Gaming Unplugged: Escalation!

November 22, 2009

When the neighbors just can’t keep their darn dog off your lawn, there’s only one appropriate response — obviously you bust out the rocket launcher and take out their barbecue.

Reiner Knizia’s Escalation! is that humorous scenario applied to a light card game for 2-6 players. The deck of 56 cards consists of values from 1 through 13 in varying amounts, plus two special types of cards: “1-7″s which act as wilds for one of those values and “neighborhood watch” cards.

Each player is dealt a hand of six cards, and the player to the left of the dealer starts by playing any number of matching cards to the table and announcing their total; at the end of a player’s turn, they refill their hand to six cards (if any remain in the deck). The next player must then either play a set exceeding that total or collect all of the cards currently on the table (keeping them face-down in front of him) and start a new round. A player can match the current total rather than beating it if they also play a “neighborhood watch” card along with the matching total. Once the deck has been exhausted, game play will end once a player has played the last card from their hand; at this point the cards that are currently on the table are discarded while everyone else must add the cards remaining in their hand to the face-down cards they have accumulated. Scoring is simple: you count the number of face-down cards you have accumulated, and that is your score. The player with the lowest total is the winner.

While a game of Escalation! can typically be played in the space of fifteen minutes, you will probably want to play several games in succession. Since your score will be directly impacted by the player before you, turn order plays a significant role in a game’s outcome. My group usually lets each player deal once, to keep everything even. We then combine the scores to determine the ultimate victor.

Like many Z-man published card games, Escalation! can be picked up for around ten dollars. While the Knizia game play design is elegant, the art by Beth Trot really gives the game its quirky appeal. The various residents of Pleasantville depicted on the cards are hilarious, with amusing weaponry ranging from a high-pressure water gun loaded with HCl to the crazy cat lady whose little fuzzballs come packing missiles. This art is the only reason I can think of for the recommended age to be 10+, as otherwise there isn’t any reading required and not a ton of complex strategy involved. Escalation! stands alongside Fairy Tale and No Thanks! as inexpensive fillers from Z-man Games that can be enjoyed by anyone at any time.