Level 7 [escape]
In the typical “dungeon crawler” you and your group are heroes with awesome powers and weapons made for destroying any enemy or obstacle in your way. You attack enemies, and they attack you. You also usually have stats that you track based on health, defense, attack strength (melee and range) and intellectual ability.
In Level 7 [escape] you and your group are weak test subjects that are better off sneaking through danger rather than drawing attention by attacking enemies. You’ll come across security guards and aliens. Not only are they your enemies, but they are also enemies to each other (something worth taking advantage of)! The stats being tracked in this game involve how much of a threat you are to the facility, how much adrenaline (health) you have, and how calm or scared you are.
You and your fellow test subjects awaken to find yourselves deep inside a facility called Subterra Bravo (think Area 51). Starting with nothing but the clothes on your back (and the taste of nasty viscous liquid in your mouth) your goal is to make it out alive. It’s called Level 7 because you must make your way through seven levels (like floors in a building) to escape.
The game is scenario based, which means there is a separate booklet with seven scenarios. You can follow the story of the game by starting with scenario one and playing through to scenario seven or you can choose to play a specific scenario. We highly recommend playing them in order first.
The scenarios make the game fun to play over and over because each offers a different setup with different objectives. A strategy that worked in the level six scenario may not work on level three. Each scenario also has three difficulty levels. If you’re having a hard time beating a scenario, you can try easy mode. If you want more challenge, there’s always hard mode.
Once you’ve chosen your scenario gameplay involves exploring rooms in the facility while trying to reach your objectives which allow you to escape. Each room is a separate tile, so you’ll be creating the board as you explore, which makes for a unique experience each time you play!
A turn starts with moving and performing challenges. Challenges are essentially skill checks where you must roll a certain number of successes to accomplish the challenge. Challenges use either your strength or intelligence and involve things like sneaking past an enemy, attacking them, hacking a terminal, etc.
After this you draw an event card which typically triggers something to happen based on the room you’re in. Event cards also control what the enemies will do, letting you know when a security guard or clone will appear, and when they activate.
After you resolve the event card the next player takes a turn, and this continues until the players escape (or don’t). Players who escape are the winners of that scenario, but you don’t have to all work together or make it out. Players can choose to leave others behind, even use them as bait (although that’s pretty cruel).
Gameplay [your character]
To help describe what makes the gameplay fresh and unique, let’s take a look at the stats you’ll track for your character:
You will start each scenario with three, four or five vitality. This determines the number of adrenaline cards you’ll start with, and the maximum number of those cards you’ll be able to keep in your hand at any given time. If you get injured you will have to discard a number of adrenaline cards based on how badly you were injured. Say a security guard attacks you and you take two damage, you’ll have to discard two adrenaline cards.
If you ever have to discard an adrenaline card due to injury and can’t, you are “knocked out” and your overall vitality lowers by one. If you’re at three vitality and get knocked out, you’re dead.
Adrenaline cards are also the cards that let you perform special actions, raise/lower your fear and boost the dice you roll for challanges. You only draw one adrenaline card each turn, so there is a balance between using them as actions or saving them to defend yourself. Each adrenaline card you play will end up raising or lowering your fear, which leads me to the second stat you’ll be tracking…
Waking up in an underground facility (similar to how Neo “woke up” in The Matrix movie) full of security guards and flesh eating alien clones can be a scary ordeal. In order to make it out alive you need to control your fear.
Your character has a fear scale of 1-8. You start the game at three, and then adrenaline cards, skills and encounters can raise or lower that fear. If your fear is low, you’ll be good at challenges that require intellect (like hacking a control panel) but you won’t be good at attacking enemies. If your fear is maxed out, you’ll be able to move further and hit harder, but you’ll also be much more appealing to aliens.
Aliens in this game feed on fear, literally. They love to eat humans, and the more scared the human is the tastier they are. They move towards humans that are the most scared. Notice we said humans. You and your fellow test subjects, along with the security guards, are all tasty humans. If you keep your fear lower than the security guards, you’re much less likely to become a tasty snack!
Maintaining control in a facility that is running tests on humans and aliens can be a tricky task. When test subjects start running amuck the security guards must focus on the biggest threat at any given time. Making sure that the aliens are more of a threat than you is vital to make it out alive.
In most scenarios you will start with zero or one threat. You gain threat by being aggressive. Knocking an alien out, kicking a locked door down, moving into an area with a gun in your hand… these all cause you to gain threat. Note: some things cause you to permanently have more threat, while others simply give you more threat for the moment.
Unlike fear which you can easily raise or lower, threat is easy to gain but much harder to get rid of. Also, if you become too threatening the facility can go into lockdown. Lockdown causes your group to have a limited number of turns left in the game to escape, and going into lockdown before you’ve found your exit can mean failure.
The components work very well to allow players to be immersed in the game. The artwork is spot on with the dark and scary sci-fi atmosphere, and the fully illustrated flat stand-up characters and enemies are quite nice compared to miniatures which many gamers don’t have the time or desire to paint. The custom dice are also a nice touch.
The scenarios are ordered in a way that allow you to gradually learn the rules of the game. They also have great introductory stories that get you immersed in the game. Because the rulebook can be difficult to refer back to when you’re looking for clarification, we recommend downloading the rulebook as a PDF so you can simply use your PDF reader (laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc.) to search for the term/rule in question.
This is one of those games that can be a bit tricky to learn, but is easy to teach. Only one player needs to know the full set of rules, while the others can easily play by knowing the basics of what their character can do. After you play the first couple scenarios you’ll have the basics down, but each scenario changes things up, so there’s a bit of a learning curve for each scenario. We did need to go to the Privateer Press forums to clarify some things in the rule and scenario books, but they’ve since published an errata so you’ll want to give that a look if you own the game.
Who would enjoy this game?
The game being scenario based might cause some to ask “does the game have much replay value and will I play the game again after I’ve beaten all the scenarios?” The short answer is yes! The long answer is… If you only played each scenario once, you’d have seven gaming sessions. You probably won’t successfully escape all the levels the first time, so if you’re like us you’ll want to try again until you make it out alive! So now you’ve got a game that you’ll bring out at least 10 times.
Each scenario will have you setting up the game in a unique way, with different objectives and rules. You’ll get to explore different strategies for each scenario. On top of that each scenario has an easy, normal and hard mode. If you’re looking for the ultimate challenge, try to get the same four characters through all seven scenarios alive… in hard mode!
Another shining aspect of the game that I can’t speak highly enough about is how you are not the only enemy on the board, and you have the ability to use this to your advantage. It’s very gratifying when you sneak past a guard and an alien and then watch them fight each other.
A part of the game that can be a struggle is the fact that you ARE able to attack enemies, but you probably shouldn’t. You’ll even find pistols and other objects that you can use as weapons. But attacking enemies and busting down doors is a slippery slope that will only draw unwanted attention. The reason this can be a struggle is because most board games and video games have you blowing enemies away, not trying to sneak peacefully past them. That all said, it actually adds to what makes this game so fresh, tense and fun.
We’ve enjoyed many other dungeon crawler games where our group barely survives as we battle hordes of monsters in dark dungeons. But before this game we had never experienced what it was like to be part of a group of nearly defenseless test subjects, balancing our level of fear as we tried to escape a facility we were never meant to escape!
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