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The theme behind Alcatraz is, not surprisingly, a prison escape attempt. Each player has four prisoners who are trying to make it over the wall and through the courtyard to the escape boat on the other side of the board. The courtyard is a 9 x 9 grid, which, unfortunately for the prisoners, is filled with guards (one guard watching over each row). Unfortunately for the guards however, the courtyard is very dark. This means that they cannot see the prisoners; they can only hear them moving!
This background setting makes for a great little strategy game. On his/her turn, each player may move one of their prisoners any number of spaces in one direction (forward, backward, or sideways). When a guard 'hears' that a prisoner has ended his move in his row, he takes exactly as many steps toward that prisoner as the prisoner himself moved. So, if your prisoner started in the second row and moved two spaces foward to row four, the guard there would then move two spaces towards him. If the guard lands on your prisoner or passes over him, he has been caught and must return to the prison to start from the wall again. Each player, therefore, tries to move their prisoners in such a way that their movement causes the guards to capture the other players' prisoners. Furthermore, the guards in the higher rows start in the middle of their rows, making it much harder to get past them and into the boat. When someone does make it into the boat an alarm is sounded and a die is rolled. The guard in the row number indicated by the die roll is activated and captures prisoners in that row. This is the only moment of luck in the game and usually only occurs about 5 times before the game ends. When one player gets three prisoners in the boat the game ends and s/he wins!
Alcatraz is simple and quick to learn, and the pieces are really cute too! I recommend this game very highly as a light strategy game, suitable also for younger players. A group of very experienced gamers may have a sort of stalemate endgame problem, since once the prime spaces in the highest rows are filled the game cannot really continue unless those prisoners either make it into the boat, which no one will let happen, or get captured, which no one can make happen. But with the right group of players I really love this clever little game!
The goal in Alcatraz is to move your pieces from one end of the board to an exit point at the other end of the board (the board being made up of rows and columns of squares). On each row of the board a guard is positioned. These guards move automatically in response to the movements of your pieces. You may move one of your pieces as many squares as you wish in any one direction per turn and the guard on the row where you land will move the same number of squares in your direction. Any men on that row that the guard passes through are sent back to the beginning row. In order to exit the end row, you must first pass through a small area occupying the centre portion of the last few rows.
This is definitely a game in the strategy camp. The basic goal being to get your men off and to make sure you are moving in such as way as to have the guards either block or send back to the beginning your opponent. There is no luck involved (other than the potential in any multi-player game to have some players weaker than others).
Unfortunately, the game suffers from a serious end-game problem in that there is no external factor (such as diminishing resources) that drive the game to a finish. In order to win, you essentially need to work to prevent your opponents from winning. The games tend to bog down to a near stalemate where everyone moves hoping to force their opponent to make a mistake.
There are a number of other games out there at similar prices to provide equal stimulation for your brain-cells and provide a considerably more enjoyable experience. Spend your money on Medina or Tikal instead.
The problem with this game is, it never ends. With three or more players, it is very easy to prevent opponents from getting their last prisoners out. With two players, it is possible to come to an end if the players are not too evenly matched though. But then, what's the point of that?
The playing pieces are not that nice either, but that is my subjective point of view.
Although this is a pure strategy game with very little influence from luck, I would not recommend it for adults, since they should be capable of not letting any of the other players win.