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The most notorious prisoners are kept isolated from the outside world on a heavily guarded island in the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of the United States. Those sentenced to life are kept in the most secure part of the prison: Section X. It is extremely difficult to escape from that part of the prison, but the prisoners have a plan. Will they succeed or are the strict guards too clever for them?
A few themes get me genuinely excited, and that of escaping from a prison is particularly fascinating. Section X (The Game Master, 2006 - Chislaine van den Bulk) immediately attracted me, as it involved prisoners escaping from a maximum-security prison on an island in the Atlantic. Prisoners are digging tunnels to escape, but at the same time can mess with others, as they try to escape. With only a few games dedicated to this (and some of them a bit abstract – such as Cartagena), I was very eager to play Section X and got it to our table as quickly as possible.
Sadly, Section X goes on my list of most disappointing games, because not only was the theme not as exciting as I thought but also the mechanics actually seemed contrary to the theme! Tunnels can rotate; areas can be blocked off – things happen, which simply don’t make sense! Add that to the fact that the game itself really isn’t much fun at all, and winning seems to depend on both luck in drawing tiles and whoever is left alone by the other players. Not only did I find the game to have a lack of fun, but also it was tedious and almost onerous to me as I longed for it to end.
The game board features “Section X” prison in the center, surrounded by a grid of hexes that depict the water around the prison. Each player takes eight prisoner pawns and places them in one of the four quarters of the prison island as well as two door pieces in the same color. Piles of tunnel tiles are shuffled and placed near the board, as well as four “master key” cards. One player is chosen to go first, and the game begins.
On a player’s turn, they take three actions. First, they choose a tile from one of the three piles and add it to their “stock” but cannot draw if they already have three tiles. Secondly, they may manipulate a tile by
The player then may move their prisoners or place a door. If they move prisoners, they may move their prisoners up to five steps (maximum two per prisoner) through the tunnels they have built. Some tunnel pieces have “hiding places” which prisoners can move into; these are the only hexes on which more than one prisoner may be. If the player places a door, they may block access to a tunnel for prisoners of other players and take control of that tunnel. Players may also move one of their doors if they want to. (There are some other rules regarding placement of doors and tunnels, but they’re too boring to go into here.)
There are some green safe spaces on the outskirts of the grid of ocean spaces. When one player has gotten three prisoners to theses safe places, the escape is detected, and all tunnels are destroyed – with the exception of the “hiding spaces.” Any prisoners in a normal tunnel are killed and removed from the game, while doors are returned to thee players. Another round begins and continues until one player gets five prisoners to freedom. At this point, everyone breathes a sigh, congratulates the winner, and hurriedly puts the game away.
Some comments on the game…
I really, really wanted to like Section X and kept looking at the rules while playing, hoping to see something that I missed. But the only missing was the fun, and I sadly put this one away, never to come out again. One might think that I’m yammering on too hard on the lack of theme, but really – if you take it away, there’s NOTHING left. Tile placement games do not mix easily with the “take that” genre, and it’s a game killer in Section X. Escape from the game, not the prison!
“Real men play board games”