Most of us flock to tabletop games as a form of escape. When your 9-to-5 is done, you can call up your gaming buddies or head to your favorite FLGS to just get away from it all. But what happens when your favorite form of escape…is all about escaping? Dive into this infinite mirror of escapism with 3 new games all about busting out.
Cysmic – Kickstarter (Spring 2023)
In Cysmic, designed by Jason Blake and published by Star Reach Games, humanity almost got it right. We colonized a new planet, created a stable society, and everyone was getting along on what seemed to be a beatific Eden. But apparently Todd over in terraforming fell asleep on the job because something didn’t take. Now the terraforming process is coming apart at the seams, and both the planet and society have begun collapsing in on themselves.
What was once a utopia is now just rats fleeing a ship. Society has broken up into various factions, each controlled by one of the 2 – 6 players, who are all trying to build their own escape craft to get their population off of the planet. As tends to happen in a crisis, cooperation has been replaced with self-preservation as each faction tries to outcompete their opponents for resources and technology. This means constant combat against your opponents all while the planet’s surface collapses underneath you with increasing frequency.
Perhaps Cysmic‘s greatest strength is that it really leans into that tense theme. Each round, players have 10 action cards, but they only have 5 action slots to play them. That action limit alone would likely cause plenty of furrowed brows, but Cysmic goes one step further by making you temporarily sacrifice an action card in order to play an action card, thereby doubly limiting your choices. In case those choices weren’t stressful enough, each action card slot has multi-colored bonus actions you can take if your chosen action card matches the bonus action’s color. Choose carefully…
Then there’s the resource gathering. In addition to the standard Ore and Influence to create vehicles and troops, another key resource are the Blueprints necessary to construct your escape ship. These can’t be mined, though, which means the only way to get them is by raiding the enemy for theirs. If you’re able to move your troops within range of an enemy escape ship, you can attempt to steal plans via hacking. That strategy, though, means sending your valuable soldiers into the lion’s den. A much safer way is by capturing enemy troops and bartering them for blueprints, effectively turning enemy troops into a third game currency.
But it’s not just human enemies you have to worry about. The planet is undergoing tremendous amounts of seismic activity, and each round the Tremor token advances towards a Fraction event. These can cause whole sections of the board to collapse, swallowing up any units on top of them. Then there’s your own conscience. The first player to complete their ship and escape is the winner, but what happens if your ship is complete with some units out of evacuation range? Could you bring yourself to leave them? Players who complete their ship may attempt to win the game early before all units are evacuated by rolling the Humanity die. This roll might allow you to put the needs of the many before the few, but at what cost? If you want to find out the answer to that question, you can check out the game early by going to the website and playing the Tabletop Simulator version or check out Cysmic in person at PAX Unplugged.
Escape Comics: The Alien Ship – Kickstarter (2023)
Escape rooms are always a good time, but they can be a bit pricey and usually aren’t BYOB. While tabletop escape games are fun, they usually don’t come with the production value of a physical escape room experience. Designer Doug Beech and Jumping High Five Games are looking to Einstein-Rosen bridge that gap and bring a full escape room experience to the tabletop.
The game’s premise is a simple yet effective one. Over the course of a 27-page comic, 1 – 4 players will go on an intergalactic adventure, battling aliens and solving puzzles along the way. At various points in the comic, the players will be forced to stop and deal with a particular challenge in order to advance the story.
What makes this escape game a standout, though, are all of the physical puzzles. Whereas a game like Doomensions goes for props that were cleverly integrated but smaller, Escape Comics recognizes the importance of immersion to really get that escape room feel. Towards that end, you get lots of big, colorful 3-D props, such as the alien shrink ray, spiderbug handcuffs, and the alien head which you actually have to rip off of some poor alien. Fun by yourself? Sure. But with all of these great set pieces, it’s definitely going to be even better with a full crew.
Horror Game Show – Kickstarter (February 14, 2023)
If stories like The Running Man, The Squid/Hunger Games, or Guns Akimbo, taught us anything, it’s that hunting humans for sport is wildly entertaining. There’s also maybe something in them about the devaluation of human life and social decline being caused by the dumbing down of humanity, but those seem like a stretch.
The Horror Game Show from Bored Games definitely leans into the former theme. In this game, up to 12 Contestants will compete in a game of survival as they try to escape, outwit, or outfight each other and murderous Hunters in front of a live studio audience. While this setup definitely isn’t new, The Horror Game Show does something novel with this tried-and-true trope of human-suffering-as-entertainment by not putting the players in the role of the Contestants. Instead, 2 – 4 players will take on the roles of producers looking to make as much money off of the show’s unfortunate participants as they can. Suffice to say, this game is recommended for mature players only.
Players start by drafting 3 Contestants, each with their own special ability cards, to send into the Horror Arena and 3 Contracts which they are trying to fulfill in order to earn money.
The game revolves around a deck of Action cards which the players will build up as the game goes along. Each turn, players draw 5 Action cards and then bid on the first player slot by offering to sacrifice some of those cards. Highest bidder not only goes first, but also gets access to the Hunters, murderous tv personalities beloved by fans of all ages. Didn’t get the first player spot? That’s ok because having more cards in hand can be just as good. That’s because cards come in 2 types: Play and Pause. Play cards are able to combo off of each other, but Pause cards always end your turn, so having a full hand can mean a pretty devastating combo.
Over the course of 12 rounds, players will try to leverage their Action cards to compete for the most money which they earn by completing Contracts, eliminating Contestants, and achieving special bonuses like “Last Survivor Standing”. As characters run about, they’ll invariably bump into each other, automatically triggering a fight. Combat is a simple die comparison mechanic, but die rolls can of course be modified in any number of ways. Maybe a sponsor decided to make things interesting by sending their champion a gruesome weapon? Or just as you’re going for the kill, the director might cut to a commercial break and spoil your kill. I mean, live tv is CRAZY, right?
So Contestant, are you ready to play?
By Zane Messina