‘Break In: Alcatraz’ Is a Different Type of Escape Room Game

Gaming Reviews Tabletop Games

In the history of Alcatraz as a federal penitentiary, there has only been one successful breakout. On the night of June 11, 1962, three men successfully escaped from their cells and made it off ‘the Rock’. Whether they survived the near freezing water of San Francisco Bay and made it to the mainland has been a mystery. Recent information seems to show they may have survived and left the country. Now you have a chance to take part in this jail break. However, you are the outside person. In order to help the three escape, you must first break into Alcatraz. 

What Is Break In: Alcatraz?

Break In: Alcatraz is a cooperative escape room type game for 1-6 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 120 minutes to play. Players must work together to solve puzzles and not only break into the prison, but also escape with their friends. The game is currently available for sale on Amazon for around $15. Break In: Alcatraz was designed by Rebecca Bleau, Nicholas Cravotta, and David Yakos. It is published by PlayMonster, with illustrations by Steve Downer.

Break In: Alcatraz Components

  • Expanding 3D Game Board
  • 54 Cards
  • 7 Solution Sticks
  • Envelope with Raft Puzzle
  • 2-Piece Ball & Chain Puzzle
  • Radio Decoder
  • Rules
side view of game board
Lift off the lid of the box to review the gameboard. Clues can be anywhere, even on the sides. Image by Michael Knight.

The game box is the gameboard. While it starts out with an overview of Alcatraz Island, along with pictures on the side that offer clues, it opens up several times to reveal new locations as well as more clues and puzzles. The gameboard itself has many of the puzzles. Don’t open the gameboard until directed to do so by the game. 

cards from the game
Each card has a different symbol on the back. Image by Michael Knight.

The 54 cards each have a symbol on the back and either a clue, puzzle, or hint on the front. The symbols on the cards correspond to matching symbols found as results to puzzles and challenges. Don’t look at the cards until they are called for in the game. 

inserting a solution stick into the gameboard
Insert the solution stick into the right slot to reveal your answer. Image by Michael Knight.

The solution sticks have two sides. On the end is a symbol which is how you choose which stick to use since many puzzles will require you to determine a symbol. These sticks are placed into numbered slots on the gameboard. The colored lines show you how far to insert a stick into the slot. When you look through a window on the gameboard, a symbol will appear to let you know which card to use next. 

radio decoder and hint card
If you get stuck, use the radio decoder to see the hidden text on the hint cards. Image by Michael Knight.

Are you stuck? Do you need a hint? When you get a hint card, you will need the radio decoder to see the hidden text on the card. Just place the radio over the card and read the text though the red window. 

How to Play Break In: Alcatraz

You can watch a video tutorial here

The Goal

The goal of the game is to help your inmate friends break out of prison and make a successful escape from Alcatraz island. 


Break In: Alcatraz advises to not pull out the pieces until your party is ready to play. Once everyone is assembled, lift off the box lid and remove the two bags of pieces that are taped to the top of the lid. Don’t open the rest of the game box until you are directed to do so since that is part of the gameplay. Pull out the deck of cards and ensure they are stacked in order from 1 to 54. The numbers are on the bottom of the cards. Next place the seven solution sticks off to one side to be used later. You begin the game with the radio, which has a red, transparent decoder. Find two cards from the deck. One has a toolbox on it and the other has a mailbox. This is all you get to start with. The mailbox card has a letter which you can read to begin the game. 

starting items for the game
This is all you start out with for the game. Image by Michael Knight.


During the course of the game, you have to solve puzzles and overcome challenges by working as a team. This is a cooperative game and it will take some thinking outside of the box to get through it. There are two types of symbols in the game. The symbols inside golden circles are card symbols. When you see these, find that card from the deck. It will contain directions and clues to help you progress through the game. Solution symbols have a box around them and they correspond to a specific solution stick. Some puzzles will provide a card symbol as a result. Draw that card to continue. However, others will require not only a solution symbol, but also a color and a number. Once you have all three parts of the solution, select the correct solution stick. Insert it into the slot on the gameboard with the corresponding number and lower it until you get to the line of the correct color. Look through the window to get a symbol that matches one of the cards in the deck. If the symbol instead leads you to a card with hints on it, you were incorrect. Go back and try again. 

top of the game board at the start
Look for clues on the gameboard at the start of the game. The symbol in the gold circle tells you to get the card with the boat on it. Image by Michael Knight.

If you ever get stuck and can’t solve a puzzle, the symbol of the hint card will show you which card to get for some help. Some hint cards have numbers along the side. Start at the top and use the radio decoder to read the encrypted text. Read just the first hint and see if that gives you enough information to solve the puzzle. Then continue on to the next hint if needed. Other cards related to three-part puzzles are divided into symbol, color, and number sections. Just look at the hint for the part you need. If you still can’t solve the problem after exhausting all the hints, at the bottom of the hint card, you will find the symbol of the next card you need to continue the game. Therefore, you are never really stuck and can’t continue. 

In addition to solving puzzles with clues on the cards and the gameboard, there are also a couple physical puzzles where you manipulate pieces to create something. As you solve puzzles, the game box opens in a series of stages revealing new locations and more puzzles and clues. You start out with an overview of the island with the challenge of getting to Alcatraz Island and from there, into the penitentiary itself. The gameboard continues to open and reveal new things related to your progress as you get the convicts out of their cells, out of the building, and off the island.

game board opened up
When the game instructs, open the gameboard to reveal the interior of the prison as well as more clues and puzzles. Image by Michael Knight.

Game End

The game ends when you have solved all of the puzzles and finally escaped from Alcatraz. 

Why You Should Play Break In: Alcatraz

Most of the escape room games I have played consist primarily of cards with a few other items. Break In: Alcatraz is different in that you actually have a three-dimensional gameboard that opens up and offers new clues and puzzles. You will find yourself moving the gameboard around and even picking it up to peek into areas to try to find clues for solving puzzles. The game recommends taking photos with phones when playing with several players so each can view and work on puzzles at the same time. Being able to manipulate the game really adds to the enjoyment as you literally have to look for clues. Unlike some other games of this genre, Break In: Alcatraz is not timed. Therefore, you do not feel like you are playing against the clock. This can take away some of the stress and it actually encourages players to take their time to enjoy and become immersed into the game. 

cell block on the gameboard
Look for symbols, numbers, and colors to solve puzzles. Image by Michael Knight.

The cards not only are used to provide puzzles, they also tell a great story of the prison break. This really helps set the scene and theme of the game and makes the puzzles and challenges more relevant rather than abstract. Each puzzle helps further the effort to escape from the Rock. I also like the way the hints are handled in the game. You do not have to go to an app to get a hint. Instead, just pull out the hint card and get just enough info to help you solve the puzzle. While the solution is there if you need it, often just getting pointed in the right direction is all you need. This can really help alleviate frustration without feeling like you are giving up on a puzzle. While the game is recommended for children 10 and up, this is a tough game. I played with young teenagers and adults and some of the puzzles were tough for us. If children in the 10-13 year age range are playing, I suggest that some older players participate as well. While this game can only be played once since players have already solved all the puzzles by the end, it can easily be reset and shared with other people so they can enjoy the game as well. Nothing is destroyed during gameplay. In fact, Break In Alcatraz even includes directions on how to reset and repackage the game. This increases the value of the game and the life of the game. 

My family had a great time playing Break In: Alcatraz. The story was fun and provided a purpose for our actions. The challenge level was just right. It was not too easy and I will admit, we did have to use some hints on a few of the puzzles. The solution stick feature is a great way to check to see if you solved the puzzle correctly. If we got the symbol for the hint card, we went back and tried again before we looked at a hint. The way the puzzles are presented also fosters interaction between the players. We often found ourselves dividing up tasks. While some tried to figure out the symbol, others were looking for the number or the color. For example, there is a puzzle which had three cards, each with one of those solutions. Therefore, it was easy to divide up the cards to solve them and them combine the answers into the final solution. If you are looking for a fun, engaging escape room type game which really encourages player involvement and interaction, I highly recommend Break In: Alcatraz

If you are ready to Break In: Alcatraz, check it out on Amazon

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3 thoughts on “‘Break In: Alcatraz’ Is a Different Type of Escape Room Game

  1. Hi,
    I got this cool game for my birthday but all in German language, rules, cards etc.
    Can you help me somehow to get english version of the cards, I found rules in english online but cant find cards anywhere..

    Waiting for your reply,

  2. I believe the game is published by two different companies. PlayMonster published it in English and Schmidt published it in German. I don’t know where you could get the cards online. You will probably have to order the English version of the game. Sorry I could not be of more help.

    1. If someone has the English version of the game he could take pictures of the cards and I would print it so I can play the game.

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