PLAYlist 14: Escape from 100 Million B.C. | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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PLAYlist 14: Escape from 100 Million B.C.

Oct 04, 2017 Bookmark and Share

Following an unexplained flash of light on the horizon, the brave scientist wandered deeper into the humid jungle. She and her companion, Abraham Lincoln, one-time sixteenth President of the United States of America, were closing in on its source. As they approached a clearing in the dense undergrowth, she heard a low, tearing, grinding noise – she was sure it was being made by one of beasts they’d narrowly avoided earlier that day. She put her hand out to stop her fellow traveler, and held a finger over her lips to hush him. Understanding, the President nodded.

Quietly, she brushed aside the hanging vines. Before them loomed the lumbering Teleoceras, a creature not unlike the endangered rhinos of the 21st Century – except standing eight feet tall and weighing more than a ton. Unaware of their presence, it chomped lazily on nearby fauna. Behind it, shining from a shallow pool, was a piece of their time machine.

“Shhhhh,” the scientist hissed to her companion. “I think we can tiptoe around it.”

President Lincoln shook his head, and patted the axe fixed to his belt. “I got this,” he told her.

Before she could stop him, Lincoln charged into the clearing, axe aloft, bellowing a war cry. Within seconds, he was trampled by the startled beast.

The scientist tried to hide herself behind the vegetation, but it was too late. The beast’s eyes were fixed on her. It pawed twice at the ground with its front foot, let out one snort, and charged.

The scientist grabbed the hand grenade from her jacket pocket, and without thinking twice, pulled the pin…


If that sounds like a scene from a movie you’d like to watch to watch on basic cable on a weekend afternoon, well, then, read on. Have I got the board game for you!

Over the last few columns we’ve covered a number of games where the goals were to maximize efficiency, mitigate luck, or out-maneuver your opponent. Today, however, we’re excited to spotlight a game that’s about working together to tell a communal story. In IDW Games’ wonderfully nutty Escape from 100 Million B.C., you and up to five other players take on the roles of modern-day explorers stranded in the prehistoric era. Worse yet, your time machine’s malfunction happened to rip open a hole in the space-time continuum, plucking unsuspecting humans and historical figures from different periods of time and depositing them, willy-nilly, in the midst of dinosaurs and other ancient beasts. Not only must you locate every missing piece of your time machine so that you can return to the 21st Century, but you need to find these poor, lost souls and send them back to their own centuries – lest you screw up the flow of time itself, setting off a rippling butterfly effect that totally alters your world as you know it.

Escape from 100 Million B.C. begins with a near-empty board. You and your team – or just you, if you’re playing the game’s totally viable single-person variant – have selected characters, each with unique stats and special abilities. You start on the edge of a volcano in the center of the island (board), and slowly work your way outwards in search of the missing time machine pieces you’ll need to get home. As you move around the island, you’ll lay out tiles from randomized terrain piles. When you flip a piece and place it on the board, you carry out the events depicted by symbols on the hexagon-shaped tiles: these include drawing from a deck of flavor-injecting adventure cards, placing wooden item crates or time machine parts, or – scariest of all – drawing from the appropriate dinosaur encounter deck and adding a creature token to the board.

Let’s talk about dinosaurs first. Escape from 100 Million B.C. has dozens of them, and they all move, act, and fight in totally different ways. Designer Kevin Wilson deserves major credit for making each dinosaur feel like a unique creature. If you have to draw from one of those three decks – representing herbivores, carnivores, and water-dwellers – you’ll be holding your breath, hoping for something small, docile, and definitely not a T-Rex.

Players have scant few choice (most of the time) as to how to deal with a dino. You can flee (roll a speed check vs. theirs), fight (roll a brawn check vs. theirs), or try to pacify it, if you’re lucky enough to have a rare sleep-ray, or another item that puts dinosaurs comfortably to bed. The first option is usually the best, unless it’s one of those fast dinosaur-types. The second option, fighting, is sometimes necessary, but c’mon – do you think it’s easy to fight a dinosaur? Nope, it almost never is.

Combat and running away in Escape are handled very easily, done via rolling a huge handful of dice and comparing it to the roll of a fellow player (standing in for the dinosaur.) It’s as simple as the player with the most high-numbered dice winning. Some items – such as weapons, or totally awesome jet boots – can modify these rolls. If you lose, you suffer a wound, and try again. Suffer too many wounds, and you die… sorta. You actually get teleported back to your crash site, dropping any time machine parts you were carrying, and start afresh. (All players share a pool of revives, which work similar to lives in a video game.)

But wait, you’re saying – “I thought Abraham Lincoln was going to be in this!” And you’re right, he is! Along with JFK, Amelia Earhart, a random Chinese peasant, and other historical figures. If you try to imagine Escape as a sort of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey through Jurassic Park, you’ll have a much better grasp on what we’re working with.

At the end of each round, once all players have taken a turn, you’ll roll more dice to see if any cracks open up in space and time. If they do, you’ll draw from a special deck of paradox cards and place an appropriate character standee on the board. Just like the diverse deck of dinos included in the game, Escape’s paradox deck features a wide variety of unique-feeling characters, which largely interact with the game in different ways.

These poor, confused lost souls wander around the board until you rescue them, or they’re eaten by dinosaurs. When you encounter one of these accidental time travelers, you have to do another dice check to see if you can convince them to trust you. (Given the day they’ve had, it’s no wonder they’re leery of some rando claiming to be from the future.) If they haven’t run away screaming, they’ll join you on your trek – granting you a special ability or bonus up until the point where, inevitably, you’ll send them back home through a wormhole.

This is where the game starts to show off its most interesting wrinkles. You didn’t think this was just a game about running around, shooting dinosaurs, and scooping up time machine parts, did you? You have to do all of those things, yes, but at the same time you have do them all while keeping your impact on the space-time continuum to a minimum. Any little mistake has the chance to radically change the future as we know it. Leave John F. Kennedy behind in the past, and the 20th Century suddenly looks very different, doesn’t it? Drop an important piece of high-tech equipment? Great, intelligent reptiles will eventually rule the planet. Accidentally frighten an ape into the open jaws of a carnivorous dinosaur? Well, good job, now humans are never going to evolve. Even killing too many dinosaurs will have dire ramifications on the future. It all amounts to giving Escape a rapidly-ticking clock. (Imagine Marty’s disappearing photo in Back to the Future – that’s what’s happening here.) The back of the manual includes a bunch of descriptions for your endgame point totals, so when you finish you can flip back to read an appropriate ending to your tale.

There’s a lot going on in a game of Escape from 100 Million B.C. (I feel as if I’ve only touched on a fraction of its mechanics.) There’s a steep learning curve as you go through the dense manual, but thankfully you’re learning to play along with somebody and working together at it. Once you have it down, too, it’s a game you’re going to want to play multiple times, since you’re probably going to lose early and often. Make no (dinosaur) bones about it: Escape from 100 Million B.C. can be a very tough game.

Thankfully, Escape has built-in difficulty settings, like an old video game. If you’re having too rough a go of it, you can bump things down to easy mode. (Which, to be fair, still kicked my butt, but doesn’t feel impossible.) Want more of a challenge? Crank up the difficulty a notch.

The thing I like most about Escape, even more than its wide variety of cards and high replay-ability, is that the game you play with your team-mates comes together as a fun, flavorful, and wonderfully silly story. Escape‘s theme shines through in spades: it’s a wonderfully pulpy adventure, full of nutty twists and turns and lots of exciting action. The story in this column’s introduction more or less unfolded in our very first game – it’s been embellished, only a little – and had everyone at the table laughing. When it comes to theme in a co-op, Escape wins hands-down over classics like Ghost Stories and the original Pandemic.

Some will argue that anyone interested in tabletop storytelling should join a roleplaying group instead. And yes, I have to concur that few board gaming sessions will come close to a well-run RPG, be it Dungeons & Dragons or another system, when it comes to a communal storytelling experience. Devils’ advocates, though, tend to appreciate the pre-set goals that come with board games, which can work as a roadmap for the tale that unfolds as you play. Another plus is that you can knock out an entire game of Escape in a single evening.

One last point where I want to give Kevin Wilson and IDW Games extra credit is in the game’s humor. Escape is far funnier than it looks from the box cover. One tiny example: if you draw the Amelia Earhart card and her character enters your game, her time schism closes behind her, and it’s actually impossible to return her to her own time. Well, that explains everything!

Escape from 100 Million B.C. can be had for less than $60, and we recommend it for anyone wanting to play a challenging, collaborative game and have a silly time doing so.

For this column’s playlist, we can’t quite jump in a time machine and travel back 100 million years. We can go back exactly 50 years, though, to 1967, popularly referred to as the Summer of Love. It was a turning point for the countercultural movement, and a landmark year for rock and roll, giving us a handful of all-time classic records such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Are You Experienced?, and The Velvet Underground and Nico. So step into our musical time machine and enjoy more than three and a half hours of hits and deep cuts from ’67 – which should more than cover you for any session of Escape from 100 Million B.C..


Previous PLAYlist columns: Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue), Whistle Stop, Caverna: Cave vs Cave, Twilight Struggle, Honshu, Bärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the Dragon, Yokohama, Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure, Villages of Valeria, New York Slice, Watson & Holmes, Hanamikoji.


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