A Review of Escape: Cooperative Roll and Write

Escape: Cooperative Roll and Write is a cooperative roll-and-write game (boy, there’s a sentence that repeats itself).  It’s for 2-4 players.   Escape: Cooperative Roll and Write is based on the original Escape: The Curse of the Temple: See below.

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The original Escape: The Curse of the Temple is a real-time cooperative game where players roll dice as fast as they can to escape the temple. The original game was cooperative partly because players can get “stuck” as they explore; players have to work together to “avoid stuckage” as the group explores the temple!

The interesting thing is that both games uses exactly the same dice:

In the original real-time game, each player gets 5 dice each. In the roll-and-write, there’s a pool of dice that gets passed to the active player: these are the same dice from the original game!! See above!! If you have exposure to the original game, there is a certain consistency in the two games (symbols, dice) that makes it a little easier to learn the roll-and-write.

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Let’s take a look at Escape: The Cooperative Roll and Write.

Unboxing

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One of the reason game studios like roll-and-write games is that they are so easy to produce. In our case, we just have some dice (just like the original Escape dice), some pads, some rules, and some meeples. See above. If you look closely at the art on the covers of the two games, you can see that the art was “reused”:

The pads do look very nice though! There’s two kinds of pads: one for all players to share in the middle of the board (see below):

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And then there’s the pads where each character will take a sheet during play:

These player pads are dual-sided: the front side is used for the normal game (see above). The other side is used is used for variants.

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There’s some meeples which each player will use to mark their location on their sheet:

And some rulebooks.

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There are 2 rulebooks: in both English and German. (There are other rulebooks in other languages on their website).

… and that’s it for components.

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The game is a roll-and-write with dice and pads. The pads are nice and colorful (maybe too colorful, see later) and the dice are just like the original Escape. Overall, it’s a decent looking roll-and-write.

Rulebook

Overall, this rulebook is not great. It shows the game components (above) and set-up (below) okay.

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The description of the rules is just not great. There’s a lot of text in a bunch of paragraphs that has no pictures: the rulebook just kind of “barrels” through the description, leaving a lot to be desired. See below.

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Luckily, the next section shows a turn in full detail: this saves the rulebook from being terrible. 

The font was kind of small in the rulebook, which didn’t help readability. My friends and I think the rules suffered from being translated from German as well.

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Overall, this really wasn’t a really good rulebook. We learned the game, but had lots of questions that the rulebook just didn’t answer. I had to play solo a number of times and then multiplayer a few times (resetting our very first game) before we finally felt comfortable with the rules of the game. If you can find a video to learn the game from, that might be better than trying to learn from the rulebook.

Solo Play

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There is no solo variant (boo for not following Saunders’ Law). In this case, since all knowledge is public (on the pads and on the dice), it’s easy enough to play as if you were playing a 2-Player game (alternating turns): That’s what I did.

During my first solo play, I kept the rulebook between the two “characters”. There’s no special asymmetric powers in this game, so there’s no distinguishing between the two characters other than their meeple color: Both characters just have a temple they are entering (bottom left and right). The pad in the middle denotes the state of the game and some shared resources players can use.

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The game then proceeds to have a number of rounds, depending on the number of players: 2 in this case (even though it’s a solo game).

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Each player has to choose a different side of the temple to enter. The green player chose the left, the red player chose the top. To win the game, there are two conditions that need to be satisfied:

  1. All players must be in the room in the middle of their sheet (the exit)
  2. The players need to have collected enough gems (see below)
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At the end of the last round, both conditions must be met or the player(s) lose as a group!

The “playing 2 characters” works fine as a solo mode, but it wasn’t great. I will be happy to admit that some of my “lack of enthusiasm” for a solo mode was that the rulebook was bad enough that it took away from my enjoyment of learning the game (one major reason for solo rules in a cooperative game). The mental overhead of hopping between 2 characters wasn’t a big deal: you could play this game solo as a 2 character game.

Gameplay

The active player takes the 8 dice (fewer if they get locked during gameplay) and rolls the dice two at a time. (The active player rotates every round). The active player decides whether to keep some, one, or none of the dice as they roll them. (See below). Some dice might get “locked” (see below: 1 die got locked: when the black totem symbol is rolled, it forces that die to be placed on the lock track).

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The dice taken by the active player are needed to to move through the personal temple! The cost to enter a room is in the upper part of the room! See below: Basically, the active player is trying to explore some room by rolling the symbols on the dice for the rooms adjacent to him. For example, if he rolls a torch and key, he can move to the room below him.

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The reward, is notated on the bottom part of the room. If the player moved to the room below, he would get a torch reward! That reward is then IMMEDIATELY MARKED on the shared sheet in the middle of the table. See the shared sheet below.

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A circle on the shared sheet means “it’s a symbol/reward the active player can use”. These symbols are useful because you are essentially “banking” symbols which the active player can use later to move through the temple. In the above picture, we have a key and unlock available to be taken, but we’ve used both the reroll and golden idol.

The active player needs to explore many rooms to get Gems (Gems are need need to win, remember? See the shared pad below where we have 6 Gems so far!)

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Remember that all players must end up on their personal exit space on the last round to win!

Now, what about the dice the active player DOESN’T take? This is a cooperative game, so the rest of the players can make use of the unused dice! The unused dice forms a pool where each “non-active” player make take a die (or two) and mark off some symbols on their “treasure map” (see above). If they mark off all the symbols on a single treasure map, they get the reward on the left (and potentially the gem on the right, if they mark that off too). That reward goes to the shared pad in the middle.

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In general, the active player rolls to move through his personal temple, and the unused dice are used by the remaining players to mark off their treasure maps (in hopes of getting some shared rewards).

When the remaining players take the dice, they are supposed to take them “one at a time, in clockwise order”. I think a better rule would have been “After discussion, the remaining dice are divided between the remaining players as they decide”. It adds more choices to the game and makes the game more fun (and that was exactly what we did: just choosing one die at a time around the table seemed anti-climactic).

Impressions

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Once you can get through the rules and figure out how the game works, the game flows pretty quickly. But, it may take a while to get to that point! One thing that really messed us up is that we didn’t figure that a round doesn’t end until every player has been the active player exactly once!! The rules aren’t clear on that. The game seemed way too hard until we figured that out.

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The multiplayer mode works much better than the solo mode, as the game simply feels more lively as players talk about the game: “What dice do we keep? What dice do I need? Can I take one of the rewards?” The game is richer than I originally thought, as there were a lot of decisions to make as a group. It definitely works better cooperatively, which might be why they didn’t add a solo mode to the game.

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As pretty as the pads were, sometimes it was hard to see what spaces you had already marked off. We used pencil in all of our games (see above) and it may have been better to use a sharpie or heavier marker. However, if you want to “re-use” some of your pads, the paper was good enough quality that an eraser worked on it.

My group had fun playing and ONCE YOU KNEW THE GAME, it flowed pretty quickly. We all said we’d play again, but we all hated the rulebook. (It got passed around a few times as we tried to figure things out). But this game didn’t quite resonate with us. We liked it, but we didn’t love it.

Special Powers

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One thing we all think the game needs: Special Powers! A cooperative game always seems so much more fun if the players can have special powers! One your turn, you might feel like you could do more: Here are some suggestions we had:

  • The Mapmaker: can fill out any extra space on his map when he maps
  • The Explorer: once per turn, only needs one of the two symbols to enter a room
  • The Lucky Guy: Can never get a locked dice
  • The Jeweler: Can get one extra Gem per turn if he gets a Gem

Making you feel special on your turn would have really livened up the game!  

Conclusion

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To our knowledge, Escape: Cooperative Roll and Write is the only cooperative roll-and-write game currently in the market!  It fills a unique space in the roll-and-write world.  We didn’t love the game, as the game seemed a little samey from play-to-play, but we think the addition of special powers might really liven up the game!  As it is, the game is good: it’s worth a look to see if you’d like it.  Just be aware that Escape: Cooperative Roll and Write doesn’t have an official solo variant (although a 2-Player solo game will work), but the game does work well as a multiplayer game.

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