the 25 white dice are weighty, hard-wearing and brightly printed. The CD, which provides the game's soundtrack, is printed with the box cover art and comes with its own cardboard sleeve. All of this comes in a large, sturdy box which doesn’t require advanced powers of spatial awareness to fit all the components in.
Everything looks great and is built to last. I’ve played my copy of Escape: The Curse of the Temple A LOT, including with my kids. Despite tiles being well-handled and dice going flying all over the place, the game shows absolutely no signs of wear and tear.
Clearly, with a game that only lasts 10 minutes, you need a rapid set up. And that’s what you get with Escape: The Curse of the Temple
Simply grab the chamber tiles, remove the starting chamber, exit chamber and gem depot and then shuffle the rest to create a draw pile. Then take the top two chamber tiles from that pile and place them either side of the starting chamber, with the stairway entrance graphic on those tiles aligned with the door graphics on the starting chamber. Next, grab the top four chamber tiles from the draw pile and shuffle them together with the exit tile. Place these five tiles at the bottom of the draw pile.
Next, place the requisite number of gems on the gem depot tile. This number depends on your player count and desired difficulty level. Place two additional gems next to the chamber (more on these later). Then, grab an adventurer meeple and place them on the starting chamber tile. Next, grab a player token the same colour as your meeple and five dice. Finally, pop the CD into your player, choose your preferred creepy track and you’re ready to go!
For the expansion, the process is pretty much the same – just replace the 13 ‘basic’ chamber tiles (the ones that aren’t the entrance, exit or special gem chambers) with the curse and treasure tiles before carrying out the steps above. Then shuffle up the curse cards and the treasure tiles and place them to the side of the playing area.
How to Play Escape: The Curse of the Temple
You’ve got just 10 minutes (the length of the CD soundtrack) to escape the temple before it collapses. In order to do this, you need to discover the exit chamber, enter it. Then each player needs to roll a number of key tokens on their dice equal to the number of gems left in the gem depot plus one. Clearly, the fewer gems left in the depot, the easier it is to escape. After all, you only have five dice each.
Everyone starts in the entrance chamber. Press play on your CD player (you can stream the tracks from the Queen Games site too), wait for the voice to say ‘ESSSSCCAAAAPPPPEEEE’ and get rolling!
What Do You Need All Those Dice For?
Escape: The Curse of the Temple is real time game, which means you’re not going to be waiting patiently for your turn. Everyone’s going to be in a dice-rolling frenzy, all at the same time.
Each die has five different symbols on it – two adventurers, one key, one torch, one black mask and one golden mask. When you roll your five dice, you’re trying to roll the right combination of symbols to do what you need to do. For example, to discover a new chamber (i.e. take a chamber tile from the draw pile and place it next to one of the doorways of the chamber tile you’re in), you need to roll two adventurer symbols. To move into that new chamber, you need to roll the two symbols on that chamber’s tile – either two adventurers, an adventurer and a key, or an adventurer and a torch. You don’t need to roll those symbols all in one go – you can save dice from one roll and then just re-roll some of your dice.
Certain chambers have magic gem icons. Next to each gem icon is a combination of dice symbols – usually four keys or four torches. If you manage to roll those symbols while in the gem chamber, you ‘activate’ one gem. Take one gem from the gem depot and place it in the chamber. Congratulations – you’ve just made it easier to escape!
In addition, there are four special gem chambers. These allow you to activate 1, 2 or 3 gems – although for 2 or 3 you’ll need to roll 7 and 10 keys or torches respectively. If other players are in the same chamber as you, you can all contribute dice towards that total.
So what are the mask symbols for…?
If you roll a black mask on any of your dice, those dice are cursed and you can’t use them. To break the curse, you need to roll a golden mask on one of your other dice. In fact, a golden mask can unlock up to two dice cursed with a black mask.
Despite the power of the golden mask, it’s not unusual for all your dice to get locked with black masks. If that happens, you either need another player to enter your chamber and roll golden masks to unlock your cursed dice, or you need to ‘Provoke a turn of fate.’ This involves putting one of the gems you placed outside the gem depot during setup inside it (making it harder to escape). In this case, EVERYONE’S cursed dice are unlocked and can be used again.
…and the soundtrack?
As well as providing an unnerving backdrop, the soundtrack paces the game.
Overall, there are three countdowns – signalled by the sound of a gong. The first two gongs indicate that you need to get back to the entrance chamber. If you don’t make it back before you hear the door slamming, you lose one of your dice.
The final gong signals that the temple is about to collapse. If any of the players fail to escape before time runs out, it’s game over for everybody…
‘Curses’ and ‘Treasures’ Expansions
As I mentioned earlier, if you’re playing the ‘Curses’ and ‘Treasures’ expansion, you replace the 13 basic chamber tiles with the 13 curse and treasure chambers.
These make the game harder. When you discover (not enter) a curse chamber, you need to pick the top curse card from the draw pile. This will give you some type of handicap – from forcing you to put one of your dice to one side, to trapping you in your current chamber or forcing you to put one hand on top of your head (really!). To break this curse, you need to roll the three-symbol combination on the curse card.
If you discover a chamber with a treasure symbol, you take the top treasure card from the draw pile and place it face down in the chamber. If you enter that chamber and roll two keys on your dice, you can claim that treasure. Treasures make your life easier. For example, you might find the healing mask which unlocks all dice cursed with a black mask, or an extra gem, which enables you to take an extra gem from the gem depot.
What's it Like to Play?
Escape: The Curse of the Temple is as much of an adrenaline rush as….well, actually escaping a collapsing cursed temple!
It’s a frenzy of real-time dice rolling as you race against the clock and (clearly) luck plays a big part. You get games where you seem to roll black masks all the time and spend more time trying to unlock those with golden masks than do anything else.
However, Escape: The Curse of the Temple rewards clear thinking too. If you get too fixated on one task – for example, rolling enough keys and torches to activate a gem – and ignore other opportunities, like two adventurer symbols which will enable you discover a new chamber, you’ll make it harder to win. You also need to ensure you don’t stray too far from the starting chamber, as you’ll need to get back there twice during the game. Failure to do that results in losing a dice, which makes it more difficult for everybody to escape.
This game also rewards teamwork. For example, travelling through the temple in pairs enables you unlock each other’s cursed dice and roll the higher numbers of keys or torches needed to activate multiple gems in the special gem chambers. In addition, if one player goes ‘rogue’ and strays too far from the others and then discovers the exit chamber, it can be impossible for the other players to get there in time to escape.
Finally, it has to be said that this game is SERIOUSLY stressful. When those gongs go off, your heart will be in your mouth. The soundtrack then cleverly ramps up the pressure as the countdown progresses. As your adrenal glands pump into overdrive, your faculties blur and your hands fumble the dice. It’s a job to remember that it’s only a game!
Final Thoughts on Escape: The Curse of the Temple
Escape: The Curse of the Temple is simple, immersive and fun.
It suits every kind of group. You can play it on your own (in which case you’ll roll 7 dice rather than 5), with your friends, with gamers and non-gamers or with your family. In fact, it’s one of the few games in my collection which will tempt my teen off his games console to play something with the family. The fact that it’s cooperative – you’re playing together to beat the game – is a bonus in a household like mine with competitive siblings.
Although each game only takes ten minutes, you'll rarely play it only once – particularly if the temple keeps collapsing on top of you. And even if you escape easily, it’s straightforward to ramp up the difficulty – just add more gems to the gem depot or swap the basic chambers for the curses and treasures versions.
Of course, this game has its faults. Immersive though it is, it could have more of a narrative. For example, there’s no explanation for why you’re in the temple, what the dice represent, or how the magic gems break the curse. Also, this is not a game for rules sticklers – amongst all the mad dice throwing, mistakes are going to be made. You just have to live with it. Small children in particular may find the soundtrack unnerving. If I play with my 8-year-old, I have to put listen to it via headphones and tell him when the countdowns are starting!
If you're looking for something deep, you really need to look elsewhere. But for ten minutes of pure brain-frazzling, adrenaline-fuelled fun, Escape: The Curse of the Temple is difficult to beat.