Game Buzz: Stalag 17

This year’s prize for the game I wasn’t even aware of until it wound up at #1 on BGG’s GeekBuzz from Spiel 2011 goes to:

image by BGG user nkerensky

Stalag 17 was designed by Spanish designer Óscar Arévalo, and published by Gen-X Games.  It’s a quick 30 minute card game for 2-5 players aged 10 and up.  The basic premise is that you are trying to help your countrymen escape from a prison camp during World War II.  I’ve never seen the 1953 film that shares its title, and I don’t know what (if any) inspiration there was in the game design.  But the buzz was good enough that I’ll take a look.

90 cards are included in Stalag 17.  These include 40 objects (clothes, food, documents, tools, and maps), 10 double objects, 26 runaway routes, 4 barracks, and 4 information cards.  You also get 5 object dice and a runaway die, as well as 40 surveillance tokens and 15 prisoner tokens.  Each player begins the game with three tokens from one country – you can be the Americans, the British, the French, the Polish, or the Germans.  Though why there are German POWs in a German POW camp, I’m not exactly sure…

(EDIT: Apparently, I was mistaken.  They’re actually from Belgium, not Germany.  The flags are similar, but the Belgian flag has vertical stripes of black-yellow-red, while the German flag has horizontal stripes of black-red-gold.  My mistake – thanks to Sapo for pointing that out!)

The game proceeds in rounds in which you are trying to escape.  There are three phases per round: plan, preparation and jailbreak, and roll call.  During the plan phase, the first player (and there’s a complex hierarchy to determining who goes first, which I’m not going into) takes 3-5 object dice and the runaway die.  The number of object dice depends on the total number of tokens escaped and the number of players in the game.  If no one has escaped, you get three object dice.  If four tokens have escaped in a two-player game (the maximum number before someone wins), you get 5 dice.  If four tokens have escaped in a 3-5 player game, you get four dice.  There’s a chart to help keep things clear.

The starting player will roll all of the dice.  Each object die has six faces that show either clothes, food, a document, a tool, a map, or the number 3.  The runaway die is a standard d6.  The results rolled indicate the plan needed in order to escape this turn.  After the roll, each player draws two cards.

The preparation and jailbreak phase has all players, in turn order, taking one action.  The phase continues until one player manages to break one token out of jail, or until the game deck is empty.  You can’t pass, and you can’t choose an action that you can’t do.  Here are your options:

  • Draw two cards.
  • Play a card face down in front of you and draw a new card.  You can look at face down cards at any time.
  • Discard a card face up next to the draw pile.
  • Discard three or more cards of the same type.
  • Discard five or more cards of different types.
  • Draw the top card of the discard pile and one from the draw deck.
  • Attempt to escape.  Reveal your face down cards and compare them to the jailbreak plan.  If you have at least one object that matches each element of the plan, and have a total runaway value (on runaway routes) that equals or exceeds the value of the runaway die plus any threes rolled on object dice and your surveillance value, then one of your tokens escaped.  If you fail, you get two surveillance points and can turn your cards face down again.

Roll call begins when someone escapes, or when the game deck is empty.  The player who escaped reveals their hand, adds their surveillance value and takes that number of surveillance tokens.  Other players reveal their hands (barracks add 0, all others add their value and face down cards (0 surveillance except for Barracks, which add 4).  They’ll also subtract three surveillance for each token that has not escaped.  Surveillance tokens increase the runaway value.

The game ends when one player manages to get their third token out.  And that’s it.  It seems like a fairly quick filler that adds an escaping from prison theme to a basic rummy mechanic.  Lots of hand management and set collection there.  The theme isn’t super important or immersive, but it’s there as a way to hold the game together.  This is the second prison escape game from Spiel 2011 that I’ve covered (after Alcatraz), and the games are very different from each other.  I’ll be interested to try this out, keeping in mind that it really is just a filler.  It’s an odd victor in the GeekBuzz category, but admittedly, it only had 25 votes.  Still, enough to keep an eye on it if it ever comes to the US.  Thanks for reading!



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