Star Wars “Escape From the Death Star” Re-Release Review

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Andy Hey there, cats and kittens! It’s your favorite nerdy Dad, Andy Larson, back with another board game related review to hopefully help those  members of Ghost nation out there that need other things to play on these “Stay at Home” COVID related days with their loved ones.

A little while back, I covered Hasbro’s re-release of the classic Kenner Star Wars related board game “Hoth Ice Planet Adventure” which was put out in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the theatrical release of “The Empire Strikes Back”. There was such a ground swell of support around my review of the game from the Ghost faithful that I thought it would be silly of me not to eventually follow that up with another one of these Star Wars related board game reviews.

Luckily for me, the Hoth Planet game wasn’t the first time that Hasbro decided to re-release a 30 year old board game to cash in on my generations undying love for the original Star Wars trilogy. In fact, Hasbro had done this same exact thing a couple years  earlier with the first ever Kenner Star Wars board game entitled “Escape from the Death Star” .

Not only that, but given the savvy board game collecting Dad I am, I foresaw the fact that it might be beneficial to have this game among our collection and I picked it up on clearance long before my kids became recently obsessed with everything Star Wars. Honestly, I figured it was only a matter of time before that needle came all the way around again at pointed squarely at the fact that lightsabers are friggin’ cool, so it was a safe bet given my household.

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Anyways for those of you that might not be familiar with this board game, it was originally released by Kenner back in October of 1977 as a tie in to the original movie.

The object of the game is to move your color coded teams of Luke/Leia & Han/Chewie around the board via a spinner trying to collect both the “Death Star Blueprints” and the “Tractor Beam controls” cards necessary to then use the Millennium Falcon square to escape into Hyperspace on your way back to the Rebel base on Yavin 4. There are other blue spaces you can land on which can either help you move faster by transporting you around the board to certain places or hinder your advancement by sending you to the dreaded Detention area or worse all the way back to the Trash compactor start square.

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Overall the game is different than other board games in the fact that you have two player pieces versus only one. Although you can’t split your movement between the two pieces on a single turn, it does allow you the ability to split up your objectives and strategize the best way to maximize your ability to get the two necessary cards in order to escape the fastest. There are also specifically cards you can get via the blue squares that allow you to move either your Han/Chewie piece or Luke/Leia piece specifically to different locations so again the notion of having “teamwork” among the members of your color unit is key to winning.

Additionally, although the game says it’s only for 2-4 players, the fact that you get 2 pieces per color team means you could actually play this game with as many as 8 players as each color would split up their turns. I’m not sure if anyone would do this though as it seems rather dull to only be playing half the time when your turn comes up, but whatever, it’s still a choice if you want to take advantage of it as a Star Wars related “party” game.

The biggest issue with the two player pieces for me though is that it somewhat eliminates my families favorite part about the “Hoth Adventure” game, which was the ability to play with customized player pieces. If you read my last article, one of our favorite aspects of the Hoth game was that we could swap out the game included playing pieces for some of the character specific mini figures I had from my Imperial Assault game. As a result, that added an extra level of personality to the game-play as you could pretend to play as some of your favorite Star Wars related characters in their quest to defeat Darth Vader.

Because “Escape” color codes your teams and specifically has cards that say “move your Luke/Leia” piece to this space, it pretty much makes the ability to play with the custom pieces extremely difficult. If you wanted to, you’d either have to remember which custom piece is your “Luke/Leia” piece vs. your “Han/Chewie” piece, or just ditch the entire concept of playing with two pieces all together.

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In an attempt to see if this method of playing would work, I can say that we played at least one game with just ditching the two player piece rule. The end result was the game was still playable but it just took a lot longer than if you had the two pieces as you couldn’t split up the tasks. Additionally, it sort of lessened the need to go to the blue spaces and draw cards because you knew that some of them wouldn’t help you out at all.

So our final verdict is that, yeah, you should just play with the pieces given if you want to play the game right. It’s very sad, and for me is a definite negative compared to the “Hoth Adventure” game, but it is what it is.

As for the actual re-release itself, like the “Hoth Adventure” game, this version does come packaged with an original Kenner style Star Wars action figure which was never produced during the first run. I can say for fans of the original movies, the selection for this re-release is much better than the figure packaged with “Hoth”.

I say that because with “Escape”, you finally get a copy of the other big bad guy from “New Hope” in the ruthless, planet destroying governor of the Outer Rim Territories, Grand Moff Tarkin. Yes, the wonderfully villainous Imperial officer played by the late great Peter Cushing  last seen refusing to evacuate just prior to Luke blowing up the original Death Star and thus having his hate filled molecules spread to the furthest reaches of outer space when everything went boom.

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It’s amazing that with all the characters they could have made action figures of, Kenner never decided to make a version of good ol’ Grand Moff. I mean even later on, when after Return of the Jedi, Kenner was desperate to find characters to make action figures of for their Power of the Force mini line, Tarkin was still left as a giant sized hole in everyone’s original triology collections.

Yep, Yak Face, we definitely need a figure of that guy despite the fact he was on the screen for .0001% of the movie. Grand Moff…the dude that actually destroyed Alderaan…nah we don’t need to make a figure of him. It actually makes me wonder if Kenner couldn’t get the rights to his likeness and that’s why they had to settle for generic characters like the Death Squad Commander and such.

Oh well, for many folks I’m sure this was the primary reason they bought the game in the first place, so I’m glad that so many of those collectors like my cousin, JA Scott, can rest more soundly now given they finally have a figure to hold Vader’s Leash.

I will say though as a board game collector, there was a massive design flaw in packaging of the “Escape” game vs. “Hoth Adventure” game when it comes to the included figure. With the Hoth Adventure game, Hasbro had the intelligence to realize that folks might actually take the figure out of the game box and store it separately with their action figure collections. As a result, they covered the hole that displayed the action figure with a film of plastic so that the board game cover was intact even without the figure included.

For Escape, no such luck, as they didn’t put the plastic there and thus if you remove the figure, you have a pretty substantially large rectangle hole in the middle of your board game cover, which is distracting at the very least.

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I can say I had to put all my game pieces and cards in plastic baggies in fear that they would slip out of the hole otherwise, so I’m glad Hasbro at least learned from this mistake with their second re-release.

Anyways, packaging mistake aside, it’s finally time to get down to brass tacks one whether or not I thought this Star Wars game was a good buy for those out there desperate for more ways to kill an hour or two with their families and friends. Now, I will say that unlike “Hoth Adventure” which I do remember playing as a kid, “Escape” was one of those board games that I remember my older brothers and sisters playing but I was a bit too young for, the first go around. So my review is not really based on any sort of fond nostalgia of the past. It’s just based on my recent play throughs.

The verdict: It’s not as good as “Hoth Adventure”, but it’s still okay.

Sure it’s neat running around the Death Star and the notion of controlling two different teams of heroes adds to different aspect of game play that you might not get with other games. But for some reason, I don’t think there’s as much adventure or variety as you get with “Hoth”. Plus, I won’t lie. The lack of customization by not being able to swap out the player pieces again might not seem like a deal breaker for most who might never think about it, but for me, that’s definitely a bonus to the other game that this one is severely lacking.

Still though as I mentioned in my previous review, there are so very few family friendly board games out there that young kids and adults can play together that are specifically Star Wars related. For those that are, they are mostly just reissues of other games with the Star Wars moniker slapped on it. Like Operation with BB-8 or Trivia Pursuit with Star Wars questions, those are just the same old games that you can play without the Star Wars brand being attached to it.

“Escape” though, like “Hoth Adventure”, are specifically original Star Wars games. They use all Star Wars characters and make no bones that they are their own special things with no trappings of other previously released games to be found. Therefore, if you or your family/friends are Star Wars fans, these games can be a very unique treat for your upcoming game nights.

And as I mentioned, its family friendly, so unlike some of the Star Wars deck building or dice games out there on the market or intense strategy games like the aforementioned Imperial Assault, I feel fairly confident that any family can pick this game up and play with kids as young as 5 or 6.

So if you are a fan of Star Wars like me, I can recommend getting both “Escape” as well as “Hoth Adventure” to add to your collections. However, if I were to be completely honest, I’d probably recommend getting “Hoth” first, given it’s not only a better game, but it’s easier to find right now given it was just recently released.

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Andy’s Board Game Grade: B-


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