“Hey, man, I know Sheperd is out… shepherding,” I said, feeling oddly pleased with myself for that description. “You wanna drop by? We’re gonna play a little Level 7 [Escape].”
“Level 7 [Escape]?” Garrus asked. I could hear his puzzlement over the phone. “How did you pronounce the brackets around escape? For that matter, how the hell did I? And what the the hell are we talking about?”
“A board game,” I answered. “It’s based around exploration, fear, and stealth. Come on by. You’ll love it.”
“I’ll be right over,” Garrus sighed. “Just let me finish these calibrations.”
It took him only a few minutes to come over. The Hero of Time was already here and we’d run through the first level once already, with me escaping and him dying due to me escaping too early, so we had a handle on the rules. This let us catch Garrus up quickly.
Level 7 [Escape] is a story based board game where you play one of four people that have been released from experimentation pods in a secret government facility where things have gone wrong. It would appear that aliens were being experimented on in this facility, and they’ve escaped along with you and they like the way humans taste when they’re afraid, and they can smell fear.
Worse, a bunch of soldiers have been sent down to pacify things. They’re tough and armed and there’s a lot of them. They’re confident in their abilities to kill everything they come across, which is a problem when some of the things they come across are you.
See, you play a run of the mill human. You get a couple of randomly chosen abilities, no gear, and the means to keep track of your health and fear. Lose all your health and someone has killed you. Your fear, on the other hand… the calmer you are, the easier it is to think and the harder it is to fight. The more scared you are, the harder it is to think and the easier it is to fight, but also aliens will come and eat you because they can smell you.
You get two random abilities, some of which are physical and some of which are skilled based and some which do other things. I got Zen as one of mine, for example, which let me control that all important fear meter. This was useful. Sadly, none of us got intelligence based abilities, which we didn’t think to be a problem. We were pretty certain we could get through this okay.
We were wrong.
So, we set out to explore. There’s no board in Level 7 [Escape]. Instead, a series of tiles are drawn as you explore the horror show that you’ve been locked into. You’re given scenarios, many of which require you to make skill checks to find the things you need to escape from the various things hunting you. This means you want to keep your fear down to avoid aliens, but up so that you can fight if you have to.
All of this makes for an interesting mechanic of fear-management to go along with whatever items you can find or skills you might possess as you weigh the dangers inherent in exploring the sprawling and massive facility in which you’re trapped.
Exploration yields escape, but also the aliens and soldiers that are hunting you and each other. You really want to do your best to avoid the soldiers, who go after people in their line of sight and target those who they perceive to be the highest threat. The aliens are no better, but they don’t require line of sight – they can sense those who are scared from them and follow their noses to the fearful buffet.
Players can and should work together. It’s the only way you’re going to survive. You really want a party of balanced abilities, though, so you might want to reshuffle and redraw if everyone comes up with physical talents like we did. I’m just saying it’s a good idea, because Level 7 [Escape] is as much about covering weaknesses as highlighting strengths. Co-operation and communication are a must.
All of this makes for a very tense experience, where you’re doing whatever you can to escape the terrible situation you’ve found yourself in. Rooms reveal new dangers and new opportunities, but also house the things you need to progress from one level to the next.
And, sure enough, the first level we played was a tension filled adventure that we just barely managed to escape. The second level, however…? Garrus ended up cornered by a guard, whom he decided to fight, uttering a description of his technique that would change the mood forever:
“I kick him in the balls as hard as I can.”
His die roll was successful.
See, you can kill the soldiers and aliens in this game, but it’s hard. Most of the time they end up stunned, like people who have just been kicked in the balls. So every fight thereafter was about kicking people in the balls. Soldiers? Ball shots. Aliens? Ball shots.
Monster Squad was referenced, and kept being referenced. What we didn’t know – and should have – was that there was a timer. The people running the facility were paying attention, and after a certain amount of rochambeau’ing they decided to flood the facility with a deadly neuro-toxin.
We lost without ever losing a fight. The aliens and soldiers learned to respect our ball-crushing power so much that they had to cheat to win. And, sure, we lost, but there’s something to be said for (a) discovering that aliens have nards, and (b) having a good time with friends.
And isn’t that what board games are all about?
Level 7 [rochambeau] is for 2-4 players. You might be able to do it alone, but we wouldn’t recommend it.
A single scenario is going to take you and your friends thirty minutes to an hour. Unless you’re playing alone, in which case you should be eaten pretty quickly.
Not the best party game, but with the right group of people? This game is absolute magic.