Deckscape: Escape from Alcatraz
- Designers: Martino Chiacchiera and Silvano Sorrentino
- Players: 1-6
- Ages: 12+
- Time: ~60 minutes
- Times played: 1, with review copy provided by dv Giochi
The puzzle game genre has been rapidly growing over the last few years – there have been many entries in this field over that time period. Likewise, we’ve done our best here to seek out as many of them as we can to try. Many of the initial forays into the puzzle area have been big-box affairs, some with electronic solving devices – allowing for multiple expansions that use the same hardware. The catch with most of these games are that they can really only be played once – because once you know the solution to the puzzle, you can’t really experience the solving of the same puzzle again… The Deckscape series goes a different route, instead focusing on the portability aspect.
We have looked at a number of these in the past
This review will be spoiler-free. All pictures here are taken from the dv giochi website, so everything you see here is what they have allowed you to see… In this portable cooperative game, everything is contained in a single card box – think the old traditional Amigo sized card game boxes. Contained within is a single 60 card deck. These cards are double-sized – that is each is 3.2 x 4.4 inches in size – like two traditional playing cards that have not been cut apart. The larger size of the cards helps accommodate all the graphics and text needed for the game.
The game is played cooperatively – all the gamers are on the same team trying to solve the puzzles presented in the box. When you open the box, there is nothing but a sealed deck of cards – with careful instructions on both sides telling you how to open the cards and which side to hold face up. Once you get started, the rules to the game are explained on the first few cards.
In this particular episode, the story is a hectic adventure set in the maximum security prison of Alcatraz. From the box: “No one has ever escaped from Alcatraz. The island is more than a mile away from the nearest coast, surrounded by icy waters filled with ravenous sharks – not to mention the hardened crooks and the angry guards patrolling the blocks. Who brought you here? Why? When? You have a bad headache and cannot remember what happened before you woke up in this cold, dark cell! You start developing a plan to escape, but you cannot do it alone: you need some accomplices!” Players can choose to free (or not!) other prisoners in exchange for help – but is this morally right? And can you really trust these hardened crooks?
I’ll try to explain the game without any spoilers. Once the scenario is set up with the first few cards, you will then be instructed to record the time to start the game in earnest… The goal of the game is to solve puzzles, understand the plot of the story, and make intelligent use of the items provided in order to get through all the cards in the box as quickly as possible.
All of the information needed to solve the puzzles are found on the cards themselves and on a “prison newspaper” that is thoughtfully included in the box as well… You might want to have some pen and paper handy to make notes, etc. The solution process is fairly simple – when you think you have solved a puzzle, and all of the teammates agree on the possible solution, you flip over the card with that particular puzzle on it to see the solution. If you have solved it correctly, you simply keep reading the directions on the card and move on. Sometimes, the game will just have you go to the next card. Sometimes, the puzzle will provide you with an item which remains in your possession for the rest of the game.The item will probably be used to solve a puzzle later in the game, but you’ll have to figure out where/when to use the item. If you are wrong, you still get to progress to the next challenge, but you must make note of your failed solution on the scoring sheet. You’re on your honor to decide whether you’ve solved the puzzle correctly or not.
When you make it through the deck of cards, there is a scoring rubric that you can use to determine how well you did. Essentially, you take the time needed to solve the whole set of puzzles with some time penalties added in for any incorrect solutions.
Some of the puzzles are stand-alone affairs while other require you to have solved previous puzzles first. But, of course, the game doesn’t tell you when you need this extra information, so you have to be constantly on your toes looking for information to help you on your way.
The overall format was very similar, and the folks at dv Giochi have definitely found a system that works well. We felt that the level of difficulty of puzzles was OK – there were a few which seemed quite easy, and one that took us a bit longer to work through due to a fairly large sideways leap of logic that was needed. We even used the hint for that puzzle, and we just weren’t able to make the mental leap. But, that’s OK – the way that the Deckscape is set up, you just mark down the incorrect answer on your scorecard and move on. You really can’t get “stuck” in this game, and I have always liked that aspect in this series.
If there was any issue with the series – it’s that it might be hard to play this with higher player counts. The reason for this is simply that though the cards are oversized, they are still not that big, and it’s hard to get so many heads around the card at one time. I’d probably personally limit the group to 3 or so (I used to say 4, but I have now reduced this count to 3). There are times where there are multiple active puzzles, but there are also plenty of situations where there is essentially a single active card. If you have a larger group, you could end up missing large parts of the overall puzzle if a different group gets through a number of puzzles while you’re working on something different. I’d also be careful picking up the cards to study them – because if you do, you risk possibly exposing the answer to the puzzle (on the reverse side) to anyone on the other side of the table. We definitely tried to make sure that we kept unsolved puzzles on the table to prevent accidental solving!
As it stands now, the list price for this will be around $15. While you can only play it once, it was a fairly engaging hour for four gamers in our group and we felt it was well worth the cost for that amount of play. As I mentioned earlier, you really cannot play the game more than once, but you could then pass this on to a friend when you were done with it. (In fact, my copy of the game has already been passed on to another Opinionated Gamer for him to play with his wife!)
I’m still looking forward to continuing releases in this line of puzzle games. The level of difficulty was good – and while there was that one puzzle that felt illogical – it provided a very nice discrete puzzle solving activity for one of our game nights and gave us an experience which we enjoyed doing. I wouldn’t say that this one was my favorite; I liked El Dorado more, but this one was still quite good.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y
- Not for me…