Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Sunday 7 March 2021

The Game Shelf Reviews: Deckscape: Escape from Alcatraz

Game: Deckscape: Escape from Alcatraz

Publisher: dV Giochi

Designer: Martino Chiacchiera, Silvano Sorrentino

Year: 2020

The tabletop escape room craze does not seem to be slowing down and we are here for almost all of them! I think that we follow all of the major series, from the largest ones, like Escape Room: The Game to the smallest, which are the Deckscape games. Each series has its own unique twist and the Deckscape games continue to impress us with what they can do with a simply deck of cards.

Like all of these escape room games, we sometimes find that the harder ones can be a source of frustration and sometimes arguments between the two of us and yet we keep coming back for more and we're up-to-date with almost all of them!
The Deckscape series are the most compact escape room games around. Each game consists of a single deck of large cards that act as both puzzle and answer. Many of the sets also come with a special item of sorts, in the case of Escape from Alcatraz this comes in the form of the prison newspaper, which you'll want to reference at several points during the game.

The essence of playing a Deckscape game is simple. Each card has a puzzle on it, as a group you discuss what the answer might be. Once you are in agreement with your answer you flip over the card to see if you were right or wrong. If you were right then you continue onto the next card, if you were wrong you mark an X on a piece of paper and carry on. At the end of the game you'll be assessed based on your completion time, number of X's marked and choice during the final story beats. This system means that you'll never get completely stuck on a puzzle, since you can always make a mistake and continue.

Escape from Alcatraz mixes things up a little from this basic formula. Not all mistakes will grant you X's, some minor errors might instead raise the security level of the prison, while you might have avoided punishment now, whenever you would gain Xs you gain X's relative to the security level, making future mistakes more costly.

Amy’s Final Thoughts
Escape From Alcatraz tasks you with being the first person to escape from that infamous prison island. Locked up in a cell with little memory of the past bar the knowledge that you shouldn't be locked up, and with guards who, unsurprisingly, ignore your claims of innocence. How will you escape? How can you get past the bars, past the security patrols, and finally find a way off the island? Escape From Alcatraz brings you an escape room with a solid story behind it, though not the most complex in the world, it does a fantastic job of bringing you into the world and providing reasoning to all the puzzles. While the nature of an escape room is that it will have abstract puzzles, here they are at least grounded somewhat in real life, with many solutions being a matter of paying proper attention, either to the story or the printed pictures on the cards, in order to succeed.
The newspaper is a fantastic gimmick, giving you the ability to solve half a dozen puzzles, but not until you find the card in the deck to give the information in the paper context. The context it does provide is both in the form of puzzle solutions and story beats, having a player understand some of the story nuances will prevent you from making costly mistakes. Whilst we typically play escape rooms as two-player experiences, one of the problems of the genre can be getting everyone involved. Here Escape From Alcatraz does its best by having several scenarios where the deck gets split up into multiple decks. At these points different people around the table can take a deck and work though them. This would be fantastic, but does come with the caveat that often one of these decks cannot, or should not, be advanced until a key has been found from another deck or similar.
Ultimately Escape from Alcatraz is an incredibly solid escape room experience in a small box format. The game is not entirely resetable with a puzzle on the newspaper requiring you to write on it, but with a bit of patience and a pen and paper you could avoid doing this on the real thing to create a replayable experience. It's always a bonus to be able to pass an escape room onto some friends and compare times! Escape from Alcatraz does veer onto the easier side of escape rooms, which may be a bonus or a downside depending on your preference for puzzles, and clocks in at around an hour of content depending on how fast you play.
Fi’s Final Thoughts
Whilst murder mysteries are 100% not my thing, Escape from Alcatraz manages to weave an overarching story through the game with a plot twist or mystery that you need to understand and solve to succeed. It's quite unusual to find a compelling story in a tabletop escape room game, and although the plot here is quite a predictable one, it really helps to hold the game together as more than just a sequence of puzzles. It's refreshing that the story is more than a predicament where you've ended up locked in a house/room/tomb etc.

Deckscape doesn't always have the wow factor of other, larger escape room games, but there's two things I often enjoy about them. Firstly, they're often a little easier than other options and I prefer to be able to do every puzzle with minimal frustration rather than resorting to hints and feeling like I'm wasting the experience. Secondly, the various times during the game when the deck gets split gives more players around the table a chance to take on puzzles independently, which is a huge benefit, even in our two player games.

Deckscape: Escape from Alcatraz pushes slightly outside on the typical deck of 60 cards in a Deckscape game, to include a newpaper sheet which has a lot of puzzle content on it. It definitely helps to provide an opportunity for slightly meatier puzzles than the card format can handle, without needing to expand the box size or prevent the game from being an escape room you could easily slip in a bag take to visit friends or even play in a bar on the off chance a gaming opportunity might arise.

You Might Like...
  • There's a good story here with a bit of a mystery to solve.
  • Like all Deckscape games, there's a great opportunity to split the puzzles and have individuals or groups able to work in parallel.
  • Escape from Alcatraz is on the easy end of escape room games, which works well for us because we don't enjoy when games make us feel stupid!
You Might Not Like...
  • The final puzzle felt a underwhelming and little fuzzy rather than clear cut.
  • The ending of the story seems to be completely out of left field.

The Verdict
7/10 Escape from Alcatraz pulls off a great blend of a story with an overarching mystery with a bunch of smaller puzzles of all different types. The majority of the puzzles are satisfying, and only one or two of them were a little frustrating. As a team who almost always needs the hints to get through an escape room, we did not need them in this one, so it's definitely a good introduction to escape rooms that should make your group feel smart, not stupid!

Deckscape: Escape from Alcatraz was a review copy kindly provided to us by dV Giochi.

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