Exhibit / March 29, 2017
During the holiday season of 1977, kids were desperate for Star Wars toys. Unfortunately, Kenner couldn’t ramp up toy production fast enough (leading to a groundbreaking marketing maneuver: the Early Bird Certificate Package), so there were very few Star Wars-related items available for parents to put under the Christmas tree. Kenner did manage to get a board game on the toy shelves in time, and, due to the lack of competing products, Santa brought the Star Wars: Escape From Death Star Game to every kid on my street.
The gameplay is quite simple, but skillfully combines many plot elements that were still fresh in kids’ minds. Starting in the Death Star’s trash compactor, each player must move two tokens (one for Luke and Leia, the other for Han and Chewbacca) around the board and complete two preliminary missions: shutting off the tractor beam and getting the Death Star blueprints (which presumably means meeting up with R2-D2 and C-3PO). After reaching the Millennium Falcon, the tokens move together towards the Rebel Base, dogfighting with TIE Fighters along the way. The player who arrives first at the Rebel Base wins the game. Both the different game phases mirroring the plot and the colorful, well-designed game board filled with movie stills really make the story come alive.
Many spaces on the board prompt the player to draw a Force Card, resulting in an action that can be good or bad. Some cards cause the player to go to the Detention Block (a jail element borrowed from Monopoly), move forward or back a few spaces, or jump to a specific labeled space. Each card is illustrated with a character sketch and a scenario, such as “You find Stormtrooper outfits to disguise yourself,” or “Stormtroopers are closing in.” One devastating card (featured in the original commercial) reads “Trash Monster hauls you back to Trash Compactor,” implying that the Dianoga has tentacles that can reach from one end of the Death Star to the other.
One interesting rule from the instructions seems to be designed to prevent a “character paradox.” While a Luke/Leia token can share a space with a Han/Chewbacca token, moving a Luke/Leia token onto another Luke/Leia token forces the token originally occupying the space back to the trash compactor. After all, there can’t be two Luke Skywalkers or Princess Leias in the same place at the same time!
After playing Escape From Death Star, the obvious thing to do is play the Star Wars: Destroy Death Star Game, which reenacts the Battle of Yavin using an interesting rotating game board. Kenner was extremely clever to make an actual “sequel,” but the extended story elements of Escape From Death Star make for a more enjoyable game.