Review: LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] – running away from all the horrors
„Where.. where am I?“ Finally, after a few hours of uncounsciousness, finallay a man, who was lying next to me, woke up. He was chained to the wall. In the far gloom, I can still recognize other silhouettes, but they are all still probably under influence of noxious substance. I woke up first, and in that time of solitude and silence, I had time to think. About death. Suddenly, chains dropped to the ground with loud rattling. I was wrong thinking figures in the distance were other people. They were monsters waiting for our release. They are waiting for the feast!
Welcome to the world of horror game LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE], where death lurks around every corner. Are you one of those people, who find themselves at the base Subterra Bravo, with no memory of previous events? If yes, then you must fight your way out. Show your captors, they underestimated you! Will Schoonover and publishing house Privateer Press give us this chance with game released in 2012. We have peeked to follow-up of the story, maybe seing some spoilers, when played LEVEL 7 [OMEGA PROTOCOL] (review) by the same author. We now know – yes, someone will eventually flee, but the story does not end there!
Square box initially gives a mysterious impression. On a black background stands out the door and through a small hole, some nightmare is pulling through. Inside is a series of cardboard tiles. 44 of these represent a map, but there are also tunnels, and more tokesn with various uses (threat, fear, ventilation entrance and locked doors). Also your adventurers are made of thick paper pieces and will accompany you as soon as you put them into plastic stand.
Remainder of components is hidden in cards. First deck concerns the equipment of the refugees themselves – there are items, security cards, but also skills, each with a small dose of English text. The largest package are adrenaline and event cards. Plans for four figures with statistics are here too, with fear scale and places to put cards. There are also eight dice, that decide about life and death. This is all covered up not only by handbook of rules, but another book with the scenarios.
At the beginning of the game, players can choose not only their character, but also a scenario, that will decide large part of setup. According to it, starting maps pieces are put together with heroes. They also get their board with skills and inhabit it with indicator tokens – one on starting position of fear and the other on vitality. Thse stats simultaneously also decide about number of adrenaline cards, that player get to start with. Everybody will also receive two randomly drawn abilities. All other pieces are prepared according to instructions, cards are shuffled separately and enemies are placed next to the board.
LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] is semicooperative game, meaning that players do have a common goal to survive, but the victory will eventually have to be decided among themselves. Each player in his turn first draws back to his maximum number of adrenaline cards. He can then move his character and conduct actions.
Distance for movement is determined by hero´s statistics on the card. He can only move between pieces of maps, which are connected by doors or ventilation, which is a very important element of gameplay. It allows to players to move much faster and above all – to avoid enemies in the surrounding rooms.
As turn is moving forward, there is associated one of the fundamental concepts of the game and that is exploration. When player opens door to nowhere, he takes a new tile from the pile and attach it to the door on his current position. Then he immediately moves to this new territory and evaluate immediate effect, which is bound with the room – it may not only be items found, but also events. They are tied to card according to type of room – card is divided into three parts to choose from. In the upper left corner, there is icon letting player know, if new adversary appeared somewhere on the map (his location is specified by rules). Cards often players force to raise their level of fear or test their skills.
Just when they have been summoned, monsters are central part of gameplay. Players will need to complete their challenges, when meeting them. The main one is taking part in combat. Player simply rolls as many dice as is his strength value and compares result with toughness of his opponent. If it is higher, hero is able to stun it (enemy wakes up, when it is first activated). Only if the result is at least twice as high, monster is removed from the map. An attack on the guards provides threat token for hero.
Such a challenge can only be done once per round and this includes also opening doors or escaping from a room with hostile patrol in it. Once a player plays his one action plus movement, it is time for events of the game. If the player has drawn no event cards until now (for example, due to exploration), he must reveal one now. Icons on it clearly state, which enemies will be activated this round and therefore are able to attack the heroes in the same room.
Enemies are attracted by threat and fear, depending on their type. While the guards go after the most dangerous, clones and hybrids on the other hand attack the weakest. Situation of the classic battle turns around and players are rolling dice for creatures and compare it with toughness of heroes. For a successful attack, player has to pay adrenaline card or increase his fear (based on who attacked him). Enemies also move, when there is no target in their reach. At the end of one turn, each nest can breed new enemies up to the maximum given by scenario. It also depends on the number of characters in room, which is also number specific for each scenario.
Hero may lose consciousness for two reasons – he loses all his adrenaline cards or his fear grows to a maximum limit of eight. In both cases, his items remain in a place, but the body is moved to the infirmary. He wakes up there with reduced vitality (one point) and draws a new adrenaline cards, but there will be less on them based on vitality level. Such cards can be used to manipulate level of fear or endorse any combat statistics of players.
Each scenario ends the game in a specific way and survival of the players and winner is not clear. On the contrary, it is always clear, when players lose. It is in the event, that all characters lose their vitality. But the game can also end up by complex closing too soon. Such final countdown begins, when the stack of threat tokens is empty.
LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] is a game, that tests you with its atmosphere of fear. Horror is one of the central concepts of the game, but does not pass out of its own world and will not affect players as you would expect. Fear of getting trapped in this facility persists. Final scenario conditions are to blame (or praise), but also the fact, that there is enough enemies to block your way.
LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] puts interesting task in front of players. It is not so much about fighting. Players do not become any unstoppable murderous machine. On the contrary, it feels like its you in there. You do not want to fight, but instead slip away, hidden from their sight and escape. The most important ability is the arousing hatred and fighting between two groups of enemies, which have nothing in common, but place. And this makes sure for a completely different overall impression. If you discover this in the game, you will be enjoying it very much. But wait, this is not all we wanted to talk about.
Unfortunately, with this associates also one malady. Characters are quite similar and only differences are some minor skills. As a result, you do not create a strong bond to any of them. Level of fear in the game is raised by the various elements, so it is not at all difficult to suddenly find yourselves on the brink of collapse. And this makes player more vulnerable to enemy attacks and moves him closer to his own end. Such an end, where there is no light in.
You will have a sense of lack of control in the game. Enemies are activated after each turn, so their are getting closer or even have a chance to attack you more times, before you are even able to hit back. You have to adjust your thinking.
Fortunately, it is balanced by relatively good fun, that awaits you in each scenario. And they are hard as hell. The atmosphere is solid, especially in the case of exploration and other turns, when you are virtually defenseless. Actual scenarios are interesting and make the game more flexible to allow game to be playable for many matches to come. Longevity is also supported by the fact, that success is not very often and you have to prepare for a series of defeats. Difficulty is set high enough and often you will feel like solving a truly hard puzzle.
Players cooperate to a certain stage. But as soon as end of the game gets near and countdown is running, friends become greatest rivals. Nobody will hesitate to leave you behind. In doing so, a lot depends on where you are at that moment and how lucky you are, because this also depends on the chances of winning. This semicooperative element makes the game interesting and adds tension towards the end. It makes the game also better with several players (while when playing solitaire, surely take more characters). And matches usually last about an hour.
Various types of enemies are different from each other. Although there are only three species, there are fundamental differences across them. While the guards go after the most dangerous heroes, who have accumulated a lot of fear tokens (for attempting an attack on the guards), clones are creeping towards fearful people. The love smell of fear and can move through ventilation as well as them. And then there are hybrids, that are attacking with intelligence. Threat and fear concepts work nicely and are adding something to chance on player´s stunning.
Rules themselves are not very well organized. This makes it difficult not only on their first reading, but also remembering them for the next game. Exceptions in different scenarios do not add to clarity at all. These delays and tracing of differences are unpleasant and happen surprisingly often. And so this problem also affects length of the game itself. Inexperienced players prolong gameplay and sixty minutes boundary seems unattainable. Only if you are playing scenario repeatedly without exception (which is necessary to get acquainted in detail and also to succeed) with players who have previously played LEVEL 7, you will be able to complete it quickly (or lose).
Processing is good, although a little uniform and it does not differ too much from other sci-fi games. The best news for the whole game is fact, that the story actually goes on. Whether in the aforementioned LEVEL 7 [OMEGA PROTOCOL] or in a completely different LEVEL 7 [INVASION], whose review are we preparing for upcoming weeks.
LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] is a game, that arouses different emotions among board game players. On one hand, it is interesting and fun, while other criticize it for not providing sufficiently deep storyline. Players do not plunge into scenarios as they could. Maybe it is also because of the fact, that although it includes dice, game is more focused on euro players, who want a bit more theme. That is, why it probably raises some negative emotions in those, who like really ameritrash themed entertainment. LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] is a good start to push oneself from silent planning strategy games and find yourself in true struggle for life. And also good start to incredible storyline of LEVEL 7 board games.
Review: LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] – running away from all the horrors
LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] is an interesting game, in which fear awaits you. Fear for your own life. The game is far from perfect, scenario have almost no story and explain of motivation, but the actual gameplay is there. As an almost defenseless prisoners, you are trying to escape a military base, enemies chase you and your fellow companions turn against you. There is seemingly nothing good to do. But you still can quietly slip past them all, by turning enemies against each other. The station is unexplored territory, that unfolds before your eyes along with its inhabitants. But once humans become too much of a threat, guards start a lockdown procedure and only one player can run away and become a winner. LEVEL 7 [OMEGA Protocol] is an interesting game with several unnecessary shortcomings.