PlayMonster – Break In Alcatraz [Review]

The Puzzle Rock

Location:  at home

Date Played: October 13, 2020

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 2 hours

Price: about $20

REA Reaction

Break In Alcatraz was the first game in the series that we played, and the level of novelty felt through the roof.

It was incredible how the box opened up, revealing layers of new sets to explore.

From design, to game structure, to story, this felt like a special entry into the tabletop escape game world.

As a first in a new series and new style of play, I expected more from this game when it came to onboarding. It was more challenging to figure out how to get rolling than I would have liked. Once we figured things out, they flowed fairly well… with one exception…

There was a late-game puzzle that we couldn’t understand; even after studying the hints. This either revealed a flaw in the puzzle, the limitations of a restrictive hint system, or both. It didn’t break the game, but it was a notable low point for us.

Of the first two installments in this series, Break In Alcatraz was a fun, novel game, but it felt a little weaker than Break In Area 51. I strongly recommend starting with Area 51, and if you enjoy it, pick up a copy of Alcatraz.

I’m looking forward to more from this series.

Series Overview

This review only covers details specific to this individual game from Break In.

For a detailed explanation of the concept and mechanics, and a general analysis of the entire product line, check out our Break In Overview.

Story

Our dear friend had been wrongfully convicted of a crime and sent to the most notorious prison in the world, Alcatraz. It was time to hatch an elaborate plan to break in and liberate our companion from the island fortress.

Analysis

The analysis in this section is about the content of Break In Alcatraz. To see our analysis of the structure, refer to our Break In overview.

Break in Alcatraz was exciting to unwrap. It was structurally novel, revealing unexpected transformations. The initial in-game reveal was awesome, and impactful. (This was the first installment we played from this series, so we experienced this more profoundly here.)

➖ Onboarding was rough and the start of play was a grind. Break in Alcatraz began with many components and little direction. PlayMonster seemed aware that gameplay could be bumpy, offering what amounted to an optional itemized, ordered to-do list for each chapter. This was essential for understanding the flow of the game, but it wasn’t a fun or natural way to play.

➕ The art was fun. It was busy, but not overwhelming. It made the main prop into a complete set.

➖ The hints had gaps. They were entirely insufficient for some observation puzzles. Early in the game, this was extremely frustrating. In one instance we encountered a puzzle that we could not understand even with all of the hints. That may have been on us, but at some point it stops mattering.

➕ Once we figured out how to approach this game, the gameplay flowed and the fun picked up.

➕ We especially enjoyed the solves with more tangible components.

➕/➖ Break in Alcatraz offered a more complete narrative than many escape games (tabletop or otherwise). We started at the beginning, the break-in before the escape. This enabled more depth of story. That said, we never felt the stakes of the mission. There could have been more drama. In part, this resulted from reading the story through prose, rather than experiencing it through play. This game lacked experiential story beats.

❓ There was a Choose Your Own Adventure-style segment late in the game. We were torn as to whether or not we liked how this mechanic played out.

Buy your copy of PlayMonster’s Break in Alcatraz, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: PlayMonster provided a sample for review.

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