Escape from 100 Million BC is a cooperative board game, in which players take on the roles of the crew of the first ever time-expedition. Their ship machine has crashed on the crater of a volcano back in 100 Million BC, and they need to scour the countryside for missing Time Machine parts, so that they can get home. Unfortunately, every action they take in the past sends ripples through the timeline, and they need to carefully avoid hosts of fearsome dinosaurs, as well as keeping an eye out for Time Castaways – figures from history accidentally brought back to this time by the disruption they have caused. It’s a race against time to escape back to the present before the paradoxes become so severe that time itself is destroyed. It’s a thrilling premise, but can Escape from 100 Million BC deliver, and is it any good? Let’s find out.
Escape from 100 Million BC – what’s in the box?
Escape from 100 Million BC packs plenty into a fairly small box – there’s a large board, with hexagonal tiles to represent the countryside you explore. There are player boards, along with standees for the time travellers, and for dinosaurs and time castaways they meet. There are plenty of cards for equipment, dinosaurs, and adventures, along with numerous cardboard tokens, wooden crates to represent equipment, and a great big pile of dice to roll.
Overall, the component quality is solid. There is nice art on most of the cards, and the dinosaur cards come complete with added bits of historical trivia: nothing feels like it’s going to fall apart, the text is clear, and most of the time you’ll be able to follow clearly what’s going on. The box insert is slightly irksome, as you’ll struggle to get everything back in without dismantling the standees after every game, but if you throw it away, the empty box will hold everything comfortably. I particularly liked the fact that, as a game which often requires you to roll stacks of dice, Escape from 100 Million BC actually provides enough dice to roll, without having to constantly cannibalise from elsewhere.
Sounds good, so what do we do?
Essentially you have 2 main objectives in Escape from 100 Million BC. 1.) Find enough Time Machine parts to go home, and 2.) Try to avoid causing too many paradoxes in the process.
To find Time Machine parts, you’ll need to go exploring – every character has a movement rating, and you can spend a point of movement to move onto an adjacent hex. At the start of the game, the map is unrevealed, with nothing more than the generic terrain type known, but when a player-character enters the space for the first time, you’ll reveal a tile, and see what’s there.
Where am I going? – Unknown territory!
The Symbols for 1) A Herbivore, 2) An Adventure and an Item, 3) A Carnivore, and 4) An Aquatic Creature and a Time Machine Part
There are a few things to pay attention to with terrain tiles- firstly, you need to look at what’s going to be on your tile – some are blank, but most will have something for you to encounter, whether that be a dinosaur, an adventure, or an object. Encountering one of these things immediately ends your movement for the turn, but gives you either a problem to tackle, or the opportunity to gain something from an adventure.
You also need to be on the lookout for open and closed paths. When you move onto an unexplored space, you can do so from any side but, once the tile has been placed, some of the sides will be clear (“open”) whilst others will have brown lines along them “closed”. The rulebook then gets slightly technical, and not particularly clear about the distinction between “closed,” “blocked” and “partial” paths (is it 1 brown line or 2?) but the basic gist is “you can’t move through a line.”
This bit of the board is a dead-end
If you imagine that the board of Escape from 100 Million BC is a vast area, full of rivers, hills, and dense jungle, then it seems perfectly reasonable to assume that you wouldn’t just be able to move where and when you like. That said, the boundaries, and the differences between various types of path just felt quite fiddly, frustrating, and overall random, rather than creating any real sense of place.
Dinosaurs: Fight or Run?
Roll 4, 5 or 6, and this one will just go away…
Running into a dinosaur is unlikely to be the most relaxing way to spend your morning, and Escape from 100 Million BC takes great pains to remind you of this. When you place a tile with a creature symbol on it, you draw a card from the corresponding deck – carnivore, herbivore, or aquatic.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get a “passive” creature, which gives you a chance to roll a dice, and have the animal wander off and ignore you. If not, then you’ll need to either fight it, or run away.
Fighting or fleeing from dinosaurs requires you to do a check against them – speed vs speed to flee, or brawn vs brawn to fight it.
Rolling more successes on your 4 dice than he does on his 9 is unlikely – you’re probably best off trying to beat 2 with 5, and running away
Escape from 100 Million BC is a bit of a dice-fest, and you’ll find yourself chucking large numbers of them – each 4, 5 or 6 is a success, and you need more successes on your dice than the creature gets on theirs. This is complicated slightly by the fact that 6s “explode” – meaning that they not only count as a success, but also allow you to roll an additional dice. Escape from 100 Million BC is a game with a lot of random elements, and I think these checks really epitomise that, with the outcome being highly dependent upon luck. When you encounter a creature, you have to fight or flee, and a failed attempt gives you a wound and just sends you back to step 1 (decide to fight or flee), meaning that once you find yourself in a bad place, it’s easy to get stuck in a loop – a few bad rolls can see you knocked out in a single round.
This game is educational too
Not sure about the fun? at least it’s Educational!
The designers of Escape from 100 Million BC clearly put a lot of thought into their creature cards, with historical details, thematic keywords and the like. However, as interesting and educational as this is, it just goes to make the encounters more painful: some dinosaurs have the “Pack X” keyword too. “Pack X means you discard the next X cards from the relevant deck, looking for more cards the same – if you find one, it not only increases the dinosaurs speed and strength, but also triggers the Pack keyword again, dredging through more dinosaurs. This was another example of that excessively random element the game has, as it can potentially turn a manageable, medium-sized beast into an all-destroying monstrosity.
Obviously, encountering dinosaurs shouldn’t be a piece of cake, and I really like the way that Escape from 100 Million BC offers you choices when facing a dinosaur. Kill a beast to remove its threat permanently at the cost of increasing the paradox. Spend extra resources to drive it off (no paradox, but it could come back later) Or simply run away, which will leave the timeline intact, but also leaves the creature on the board. Overall though, impossible encounters with dinosaurs felt like they just overwhelmed the rest of the game, and were too random to be enjoyable.
Is that Abraham Lincoln? Probably not
Is it weird that 3 of the Castaways are US Presidents?
One of the most fun elements of Escape from 100 Million BC ought to be the inclusion of Time Castaways. Every time the Paradox level passes a certain threshold, you’ll open a rift in time, and draw a card to see which random figure has fallen through. It might be a Roman legionary, a Union soldier or a Chinese peasant, but if you’re lucky, you’ll get to encounter Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, or Amelia Earhart (spoiler, she doesn’t make it back…)
Some of the others might look vaguely familiar from somewhere
Each Castaway will appear through one of 6 “rift” spaces on the board, and be placed some distance away from that space, based on their card. If you encounter them, you can check your willpower against their “suspicion” and convince them to follow you – if you successfully return them to their rift, they will return home, lowering paradox, and reducing the risk of them dying. If, however, they die, you can expect the paradox to go shooting up: not too much if it’s an anonymous Chinese peasant, but if Albert Einstein or JFK get eaten by a T-Rex, that’s going to make a big mess of history.
Can she rescue the Castaway?
No… turns out they’ve been eaten by a Sea Creature.
Missed Opportunity? Sadly
The Time Castaways were one of the most disappointing elements of Escape from 100 Million BC for me. It feels like they should be really interesting, putting real-world figures into this implausible situation, but once again it gets consumed by too much randomness. Often a Castaway will appear on the map in a space that you haven’t yet explored, meaning you will need to make your way towards them. However, if a Castaway is ever on the same space as a dinosaur, they are instantly killed – this turns exploration into a pot-luck game of “can you draw a tile without a dinosaur” before you can even try to engage them in discussion.
You’ll also find that there just won’t be that many Castaways in any given play-through of Escape from 100 Million BC, so a lot of the time, that potential for interesting interaction will just be sat idly in a deck of cards.
Escape from 100 Million BC: Final Thoughts
Escape from 100 Million BC wasn’t a game I knew much about before it came out, but it looked like it had potential to be really interesting, with a nice clean look, and a good, humorous approach.
Sadly, the final result just isn’t that appealing – the frustrating aspects recur whilst the fun bits gets missed. Too much is dependent upon rolling a string of sixes, or drawing the right tile at the right moment.
Randomness and the slog of facing dinosaurs aside, I’d struggle to put my finger on specific things about Escape from 100 Million BC that I didn’t like, but the overall experience just wasn’t that engaging, and I can’t see us wanting to get this one out again any time soon.
5/10 – a nice idea but the execution feels lacklustre.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.