Date played: April 29, 2020
Basic details: 1-4 players; 30 minutes
Gist of the game: You construct a lab from four sector cards and then try to build a path through the lab using tiles, avoiding any obstacles along your way, usually rockets or flaming bar things.
To start the game, players choose 4 sector cards to construct their labs, all the tiles are placed in a community pool, and 3 mission cards are revealed.
In multiplayer mode, players simultaneously work to escape their labs, trying to earn coins and complete missions as they do so. Players do this for 3 rounds. After each round, players receive gadgets that help them earn more points and a new set of sector cards. The player with the most points at the end of the 3rd round wins.
Each round has 3 phases. The 1st phase is the Run phase. Players take tiles from the community pool and try to build their way out of their lab (4 cards horizontally arranged). The path of the tiles must start off the left-hand side of the first lab card and, to successfully escape, extend beyond the right-hand side of the last lab card. The path of the tiles must be continuous, with the first square of the previous tile adjacent to one or more squares of the next tile. Tiles may not cover obstacles, overlap, or extend above or below the lab cards. Players can remove tiles to build different paths, but must do so one at a time (remove a tile, put it in the community pool, etc.) and begin with the most recently-placed tile. The Run phase ends immediately once a player’s tile extends beyond the right-hand edge of the 4th sector card, when everyone passes because none of the remaining tiles can be placed in their lab in accordance with the rules, or when the last tile from the pool is placed in a lab.
Phase 2 is the Score phase. Players earn points for each coin they have covered with a tile, for each mission they complete, and for using gadgets. Players lose points if any of their tiles violate placement rules. After scoring, gadgets are revealed (1 card revealed for every player) and players choose their gadgets in ascending order of score (so the last-place player chooses first).
Phase 3 is the Cleanup, where tiles are returned to the pool, new mission cards are revealed, and players pass their lab cards to the left (or flip them over or take new ones depending on the number of players). The game ends after the 3rd rounds Scoring phase.
In solo mode, play proceeds the same way with a few variations: a) 2 of each tile shape are put back in the box so you start with 40 tiles instead of 50; b) 2 specific mission cards are removed from play; and c) 3 specific gadget cards are removed from play.
The Cleanup phase also has some variations: a) tiles are returned to the box instead of to the pool; and b) you deal yourself a new set of lab cards.
At the end of the 3rd Scoring phase, your final score is compared to the score table in the instruction manual for a cutesy phrase (from “Eat more Steakfries, then try again!” to “You’re Barry Houdini: The Lab Escape Artist!”)
There is another solo option to solve puzzles from a booklet. There are 50 puzzles total ranging in difficulty from very easy to very difficult. Puzzles specify 2 specific lab cards to create a mini-lab, a set of tiles to take, placement instructions for some of the tiles (only in puzzles 1-26), and gadget and mission cards, if applicable. To solve a puzzle, you begin your route as usual, with at least one square of a tile outside the 1st lab sector and exit the lab with at least one square extending beyond the edge of the 2nd lab sector, and you earn a specific number of points through coins, gadgets, and missions.
Color commentary: Rounds 1 and 2 proceeded just fine, with me racking up the coins and mission and gadget points. Putting the tiles back into the box instead of back into the pool created an interesting dynamic, though, because I ran out of tiles with all 4 sectors completely filled, but without escaping, as my last tile ended at the edge of the last sector, not beyond it. I ended the game with 76 points, which was the 3rd lowest category provided. As a result, I earned the slogan, “Heading Down to Strawberry Fields.” I suppose the scope of the scale suggests I didn’t do that great, but I feel satisfied. My 1st gadget earned me points in the 2nd round, but neither of my 2 gadgets earned me points in the 3rd round. I did pretty well on missions, too, though I think you can only accomplish a mission once, which limited my points potential in a couple cases.
I really, really liked this game. I enjoyed the tactile experience of the plastic tiles. I’m excited to try the multiplayer version because of the vehicles expansion, which gives you different tiles with more placement options (i.e., you can cover up obstacles without penalty). The instruction manual explains each mission in more detail to make sure you understand, which was nice, because I thought I had to be misunderstanding one of the missions, only to discover that I was interpreting it correctly after reading the slightly more detailed description in the instruction manual. I would definitely play this game again in both solo and multiplayer mode. I also tried one puzzle, which was also fun. Probably becomes less fun the harder they get, but then, I never liked challenges that much. Give me my easy victory and let me move on.
In the multiplayer mode, the time element (literally racing against other players to leave your lab first) might make it more stressful. Mostly, though, this game reminds me of my beloved Bärenpark, which has both tile-laying and puzzle-solving elements, a la Tetris. I also love that there are 2 solo options, and neither involves building a faux lab for a faux player.
Also, randomly, the mission and gadget cards come in both a French and English set, which makes me feel a little cultured, even though I have no idea what the French cards say and just play with the English.
Thoughts M might have had if he had played: Having been deprived of Tetris in my childhood, I struggle with spatial games like this, although I do enjoy them. I just never beat Petra (P here: this is me taking advantage of the fact that I write for M on 1-player games. Mwahaha). It is a pity they couldn’t incorporate a bear theme with the jetpacks, though, which would have heightened the experience. I think because it’s a format I struggle with anyway, but I think I would prefer playing either the solo mode, where you don’t really win or lose, or play the multiplayer mode step-wise (everyone takes a turn together, but then waits until everyone is done to take the next turn), to remove the race element from it. You’d still have to be able to envision the lay of the board, or risk having to remove tiles, but it wouldn’t be a competition in the same way. The artwork on the gadget cards is fun, and it’s a pretty aesthetically-pleasing game in general.