It’s been three days since the police made you and your crew for that big heist that was supposed to be your last. You and your former heist-mates are on the lam, twenty-three skiddoo, you’re Paul McCartney and Wings circa 1973. All that stands between you and sipping Bahama Mamas on the beach is a city full of cops…a city full of cops AND your table mates. You glance around the table as the final round begins and you try to figure out who’ll be the first one to make their escape. The board is littered with map tiles, cubes, and way too many cops. You take a deep breath, one last look at your escape plan…screw it, you’re getting out first.
Hi, I’m John Gonzalez and I’ll be taking a look at Escape Plan, a Vital Lacerda game with art by Ian O’toole. Escape Plan was reviewed in episode 59 of The Five By by the incomparable Meeple Lady. For our Second Opinions episode, I’d thought I’d take a look at the solo mode that’s included in the box.
Vital Lacerda is known for designing heavy euro games that are strongly thematic, beautifully produced, and big boxed. Lisboa, Vinhos, and the Gallerist tackled the rebuilding of a city, running a Vineyard, and running an art gallery, respectively. So naturally, his latest game takes on as its theme a botched bank heist.
In Escape Plan one to five players take on the roles of post heist bank robbers. The money has been divided, invested, laundered, and is ready to be harvested like ripe, juicy grapes—sorry, I’m thinking of a different Lacerda game. During the course of three days (or rounds) players build and make their way across a city map, collecting income or liquidating their businesses for end game scoring.
Each player starts off with their own personal escape plan card that lays out not only where their money has been stashed, but whether it can be withdrawn from the business as income (cash on hand for the sundry expenses involved with escaping) or to leave it there to be scored at the end of the game.
Certain actions increase players’ notoriety levels, which in turn changes player turn order. Once a player crosses one of three notoriety thresholds, players with less notoriety can move a police officer token closer to the offending player.
The game ends once all the players have escaped or at the conclusion of the third day. The player who escapes with the most money wins.
Meeple Lady’s assessment that Escape Plan shines when players are actively trying to get the law enforcement meeples in each other’s way is spot on. So, what happens when that human element is removed and you’re playing solo?
The solo mode in Escape Plan embellishes on the two player mode which involves the addition of a third player that is partially controlled via a deck of cards. Police Inspector Sandra’s main function in the game is to narrow down player choice by visiting businesses and potentially closing them down. At all player counts, when a business is visited by a certain number of players, that business is closed and can only be accessed by obtaining a key from the convenience store locations. The Inspector Sandra bot adds more pressure to an already tense game but you’re not really competing against her like you would with a real opponent as she doesn’t score points throughout the course of the game.
For the solo mode in Escape Plan, the player will use Inspector Sandra and another bot, the corrupt Lieutenant Costa. During the bots’ turns, the player draws cards from The Inspector Sandra and Lieutenant Costa decks and carries out the listed actions. I appreciate the cards for their elegant and terse icon based instructions. On the card it tells you whether the bot gains or loses notoriety, what location they will visit, and what cards and tiles they are to discard or gain.
Once a location has been visited by the bot, that card is removed, meaning that they will never return to the same location twice. This is a nice touch that lets the player plan around the card draw. If the card you drew has a location that’s not yet on the board, well, you’re not off the hook, you keep drawing cards until you draw a suitable location. Unused cards are shuffled back into the deck. Costa works in a similar manner, only moving to a location if the player is there, or in an adjacent location. The way this system works is that you’re always likely to find yourself being chased across the board by Inspector Sandra and Lieutenant Costa.
Just like Sandra, The lieutenant is able to visit safe houses and businesses. He does however, have his own escape plan that will factor- in to his end of game score. The bad lieutenant scores points at the end of the game based on how many businesses and safe houses he’s visited and for any cards and locker tiles he’s collected.
The solo mode in Escape Plan is pretty intense and offers an interesting challenge. I love that it requires low upkeep and bookkeeping. The two card decks that govern the bots’ actions ensure that a solo game is manageable and that you’re not expending too much brain power following complicated bot routines and procedures. I did find the solo game to be less challenging than playing with human players. Laying out the city tiles at the beginning of each day, usually a task done in turn order by all players, is relegated to the solo player. So, you’re able to layout the map in a way that is most beneficial yourself. During one game I managed to create a long water way which counted as one space and I was able to move through a large section of the map with minimal movement cost. Also, if Inspector Sandra and Lieutenant Costa gain too much notoriety and you have less, you get to move police officer pawns toward them. This works to your benefit and if you keep your notoriety low throughout the game, you can pretty much clear a path to the exit by day three.
Overall, the solo mode in Vital Lacerda’s Escape Plan retains some of the tense tactical decision space provided by the game at higher player counts, but under the right circumstances you can pretty much run the board and set yourself up to make a big score.
I’ve played it at all player counts and find it to work best with three or four players. That’s not to say the solo and two player modes aren’t great, they’re just not the main attraction. As it is, they’re fun alternatives if you already have access to the game. Escape Plan is a luxury item in a luxury hobby. The presentation and quality of the game is commensurate with its price tag and I strongly recommend it at the higher player counts. But if you’re looking to Escape Plan for a primarily solo experience, then I hope you’ve recently made your own big score and are flush with cash.
For the Five By, I’m John Gonzalez. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram as bookofnerds. Thanks for listening.