Board Games » Previews » Jailbreakers: Plan Your Escape Kickstarter Preview

Jailbreakers: Plan Your Escape Kickstarter Preview

This is a preview of the card game Jailbreakers: Plan Your Escape which is currently on Kickstarter. This preview is based on print and play components. The Kickstarter campaign ends on July 22nd, 2015. The game has already reached its’ minimum funding goal. The campaign is still looking for funding to reach its’ stretch goals. If you are interested in Jailbreakers: Plan Your Escape check out its’ Kickstarter page.

How to Play

Game Objective

The objective in Jailbreakers Plan Your Escape is to be the first player to help two of your prisoners successfully escape.

Setup

To begin each player chooses a color and takes the three prisoner cards and dice of that color.

The “game board” is assembled by placing the location cards out in a 4X3 grid. Locations 1-4 are placed in the first row, locations 5-8 are placed in the second row, and locations 9-12 are placed in the third row. A guard card is placed on location 6 and 12 to start the game.

The material and crafted item cards are separated into stacks and set off to the side. The escape deck is shuffled. Four of the escape plans are randomly selected and placed face up. The rest of the escape plans are placed face down.

A Player’s Turn

A player’s turn begins with rolling one of their die. If this is the first die they rolled this round, the player can play it on any unoccupied location space that is equal to or less than the number they rolled. If the player placed a die on the board in a prior turn, they add the value of that die to the die they just rolled. The player can play the die on any space that is equal to or less than the total of the two dice. If there are no unoccupied spaces that the player can play on, they lose the die they rolled for the rest of the round.

Once a player places their die, they take the action written on the card. If the die is played on a space occupied by a guard, the player will get in trouble (see the Getting in Trouble section).

If a player doesn’t want to risk having to play on a guard location, the player is allowed to pass on rolling their die but they can still take the actions listed below.

After taking the action printed on the location card, the player can take these additional actions:

  1. Craft an Item: The player can combine two of their material cards into a crafted item. Players turn in the used material cards and take the crafted item that matches the two materials they used.
  2. Special Ability: Crafted items have special abilities. If applicable, the player can use a special ability of any of their crafted items.
  3. Try to Escape: The player can try to make an escape if the have the necessary crafted items. See the Try to Escape section for more information.

After the player has completed all of the actions they would like, their turn ends and play moves to the next player.

A round ends when each player has used or passed their three dice. Between rounds I am assuming that the role of first player rotates to the next player.

Getting in Trouble

When rolling the die players may be forced to play their die on a location with a guard on it. In this situation the player will lose that prisoner/die which is indicated by flipping over the card. The player has to forfeit two material cards at the end of a round to free their prisoner in order to use that prisoner in the next round.

Try to Escape

Once you have acquired the necessary crafted items for one of the escape plans, you may attempt the escape. There are three different types of escapes based on how many items were used in the escape. The difficulty of the escape plan determines how many cards from the escape deck that the player has to draw.

  • Two item escape: Draw six cards
  • Three item escape: Draw four cards
  • Four item escape: Draw two cards

In order to successfully escape the player cannot draw two or more fail cards. Cards are flipped over one at a time. The player keeps drawing cards from the escape deck until they decide to quit, they draw their second fail card, or they draw the last required card.

If a player draws their first fail card and are afraid of drawing another fail card, they can back out of the escape attempt and keep half of their items (rounded up). If they quit their escape attempt, one fail card is removed from the escape deck.

If the player ends up drawing a second fail card, their escape attempt fails. They lose all of their items. A fail card is removed from the escape deck.

If the player draws their last required card and only drew one or zero fail cards, they have successfully escaped. The player gets rid of all of the cards used in their escape. A fail card is added back into the escape deck. One of the players prisoners escapes and I am assuming their die cannot be used in future rounds.

All escape cards used in an escape attempt are returned to the escape deck and the escape deck is shuffled.

When a player successfully escapes a second time, they win the game.

A Jailbreak Dice Game

Before playing Jailbreakers: Plan Your Escape I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Typically I am not a big fan of dice rolling games since they usually rely too heavily on luck. Jailbreakers looked interesting though because it blended mechanics from dice rolling games with some other more strategic mechanics. I actually ended up having quite a bit of fun with Jailbreakers.

One thing I liked about Jailbreakers is that the game is pretty simple to learn and play. The rules at this time are only a couple of pages long. The instructions are pretty easy to read and the game as a whole is pretty easy to understand. I think a couple things in the rules and the special abilities of some of the cards could have been explained a little more in depth but at this stage I found the instructions to be pretty good.

With the simple rules, Jailbreakers could be taught pretty easily to other players. While the game is pretty easy to play, it is the type of game that will take a couple turns to fully understand. During your first couple of turns there is quite a bit to look at at which will make these turns take a little longer than expected. As you play the game though you adjust pretty quickly. After you get adjusted to the game I don’t think people will have trouble understanding the game.

One thing I was a little surprised with was the length of the game. Jailbreakers is not a short dice rolling game. I was expecting a 15-20 minute game that could work as a quick filler. Based on the game I played you should expect games to last at least 30-60 minutes unless one player gets really lucky. The game will probably move a little quicker once everyone is used to the game and is familiar with the different types of items. Jailbreakers will still take longer than your typical dice rolling game though.

Beautiful Artwork

One of the first things you should notice when looking at Jailbreakers: Plan Your Escape is the game’s artwork. I don’t know whether all of the artwork has been finalized yet but I have to say that the artwork is already very good. Obviously artwork doesn’t make a game good or bad but it doesn’t hurt. Despite playing only a print and play version of the game I can already say that the artwork is better than the artwork in most of the games I have played.

The artwork does a great job reflecting the theme of Jailbreakers. The artwork has kind of a “cartoon” look to it. It does a good job supporting the theme of the game which doesn’t take itself too seriously. Just looking at some of the escape plans and you can clearly tell that this is not a gritty prison game.

While artwork in most games is usually just aesthetic, the artwork in Jailbreakers actually does a good job helping make the game easier to understand. The cards are designed in a way that makes it very easy to find what you are looking for on every card. All of the crafted items contain symbols showing the materials needed to craft it. The material cards have symbols on the bottom of the cards which shows what crafted items need the material. The escape cards use the item symbols instead of being filled with text which would have gotten in the way of the beautiful artwork. Even the location cards provide symbols on most of the cards.

Luck/Strategy

When looking at any board game, one of the first things I look at is the luck/strategy breakdown. Every board game falls somewhere on the luck/strategy spectrum with neither side being perfect. If the game has too much luck, the player feels like their actions don’t mean anything and a player will win just by random chance. On the other hand if the game is all strategy and no luck the game will get pretty boring pretty quickly and the better player will pretty much win every single game.

Personally I prefer a little more strategy than luck. This is the main reason I am not a huge fan of traditional dice games. A lot of dice games are too reliant on luck in my opinion which means there is little skill involved and it feels like your decisions have little impact on the final outcome. The good news is that while Jailbreakers has some luck involved (using dice will always add luck), the game does a good job of managing the luck in order to make it not overwhelming.

Luck

Luck in Jailbreakers comes from rolling the dice and by drawing cards from the escape deck. If you have bad luck you are unlikely to win the game but you have a better chance than with most dice rolling games. This is because Jailbreakers has ways to mitigate the luck involved with rolling the dice and drawing cards.

With dice rolling, the game gives you options no matter what you roll. Unless you are forced to play your dice on a space occupied by a guard or you end up rolling a number that presents no open spaces, you are going to have an option that is going to help you out. All of the materials seem to be used in equal quantities in the various crafted items so getting any material card will help you out (as long as you don’t already have several of that item). In addition there are several special abilities for the various crafted items that will help you take advantage of any roll that you make by either adding to your roll or letting you break some of the placement rules in the game.

When drawing cards you can mitigate your risk by attempting more sophisticated escape plans which are easier to complete. These plans take more time to acquire the necessary items but your chances at success are much higher. Some of the special abilities from crafted items can also help mitigate some of the luck in drawing cards. For example one of the cards lets you look at the top two cards from the escape deck before attempting an escape. This allows a player to get a good idea whether the escape plan will work before they attempt it.

Strategy

Jailbreakers is not the type of game that will give you a headache trying to think through all of the possibilities but it still has a decent amount of strategy. Players can form strategies based on the powers of their crafted items, they can hoard cards, and they can even strategically place their die in a location knowing that it will affect another players’ turn.

Generally a player is going to want to place their die in a location that is most beneficial to themselves. Players could decide to try and mess with the other players though. For example a player could place their die on a lower numbered location in order to get in the way for the next player. By playing a die in a specific location they could block the next player from even being able to play their die to any location card.

Escape Or Hoard Items

One interesting decision that players in Jailbreakers need to make is whether they are going to try to escape as quickly as possible or if they are going to try and hoard items. Obviously you need to try to escape in order to try and win the game. Your first successful escape will bring you closer to victory and your second escape will win you the game.

I think hoarding a bunch of items and materials before attempting escapes is just as valuable. Hoarding items actually helps in two ways.

First if you own the card, no one else can have it unless they steal it from you. There are limited resources in the game so there will be times when you want a certain item or material and won’t be able to get it since other players already own the entire stock of the item or material. In the game I played there were actually many instances of players holding onto cards just so other players were unable to take them for themselves. I think this can be a valid strategy since you can stall other players that need one specific item that you have. This will make them have to wait until you use it or they can steal it. This gives you some time to catch up or build items for your future escape plans.

The other reason to hoard crafted item cards is for their special abilities. As I will discuss later, some of the special abilities on the crafted item cards are quite powerful. They can change some of the rules significantly in your favor. By holding many different crafted items you can have quite a few advantages that you can use to help you acquire more materials or other crafted items. You actually might decide not to attempt an escape plan right away just because you want to use the special ability for a couple more turns.

Escape Plans

I have to give the game props for the escape cards. The game could have easily chosen some bland traditional escape plans like digging a tunnel. Jailbreakers embraces its’ less than serious theme though by coming up with some unique/interesting escape plans that would clearly not work in real life.

I think the idea behind the escape plans is actually very well done. For each escape plan the players need to acquire different items which are made from the different materials players acquire during the game. The game actually gives you a choice on how you would like to play the game. You can try the two item escapes which are easy to attempt but are hard to succeed at. Otherwise you can try the four item escapes which take a pretty long time to acquire all of the items but are very easy to succeed at.

This is an interesting mechanic since it caters to different type of players. Players that are risk takers will probably be more likely to attempt the two item escape plans hoping that they can avoid having to acquire so many different items. On the other hand more cautious players will try the slow but steady path by attempting the four item plans. My group aren’t big risk takers so we didn’t find the two item attempts to be worth it due to their high rate of failure but I could see the option being enticing to risk taking players.

The only problem I had with the escape plan cards is that there seems to be too many two item plans. In the print and play version of the game five of the plans are two items, four are three items, and two are four items. With this distribution the two item plans came up too often. This eventually lead to a point where all of the available plans were two item escape plans so all of the players were forced into attempting the risky plans. I hope the final game would include some more three and four item escape plans so both risk adverse and risk takers have options most of the time.

Special Abilities

Each crafted item in Jailbreakers gives the player a special ability that helps with another aspect of the game other than just escaping. I love this idea since it allows players to strategically craft items for their special abilities instead of just crafting the next item needed for their escape plan. If there were no special abilities I think the game could have gotten boring pretty quickly since the game would have just been an exercise rolling the dice crafting one item after another in order to attempt an escape. These special abilities add quite a bit of strategy to the game as players need to decide whether they want to try to escape and risk losing their special abilities.

While most of the special abilities seem to be pretty balanced, some do seem to be a little too powerful while others seem a little underpowered. In the game I played it seemed like the abilities that affected dice rolls and the card that let you look at the top two cards from the escape deck were very popular and seemed to be the most powerful abilities in the game. Players would hold onto these cards just for their special abilities.

What makes these abilities so powerful is that you can keep the ability as long as you keep the item. There was actually a time in the game that I played where a player could have escaped with one of their prisoners for a couple rounds but they didn’t want to because they liked keeping all of their special powers. I didn’t blame them either since having a lot of special abilities helps you a lot in the game.

The Guards

One of the more unique mechanics for the dice rolling side of the game is the guards that are set out on the game board. The guards are mostly used as a press your luck mechanic. The guards occupy spaces on the board which all of the players need to try to avoid. After your first roll in a round, you need to check out the game board to see how much risk you are taking by rolling the die. Sometimes you will actually decide to pass on rolling your die in order to avoid risking getting caught by one of the guards.

Unfortunately the guards don’t come into play as much as I would have liked. The guards only move when a player with a poster decides to use the special ability to move them up or down one space. This rarely happened in the game I played which means the guards pretty much just stayed in their initial positions. I think the game should have had the guards move to the next space at the end of each round. This would have added some more variety since the guards would always have been on the move.

Edit: After hearing back from the designer of Jailbreakers: Plan Your Escape, it turns out that after each round the guards do move around the board. Either I missed this while reading the rules or it was added to the game. This rule should improve the game quite a bit.

Close Game/Catchup Mechanic

An interesting mechanic comes into play whenever a player successfully escapes with one of their prisoners. By helping one of the prisoners escape, you are actually hurting yourself going forward. When a prisoner escapes, the player has one less die to roll which means that it will be harder to gather materials and craft items in future rounds. This essentially works as a built in catch up mechanic allowing other players to catch up to a player that gets out to a quick start. Being the first player to get a prisoner out I can attest to how much harder it is to gather materials once you have one less die to roll.

While I am not a huge fan of catch up mechanics, it kind of works in Jailbreakers. Thematically it makes total sense because if a prisoner escapes they wouldn’t be around to help procure more materials for the other prisoners. Game play wise it also makes since and it helps balance out some of the luck with rolling the dice. If you roll well early and are able to escape, the game gives the other players an opportunity to catch up.

The catchup mechanic also does a good job of keeping the game close. In the game I played (four players) three of the players had one successful escape while the other player had several escape attempts that ended up failing due to bad luck. I ended up winning the game on a two item escape which was just in time since several other players could have attempted to escape on one of their next turns. Unless one player plays poorly or gets really unlucky, most of the players should be within a couple of turns from winning when a player wins the game.

Turn Order Is Important

When I first started to play Jailbreakers I thought I had discovered a pretty significant issue with the game. Being the last player to go during the round, I was at a severe disadvantage. Due to poor rolling and being last I was actually only able to get one die on the gameboard during the first round. Whoever rolls last will have the least options when playing their die and they could actually be put into a position where they can’t even place a single die during a round. Whoever plays last in a round is not going to have a good round unless they are lucky. If you are the last player to go in a particular round you essentially need to just try and salvage as much as you can from the round.

The good news is that in each round a new player gets to be the first player. If this wasn’t the case, whoever rolled last would have no chance at winning the game since they would be at a disadvantage in every single round. While it does kind of suck when you are the last player to go in a round, everyone will have to face the exact same disadvantage at some point so it kind of evens out. Every player also gets the advantage of going first in a round which is very beneficial to a player.

Final Verdict

At its’ heart Jailbreakers Plan Your Escape is a dice rolling game. The game successfully adds other mechanics to the dice rolling genre which takes away some of the luck from traditional dice rolling games and adds in some strategic elements. While the game could use some small tweaks and it runs a little long, it is still a good game. The game is easy to learn and is pretty fun to play. I would consider Jailbreakers: Plan Your Escape to be one of the better dice rolling games I have played.

Being a dice rolling game, if you hate dice rolling games Jailbreakers most likely won’t change your mind. If the theme or game mechanics interest you though I would suggest you take at look at the game.

At this time Jailbreakers Plan Your Escape has already been Kickstarted but if you are interested in the game you can still pledge money to the campaign in order to receive a copy of the game. Also the game has several stretch goals that are trying to be reached which will add additional content to the game which includes an expansion and additional components. If you are interested in the game you can check out its’ Kickstarter page for more information. The Kickstarter campaign for Jailbreakers: Plan Your Escape ends on July 22nd, 2015.

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