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Friday 2 September 2022

Friday Filler: The Fighting Fantasy Science Fiction Co-op V

Escape the Dark Sector: The Game of Deep Space Adventure
brought the brutality of the Fighting Fantasy solo adventure books of the eighties to both Science Fiction and co-operative game play for up to four players in which their characters begin incarcerated in the detention block of a vast space station and must work together to ensure their escape. Published by Themeborne, with its multiple encounters, traps, aliens, robots, objects, and more as well as a different end of game Boss every time, Escape the Dark Sector offered a high replay value, especially as a game never lasted longer than thirty minutes. Now, like its predecessor, Escape the Dark Castle: The Game of Atmospheric Adventure, the game has not one, but three expansions! Funded via a Kickstarter campaign, each of the three expansions—Escape the Dark Sector – Mission Pack 1: Twisted TechEscape the Dark Sector – Mission Pack 2: Mutant Syndrome, and Escape the Dark Sector – Mission Pack 3: Quantum Rift—adds a new Boss, new Chapters, new Items, and more, taking the path of the escapees off in new directions to face new encounters and new dangers. Each expansion can be played on its own with the base game, or mixed and matched to add one, two, or three mission packs that increase the replay value of the core game.

Escape the Dark Sector: The Collector’s Box is no mere pretty box to hold the core game and all three of its expansions, although it is pretty. The large, square, and sturdy box is matte black and has circuitry picked out in UV detailing for quite a subtle effect and a quiet, but imposing presence on your shelf. Inside there is space to hold and organise all of the game’s cards—sleeved or unsleeved—as well as dice, playmats for the escapees, scorepads, pencils, and the various rulebooks. If you are looking for somewhere to hold your copy of Escape the Dark Sector and its three expansions, both to store and organise for play, then Escape the Dark Sector: The Collector’s Box is very much what you need. That is not all though.

In addition to holding everything for the game, Escape the Dark Sector: The Collector’s Box also comes with its own content. These begin with not one, but four new Bosses which could be faced at the end of a game as part of the players’ escape attempt. They include ‘The Changeling’, which can never take two consecutive wounds of the same type so that the escapees need to vary their attack types; ‘The Monolith’, simply inflicts damage by its very presence and cannot be flanked, so there is no teaming up for attacks; ‘Grottle & Snork’ are a pair of murderous aliens who also cannot be flanked, but vary their attack type from round to round; and ‘Madame Chrome’, a cyborg or robot defended by a drone swarm.

The three new Start cards provide new beginning points for the escapees, all three of which have them finding a way out of their cells. For example, having prised their cell doors open, one Start card presents the players with two options. If they take the left door, the players ‘Discard the first Act 1 Chapter Card’ and each draw a ‘Starting Weapon Card’ for each escapee. If they take the right door, the players ‘Add one Act 1 Chapter Card’ to the mission deck and then a ‘Starting Weapon Card’ for each escapee as well as two new Item Cards. This Start Card presents the players with a simple choice—reduce the number of Chapter Cards and thus the difficulty of the escape attempt and get a simple reward, or increase the number of Chapter Cards and thus the difficulty of the escape attempt and get a bigger reward. The most fun involves a scavenger breaking into the escapees’ cell and the players having the choice of fighting it or making a bargain with it. If they defeat it, the escapees gain all of the scavenger’s items, but if they strike a bargain, they gain one item it has previously stolen, and they get to ‘Discard the first Act 1 Chapter Card’. It is delightfully thematic.

The new crew member is K-100, an android escapee. It rolls an entirely different die—a twelve-sided die. One faced is marked with a ‘Triple’, the face being marked with all three traits. This counts as a Double when rolled and a Block in close combat. However, one face of the die is ‘Blank!’ and this is rolled, the android’s neural-net freezes and it is forced to reboot for the next round. This is the player missing a go, but again, it is thematically appropriate.

Escape the Dark Sector: The Collector’s Box adds three new Items or pieces of equipment. The ‘Alien Blaster’ can fire both ballistic ammunition and energy ammunition, the player being able to choose between them. Since it is an ‘Alien Blaster’, sometimes its bio-identification feature will discourage the escapee from using it with its imposter repulsion system, converting an ammo die into damage it inflicts on the wielder! The escapees begin play with the ‘Life Support Module’ in their inventory and can be used be transfer Hit Points between escapees. It is then discarded after use.

The biggest Item in the Escape the Dark Sector: The Collector’s Box is the ‘Demolition Mech’! This has its reference card and Event Card, which is drawn randomly from the Item Deck. Any escapee can pilot it, but cannot carry Items when doing so. The ‘Demolition Mech’ itself is represented by four mech section cards which together form the image of the mech itself. Although the pilot cannot use any Items or mutations (from Escape the Dark Sector – Mission Pack 2: Mutant Syndrome), he can use the mech’s Demo-Cannon in ranged combat or Wrecking Ball in close combat. Both are powerful weapons. In addition, the ‘Demolition Mech’ is armoured, able to take any amount of damage on each of the four locations—represented by its four mech section cards—but only the once. When that happens, the damaged mech section card is turned over and cannot take any further damage. Damage to the torso can destroy the Demo-Cannon or it can hinder the use of the Wrecking Ball. Should all four section cards of the ‘Demolition Mech’ be damaged, it explodes! The pilot is thrown from the wreckage and suffers a lot of damage. The pilot can eject from the ‘Demolition Mech’ before this happens.

The ‘Demolition Mech’ adds a new level to the play of Escape the Dark Sector, literally powering it up. Of course, it has a downside or two. Push its use to far when it takes damage and an escapee can be badly injured, and it also limits what an escapee can carry. Its use is fun though and energises the game when the event card for the ‘Demolition Mech’ is drawn.

Lastly, Escape the Dark Sector: The Collector’s Box comes with a new ‘YOU’. This is in sturdy metal and has a hefty weight to it as it passes from one player to the next, Chapter Card after Chapter Card.

Physically, Escape the Dark Sector: The Collector’s Box is as well produced as the core game. The new Start Card and Boss Cards are large and in general easy to read and understand, whilst the ‘Demolition Mech’ includes its own reference card. Each one is illustrated in Black and White, in a style which echoes that of the Fighting Fantasy series and Warhammer 40K last seen in the nineteen eighties. The box itself is sturdy and capacious.

Escape the Dark Sector: The Collector’s Box is both an entertaining and a practical addition to Escape the Dark Sector. As with the three Mission Packs for Escape the Dark Sector, this box adds more randomness and just a little more flavour to the play of the game, but always balances the advantage that any one card—Crew Member, Chapter Card, Start Card, Boss Card, and even the ‘Demolition Mech’ cards—with potential disadvantages too. The Escape the Dark Sector: The Collector’s Box provides more choice and more randomness and more Sci-Fi theme, as well as more storage space, nicely rounding (or squaring off) out the game with its own big box.

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