The card game Rummy has been around since the 19th century, with variations of the game coming from much further back in history. Melding, laying off, and going out are all familiar old friends to the card players among us.
Back in 1988 a friend and I were wandering around a convention looking at new games when we came across a guy teaching a rummy game. Well that seemed easy enough to learn, since we already knew the basics. The game was Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper. We were hooked. Since that time there has been several different iterations of the game: Murders in the Rue Morgue, Jeckyll & Hyde and Al Capone.
In the newest version, Escape from Alcatraz, you play Alcatraz prison guards, attempting to foil escape attempts by collecting melds of plans. When a total of 8 cards have been laid off on a plan, the melds are placed in the score piles along with the ringleader. When either a player goes out, or the deck is exhausted, the cards are scored, and points awarded. The first player to 100 points is the winner.
What I love most about these games is the historical themes. The cards are filled with historical trivia, and Alcatraz is no different. Each escapee card details the history of one of the prisons infamous inmates, their crime, and their escape attempts, the “Plans” deck details some of the successful escapes.
The cards keep the look of crime files, much like the earlier versions of the game and the “suit” colors are easily distinguished. We have had some difficulties when playing in identifying the escapees. Some of them have suit colors, and can easily be mistaken for plans cards when drawing. They do have a different icon, so knowing that they are mixed in, and making sure you keep watch for them is an important thing to remember.
The game also has action cards. The first time that you play a meld from your hand, or lay off on an existing meld, you draw an action card, which most often gives you extra cards. This is a nice feature and adds to the game. In basic rummy, sometimes players will hold their melds until they can finish them. The action deck encourages players to lay their melds in order to get more cards to finish them before the other player.
Of the versions of Mystery Rummy that have come out over the years, this one rates highly with me. The theme translates very well to the game play, and the action cards keep the game moving. I recommend it with 3-4 players though. Our two player games have been a little clunky.