Review by Stephen Mingo
Black and white artwork, nostalgic alien-blasting dice rolling and a three-act symphony of 80’s sci-fi heralds the arrival of Themeborne’s Escape the Dark Sector. This is the follow up to Escape the Dark Castle, which was backed to the tune of just over £87,000 by 2119 Kickstarter backers in 2018, developing somewhat of a cult following in the process.
I confess to never having played the original game, so I went into this review blind and unawares (much like the characters within the game itself). For balance, I played this game with two entirely different groups. On our first play-through we had very polarising views across the table, which included somebody who is a huge fan of Dark Castle and somebody who else who has never heard of either game. It was clear from the onset that fans of the original will be lapping up this latest addition to the series, but what about new comers?
The box art drew me in to begin with, rather fascinatingly there isn’t an ounce of colour to be found. The black and white themes and the artwork on each card reminds me somewhat of the old Fighting Fantasy books of old. In an age where the word ‘Escape’ in the title of a tabletop game draws a fever pitch of hype, I was curious to see which direction this game would go in.
Set up was easy, and as described on the box took mere minutes, even for a first timer. After character selection, we used the brilliant play mat accessory to lay out the decks. The game is split into three main chapters, with weapons and equipment decks to boot. The main mechanic seems to be around rolling the dice your character is proficient in and matching them to the dice displayed on enemy cards. Doing so results in a victory and access to the next card. There is no turn order, you decide who out of the players will turn over the next card. This should be a team decision so that the weakest player doesn’t get pummelled time and time again. Some cards target the group as a whole but others target ‘You’ with specific penalties or actions. The objective? Escape the Dark Sector of course! Completion of all three chapters results in a game win, but if any single team member dies the game is failed.
Players who are mechanically focused and disregard the theming of games as ‘fluff’ in favour of solely focusing on winning strategies will be disappointed. This is a game which relies on the atmosphere you create. Knowing that, our second game was a blast. There is even a sci-fi soundtrack available to compliment game play. Taking time to read the text on each card and allow the theatre of the mind to put you in the moment is definitely the way to enjoy Escape the Dark Sector. You play a team of wayward space folk looking to break free from a space station, where will your journey take you? The game also claims to never play the same way twice, that being by way of shuffling the order of events and removing random ones for each game. Replay-ability generally means value for money.
Escape the Dark Sector is an atmospheric romp through a black and white 80’s sci-fi space station. This game presents a great crossover for role-players who enjoy descriptive exposition and board-gamers who are looking for something a little different. The set-up takes mere minutes and the mechanics are very easy to grasp. Fans of Dark Castle will be delighted to experience a new adventure and there’s also a new ranged shooting mechanic to expand on the original rules. ‘Euro’ gamers may be disappointed with it’s simplicity, but, retailing at around £30 at time of writing, there is certainly room for Dark Sector on family game night (especially in these times of lock downs and social distancing). The game is notoriously difficult, so victory is far from guaranteed, but just like in life – the journey is the best part. Pick a character, grab your dice and wind your way through the space station as you try to, well… Escape the Dark Sector!