Reviewed by Herb Levy
DROP SQUAD: THE ESCAPE! (Bush League Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 5 and up, 15-30 minutes; $49.99)
One of the most successful game shows on American television is the venerable The Price is Right. Starting back in the 1950s (!), this game show underwent many changes through the years including hosts and format but the basis of the game remained the same: guessing the correct price for a variety of items. But that wasn’t enough. To make things more interesting, “games” within the game were introduced. Possibly the most recognizable was one called “Plinko”.
The board to Plinko is a large upright rectangle with pegs all over it. The contestant would release a large disc from the top and, through lucky placement, hope to have the disc as it bounced from peg to peg end up in a winning slot at the bottom. Simple, right? Fascinating? Surprisingly, yes, but not much of a game. But what if a smidgen of strategy was added to make this more like a game? Bush League Games has pursued that idea and come up with something decidedly similar: Drop Squad: The Escape!
Drop Squad comes in a large box that holds the large board and lots of plastic “ramps’: short ones in red, medium ones in yellow and large ones in blue. There is also a deck of cards. Two kickstands are attached to the board so that it is semi-vertical. (You have a choice as to where to place the stands to modify the angle.)
All players choose a character and get marbles (aka “balls”), the number depending on the number of players, and a goal piece in their chosen color. These goals are placed at the bottom of the board.
Every round starts with all players drawing cards (6 for a 2 player game, 4 with 3 players and 3 with 4 players) and plays one. Number cards (1, 2 and 3) allow you to play a red, yellow or blue ramp onto the playing area. A Wild card gives you the choice of any of those three. The “Extra Ball” card compels a player to draw – and play – another card and also gives that player the ability to play another marble this round. “Pivot” allows you to rotate any already played ramp on the board! But there are restrictions!
There is a line of red pegs on the board. No ramp may span that red line. All ramps must be placed on a diagonal: NO horizontal or vertical placement allowed! Ramps cannot be placed on the two pegs above an opposing player’s goal (but you can place a ramp above your own) nor can you block a goal (with a 3 blue ramp). Also, ramps may not be used to “catch” a marble between the board and its edge, interfering with its journey downward. Once the card has been played and the ramp placed, the marble is dropped!
Releasing the marble from anywhere at the top of the board, players watch the ball bounce from peg to peg, slide from ramp to ramp and tumble to the bottom. The goal is to have that marble land in your goal. If it doesn’t, well, there’s always next round. But if it does, great! A scoring peg is added to that goal! (If another player’s marble happens to land in YOUR goal, it still counts for YOUR score!) The game continues for a set number of rounds – 6 for a 2 player game, 4 when there are three players and 3 with four players in the game. The player who has notched the most pegs when the last round is done claims the win!
While “Drop Squad” as a name makes sense, “The Escape” does not. You are not “escaping” from anything here! (Unless you think you are “escaping” from the doldrums or being bored but that’s a stretch.) Although there are pieces for FIVE players, there is only room for the placement of FOUR goals! What’s that about? As the main target audience for this game is children, you can understand the use of cartoon artwork and stickers found in the game but they have no effect on play and are completely superfluous. Because the main target audience is children, you can expect for this game to get a lot of punishment. The good news is this baby can take it! High marks are given for its physical quality. This stuff will take lot of handling! Storage might be an issue as this box is BIG (about 2 feet long and a little over a foot wide)! But internal storage is impressive. ALL pieces fit snugly into a foam insert so they won’t shake, rattle or roll.
There is an undeniable pleasure to see your marble rattle and bounce on pegs as it hurtles towards the bottom of the board. Will your drop result in the marble finding the goal? Or fail miserably? The pure randomness of this bouncing is partially ameliorated through ramp placement and card play giving you a feeling of at least a semblance of control. As a round continues and more ramps placed on the board, fewer and fewer cards remain in your hand, reducing options. Pivot cards, that allow you to rotate pieces, are a nice touch in changing the landscape – but we would have added the option of either rotating OR removing a ramp for added decision-making OR discarding the Pivot and drawing a new card (for possibly a better card play option). The game doesn’t last very long – only six rounds at the most – so time at the table is relatively short (a good thing in playing with younger children with short attention spans) but fun all the same. Because “following the bouncing ball” is so curiously addictive, a longer game might have been even more satisfying for older gamers.
Drop Squad: The Escape! is an amusing entry in the skill and action genre of gaming, combining the luck of “follow the bouncing ball” with a little card play strategy. All in a beautiful package! – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy
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