- Simple to learn & play
- Really cool board
- Simple deduction mechanism
- Board glitches
- Game can drag on
- Sales patter was a bit much
Moonquake Escape is a game by Jack Johnston in which players take on the role of hardened criminals escaping from a prison planet.
We played this game Friday night at Midnight during SaltCon 2018 with the designer of the game. He flagged us down and gave us the elevator pitch. We agreed to have him teach us the game. We learned how to play and then went through a quick version.
Moonquake Escape is a cool game. It has a spinning board, bluffing, shooting, and a race to the finish. When Jack explained it to us he described it as a mix between 3 card monte and two other games I can’t remember. And he was right, it feels just like he described.
In Moonquake Escape the players start on the outermost ring, having just escaped an interplanetary super-max prison. There is a robotic guard chasing you down, and room for only one escapee on the last rocket off the world. In a race to the finish, players must guide their characters to the launch pad and have enough fuel to escape the doomed world. Of course, they don’t play fair. Players can shoot one another, drop the warden-bot on each other’s heads, and otherwise trip up their competitors.
Of course, that isn’t all. Players will also have to deal with the changing landscape of the planet as the Moonquake shifts everything. All in all, this game can take almost no time at all, or it can be excruciatingly long. It all depends on how good at guessing, and how good at strategy a player is.
We could tell that Jack had his explanation memorized and had been reciting it for years. He’s a friendly guy, but we couldn’t help but feel like the people standing on a street-corner watching a guy play…wait for it…3 card monte. Yeah, he had the quick patter, the gestures to draw the eye, and the whole performance bit down. It was eerie walking past him later in the convention and hearing the same bit. It felt like he was trying to con us into liking his game, and sure, he was.
He didn’t need to con us into anything. It’s a good game. Well designed, and with a fun theme. I do have a few complaints about the experience I had with it, but they’re relatively minor. Honestly, it’s a good game and his patter made it more memorable.
Moonquake Escape’s Best Points
There’s a lot to recommend Moonquake Escape. It has a spinning game-board, a moon that actually orbits and spins on its own, custom dice, and really fun artwork. It’s got mechanisms that make this a light, fun, family friendly board game with some solid strategy to it.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room. This game has a spinning board. It’s a really, really cool gimmick that changes how the game plays. Every round one player rolls the included die once for each ring to see how the moonquake changes the board. It’s a cool mechanism that makes every round different. It’s also not something I’ve experienced before. I enjoyed it.
Completely aside from the spinning game-board, Moonquake Escape uses quite a few gimmicks. A spinning moon to determine how much energy players get during a turn and a custom die are all things that seem like they would be too over the top. The truth is, however, that they are perfect for this game. It wouldn’t be the same without them.
At the core of Moonquake Escape’s mechanisms is the ability to shoot another player and reveal a face-down card. One of the face-down cards in front of each player is their alien. If your alien is revealed, you effectively lose a turn and have to catch up. It’s fun guessing how players arrange their cards and it’s even better when you guess right. It makes you feel really smart.
Moonquake Escape’s Worst Points
Of course, as is true with every game, Moonquake Escape had a few warts. For me Jack Johnston’s patter was a barrier to getting into the game. It’s looked interesting to me since I saw him with a prototype at SaltCon a couple of years ago. The only issue was how similar the patter was to being conned by a used car salesman or a hustler. This isn’t to insult Jack, or to say that his presentation isn’t effective. It is! It just made me wary of the game.
The biggest issue I faced with Moonquake Escape was the spinning board. Several times the rings would get stuck and spin the rings above or below the one I was trying to spin. It’s not a huge deal, it’s just a minor annoyance that turned out to be a pain to deal with. Additionally, the marks with which you align the board are little pipes. For me, after midnight, it was a bit hard to clearly see where each subsequent pipe connected to the last. I’m sure if I were looking at it now, I wouldn’t have that problem.
The spinning moon also hit a few snags from time to time, but that was a rare enough occurrence that it wasn’t really a problem. The biggest concern with the moon was that each time you get the game out or put it away you need to disassemble the board. As with most plastic clips over cardboard, I worry that the cardboard piece will wear out and make the game unplayable.
Finally, the game has the potential to drag on for a very long time. This is especially true if players are really good at guessing or particularly bad at strategy. Without Jack’s pointed suggestions when we played, the game would likely have gone on a while longer than it did during our playthrough. I blame how late it was, but you can blame my poor strategic thinking if you want.
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