Updated: Jul 12
If you've not previously come across the SCP Foundation, it's a secret international research institute and paramilitary organisation entrusted by governments around the globe to contain unexplained phenomena and anomalies. Without the dedicated efforts of SCP's undercover operatives, dangerous creatures, artifacts and objects would pose a serious threat to life on Earth. Don't worry, we're not breaching any Official Secrets Act, the SCP Foundation is fictional (or so governments would have us believe...). It forms a framework for creative writing and art in the science fiction and horror genres, offering an open invitation to anyone to contribute articles and short stories that extend the central narrative. The SCP Foundation has given rise to graphic novels and several video games but with Escape from Site 19, Extreme have delivered a role-playing (RPG) board game set firmly in the SCP universe.
Of course, in the SCP universe, the unusual is the norm and nothing is quite what it seems. That's true here even in the game's packaging. Rather than an oblong box, Escape from Site 19 comes in a chunky lidded cylinder - looking more like it contains a magnum-sized bottle of expensive whisky rather than a board game. You may find it a let down not getting a hit of alcohol but the game itself doesn't disappoint.
Escape from Site 19 is a mostly cooperative game designed for 3-5 players. Each takes on one of the 26 different different roles, and to get the most out of the game players should really try to throw themselves into their character's role. Each character has their own unique positive and negative traits and a special ability. Ideally, players will choose asymmetric characters with traits and abilities that complement each other, and tho' the game offers a staggering number of permutations of characters, the rules suggest the characters that you should choose for your first play of the game.
You'll be playing by moving along a track, and movement relies on a custom version of a standard six-sided die. The use of a simple roll & move mechanic may cause hardened gamers to groan but it does have the compensatory advantage of being in the familiar comfort zone of non-gamers. And in any event, the movement isn't the main thrust of the game - that's the challenges you encounter (the decks you draw from) and these are of incremental difficult the further you are along the track).
Each turn, you'll move and draw a card from the deck that corresponds to the space you are: initially 'Safe', then 'Euclid, then 'Keter' until eventually you encounter the SCP-0001 card, which will be the adventure's 'big bad'. The decks are all pretty hefty (100 cards in each of the Safe, Euclid and Keter decks, and 11 different SCP-0001 cards, so you could play Escape from Site 19 numerous times and never encounter the same tasks and challenges.
The currency of the game is the Authorisation Keys (AK): metal tokens rather than the plastic or cardboard chits that are commonly used in games. Players earn tokens for successfully completing the tasks on the cards they draw. The tougher the challenge, the more AK you can earn but, beyond the Safe area, you forfeit tokens whenever you fail a task. You can spend AK too to buy 'Thaumiel' cards: these give you benefits, such as automatic success on a challenge, but their cost increases the further you are along on the board track.
In addition to other penalties, when you fail a task you also place out a token in the 'lockdown' area of the board. If the number of lockdown spaces corresponding to the number of players is filled, then it's game over and the players collectively lose. Play is in real time too - in that you should set a timer at the start, again linked to the number of players, and you lose if you run out of time: 150 minutes for a three-player game, 180 minutes for four players, and 210 minutes for a five-player game. That's quite a generous allotment of time: our Board's Eye View plays were won or lost in around half that time, and we suspect that some players would struggle to maintain commitment throughout if the game really was taking more than three hours to complete.
The game comes with a warning that it's designed expressly for adults. That doesn't mean it has X-rated or inherently NSFW ('Not Safe For Work') content but the designers warn that 'Some parts of the game include unusual physical and mental tasks. Consequently, some of them might seem unpleasant, disgusting or frightening.' We toyed with including in this review examples from the various decks but erred on the side of avoiding Spoilers. We'd still categorise Escape from Site 19 as a party game, but it's not a party game like any other and it's a game that you should only break out with the right group of players. For some, the physical challenges may be too Extreme. And don't forget Escape from Site 19 is also part-RPG. There are places in the game where players have to make a speech or recount some of their past history entirely in character.
It's worth mentioning that there are several idiosyncrasies that confound expectations. There are, for example, no playing pieces. Instead the rules suggest players use an object that's personal to them. You might typically take off a ring to use as your playing piece. For the purposes of our Board's Eye View 360, we substituted Muppet and Looney Tunes Lego minifigures. The omission of playing pieces is obviously a very deliberate design choice rather than a cost-saving measure: nothing else about this lovingly produced game suggests cost-cutting. You may be surprised to find, for example, a box of matches and a candle shaped to represent the SCP logo. These come into play for certain challenges that might include burning an item or completing a task lit only by candlelight. Players are also urged to bring snacks and a drink to the table, as they may encounter challenges in which these may feature.
Escape from Site 19 is all about the shared collective experience but there's strategy too. You need to treat your Authorisation Keys as a resource rather than merely as a currency to hoard and there are judgement calls to be made about when and where it's best to spend your AK to buy Thaumiel cards (and Administrator cards when you play with the Administrator as one of your characters). With its candlelight, theme and RPG elements, some of our team found similarities with Nightmare Horror Adventures: Welcome to Crafton Mansion (Team Identity) but, in truth, Escape from Site 19 is in a league of its own. With the right group, it's an immersive and memorable experience. It will especially appeal to those who already have some familiarity with the bizarre SCP universe.
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