We often have a hard time convincing Grandma and Grandpa to play board games with us on Sunday nights. They tend to prefer casual observation. We finally convinced them to play Escape from Iron Gate with us, and they were sucked right in! After a tense and close back-and-forth, Grandpa cheered as he barely escaped first for the win. The sweet taste of victory seems to have been a turning point as they have since joined us far more often than they used to.
Each player needs a unique set of common and rare supply cards to pass through each room of the prison. To accumulate these cards, you’ll need to get other players to successfully guess something you act out, something you draw, or you’ll solve a puzzle (with or without a clue) before your next turn. You can also “get lucky” if you roll doubles.
Please note that this is not a typical, clue-finding, timed, solve-your-way-out type of escape game. It’s an enjoyable use of charades, drawing, challenges, and puzzle-solving to move your meeple out of the prison on a game board. I would not put Escape from Iron Gate in the same category as the Exit series or Unlock, for example.
The puzzle cards are my favorite aspect of Escape from Iron Gate. There are some really clever “which tank will fill up first” physics puzzles, some requiring you to find and decode letters based on keys hidden throughout the gameboard, some clever clues to deduce words or phrases, and many others. When it comes to a choice between acting or drawing and solving a puzzle, I’ll choose the puzzle every time. If it’s close to your next turn and you still haven’t solved it, you can ask a fellow player to use the decoder to give you a hint. While your reward is lessened, it’s still worth it!
The “Lucky” cards add a fun twist to the game. While some may not seem quite as “lucky” as others (like losing a turn or giving away a supply card!), most provide a fun challenge or process that leads to a benefit for any player. Some are quite easy, most are just right, and some are very difficult! Call us uncoordinated, but flicking a dice to the tunnel hole with two fingers while the other three fingers rest on the basketball court is hard! We’ve done it several times, but one game, all seven players took eight or nine attempts before we gave up with an exasperated groan. =-)
The board design and aerial layout do a phenomenal job of setting the scene. You really get a semi-claustrophobic feel that you are stuck in an actual prison trying to escape for dear life. It takes you on a visual journey from the Cell Block through the picked-lock door to the Yard where you dig a tunnel into the Cafeteria, crawl through a vent to the Warden’s Office, and smash a window to sweet freedom. The old-school, semi-retro artwork gives the whole experience the feel of a stereotypical prison scene from the 50s.
I love that this game was created by a company which builds and manages actual escape rooms. The Escape Game company has premier escape rooms dotting the United States from San Francisco to Houston to New York City to Orlando. They even have one coming soon to good ol’ Salt Lake City, Utah! From a pure business perspective, I love seeing logical expansions like this to diversify revenue streams and support a core service.
Tips & Tricks
- Take your time! Our first several plays were frantic. I don’t know exactly why, but there seemed to be a race against the clock which made the game chaotic to the point of almost overwhelming. Slow it on down! Or, if you like mayhem, keep up the pace!
- Don’t give up cards early on that you need for the Cafeteria or Warden’s Office in the latter half of the game. I found myself trading often to get ahead early, but I’d then get stuck near the end.
Scoring & Wrap-up
- Puzzle cards are clever and diverse.
- Quick gameplay keeps things moving along.
- Semi-retro artwork pulls you into a 1950s-era prison scene.
- “Lucky” cards mix up the standard gameplay.
- This one seems a bit caught between a kids/family game and an adults-only game. Much of the basic gameplay seems targeted towards a younger audience (e.g., rolling dice to determine actions, collecting basic card sets to advance, simple acting and drawing, etc.). However, the puzzle difficulty and some of the “Lucky” challenges are definitely for teens/adults. Solution? Add puzzle and action decks for kids. That way, both audiences can play together.
Escape from Iron Gate is a light, enjoyable game that moves at a nice clip, has fun elements of acting and drawing, contains clever puzzles, and effectively engages many players. If you like puzzle games, acting games, drawing games, or set collection games, you’ll enjoy the merging of them all into this one!
Disclaimer: I received this game for free in exchange for my review, but believe me, I post authentic reviews every time and will be brazenly blunt if needs be.