Dale Yu: Review of Mystery Rummy – Escape from Alcatraz


Mystery Rummy – Escape from Alcatraz

  • Designers: Mike Fitzgerald and Andrew Korson
  • Publisher: US Games/Gryphon Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: ~45 minutes
  • Times Played: 3 with review copy provided by Gryphon Games

The Mystery Rummy series is a beloved series of games, the first version (Jack the Ripper) being released in 1998.  Each of the games in this line sets players in a historically memorable setting and then includes bits of information/theme from that historical event in the game.  The latest installment of the series places players on Alcatraz Island, one of the most famous of American prisons.  The players take on the role of prison guards, trying to gather information on possible escape attempts so that they can be foiled.

mystery rummy

Like the other Mystery Rummy games, the game uses basic Rummy mechanics with a few twists thrown in.  Escape from Alcatraz uses two different decks of cards.  In the Plans deck, you will find 7 suits of Escape Plan cards, 12 of each.  Unlike a regular deck of cards, these Plan cards are not numbered within the suit.  There is also one Escapee card in each suit as well as 7 generic Escapee cards.  The other deck is called the Action deck, and there are 8 different Action cards distributed within this 31 card deck.  These two decks are shuffled separately at the start of the game.

To start the hand, the dealer flips up cards from the Plans deck until an Escapee is found – this card is placed in an area called the Yard.  The revealed Escape Plan cards are placed in a face-up discard pile/line referred to as “Solitary”.  Once an Escapee is found, each player is then dealt 10 cards from the deck.  (If you cannot find a escapee in the first 20 cards, then fish one out of the deck and put it in the Yard…)

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On a turn, there are 2 phases. First, you MUST draw cards.  You can either draw two cards from the face down draw pile or you can take the top-most card from the discard pile.  Then, after drawing, you can choose to play cards if you want.  You can choose to start a new plan or play cards onto a plan which has already been started.

To start a new plan, you may be able to play a meld of at least 3 cards of matching color from your hand.  But – in order to be able to play a new plan – you must first check to see that the number of Escapees in the yard is at least as high as the number of Escape Plans in play.  (Thematically, it doesn’t make sense for there to be more Plans than prisoners trying to escape!)  The colors of the Escapees is not important here – they do not have to match up with the color of the Plans being played.  At any time during your turn, you are allowed to play ONE escapee to the Yard if you wish.

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If you want to add onto an existing Plan, you simply play cards from your hand that match the color of a plan played by an opponent.  Like regular Rummy, you keep these cards played in front of you.

You can start as many new melds as you want (provided there are available Escapees) as well as laying off to as many other Plans as you want.  If, AND ONLY IF, you have played a plan card to the table, you then must draw the top Action card from the deck and follow the instructions on that card.

As I mentioned earlier, there are 8 different possible Actions – a few examples of these are:

  • Work Detail – the player can either draw the top 2 cards from the draw pile or choose ANY card from the discard pile.
  • Plan Uncovered – the current player must take a Plan card from an opponent’s Play Area and put it in his own area.  Then turn the top 3 cards from the draw pile over, placing Plan cards on the discard pile and Escapee cards in the Yard.
  • Change in Plan – The current player could use any escapee to foil an Escape plan

Then, finally, you can choose to Foil an Escape Plan. This can only be done if: 1) there are 8 cards of that plan in play, 2) the active player has at least one of those cards in play, AND 3) there is an eligible prisoner Mastermind available in either the Yard or the player’s hand.  An eligible Mastermind is either the escapee that matches the color of the plan OR a generic grey escapee.  The active player takes that Mastermind card as well as all plan cards of that plot and places it under his “Foiled” scoring card.  All other players then place their matching Plan cards under their ‘Foiled’ card.  As they do this, each player has the chance to add a co-conspirator to the group; they can add either a generic Escapee or the escapee of matching color to the cards they are scoring.

Finally, you must end your turn  by discarding a single card to the discard pile. Play then moves to the next player clockwise.  You must have a card to discard to end your turn.

The round ends when a player goes out – that is, plays his last card in his hand to the discard pile at the end of his turn – OR when a turn ends and there are no more cards in the draw pile.  Note that it might be possible to empty your hand on someone else’s turn (i.e. playing an Escapee as a co-conspirator to a foiled plot), but this does not trigger the end of the round – the round only ends when a player’s turn ends with the discard of the final card in his hand.

When the round ends, it is important to note whether any plans have been foiled or not.

If no plans have been foiled – only the player going out will score points.  He will score the face value of all Escapees in the Yard (10 points per colored Escapee, 5 points per generic Escapee).

If at least one plan has been foiled – then all players are eligible to score points.  All players score the points on the cards which have been placed under their “Foiled” card.  In addition, the player who went out scores 3 points for each Escapee still in the Yard at the end of the Round.

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The game ends when a player reaches 100 points or more.  The player with the most points wins.  If no one is at the target score, collect all the Escapee and Plan cards and reshuffle that deck.  The Action Deck is only reshuffled when it has been completely exhausted.  A new round begins just as outlined above.

My Thoughts on the Game

Like the other Mystery Rummy games, this version takes a well-known and well-loved traditional card game and slightly tweaks it.   The History major in me (yes, I really did study History in college) loves the little tidbits of historical information that are included on the cards.   I like the choice here of either drawing two mystery cards from the deck or one known one from the discard pile.

Each hand moves along quickly – and as players start to play melds to the table, the end of a particular hand can sometimes come surprisingly quick.  As we have played the game a few times, we have learned that there is definitely an art to timing when you want to play melds to the table.  While you’d like to get cards out of your hand when possible, the difference in scoring method depending on whether or not a plan has been Foiled or not can make a huge difference in how a hand plays out.

Your desire to empty out your own hand ends up being balanced by not wanting to give an opponent another way of laying off cards to go out – and possibly be the only one to score points in a round.   Of course, if you don’t lay off some of your cards, there may not be enough available to have a Plan foiled in the first place!  However, once a plan has been Foiled, then everyone tries to get cards out of their hand so that they can participate in the scoring of points of Foiled plans.


The one thing about the game that I found sometimes irksome was the need to have an Escapee available to start a new Plan.  There are plenty of times that I have held enough matching cards to start something but I simply haven’t been lucky enough to draw an Escapee card.  As there is no penalty for holding cards at the end of a hand, there isn’t much reason for other players to discard an Escapee either – as doing so would only inhibit their own chances of starting up a Plan of their own.  In the end, though, everyone is waiting for the same Escapee cards, and like in many card games, sometimes it’s just better to be fortunate with your drawing skills.  In the end, as you are able to lay off cards on other people’s melds, it’s not like these cards will be stuck in your hand forever.

The artwork in the game is nicely done and the black and white art fits the theme well.  The cards are of high quality, and they have handled the shuffling in our first few games without any bending or marks.  The box is a pleasingly compact size, and the rules are well written with good example illustrations.

I think that this is a good addition to the Mystery Rummy family, and a game that will make it to the table as an closer/filler in the future.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral John P
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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6 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Mystery Rummy – Escape from Alcatraz

  1. Erik Arneson says:

    I didn’t get to play this quite in time to add my rating to the “Ratings from Opinionated Gamers” section, but I would have been in the “I like it” category. Another solid Mystery Rummy game. If you like the series, you’ll like Escape from Alcatraz.

  2. Thanks for the review! I am a fan of the whole series

  3. Larry Levy says:

    I’d rate this as Neutral. It seems to have a significantly higher luck element than the other titles in the series. I think most of this is due to the decision to replace the Gavel cards with a blind draw from the Action Deck. In my game, there were so many times one of us could have executed a high-scoring move with a typical draw from the deck, only to have an oddball card come up and dash the player’s hopes. And given how short the game is, luck with Action Card draws seems to have a disproportionate effect on the outcome. The theme also kind of leaves me cold, although I’m sure many others will disagree. It’s not a bad design, but for me, it’s probably the weakest entry in the series.

    • Dan Blum says:

      I see your point, but I kind of liked not ever having the usual problem of other games in the series, namely a hand full of gavel cards. They’re all useful but at a rate of one per turn that kind of hand forces you to play very slowly even if that isn’t the best option. Alcatraz avoids that.

  4. After two plays (3 players each), I’m with Dan. I taught my boys MR: Jack the Ripper last night – and the whole “hand full of gavels” came up in two of the four hands.

    As for Alcatraz, put me down as a Like (possibly Love). I think it is more accessible than the admittedly deeper Jack the Ripper and/or Rue Morgue… more in line with Wyatt Earp or Al Capone.

    I’m glad I own it!

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