Review: Escape from 100 Million BC
Designer: Kevin Wilson
Art and Graphic Design: Sam Barlin, Delaney Mamer, Alex Horley, Netho Diaz, Vincenzo Federici, and Jordi Escuin
Players: 1-6 (solo play is playing two characters at once)
Time: 60 – 90 minutes (your first play may go long)
Reviewer: Jonathan Franklin
Plays: 3 (once solo)
Copy Origin: Complimentary from IDW
Image from IDW Publishing
[I’m going to try something new – no rules regurgitation, so don’t skip the middle of the review or you might miss the end. Please comment if you like or dislike the format.]
This game has a special spot in the pantheon of modern boardgames, so this review is also a musing on the nature of exploration, luck, teamwork, fun, and combat through the lens of this game that has all of those features.
Escape from 100 Million BC is a dicey co-op adventure/exploration game. The basic premise is that your time travel machine has broken down in 100 Million BC, the age of the dinosaurs. The land is filled with not only dinosaurs, but also equipment, figures from history who have fallen through time rifts, assorted useful equipment, and precious time machine parts. Your goal is to fix your time machine by gathering all the parts before messing up the timeline too much by generating paradoxes that you cannot get home . . . because you and your home cease to exist.
Underneath the charming tropes and effective mechanisms, Escape from 100 Million BC has a philosophy to it. It feels far more Star Trek than Star Wars. The players work together to fix their time machine while exploring a new world. They repel dinosaurs rather than necessarily trying to kill them. The justification is that you don’t want to mess with the timeline by removing a creature that otherwise existed and lived out its life. At the same time, if Andor bugged you because you wanted to kill everything in sight, you might not want to buy this game before trying it. The other major component of the game is the time castaways who you are trying to return home. This feels a bit like if Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure had had all the famous people coming to San Dimas in 100 Million BC, rather than Keanu and Alex time travelling. You want to help these time castaways get home, even when their abilities help you find time machine parts because you don’t want to mess up the timeline.
If the idea of Bill & Ted meets Star Trek appeals to you, this game is for you. If not, we should talk more what makes this game special, to determine if it is for you.
Image by Mericopparis
- Luck – this game has dice rolling and luck, but because it is a co-op and you are all working together, it is good or bad for the team. An explorer rolls to repel or kill a dinosaur while another player rolls for the dinosaur to determine the result of the interaction. One player in one game did not enjoy that one of the players had to roll for the dinosaurs, where rolling well is bad for the group. I am not sure how to remedy this, but thought I would mention it.
- Exploration – This game has a clever exploration mechanism. On a field of hexes, when you explore, you move to a new hex and flip it over, so there is alway a path back to the start. At the same time, other sides of the hex have potentially impassable hedges/barriers. Thus the board starts to resemble Disneyland, where it takes you 6 moves to move two hexes away because you have to backtrack through a clear path. Equipment, such as a machete can help in these situations and the game has quite a bit of equipment for these situations, including weapons to repel or kill, tools to make travel easier, etc. The equipment is found on the revealed hexes, but there is only a limited number, so no ‘spend the tool and then magically continue to find more by shuffling the discard pile’.
- Combat – You can kill dinosaurs, but you really don’t want to do it because it messes up the timeline and creates more paradoxes. Some equipment can help you repel the creatures, effectively scaring or non-mortally hurting them, and they then flee into the underbrush to live another day. I like the way this connection between time-travel and relative non-violence work together. Personally, the game works for me because I have no desire to kill something I can avoid while still getting what I want. In this case, what the players want are parts to fix the time machine. This feels a bit like fixing the jump drive in The Captain is Dead. It is the focus of the game, the rationale for exploration, the game timer, and makes thematic sense. If your favorite computer game is Diablo, this board game might not be for you.
- Time Travel – This game does time travel well, albeit in a pulpy way. There are ripples into the future, paradoxes, but you are not time traveling yourself, so you don’t have to go meet yourself and sort out which you is you. It does have the nice feature of sending historical and future figures back to their correct spots through time rifts, and it is ripe for amusing expansions. At the same time, the game does feel complete, so who cares if they expand it or not.
- Adventure – Yes, you can explore, repel, and help people back to their correct time, but one area for expansions or growth is the sense of adventure. Adventure cards tend to be simple skill checks with a tiny branching tree. The game’s modest adventures are fine because the focus is on getting the time machine parts, but it don’t go into this expecting an rpg in a board game. Luckily, the designer, Kevin Wilson, has already created several of those.
- Teamwork – As a co-op game, there are opportunities for teamwork and creative problem solving, but the luck factor means quarterbacking is hard. Stuff will happen and players just have to react. Yes, there are occasional dud turns, but such is life in 100 Million BC. It has the right balance for me, fun to discuss options, but not enough information/certainty to make long debates worthwhile. Turns are quick enough in most cases to prevent downtime.
- Difficulty – The game has variable difficulty settings, so have no fear that the game will remain a walk in the Jurassic park.
- Variability – There is plenty of variability in the game, from the characters you play, the dinosaurs you meet, the time travelers who you need to save, etc. In addition, the hexes are broken into terrain types, so the time machine parts are spread all across the board, which means most games won’t be too easy (all parts near the start) or too hard (all parts in the board corners).
- Art – I really like the art in this game. It suits the game and is well thought out. The colors pop, the illustrations on the cards are campy, and it fits together as a whole, rather than a disjointed set of parts. The iconography is clear, even though it took a bit for us to realize the flower is a lotus and hence it gives you will in a sort of zen way. Nice job here.
- Fiddliness – This is not really a downside, but a fact of life in this game. If there is a velociraptor on a hex, the board is not large enough to hold a real velociraptor, or even all the info on the velociraptor card. This means it needs to use tokens to connect the standee creature to a card with its stats and abilities, which necessitates numbered chits. Most of the rest of the chits are the usual wounds, will, ammo, etc. I would say moderate fiddliness, but not enough to scare you away and easy to manage after one playthrough.
- Fun – This game is fun. If you are debating between Istanbul and Stone Age, both great games, Pandemic could work, but this one might not. You need to be in the right mood, aka wanting to help Nietzsche past a Megalodon. It has been said before and will be said again, but this is a game where you want to immerse yourself by reading the flavor text and relaxing, not plowing through it to get to the next new game you ‘need’ to play.
Image by ahkaiser
Some articles discuss games that fire other games. I think this game fits in a fresh niche. It is shorter and cleaner than Fortune & Glory. It is less puzzly than Andor. It is more lighthearted than Pandemic. Maybe it is closer to A Touch of Evil, but I really like that this game is built around fixing the time machine, rather than fighting the big bad boss monster. In campy colorful episode of the Twilight Zone where you have a chance of not breaking your watch, give Escape from 100 Million BC a try.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Jonathan F.
- Not for me…
Yes! I like the new format. I can learn the rules when I play the game; much better to just talk about the feel of it and highlight the mechanisms that matter.
I do like the new format, Jonathan. I think future reviews would be better if you could just add a couple of paragraphs summarizing how the game is played. By no means do I want you to regurgitate the rules, but if you could touch on the principal mechanisms, I think that would make the sections that follow more meaningful. But I do like the categories you’re using, so a very good start!