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Escape From Iron Gate Review


Quick Look:

Designer: Theo Hoglund
Artist: N/A
Publisher: The Escape Game
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 3-8
Ages: 13+
Playing Time: 45-60

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

From the Publisher:  
Welcome to Iron Gate prison.

It's not where anyone would choose to spend their time, but for now, it's home sweet cell.
You and your "friends" have been wrongfully accused of a crime and don’t belong behind bars. 

You’ve made your case first to the judge, then to the warden, but no one is buying it. Looks like there’s only one path to freedom: a good, old-fashioned prison break! Well, today is the day - you’re going to make a run for it. The good news? One of you is going to make it out. The bad news? Only one of you is going to make it out.

Your objective is to escape Iron Gate Prison by moving through each of the four areas on the board – from the Cellblock to The Yard, The Cafeteria, The Warden’s Office, then finally to freedom! In order to progress to the next area, you’ll need to turn in the items on your Gate Card to the Commissary. Items are collected by completing puzzles, drawing, acting, and trading. The player that passes through the Final Gate first wins.

***
TL;DR: Escape From Iron Gate is not an escape game as the EXIT or Unlock series, but rather a party game with an escape theme. For a party game, it's pretty good, and cleverly hides some strategic core mechanisms of set-collection and hand-management behind a party game facade. 

***
Over the last few years, there has been a plethora of publishers trying to emulate the escape room experience on your tabletop with varying degrees of success. From the EXIT and Unlock series, to the MacGyver: The Escape Room and everything between, there has been no shortage of tabletop options for escape room fans. 

So when I saw that an actual escape room company was trying its hand at a tabletop version, I wasn't surprised. But what did surprise me about Escape From Iron Gate is that it wasn't really an escape game in the sense we've grown to expect. In a time when publishers are trying to recreate the escape room experience, an escape room company throws a curve and publishes a Cranium-esque title. Instead of the cooperative, timed puzzles, we get a competitive hand-management, set-collection party game for up to 8 players.


Is this bad? Not necessarily, but it's an important distinction to make in the current escape room board game environment. If you clicked on this review at Everything Board Games, or found this searching on BGG, there is a good chance that you are looking for a tabletop version of an escape game, but players should not expect an EXIT experience, but rather a light, competitive party game with an escape from a prison theme. 

So now that expectations are adjusted, let's talk about Escape From Iron Gate as a party game. 

It has been my experience that the term "party game" draws some pretty strong reactions. I know some people that their game nights consist solely of white-text-on-black-cards-type voting games, and others that consider anything less than a 2.5 on the BGG weight scale an activity rather than a game. I fall somewhere in the middle of this scale, and think that though Escape From Iron Gate leans way more towards a party game, it has aspects that meet in the middle too. 

Like most party games...

...it supports a large player count: It plays up to 8 and is a good option when you need a game for a crowd such as co-workers or social groups.

...it encourages player interaction: Players will be acting and drawing and having the other players guess the word that they are drawing to act out/draw. Even if it is not a player's turn, they are still engaged in the game.

...it rewards player strengths: There are many facets to the game, riddles, puzzles, acting, drawing, guessing, etc. So just because someone isn't the best artist doesn't mean that they wont succeed in the game. They may be great at guessing, or riddles, or the charade aspect--and being good at just one or two of these aspects of the game is enough for a player to win.  

But unlike most party games...

...it isn't co-op: This isn't team against the board, or team vs. team. It is every player for themselves. Only one player will escape from Iron Gate.

...it incorporates strategic elements: At its core, Escape From Iron Gate is a hand-management, set-collection game. There is even a negotiation and trading aspect allowing players to swap resources. The winner isn't necessarily going to be the best artist or most out-going, but rather the one that can leverage those skills to gather the resources needed to escape. 

...it's not subjective: There is no judging or voting system. Either you solve the riddles or you don't. Either players guess the clue that someone is acting out, or they don't. There is no need to argue a point of view or grovel for votes from a judge. 

***
Make no mistake, Escape From Iron Gate is a party game. But for a party game it is pretty good and something that I enjoyed with both causal and hobby gaming groups. Players are engaged throughout the entire game, they can play to their strengths, and it can be played with up to 8.  If you enjoy party games, or often find yourself needing to support a large group of players, I think you will enjoy this one.

But there is more to Escape From Iron Gate than meets the eye. While I don't think it will be a game to covert a "serious gamer" to the party game side, the hand-management, set-collection aspects hidden behind the party game facade might be the Trojan horse party game you can deploy to usher a casual gamer into the hobby. 

I enjoyed Escape From Iron Gate for both what it is, and what it could be for others.

Review:

Setup:
The game board is placed in the table so that each player has the ability to see the iconography. They select their meeple color of choice and place them in a starting cell. The common and rare items, and lucky, puzzle and action cards are placed in their respective places marked on the board. Each player is dealt three random common items and one gate card for each area. The gate cards show the resource requirement to pass through and into the next area.


Play begins with the youngest player and then continuing clockwise. The first player to meet the resource requirements to pass through each of the four gates in order, and escape to freedom is the winner.


Gameplay:
On the active player's turn, they first roll a pair of custom dice showing either the letters A or P. If a player rolls two Ps, they draw one lucky and one puzzle card. If they roll two As, they draw one lucky and one action card. If they roll an A and a P, they choose either an action or a puzzle card.

Lucky cards can be good, bad, or somewhere between. When a player draws a lucky card, they take the action or instruction immediately.


Action cards require that the player act or draw. Players can choose between three options ranging from easy to hard, to act or draw, and the rewards (i.e. common and/or rare items) for successfully getting an opponent to guess what they are acting/drawing increase with the chosen difficulty.


Puzzle cards are puzzles including riddles, ciphers, and other brain teaser type elements. players must solve the puzzle card before the beginning of their next turn to gather the reward. A player can ask for one clue prior to the beginning of their next turn. When requesting a clue, the player passes their puzzle card to the player on the right. This player use the decoder card to provide the clue. Solving the riddle provides rewards based on whether the solving player used a clue.


After rolling and resolving any lucky and/or action cards, the player then may do one of the following with their common and/or rare items:

Trade with the commissary: Players can trade the common and rare items in hand for other items necessary to escape. Identical items and rare items provide the greatest trade-in value.

Trade with another player: Players can trade common and rare items with one other player and the terms are set by the trading players.

Pass a gate: If a player can meet the resource requirement to pass a gate, they discard the common and/or rare items and move their meeple to the next area.

Gate requirements. The gate number is listed on the top left hand corner.
Take no action: Players can end their turn without taking any of the trade or pass gate actions.

One caveat: there may be an instance where the rules aren't clearly defined for a situation. In this case, prison rules apply and the majority decision wins. 

Play continues until a player passes all four gates in order. Upon meeting the requirement to pass the final gate, the game ends and that player is the winner.

Theme and Mechanisms:
Escape From Iron Gate is lightly themed around the escape from a prison setting. The common and rare items are stereotypical prison-fare, but the puzzles and action card topics are seemingly unrelated to the theme.

At its core, Escape From Iron Gate is surprisingly a set-collection, hand-management, negotiation/trading game--mechanisms not usually seen in most party games. 

Artwork and Components:
The artwork is simple, and clean. Nothing fancy, but it does its job well. The game board text helps aid in setup.


The components are good. Wooden meeples, high-quality cards and board that will hold up through multiple plays.

Strengths:
Escape From Iron Gate is a good party game.

No down time between turns: Even when you are not the active player you are still engaged with the game by trying to solve your puzzle, or working to guess another player's drawing/charade.

Surprisingly strategic: This isn't a Cranium knock-off. This game requires set-collection, hand-management and trading for a player to be successful. Just because someone is the best actor/artist doesn't guarantee victory. Even deciding on whether to successfully guess on an opposing player's action is something players must weigh throughout the game.

Accessible to different ages and skill levels: The action cards give players three options to choose from ranging from easy to difficult to account for player skill levels. Also providing clues to the puzzle cards makes the game accessible to players younger than the age on the box. 


Weaknesses:
There were only two things that stuck out as potential weaknesses:

The puzzles are almost too easy: I know that this was done to make it accessible to more players, but even without the clues, the puzzles and riddles aren't that difficult. And since many of the puzzles require the using same iconography on the board to solve, once you figure out how to solve one, the rest are simple.

There is one gigantic caveat to this - some of the puzzles are deciphering common American idioms (e.g. "long in the tooth"). Being from the United States and being around long enough to be exposed to the phrases, I didn't have trouble figuring them out. That being said, if you are playing with people that may not be familiar with American phrases such as "long in the tooth," or younger players that have not yet heard some of the older idioms, the puzzles could be challenging for them, and the answers probably wont make much sense if they are unfamiliar with the phrase. 

Replayability: I'm hesitant to mention this one, because it is really dependent on who you are playing with each time, and how good your/their memory is. This game faces the same challenges a trivia game with a low question card count does -- once you've heard the answer to a puzzle or riddle, you may remember it the next time it comes up. To it's credit, there are a lot of puzzle cards, so it would take some time to go through all of them, but if you're the type to hear a riddle and remember the answer forever, the puzzles may not be fair for your future opponents if you already know the answer from a previous play. Due to the high puzzle card count, there is replayability with this title, but it diminishes slightly with each play. But as easy as many of the puzzle cards are, it may not matter anyway.

Final Thoughts:
Overall, Escape From Iron Gate is one of the better party games that I have played in recent years. While it is most definitely a party game, the inclusion of the set-collection and hand-management mechanism was a pleasant surprise and added a strategic element to a party game. The ease of the puzzles, while a weakness in certain crowds, makes the game more accessible to players of different ages and abilities, and I'll make that trade-off. I would recommend Escape From Iron Gate as a party game.

Players Who Like: Cranium, Pictionary, charades, and similar party games


Check out Escape From Iron Gate on:
 
https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/282483/escape-iron-gate   https://theescapegame.com/   https://www.facebook.com/TheEscapeGame   https://twitter.com/theescapegame   https://www.instagram.com/theescapegame/   https://www.youtube.com/theescapegame   https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07SZ2P3P3?ref=myi_title_dp  


Nick Shipley - Reviewer

Nick is a compliance consultant by day, a board gamer at night, and a husband and father always. When he is not bringing a game to the table, he is running (most often to or from his kids) or watching the New York Yankees. Nick lives in Oklahoma.

See Nick's reviews HERE.
Escape From Iron Gate Review Escape From Iron Gate Review Reviewed by Nick Shipley on August 01, 2019 Rating: 5

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