An evil criminal syndicate kidnaps brilliant scientists and plans to use their discoveries to take over the world. No, this isn’t the latest Kingsman, Mission Impossible, or Bond film: it’s Operation Escape E.V.I.L., a fun family game for the inner chemist in all of us.
What Is Operation Escape E.V.I.L.?
Operation Escape E.V.I.L. is a board game for two to four players, listed for ages 8 and up, although there is no reason younger children can’t join in with a bit of coaching. Made by Kitki, the game takes approximately 30-45 minutes to play and costs $35. It teaches basic chemistry through an entertaining story line.
You are a scientist recruited by Earth Vision Industrial Labs (E.V.I.L.). Supposedly they are working to end world hunger. Once you and the other scientists arrive at the top secret island research base, the E.V.I.L. Chairman reveals their true goal: to take over the world using a mind control potion that you will develop. Naturally, you refuse and are imprisoned.
Forget waiting around for a secret agent to arrive: these scientists rescue themselves, thank you very much. You must sneak around the base collecting chemicals for a “magic trick” which you can use to distract the prison warden and escape through a tunnel in the warden’s office. The first scientist to escape wins the game.
Operation Escape E.V.I.L. Components
Operation Escape E.V.I.L.contains:
- A game board
- Four wooden player pawns
- 1 die
- 2 reference cards (explaining game set up, chemicals on the board, and turn sequence)
- 8 double-sided magic trick cards
- 45 chemical cards
- 15 change cards
- 30 steal cards
- 30 action cards
- 40 double-sided color markers (10 each of 4 colors to match player pawns)
The components are good quality. The box comes with sturdy cardboard dividers so it’s easy to keep track of everything. The board is made up of squares, mostly labeled with chemicals and other supplies you will need to complete your magic trick. There are also guard spaces and prison cells, one for each scientist. The board is marked with arrows, identifying which direction you can take on each path.
The magic trick cards are large and contain a highly simplified diagram demonstrating how the trick would work. The tricks are simple chemical experiments: the sort of thing your high school chemistry teacher might have done to wake you up after lunch. The magic tricks come in beginning, intermediate, and advanced varieties. Intermediate and advanced tricks require more ingredients, which can help level the playing field if you have players of varying skill levels.
The visual style isn’t full 1960’s spy movie, but there is a stylized quality: their prison guards look like the big brother of Fallout‘s Vault Boy. Almost everything on the board is shades of red, purple, and yellow on a brown background, which can make it a little difficult to figure out where certain spaces begin and end.
How to Play Operation Escape E.V.I.L.
Lay out the board and set up each type of card near it. Shuffle steal and action cards. Assign a pawn to each player and distribute the matching color markers. Each pawn starts in the cell that matches its color.
Allow each player to choose a magic trick from an appropriate level. The magic trick has a list of needed ingredients. Locate these ingredients on the board and put a color marker on each one, with its two-color side up. These markers serve as a reservation, making sure each player will be able to complete his or her trick.
On Your Turn
You must steal money from the guards to purchase the chemicals you need. Roll the die to move around the board. Land on a guard space and collect a steal card. It may give you money, or it may send you back to your cell. End up in a cell, either by rolling the dice or being caught when stealing, and you miss your next turn.
Land on a chemical you need and you can buy it – if you have the cash. Once you have purchased it, collect the appropriate chemical card and flip the color marker over to the single color, showing you have purchased that tile. You can also purchase ingredients that you do not need for your magic trick, as long as they are not reserved by another player.
Chemicals and Action Cards
Why buy extra chemicals? You can earn money by “owning” chemical spaces. If another player lands on a space you own, ask that player the question on your chemical card. These questions range from the common name of chemical compounds to more obscure facts. If the player answers correctly, he or she pays you $50. An incorrect answer costs $100. However, if the player does not have enough money to pay you, he or she simply doesn’t pay – no further penalty.
You can also use your stolen money to purchase action cards. These cards offer shortcuts to get around the board faster, as well as obstacles to slow down your competitors.
Escape and End the Game
Gather all the ingredients you need for your magic trick and make your way to the warden’s office. Do your magic trick, then try to escape through the tunnel. The first one out wins!
Why You Should Play Operation Escape E.V.I.L.
Operation Escape E.V.I.L. is easy to set up and play, even with younger children. A first playthrough took around 45 minutes, with a later playthrough clocking in closer to a half hour. The overall story line is fun. If you’re playing with younger children, the action cards can be ignored without any drastic impact on the gameplay. For older or more competitive families, the cards offer great potential for sabotage.
The gameboard’s arrows limit your in-game movements, forcing you to take certain paths. That certainly stops the game from being too easy, but it can occasionally create loops where the players keep going round in circles because they can’t quite manage to land on the one chemical they need to move forward. The game definitely has a luck factor: a couple of good rolls of the die and anyone can take – and hold – the lead. Although occasionally frustrating, this reliance on luck keeps the game accessible to all players.
The trivia-type questions on the chemical cards are one of the weaker elements of the game. Some questions are common knowledge, while others almost require a degree in chemical engineering. There is only one question per card, so what if someone lands on your space more than once? You’ll need house rules to handle it, since the Rules Book is silent on this particular issue. Not to mention the oddity that even when you get an answer right, you still have to pay.
The game won’t turn your child into another Antoine Lavoisier or Rosalind Franklin overnight, but it does introduce kids to these topics. The magic trick and chemical cards use the correct chemical symbols and formulas, and at least a couple of the magic tricks could be done at home (under parent supervision). After a few playthroughs, the periodic table might be a little less intimidating. If your goal is to demystify science – for yourself or your kids – this is a fun place to start.
It isn’t likely to be the centerpiece of your next adults-only game night: the gameplay is a little simplistic and the trivia is not intense enough for serious scientists. But for family gaming with a side of science education, Operation Escape E.V.I.L. has the right formula.
This game was part of my personal collection; I received nothing in exchange for this review.
If you’d like to stay up-to-date with all of our tabletop gaming coverage, please copy this link and add it to your RSS reader.