If you've played Themeborne's Escape the Dark Castle, you'll be forgiven for thinking this is just more of the same. The game's listing on BoardGameGeek even refers to it as a reimplementation of Escape the Dark Castle. Certainly it's by the same creative team of Alex Crispin, Thomas Pike and James Shelton, and it uses similar black & white, pen & ink art, but there's a bit more to it than a mere transposition of setting from D&D-style fantasy to science fiction.
Both games appeal to players' nostalgia for the old 'choose your own adventure' books, popularised by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone in their Fighting Fantasy paperbacks, tho' the format predates these. As we've detailed previously on Board's Eye View, the first role-playing games to appear without a gamesmaster were the solitaire adventures designed for Ken St Andre's Tunnels & Trolls (Flying Buffalo).
Instead of a book, Escape the Dark Sector (and Castle) uses large format cards. On the plus side, this delivers variation and replayability that just wouldn't be possible with a book, tho' the downside is that it's rather harder for randomly selected cards to deliver a coherent story-like narrative. Escape the Dark Sector improves on its predecessor tho' by separating the cards into three 'acts'. You get 16 different cards for each 'act', and you play with five of these to make a deck of 15 in any game you play. At the bottom, you'll place your randomly selected boss monster, and you'll place a randomly chosen start card on the top of the pile. Each turn, players reveal the next card and follow its requirements - mostly rolling combinations of the custom six-sided dice, taking hit points when injured but hopefully also collecting weaponry and other items to help you complete the mission. We liked the way that hit points are now recorded as a graph, so players end up with what looks like a medical chart tracking their health. It's a small tweak but still an improvement on the blank sheets of the Escape the Dark Castle.
The designers have upped the options in this science fiction iteration, so there are a few more rules to assimilate in comparison with the fantasy version, but this is still a light and very accessible game. There seemed to us to be scope for a little more agency in comparison with Escape the Dark Castle, tho' you'll still largely be rolling dice to determine success or failure.
Escape the Dark Sector is designed for up to four players but it's at its best in our view as a solo game. Sensibly, the rules recommend, however, that solitaire players play with two characters rather than one. If expansions are in the pipeline we'll hope to see more nods to established SF franchises like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. Come on Themeborne, make it so! And so say we all.