Dale Yu: First Impression of Escape from Iron Gate

Escape from Iron Gate

  • Designer: uncredited
  • Publisher: The Escape Game
  • Players: 3-8
  • Age:  13+
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Times played: 2, with review copy provided by The Escape Game
  • Weblinks: https://amzn.to/2Y4G15a 

Escape from Iron Gate is the new party game from The Escape Game.  Yes, not really a traditional board game publisher, but the physical escape room franchise.  This game is based on their Prison Break escape room – which is currently available in a number of cities around the country. https://theescapegame.com/

In this game, players find themselves incarcerated in prison for a crime that they did not commit.  As a group, you work together to plan a prison break. Sadly, only one player is going to escape. In order to do this, you have the be the first player to move though the four areas of the jail (The Cellblock to the Yard to the Cafeteria and then to the Warden’s Office) and out the Final Gate to claim victory and the sweet freedom of leaving the Iron Gate Prison.

This two page spread from the rules pretty much tells you all the rules:

But I’ll describe them in a bit more detail now.  The board shows the four different areas of the prison.  Players choose their meeple and place it in a prison cell.  If you have more than 5 players, some of you will have to be “roomies”.   There are five different decks of cards, each is shuffled and placed on the corresponding spot on the board.  Each player gets a starting hand of 3 common item cards. The reference cards should be made available to all players to view as they need.  Finally, each player is dealt one gate card for each area. These cards tell you what you personally need to get out of each area.

Gate cards

On your turn – you first roll the two dice.  If both match (both show A or both show P), you draw a corresponding card – Action or Puzzle – as well as a Lucky card.  If you do not match, you only get to draw EITHER an Action or Puzzle card. Then, follow the instructions on all of the cards you drew this turn, resolving the Lucky card first if you drew one.  Beware, the cards say “Lucky”, and sometimes these Lucky cards can be anything but… Some might cause you to lose your turn or have to give up a card at random. But, sometimes that can also give you nice unexpected bonuses too…

“Lucky” doesn’t always mean what you think it means

If you drew a puzzle card, you have until the start of your next turn to say the answer aloud.  If you answer it, the answer is checked by your neighbor (using the decoder thingamajig). If you solve it without help, get a rare item.  If you needed a hint, get a common item. IF you are wrong, no soup for you (nor any other item card). The clue is on the puzzle card itself.  If you need a clue, give the card to your neighbor, and they can use the decoder to read you the hint.

If you drew an action card, it will tell you if it is an “act” or “draw” card.  You have three choices of words on the card (easy, medium, hard) – and you choose one of them.  You now have 30 seconds to act or draw something to get another player to guess the word. Depending on the difficulty, you and the correct guesser get common or rare item cards from the supply – there is a chart on the reference card to tell you who gets what.

Once you have done that, then you can take one action – trade with the commissary, trade with other players, pass a gate or do nothing.  If you trade with another player, you are free to come up with whatever terms you want. If you trade with the commissary, there is a specific set of trading formulas – all recapped on the reference.  Also, note that depending on where you are, there is a specific rare item which can be used to trade for anything (well, anything except for cake). IF you want to get through a gate, turn in the required items from your corresponding gate card.  If you get through the final gate, you win!

My thoughts on the game

This is an interesting foray into the boardgame arena from a company which is obviously best known for its physical escape rooms.  I love the way that the company is trying to bring the puzzle solving experience home. It’s also probably a pretty swell way to try to get their escape room patrons to shell out a little bit more cash by taking home a copy of the game as they leave the actual escape room.  Of course, you can also buy it on your own – for instance, at Amazon – https://amzn.to/2Y4G15a

(Note that the Opinionated Gamers may earn an affiliate bonus from the Amazon link – but any earnings are used to help keep our independent blog afloat!)

Overall, it’s a fun experience.  Is it as challenging as a real escape room?  Surely not. But, that would be nearly impossible to do – but I think this one holds up fairly well in the overall genre of escape room games.  This one has the nice twist that it is a competitive game and not a cooperative. It is also nice that this isn’t timed per se – there is a mild time limit placed on a puzzle card, but it’s not a strict thing.  Once we figured it out, our group did have a nice meta-gaming decision of rushing through certain turns to make sure that someone didn’t have enough time to solve a puzzle!

Player count changes the game.  If there are more players in the game, players will have more time to try to finish a puzzle card before their turn comes back around.  However, in a higher count game, there is much more downtime. Sure, everyone is eligible to participate in a trade and to vie for an action card reward, but those turns aren’t as interesting as when you’re the active player.  My first game was with 5 players, and this seemed to be a nice balance for me. 

Also, for whatever its worth, our group tends to choose the puzzle cards.  Maybe we’re selfish and we just want to get the rare item for ourselves without having to give anything to an opponent – but I think that we also found the success rate with the puzzle cards to be a little higher than the difficult level of the Action cards.  Obviously, YMMV with that.

Is it replayable?   Yeah. I don’t know if it is infinitely replayable, but man, the stack of puzzle cards is over 4 inches tall… and you’re only going to see the ones that you draw.  There are admittedly only a set number of types of puzzles, and with a few of them, once you have cracked the overall puzzle issue, it’s just a matter of busywork to continually solve the same style of puzzle.  The picture puzzles are the most difficult as they simply can’t be predicted. This type of puzzle requires you to generate a common phrase from the picture. Again, sometimes you see it, and sometimes you just don’t.

The clue system is pretty good, though I do kind of wish that you didn’t also see the answer when you were reading the clue to someone.  Again, not that you would likely end up seeing a repeat card in the future given the number of cards included, but it does sometimes give a spoiler answer away to a puzzle that might have been fun to try to crack on your own…

i will spoil one puzzle for you in this review to give you a feel for what they are like
my camera had a hard time focusing thru the red film
clue: ridiculous
answer: pie in the sky

So, I think that you can conceivably get a number of plays out of this before you run into too many repeats.  But, there is clearly a finite number of times that you’ll be able to play this. However, in this current gaming climate of 2019, that limit seems to be at least high enough as the average number of times that games get played these days.  It’s not as immersive experience as a real escape room, but I don’t think that there is any expectation for that. It’s a great game for people who like to test their minds and solve puzzles. Having good solving skills will help, but there is enough role for lady luck to play here to keep everyone in the game.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral. 
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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