You wake supine on a cold floor with memories of pain etched into your mind and bruises painting your body. The ground vibrates faintly beneath you and an insistent low-level humming fills your ears. You hear no other sound. Staring up at a room grimy with age, you realise you are in a holding cell, lit only from outside. Through one wall, open completely to the area beyond, an intermittent, cold sickly-light seeps in like a low lying fog.
Resisting the protests from your body, you sit up. A containment field, visible only as a haze, completely blocks the opening, but through it you see other cells. The forms of your crewmates are just visible. Recollections of the journey here, and your subsequent capture, are hazy. The only thought you can hold on to is: Find the ship - Escape.
We're on an Express Elevator to Hell!
Escape The Dark Sector (hereafter: Sector) is a cooperative, sci-fi themed adventure game for one to four players. This 2020 release is the second, stand-alone instalment, in the 'Escape The Dark' series of games from Themeborne Ltd. Sector follows the publisher’s debut title, Escape The Dark Castle (hereafter: Castle), released in 2017.
Sector, like Castle before it, is every bit a spiritual successor to the Choose Your Own Adventure and Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. The influence of which is clear to see in the style and gameplay of both games.
Like that of its predecessor, the artwork and graphic design throughout Sector is presented in a striking, stark, monochrome. This distinctive style is evocative of the artwork in the aforementioned fantasy books from the 80's. As a design choice it serves the game well, enriching the theme. It also provides a welcoming, warm shot of nostalgia. Like me, you might enjoy the apparent nods to various sci-fi franchises, nestled in the game’s artwork.
The other trait that Sector inherits from Castle, is its emphasises on storytelling to drive gameplay. A play through of Sector is styled like the progression through a story, told in three parts. It is a story that the players will influence as they progress, and that will differ in each play through.
The story begins in the detention block of a sprawling space station, adrift in a distant sector. Your group are captives. Your goal is to find your ship and escape, but between you and freedom lay a host of challenges. As a team, you and your fellow players must overcome or evade every challenge that is presented. Only as a team can you win your freedom. Should even one of you fall, the team will fail.
Come With me if you Want to Live
Up to this point I've discussed what you do - now for the how. The game is setup by seeding a deck of cards. The deck will contain 12 chapter cards sandwiched between a start card, and a boss card. The chapter cards represent the crew’s journey through the station. Each presents a unique challenge that must be successfully dealt with before the crew can proceed.
Every round, the top card of the deck is revealed, read aloud, and resolved. If all players survive the challenge, the game continues until the boss has been defeated. If any player is knocked out along the way, the game ends in failure!
You play as crew members of the Equinox, each represented by a unique crew card and matching die. Each crew member has a rating in three traits: Might, Cunning, and Wisdom. Those traits will be present on the crew members die, at a frequency relative to the rating. For example, a character with high Might, will have a die will more Might symbols, than Cunning or Wisdom.
When faced with a challenge, players will need to roll their dice until a specific result is met. In some instances, you effectively roll a skill check. The aim here is to roll a specific result, in a set number of attempts. In other instances, you will be faced with a combat challenge, which requires a different variation of dice results to succeed.
At various times (most notably, combat), players run the risk of taking damage. The group should plan their attacks, and distribute their items wisely, to prevent anyone’s hit points dropping to a dangerous level. The station is an unforgiving place; a player with few hit points is in constant danger of defeat!
We Came, We Saw. We Kicked Ass!
With its focus on storytelling and player cooperation, Sector provides an atmospheric gaming experience that immerses you in the unfolding story. Playing Sector is fun. You may not win often, but when you do, you'll feel like you've earned it. Even in defeat, you'll have enjoyed creating a story unique to that play through.
Sector is fun in solo mode, but it's at its best with three or four players. When you're discussing the challenges between you and weighing up your chances of success, it's easy to fall into the game. You will want to come back to Sector again and again, with the same group, until you escape!
Setup is quick, the rules are simple, and a play-through takes less than an hour. If you enjoy cooperative gaming, and want something suitable to new and experienced gamers, consider Escape The Dark Sector.