Doug Snyder
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Ohio
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This is my first game review - so read at your own risk! I am going to focus on the mechanics that are present in the game. I will not regurgitate the game rules as you can find the rules in the files section. In this review, I will provide the description of the game, a discussion of how the game employs various mechanics, some comments and my viewpoint on the game.

Description of the Game

As described on the back of the box:

"Alcatraz - the infamous rock, a well-known American top-security prison. It is said no one has ever escaped from there. But it’s not really true...



Alcatraz the Scapegoat is a cooperative game for 3-4 players which features an innovative scapegoat mechanism. The players cooperate in order to escape from the legendary prison, but they also know that, according to the plan, one person has to stay on the island as the eponymous scapegoat. Who is going to be that person? The most useless player. And you don’t want to be this guy!

A game of conflicted loyalties starts. In Alcatraz the Scapegoat you don’t do what is best for the group - you do everything you can to become indispensible. This means that each round you will bluff, rat, rob other players, betray and blackmail them. But if you are too slow completing your tasks, the guards will discover your plan - and each of you will serve time.

Alcatraz the Scapegoat will provide you with the dynamics unusual for other games and a real feeling of conspiring in prison. Thanks to the modular board consisting of double-sided location cards, each game will be unique."


Mechanics of the Game

Alcatraz: The Scapegoat uses the action point allowance system to govern the number of actions a player can take each turn in carrying out an escape plan. In a three player game, each player receives three AP per turn and in a four player game, each receives only two AP. The player who is the scapegoat on each turn receives an additional number of AP’s (from one to three), depending on how many consecutive rounds the player is the scapegoat.


Picture by user zucho

There are seven game actions that cost a player one AP. These are moving to a different location, using a locations rule, stealing, starting a riot, carrying out an element of the plan, discarding an item, and playing a blackmail card. There are three free actions, which are exchanging/giving items or cash to another player in the same location, bribing the guards, or spending a stamina point to get an extra action. Overall, there is nothing new here in the way the game uses action point allowance.

The game board comes in twelve different two-sided sections called location sheets. These represent different areas of the prison. At the beginning of the game, these location sheets establish a map of the prison by placing them in random order on the table forming a 3x4 grid. The objective of building the game board in this fashion is to provide a replayability factor to the game. While this does succeed in adding some variability to the game, it is not what is going to have gamers coming back repeatedly to play the game.

These location sheets do provide the foundation for Alcatraz: The Scapegoat’s area movement mechanism. It costs a player one action point to move from one location sheet to an adjacent location sheet in the prison. There are many reasons for a player to move among locations in the prison. Each side of the location sheet includes a rule. For example, one side of the radio room sheet lets the player spend an AP to move two guards to any location in the prison. On the other side of the sheet, the radio room provides a free action that allows the player to move just one guard. As another example, the player in the visiting room can use the location rule to exchange any of the resource tokens (key, drug, hammer, clothes, knife) on his prisoner sheet or 1 cash for the gun.



These location rules play a major role in the pick up and deliver mechanism of the game. They provide a means for the players to pick up the resources needed to complete elements of the escape plan and they also provide ways to manipulate other factors in the game to ensure successful delivery of resources to the location in the prison where an element of the escape plan occurs.

The prisoner’s escape plan requires completion of six different tasks to allow for a successful escape. These include tasks such as digging a tunnel (A), opening a manhole (B), getting a set of keys (C), having clothes (D), starting a riot (E) and taking a hostage and running (F). As prisoners complete a task, that element of the overall escape plan is marked on the player’s prisoner sheet with a wooden disk.


Picture by user DanielCG

Once a group of players have collectively marked off the elements of the escape plan, they can escape together. This is one area where the co-operative play mechanism influences the game. One player can focus on completing certain elements of the escape plan (A, B, and C) and another can concentrate on different elements (D, E, and F) to help minimize the amount of time it takes to complete all of the necessary tasks. Co-operative play factors itself into the game in a much bigger way as players try to complete each individual task of the escape plan. During the game, there are always three task cards at different locations in the prison. These tasks are placed at various locations in the prison as dictated by the location cards.


These location cards also identify the location sheet placement for new guards added to the prison.

The task card itself identifies the required items, number of prisoners needed and maximum number of guards allowed in the location for completing the task successfully.


Picture by user chomoon

The prisoners must cooperate to ensure they are together, have all the necessary items and that they have manipulated the guards such that they will not prevent the task from being completed.

By working together through smart use of action points and prison location rules, players complete elements of the plan. This is where partnerships come into play. Some players may have the resources necessary on their prisoner sheet to complete a task. Other players may be in a location of the prison to carry out a location rule critical to completion of an element of the plan or may be in a better position to manipulate the guards to allow for completion of the task. Each of the players negotiates from their position of strength to form a temporary partnership. Through a voting mechanic, one player is ultimately voted as the scapegoat. This scapegoat is typically the player who provides the least amount of benefit in the prisoners attempt to complete one of the current tasks or to complete the overall escape plan. Whenever a task is completed, all players except the scapegoat will get credit for one element of the escape plan.

Of course, the players must take care in selecting the scapegoat, as the scapegoat can interfere with the plans of the remaining prisoners. This is done through the blackmail cards.


The Lockdown blackmail card allows the scapegoat to prevent the other players in the game from moving onto the location sheet of the scapegoat player's choosing.

Prisoners obtain blackmail cards through the location rule in the warden’s office. Each player can have a maximum of two blackmail cards, and they are kept face up throughout the entire game as a way to intimidate the other prisoners from voting that player the scapegoat. This neat scapegoat/traitor mechanic is one of the more unique features of the game. In fact, it is significant enough in the minds of the publisher to have made it into the title of the game.

Guards serve as an impediment to the prisoners in completing tasks. At the beginning of the game, a player places eight guards on location sheets by distributing them based on chosen location cards. There can be up to four guards at each location. Depending on the total number of guards at a location there may be certain restrictions placed on what the prisoners can do in that area of the prison. In addition to limiting the prisoners activities, the guards provide a timing mechanism for the game. At the beginning of each round, a player chooses a location card and a new guard is added to the location sheet corresponding to the chosen card. If the prisoners have not successfully escaped prior to the placement of the last guard, then the escape fails and all the players lose.

Comments on the Game

Overall, the components of the game are satisfying. The artwork and the color schemes work well. Both the location and prisoner sheets are on thick cardboard. I have seen some reports of bubbles on the location sheets, but my copy of the game has no such problems. One disappointment with the game is that on one side of the laundry room location sheet, the clothes icons are missing. This has been identified and I am guessing will be fixed in any future printing of the game. The cardboard markers in the game are also on thick stock and all of the printing lines up nicely.

The cards for the various card decks are a mid-weight card. The cards are not as nice as linen stock, and are not the thickest cards in my game collection. My biggest concern about how they will hold up is with the location cards, because that deck gets a lot of shuffling throughout the game. I think both the event deck and blackmail deck should hold up just fine.

The game uses wooden pawns to represent each prisoner. It would have been cool to have some poly-resin figures matching the picture of the prisoners on the prisoner sheets instead. Although I am not artistically inclined, I have often thought about trying to make FIMO characters. Perhaps this is my opportunity to try.



The game directions are pretty clear. One omission from the rules is that a player is limited to having only two blackmail cards at a time laid out face first in front of them. A rulebook with errata has been posted in the files section of BGG to help give final clarification to anything that might be a little muddy.

My Viewpoint

Each of the components in the game, and how the game mechanics interact with them, stays true to the prison theme. The age range for the game starts at 15, but this is clearly a nod to the thematic elements and not because of the difficulty of play. None of the mechanics is particularly new or hard to understand and execute. The scapegoat feature, along with the blackmail cards, is a unique and fun twist. However, it leads to bluffing, lying, backstabbing, stealing and breaking of trust among players in the game. This could turn some people off to the game, but really - would you expect things to be any different if you were on the cellblock in Alcatraz?

As for recommendations, this game should appeal to anyone who enjoys cooperative games such as Pandemic, but also prefers some confrontation/competition in a game. This game will also be enjoyable to those who like negotiation, forging partnerships and voting in their games, as long as they are OK with more than one person having the opportunity to win the game. Those who tend to get upset if they feel they are always being ganged up on or who do not react well to negative (or even "mean") interactions should probably not play the game. Players need to be able to look at this in the spirit it is meant within the game and not hold grudges or hard feelings after the game is complete.

I am happy to have Alcatraz: The Scapegoat in our collection. It is a good game I will usually be willing to play and will even suggest from time to time.



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Jim Harvey
United States
Portland
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Great review!! I especially liked your identification of (with links!) and focus on the various game mechanics rather than rehashing the rules. I hope you continue to write reviews, this one is a fantastic start.

I've played this game about 4 times now and it is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Some of those I played with were turned off after being singled out as the Scapegoat multiple times. However I think it is each player's responsibility to balance his value to the team in completing tasks with blackmail and sabotage against the others while cast as the Goat. Spending all your actions trying to stop the others will probably just ensure many future rounds as the Scapegoat.
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Douglas Damron
United States
Danville
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Great review.
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Bob McMurray
United States
La Grange
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rAdioActivitA wrote:
Great review!! I especially liked your identification of (with links!) and focus on the various game mechanics rather than rehashing the rules.


I completely agree. Nothing turns me off more about a game review than its lengthy explanation of the rules (unless it's an hour long video). Providing a breakdown of the game mechanisms and how they are incorporated or drive the game is a much more interesting context to me. I hope you've started a major trend with this review.

My perspective is there is very little to zero co-operative elements to Alcatraz: the Scapegoat but rather the "temporary partnership" mechanism should be emphasized as the driver. I don't know if "temporary partnership" is a recognized game mechanism category or if it even wanders into "negotiation".

I think your choice of Alcatraz: the Scapegoat as your first review was a wise one as it does have an effective and discernible mix of different classical mechanisms. Perhaps that is why you chose it or perhaps it was because you wanted to use that vacation photo of you and Alcatraz. Nicely done either way.
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Doug Snyder
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I have actually wanted to do a review in this style for sometime, but most games already have so many reviews I haven't felt properly motivated. Since Alcatraz really had no reviews it seemed like a good opportunity. And I agree, the fact that it had so many classic mechanisms it did make it a good candidate for this type of review.

I thought the picture would be a good way for me to "sign" my first review. Then, after doing it, thought it might be a fun way to do all reviews. Kind of a "Flat Stanley" approach with my picture photoshopped by something that was thematic to the game - even if I have never been there.
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Johan Örtman
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Malmö
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I'm ordering now! What an intriguing idéa for a game, I usually hate games where you backstab, lie and such. But this seems so cool! Thanks for the review!
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Daniel Scott
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Herbman:
How was the game? Do you like it?
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Johan Örtman
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Dannoo wrote:
Herbman:
How was the game? Do you like it?


I liked it the two times it got to the table, although my core group wasn't very impressed and alas, it hasn't been the first choise for our gaming nights.. But I will try to play it more with other people in the future. The price for having a lot of good games and too few players to play them is that some of them rarely gets played. Unfortunately.
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