By Mitchell Freedman
In the universe of games, sci-fi can pop up almost anywhere. Historic games with a touch of modern weapons, medieval games with one side getting the power to hex the other, dragons bursting out of dungeons or orbs devouring orcs.
Now imagine the universe of sci-fi to be a continent. Robots in the north, aliens in the center, time travelers popping in and out everywhere.
Hold that image. Now let’s put “Escape From Hades” somewhere on that world. It would, of course, end up as a pun-insula.
Yes, this solitaire game with its elder aliens who can’t attack, its powerful, angelic railguns – Gabriel and Michael – and amorphic aliens who are keeping a Princess prisoner are in a world of their own. Pun-filled, of course.
Which world? The evil prison ship of Nastians.
The heroic crew of the Vittles have to save the princess, or eliminate the Nastian officers, or get away with the Golden Idol, or do a lot of other things before they are killed by an ever-growing enemy force.
The mission is from hunger. That’s probably how the ship got its name.
Now, here’s the surprise. In the universe of puns that Manzo has created, he’s added an extra ingredient. There’s actually a pretty challenging game in the box.
Some people don’t like sci-fi games because literally anything can happen. They quickly turn into no-holds-barred fantasy, or change into something like a mob battle to control Chicago with ray guns instead of Tommy guns.
In Hades, that doesn’t happen, exactly. There are alien guards and monsters, soldiers and shock troops, traps and a tight timeline.
You have prisoners to rescue, combat resolution and recovery, and the power of a strange scientist who can do some really good things to help the crew of the Vittles, but if he makes a mistake he can end up in the sixth dimension and you lose points.
The heart of any fantasy game like this, of course, is the AI – the artificial intelligence that drives the monsters you are trying to defeat.
They start out as hidden counters, and you discover them – or they discover you – as the Vittles crew searches for treasure and the Princess and tries to disable the prison ship.
But, the game doesn’t stop there.
Manzo – the sneaky devil who unleashed Hades in the first place – has given some of those aliens a random movement.
They go in one direction or turn around and go a different way. And, since the prison is a cylindrical ship they can march right off the edge of the board and appear on the other side.
Yep. You can’t hide from those annoying random moves, because they can come around and attack you from the rear. Your rear.
Now, like a lot of solitaire games, this one can be almost as entertaining if played against a human opponent. Just follow the rules and let your opponent move the Nastians and the Gorgons who will attack anyone. They also want to blow up the prison ship.
Had enough yet?
Well, one of the best parts of the game is the combat system, There are battle cards for the space marines – or their draft-dodging equivalents – and for the Nastians. Just look at each card, subtract the nasty negative number from the positive Vittles crew number and see what you get – a positive result is good, a negative one is bad. A very negative one is very bad,
Then, Manzo throws in another nasty surprise, an orange deck with the label “Nasty Surprise Deck.” Bet you can’t guess what’s in it.
Did anyone say “Nasty Surprise?” Well, the deck does give extra alien movement with some cards, extra attacks with some others and repairs or brings in reinforcements for the Nastians with still other cards. But, the nastiest surprise of all is what happens when the deck runs out – the game is over.
Unless you decide to add one more turn. Manzo lets you do it, but it costs you five victory points -a truly nasty surprise.
It would be unfair not to tell you that I playtested this game – you can find that little fact in the rules, so I might as well admit it – anti would be unfair to lay out all the clever little surprises waiting for you as you try to rescue the Princess.
Well, I’ll give you one You have to decide when to give up on the rescue mission before the Vittles is blown up. Or, just try to get through one more turn.
So, instead, I will give you some hints on what to do once you buy Escape From Hades.
- There are no instructions on how to punch out the cardboard counters. Hold the countershaft in your hand, turn it 90 degrees counter-clockwise and press firmly in the upper right hand corner of the counter with your thumb.
- When the counters are punched out, you will notice they are very thick. This is not an accident. Do not try to separate them, because you won’t get two counters out of it. Well, you will, but bad things will happen when you try to play the depleted side.
- Finally, while you might be tempted to take advantage of the special mail-in offer included with the game, do not go to the post office and ask what the postage would be to send the coupon to Alpha Centauri. The bad things that will follow are even worse than what happens when you cut the counters in half.
Escape From Hades Home Page
Escape from Hades BGG Page
Escape From Hades Rulebook