Oscar Arevalo

Gen-X Games

No. of Players:
2 - 5



The game STALAG 17 builds on the story known from the old blockbuster movie the Great Escape where prisoners of different nations are held in a German POW-camp. In STALAG 17 each player has a group of three prisoners coming from one nation, and the first player who helps all three of his prisoners escape actually will have won the game.

The setting might sound suitable for a heavy tactical game, but actually STALAG 17 is much lighter than any of the other GEN-X titles which I have played in previous years. The game is split into rounds of cardplay, and each of these rounds finally ends with the successful escape of one prisoner, forcing all other players to discard their hands and the cards they had played so far.

At the beginning of a round, a number of special escape dice is rolled in order to find out which escape-plan will be followed during this round, and apart of a compulsory tunnel of various length the escape dice also may show useful items like provisions, a map, a wire-cutter, a uniform or false papers. Then, going stepwise in player order, the players start to take cards from the randomly shuffled deck, in the hope of finding tunnel and item cards which are needed to complete the escape plan which had been rolled. During his turn, the active player may either draw two cards from the deck to his hand, or he may place one card face down in front of himself in order to build on his escape plan and then draw one replacement card from the deck.

When one player finally has gathered everything needed for a successful escape, he will have to wait for his next action phase and then announce that one of his prisoners will escape. Revealing all his escape plan, this allows him to remove one of his prisoners from the game, but as the guards wouldn't like the fact that a prisoner is missing the rest of the player's prisoners now will be kept under a closer surveillance - after all, they are prisoners of the same nationality! In gaming terms, close surveillance means the values of the cards left on the player's hand will be evaluated, and the player must take a number of surveillance markers matching this value. During the following rounds that player now must add the value of these markers to the tunnel value rolled with the escape dice, and so he must build a longer tunnel than the other players in order to escape with yet another one of his prisoners.

The other players on the other hand also may be penalized with surveillance markers if they had too many high value cards at their hands when the escape happened, and so the players do well to keep their hands manageable. However, once drawn a card either must be placed in front of the player (a slow procedure since only one card can be placed there each turn, and even in this case a replacement must be drawn), or the player must make a special discard action. Cards cannot simply be discarded in this game, but instead the player either may discard one single card, three identical cards or a total of five different cards. Discards of more than one card only can be made in one of these combinations.

These discard rules and the fact that each player places all cards for his escape plan face down in front of himself actually spice the game up, since even though the adding of matching cards to a player's escape plan might be a good choice, situations might appear when it would make more sense to discard a card in order to get rid of some other cards with it. At this point STALAG 17 is revealed to be highly speculative with a good element of bluffing, since nobody knows how far the other players are with their own escape plans, and so the players face the decision whether it is wiser to proceed with the escape or to discard high-value cards which might possibly result in additional surveillance markers. If, at the end of one round, a player has a very small hand he may even loose some of his surveillance markers, and so the players need to evaluate the others player's actions carefully to make up their own mind for their next move.

After the escape of a prisoner and the distribution of surveillance markers a new round begins with a new roll of the escape dice, and once again the players start to draw cards in order to free one of their prisoners. As indicated, the game is won by the player who first succeeds in freeing all three of his prisoners.

During my preparations for the SPIEL 11 I expected a totally different game when I first saw a photo of the box cover of STALAG 17, but playtesting showed that the quick cardgame found in the box has a charm on its own. Actually, the rules for the distribution of surveillance markers serve as an interesting and fitting balancing mechanism, and together with just a few special cards the game comes as a thematically matching implementation of its story. An interesting find.

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Copyright © 2011 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany