Escape From Elba
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You're Napoleon, and so is everybody else. And all you have to do is assemble the right tools (like an Aardvark, a College Band, a little Light Reading) to escape from this dreaded place, return to France, and become Emperor of all Europe. Before some other Napoleon beats you to it.
Believe it or not, this is actually a word game. You are collecting letters and trying to spell words, like "Escape" and "Elba," that will help you get off the island. Carry the right Escape Word to the right room, and you're at least able to make an attempt at escape, though it's still not guaranteed.
They say you're insane, just because you're Napoleon. So they lock you up in a booby hatch filled with raving lunatics, all claming to be you! It's enough to make you want to conquer all of France.
Escape from Elba is an innovative approach to word games: Players get bonuses based on what they spell with the letters from 'Escape From Elba'. They might have a BROOM or a BOMB or even a bunch of BEECRAP, all of which could easily be considered a weapon. The way it works is this: You go around the asylum, beating people up and getting cards. If you win a fight, you get an extra card. If you lose, you lose a card, and get thrown into a random room, but you get stronger. To win, you have to spell one of four words (ESCAPE FROM ELBA or PEACE) and be in the proper room for that word, or spell EMPEROR or CAMPBELL in any room. Once you do that, you have to perform an escape attempt, which is more likely to work the stronger you are. So picking fights is a good thing.
The gameplay is good, and the artwork on the cards is just beautiful, done by Dork Tower's John Kovalic. My only complaint is the usage of so many dice. You've got to have at least 14 dice: 1 recognizable for each player, one to represent the guard, whose name is Niell Campbell, two to roll, and the rest to represent various other crazy people. My best solution was to disregard all that and use Icehouse pieces again. The only reason James Ernest suggested dice was that they easily represent 6 levels of progression, but so do the stackable Icehouse pieces.
Overall: Good clean fun, great gameplay, and all the creativity of a party game. The Inexpensive Pack Animal strikes again.
This game is sort of like Scrabble crossed with Dungeon. Players move around the board, making words with their letters, and fighting with asylum guards to raise their combat skill. Although I enjoy Scrabble and Dungeon (for what they are) I don't like Escape From Elba very much. Two major gripes:
1) Players have to spend a long time boosting their combat value by fighting and beating the guards. There's no storytelling or color to this; it's just repetition of a mechanic. It makes the game dull.
2) We always get into arguments about what words are weapons (which help in combat). There are so many ways to evaluate whether or not something is a weapon, and invariably the players' judgment is skewed by who's winning. This unstable mechanic detracts from the game's enjoyment.