Bars. All metal, cold and impersonal bars. When I first walked in here, I thought that I would be crushed, as they pushed air out of my lungs within minutes. But you get used to it. There is air as elsewhere, people are a little less accessible and some even dangerous. But finally, life is still better than anything else.
My name is Tom and I was convicted of assault. I will not apologize to you now, telling you I did not do it, because it does not change anything. Instead I found a few allies in here and they are planning to escape from this metal cage. Just some small tools, faithful people, and some luck. That’s all it takes. I hope it works out, because today we put our plan into motion. Tomorrow I will certainly breath air as a free man. Air without metallic flavors.
Board game Alcatraz: The Scapegoat makes you a convict just transferred to prison. Like Tom, even you do not have to deal with the reason, why did you actually got there. It could be fraud, negligence or anything else. But it is important, that you are there and according to state, you should stay here for couple of years. So you prepare a plan to escape with your fellow buddies. And this game tells the story of planning and the actual escape.
Alcatraz was established in 2011 and comes from the production company Kuznia Gier. Authors are three Polish guys named Rafał Cywicki, Krzysztof Hanusz and Krzysztof Cywicki, graphics came from Rafał Badan and Martyna Szczykutowicz. The game gives players common task of escape from prison and you could rank it among the cooperative games. But you will also find big rivalry in it, because one of players will stay in prison. Or can all lose.
The box contains a painted portrait of the world’s most famous prison, after which the game also got its name. Image is very dark, as the game story and its contents. Inside the box, there can be a major component of twelve large double-sided boards with pictures of the sites available to you in prison: infirmary, radio room or laundry room.
Also four player boards are made from hard cardboard. Individual refugees will record their escape plan on them. They have also two scales, one for stamina and the other for money. At the bottom of player board is an inventory, where items to meet the individual tasks are stored. Last round of cardboard tokens are item tokens, which you punch out of prepared sheets.
Next you will find a decent pile of cards of several kinds. The essential are task cards, which show the number of inmates required, maximum number of guards present, and most obviously objects to complete the task, you need to have.
Another deck of card images corresponds to locations, and lets you easily randomize games at the beginning – initial distribution of rooms, as well as tasks assignment to the various random locations in the prison during a game. The remaining cards are only in small numbers and we will deal with them later. The game also uses a lot of wooden pieces – cubes in four player colors and one large column in each color, which represents prisoners on the board. The remaining wood is then used to track the number and position of the guards in each site of prison.
At the beginning of the game, players spread game board randomly. All of dozen locations boards are two-sided, one side is gold, second silver and they differ among themselves by some icons and actions. Players randomly selects not only the distribution but also the side, which will be used in the game. Individual game boards have on their bottom token outlines to deploy objects. This is where you can find the corresponding symbol silhouettes for needles, hammers, knives, uniforms and keys. Token number is exact and when it occupies all vacant and none should rest in your hands.
Now you need to populate the prison with guards. To do this, you use the card having the individual rooms (auxiliary cards) – twelve of them, for each room one. Firstly you choose three places, and populate each of them with one blue cube signifying a guardian figure. Then you shuffle the cards again and select the next three of twelve. This procedure may result in some places guarded by two wards. Of course a lot of places will remain unattended for now.
You randomly assign the same way also three task cards and the initial distribution of the characters (players columns), that represent players in the role of prisoners. Each of the participating players must take pieces in their color and one plate with a portrait of his prisoner. This is a purely male prison, so you will not find women here. If you will play with female, they must contend with a male prisoner to control.
Players now put one of the wooden cubes to zero numbers on both scales: stamina and money. They retain the third cube for themselves for now and the remaining ones are dealt to other players in a manner, that each player had one cube of each color. These will be used throughout the game to determine the role of Scapegoat (hence the subtitle of the game), which is specified at random in the starting round.
Now, your escape from prison can begin. The game is played really simple, so that each of the inmates has always two (or three – depending on the number of players) action points in his turn, that can be used for various activities. The basic option is to move prisoner from location to another location nearby, drop items or steal from other players. But you can also use special abilities of the sites, which means picking up items for money, adding stamina (dining room), moving guards (radio room) or gain money from visiting room.
Inmates can pass the objects free of chargé, when they are located in the same place in prison. Without action points you can also spend your accumulated money and bribe the guard to act, like he was not there. Or spend a stamina point and add more action points to your pool for the current round.
At the beginning of each turn, there i sone prison ward added to the board at random location decided by auxiliary cards. This rises tension in prison gradually and makes players nervous, because it is increasingly difficult to make some plans work. You must then vote to determine player, who will be scapegoat for the next round. He has more action points available for his turn and he can play blackmail cards, which can delay the plan. Why? Because when he is in the role of scapegoat, he gets no awards for part of plan completion. It is therefore in his best interest, that no such thing happens.
The end game is very interesting, because when a group of players has all tasks from A to F done, the game ends. Now you need to decide, who will succeed in running away and that’s not just according to who is the scapegoat, but also to the number of fulfilled tasks. In some situations, even the players themselves can decide, who runs and who is left behind. But the game also ends, when the 21st guard is added to the board. By losing the game for all players!
The game focuses on Alcatraz prison, which is not too frequent theme for board games. And that’s good, because then the experience is much better and has an original theme then the thousand-and-first incarnation of Egypt strategy games. Cooperative part of game focuses on jailbreak and resembles popular television series Prison Break or a newer, actual series with the precise name Alcatraz.
The game is essentially a very strategic and players must simply deal with random situations. Tasks are always differently distributed, some are hindered by the presence of guards, sometimes you have to skillfully manipulate the objects, that you can easily return to its original place by putting on the ground.
In each round there is one chosen scapegoat, which has various options. This specific role adds another dimension to the game, because this role can change the whole game. So you have to choose very carefully, if you want to annoy other players and how to play in the scapegoat role. You receive no reward for task completion. Most important is it to get rid of the role or try to accomplish everything on your own. You are never just lost, until the other players manage to escape and you are last in fulfillment count.
Random deployment of guards is great, just as is their distraction. They just make convicts nervous and when in enough numbers, they can prevent the plan from happening. But if you use your options and begin to rebel, their position may be at least a little influenced, just like with the radio room. Players must perform tasks cleverly, because they need to have filled all task letters. At the same time, they are trying not to be the scapegoat. Not an easy diplomatic position for anyone of them.
In this conflict, where the players must choose one among themselves, who will suffer, is hidden a very strong tension. The game suddenly turns into the mix of back stabbing, cheating, betrayal and alliances, which would you hardly meet in real life, when not in prison. And this is the game’s fun, but for some players also not pleasant property. People who do not like these direct conflicts would most certainly not want to play Alcatraz.
With randomly assigned tasks is associated probably the only major deficiency, that you may encounter while playing. If you lack any of the letters and it is not coming in the task cards, you can only wait in vain, and perform other actions. Moreover, you have time constraints, because at the time of laying the last ward, the breakaway was common failure.
Alcatraz is well treated and variable map provides great flexibility. All images are a lot of dark, which brings more atmosphere and thus encourages the escape. All parts are made of hard cardboard and easily withstand more frequent play. There is also an expansion in preparation, which will be available this autumn.
The game is recommended since fourteen years of age on the box. The culprit is of course primarily the topic of prison escape. The content, however, is not improper, when you strip away the existence of some subjects and exuberant imagination, which can complement the completion of certain tasks. So yes, it can be played with younger players.
Alcatraz is a cooperative atmospheric game, where all players work together as one unit with one goal. But they have a scapegoat in their ranks, as it often happens in prisons. Under the supervision of guards, all of them will try to slip out of prison and their hope depends only on their ability to do everything quietly and out of guards sight. But one of them will be left behind. The game offers an unusual experience, which is certainly worth a try, if you do not mind the theme of the game and backstabbing nature.
+ rougn and interesting topic
+ cooperation with cutthroating just like in real prison
+ players will leave one behind
+ all can lose together
+ wide tactical options
+ great scapegoat role
+ players are trying to be indispensable for the group, like in real life
+ help cards for drawing make game manipulation easier
- may be tough for some people
- game is recommended from 15 years
- random tasks distribution might slow game down