Game Buzz – Alcatraz: The Scapegoat

I didn’t really know much about Alcatraz until I watched The Rock.  And, to be fair, I still don’t know much.  That probably won’t change after playing:

image by BGG user zucho

Alcatraz: The Scapegoat was designed by Polish designers Rafał Cywicki, Krzysztof Cywicki, and Krzysztof Hanusz.  The game is being released by Kuźnia Gier.  It’s for 3-4 players aged 15 and up (an odd combination), and takes around 90 minutes to play.  You’re playing a group of prisoners trying to bust out of Alcatraz.  So, in a sense, this is a cooperative game because you need to work together to get out the door.  However, one person will have to be the Scapegoat.  As the Scapegoat, you won’t be collecting the rewards that everyone else does, so you’ll be trying to prevent people from making you dispensable.  If you don’t get out on time, everyone loses.

The game comes with 12 double-sided location sheets showing different rooms of the prison – these will form the board.  There are four character sheets that show cash, stamina, how many items you can store, and how much of the plan you have completed.  30 task cards tell you what you need to do to escape, 11 blackmail cards that give the scapegoat extra options, 12 auxiliary cards to assist with drawing locations, 2 summary cards, and the scapegoat card.  You also get item tokens of five different types, 28 player markers in 4 colors, 23 white plan markers, 20 blue guard markers, and a black Scapegoat marker.

To begin, you lay out the location cards (randomly, I think – it doesn’t say in the rules).  Draw auxiliary cards to place 8 guards around the board and to determine players’ starting location.  Draw three tasks and place them in random locations (again using the auxiliary deck).  Randomly determine the Scapegoat – don’t worry, it will change.

This game lasts a number of rounds, and each round follows the same sequence – a new guard appears, choose the Scapegoat, try to complete the plan.  When a new guard appears, you’ll draw an auxiliary card and place a guard there.  You can’t have more than four guards in a single location.

Next, it’s time to choose the Scapegoat.  You can discuss it, make alliances, argue, whatever.  However, the current Scapegoat orders a vote and can do it at any time (you must order a vote within two minutes – keep the game moving along).  Each player votes by putting a marker of another player in their hand.  The new Scapegoat takes the Scapegoat card.  Ties are resolved by the current Scapegoat.

Now it’s the action phase.  Each player has a certain number of action points to spend on their turn – 3 in an a 3-player game, 2 in a 4-player game.  For each consecutive turn that the Scapegoat does not switch players, the Scapegoat gets one extra AP (up to three extras).  You don’t have to use all of your AP, but you do have to use all that you’re going to use in one turn.  Here’s a list of your available action options:

  • Move to an adjacent location: This costs one AP.
  • Use a location’s rule: Each location has a special rule, or action, you can take there – mess with another player’s blackmail cards; move guards; gain stamina; collect drugs, item tokens, shovels, cash, knives, clothes, keys, or blackmail cards.  One prisoner may use a location’s rule only once per round.  This action may or may not cost one AP.
  • Exchange items or cash: Two players in the same space may exchange items or cash points.  They must agree.  This is a free action, costing 0 AP.
  • Stealing: If the other player doesn’t want to trade, you can steal an item or a cash point from them against their will.  You can only do this once per round.  It costs one AP.
  • Start a riot: Move a guard marker from an adjacent location into your location.  This costs an AP.
  • Carry out an element of the plan: If you are in a location and have fulfilled all of the conditions of the plan card there (be there, not too many guards, have the proper item tokens present), you can spend one AP to carry out that element of the plan.  The player who did it marks it off on their character sheet, then draws a new task card.  The element shown on the new card is marked off on every player’s sheet as a reward – every player, that is, except for the Scapegoat.  Finally, the Scapegoat will draw a new card and randomly place it on a location.
  • Discard an item: You’re not really discarding it, you’re placing it on your character sheet so it can be used to carry out an element of the plan.  This costs one AP.
  • Play a blackmail card: Only the Scapegoat can do this, playing a card and following what it says.  This costs one AP.
  • Bribing the guards: If there are two guards present in a location, all actions (except free actions and movement) cost one more AP than normal.  If three guards are present, only free actions or movement can be performed.  If four guards are present, you cannot enter or perform any action except leaving.  So, you might want to use this free action to bribe the guards.  You can ignore one guard token per cash point you spend.  So, if four guards are present, you’d need to pay $3 to do anything there.  This is a free action.
  • Spend a stamina point: You can discard a stamina point for one extra AP.  This is a free action.

Once everyone has spent all of their actions, a new round begins.  If, at any point, there’s any group of players that have completed all six elements of the plan (A-F), they escape and win.  The Scapegoat can be part of this group if they are indispensable to completing the plan – say, if they’re the only one who has completed E.  However, only people who are indispensable to the plan escape.  The example given in the rules is good for an explanation here:

Michael has elements A, B and C.  Ralf has B, D and F.  Chris has D and F and has just completed element E.  Michael is the Scapegoat in this round, but his elements are indispensable for escaping.  He escapes together with Chris, while Ralf stays in prison, as his elements do not contribute to the plan and he isn’t indispensable.

If you haven’t escaped by the time the 21st guard appears on the board, everyone loses.

When I was first reading about this game, I thought that the Scapegoat could not win.  I thought that was kind of an interesting twist on the traitor-mechanic, with one player actively trying to sabotage the plan so no one would win.  But I was wrong – since the Scapegoat changes from turn to turn, it’s more like you’re just trying to sabotage certain elements of the plan so no one else can complete it and get a reward that makes you dispensable.  It’s still a nice twist that you vote on a Scapegoat, and that you won’t be Scapegoat forever.  In a sense, this is a cooperative game because people have to work together to complete the plan, but you’re still looking out for number one – if the plan gets completed without you, you stay in Alcatraz.

This is a pretty adult game, as the 15+ age testifies.  I don’t think that’s a testament to its strategic depth so much as to its take-that nature (plus the themes of drugs, weapons, corruption, and hardened criminals plotting a prison break).  It seems like it will be a lot of fun to play with the right group, and I’m looking forward to it.  Funagain will be carrying the game in the US for $25 – seems like a good deal.  I’ll be looking forward to giving this one a try.  Thanks for reading!

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2 comments

  1. Hi 🙂 Thanks for this preview! Good read. You only got one little thing wrong:

    “Discard an item: You’re not really discarding it, you’re placing it on your character sheet so it can be used to carry out an element of the plan. This costs one AP.”

    You are (!) actually discarding it. Either just so noone would be able to steal it from you, or to make space for another item.

    Apart from that, I think you got everything right. I hope you’ll enjoy the game.
    Cheers

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