Secret Unknown Stuff: Escape from Dulce – Sentient Cow Games – Review

"Having a background in the space career field, I found this humor perfect! All in all, the dice, the strategy, the components, and the theme make this a game I can beam up to the top of my gaming shelf."

Theme and What is it?

Escape from Dulce is based on a conspiracy theory that there is a joint alien-human base near Dulce, New Mexico.  In this game you find yourself waking up on the bottom level of the base along with a number of creatures.  The experimentation on earthlings and aliens has created some humorous mutations.  There is a two headed cow who speaks in a British accent and the Smith family who has been conjoined.  Whew, imagine being glued together with your spouse and kids for all time!

This game is a sci-fi comedy.  Sure, there are some gross looking mutant hounds to fight but there is also a sasquatch to befriend and cowboy outfit armor to find.  Maybe before you fight lizard men you have to beat them in a drinking contest first.  After you have wowed them holding all your liquor, you can turn around and stun them with a boom box and cassette tape.

The game objective is as the title implies; you must escape from Dulce.  Battle your way through levels of strange encounters that weave together a story line.  Find loot to enhance your combat and skills.  Just be careful.  Things get more difficult the closer you are to escaping!

Gameplay Mechanics

This game is all about chucking dice.  There are many in this game!  At first blush there was no strategy and I would die before even getting off the bottom level of the base.  Then I took a closer look and thought, ‘this can’t be what it is all about!’

Players work together with wildly varied abilities and skills to escape the base.  I found out you really need to think and plan what you do.  Know your enemy.  That is what this game is about.  Use their tactics to your benefit.

Sure, the luck of the dice can be frustrating at times but if anyone says this game is only about luck, they are wrong.  Players really need to communicate and plan during each encounter in order to mitigate the chance of the dice.

The game is highly customizable.  There are many options for making the game easier or harder.  There are long versions, short versions, and special missions. Expansions come with new maps and characters.  If you are dying too easily just alter equipment sets or alarm levels.

Initial Impressions

I LOVED so much about this game when I first saw it.  The sci-fi silliness and the two headed cow drew me right in.  I like the premise of a secret alien-human base married to folk-lore and unsolved mysteries.  I was intrigued by the myriads of bits, pieces, and miniatures.

Once I dug into the box, I was a little overwhelmed with how much was in there.  It comes with a 47-page instruction manual!  I dug in my heals and tackled the daunting task of learning to play.  I realized a major part of reading in this game is to immerse you into the theme; to draw you into a story.

After reading through everything and playing a couple of times, I found the game to be much simpler than it appears.  In fact, I can bring in a new player and teach them how to play in about 10 minutes!

Game Build Quality

What can I saw but WOW in this category!  Everything in this box is built to last.  The player folders have a slick plastic feel.  I don’t see these wearing out from the little clips that are placed around the edge while playing.  The cards are standard quality.  The miniatures are unique and varied.  The standies come with loose bases so the bottoms don’t get worn out.

I’m not sure how the base structures will hold up over time.  I would not want to take them apart each time I played the game.  This means they need a separate container or need to be left assembled on my game shelf. 

I don’t think I’d ever play if I had to completely disassemble the towers each time.  I did realize you can play without building the towers.  The round levels work just as well flat on your table.  You just lose the feel of going up in an underground base.

Artistic Direction

The artwork is fun and really enjoyable.  You can tell everything has been done by a top-quality artist.  I can’t help but love the humor…especially the cow! 

There is a lot of art in the instruction manual making it a cross between rules and thematic immersion.  Characters all have backstories but the great mystery is the man in black.  Is he human?  Is he alien?

Fun Factor

I get the rush of good vibes each time a new encounter card is turned over or when the alarm level goes up and more badies come out into the room.  I can’t wait to get more loot and improve my weapons and armor. 

In other words, it feeds my curiosity like a video game.  I want to get more stuff and level up.  I’m driven to fight more bad guys to get more experience points.  Then, I can level up and improve my stats.  I want to see what kind of weird things happen next.  I hope to get the right things in order to get help from the goat boy or moth-man.

Another aspect of the game that draws me in is my desire to check all the boxes.  There is that strange urge compelling me to complete ever mission or length of game.  Yeah, I’m a little Type A in that category.

Age Range & Weight

The age range is 14 and up and I’d say that is correct.  It is not because the game is difficult.  The game is easy to teach and play.  Patience is the necessary factor.  I know my newly turned 14-year-old would be stretched to stick with a 4-hour game chucking dice.  I did play with her on a shorter mission and she enjoyed herself.  She said she would play again.

Conclusions

I enjoy so many things in this game.  I love the art and video-game-type leveling up.  I enjoy the dungeon crawling, loot grabbing silliness.  I like the miniatures and components.  The multiple missions and ways to play are another bonus.

The hard part about the game is how much there is to it.  The box does well to hold everything but the tower.  The components take time to set up and put away.  Switching out bad guys takes time.  Though it is a minor distractor it might factor in to how often the game gets to my table.

I have a love hate relationship with the dice mechanic.  I love dice and who doesn’t want all those colors and types rolling around the table?  On the other hand, it is pretty hard to love needing to roll a two or less just to get a hit on the enemy.  Until your character’s accuracy improves (depending on their starting abilities) the game can be frustrating.

To offset the randomness, strategy can be employed.  Bad guys have preferences on who they will attack.  This knowledge can be used to your advantage.  I like this aspect of the game.

This game, taken with its good and bad, is something that comes out on the positive end of the spectrum for me.  Had this been another theme, like fantasy, I might not enjoy it as much.  Having a background in the space career field, I found this humor perfect!  All in all, the dice, the strategy, the components, and the theme make this a game I can beam up to the top of my gaming shelf.