Designed by Fergus Hadley
Players 3-5
Length 30 minutes
Extra Material 8 tokens

Escape a sinking prison ship with or without your fellow inmates. A cooperative, deduction game for the Decktet.


You and the other players are convicts, destined for life of hard labour on a distant shore but currently locked away in the bowels of a prison ship. When a storm hits, your ship founders. Will you be plunged to a cold and cruel death in the depths, or can you escape your cell, work with the other felons and find a lifeboat before the ship goes down, all while persuading the guard to aid your escape?


Escape! uses the entire extended Decktet: number cards, pawns, courts, crowns, aces and the excuse. You also need ten tokens. A cup to keep them in is useful but not essential.

Only suits not numbers are used in Escape!, and the cards are grouped as follows:

Keys: Pawns & Courts (all cards with three suits)
Corridors: Number cards (all cards with two suits)
Boats: Crowns & Aces (all cards with one suit)
The Guard: The Excuse


Shuffle the cards and deal 5 to each player. Unlike other games, players do not look at their cards. Instead, they hold them facing away from themselves, fanning them so all the other players can see what suits the cards hold. You can look at other players' cards but you must not discuss them or otherwise give any clue as to what they are, how they might be played or any other information about them. Players only discover information about their cards by receiving clues (see below).

Place the tokens into a cup or other container. As they are used, you will remove them from the cup.

Game Play

The player who last spoke to an officer of the law goes first.

On a player's turn, he has three options:

  • Give a clue
  • Play a card
  • Discard a card

Give a clue

This action costs 1 token. Remove a token from the cup and place it on the table. If there are no tokens left, you cannot perform this action.

You can now tell one other player about either a type of card (key, corridor, boat) or suit (wyrms, suns, etc.). Choose another player, then name a type of card or suit and touch each card that matches the description. For example, you might say "this and this are moons" or "this, this and this are corridors".

You cannot mention The Guard (The Excuse) when giving clues. This means players can never be completely sure of what they have. Playing the Guard can be very good or very bad depending on the situation, so this uncertainty is perilous.

Play a Card

Play a card onto the table.

If it is a key, place it on it's own to start a new escape route. There can never be more escape routes in progress than there are players. If there are already as many escape routes as players, disaster strikes!

If it is a corridor, you may use the card to extend any existing escape route. To extend an escape route, the corridor must share at least one suit with either an unused key or the last-played corridor on another escape route. If the corridor does not match any keys or other corridors, disaster strikes!

If it is a boat, it can be used to escape. Do do so, the card must be played onto an escape route with at least three corridors. The player then takes that escape route and places it in front of themselves (or if they already have one, gives it to an unescaped player of their choice). If there are no escape routes, disaster strikes!

See below for what happens when disaster strikes.

Finally, draw one card to replace the card played.

Disaster Strikes

Should disaster strike (a card is played but cannot be legally placed), both the card that could not be played and the longest escape route are put into the discard pile. If there is more than one escape route of the same length, the active player may choose whichever they want to be discarded.

If the card played was a key, both that card and the longest escape route must be discarded.

Discard a Card

Put a card from your hand into the discard pile. Then return one token to the cup and draw a new card.

This allows more clues to be given on future turns and means there is no chance of disaster striking. However, it doe bring the ship closer to sinking.

The Guard

The Excuse has a special role in Escape! If it is played to the table, the guard helps you out. It can count as any type of corridor. To see which cards can be played on top of the Guard, consider it invisible - so the new card must match the card below the Guard.

If it is discarded, however, the guard works against you and disaster strikes.

When the Draw Pile is Empty

The game does not end when the draw pile is empty. But at this point the ship is breaking up. Players continue to play, give clues or discard, but do not draw any new cards to replace those used up. During the final rounds of the game, players will have fewer and fewer cards to choose from when their turn comes, making escape increasingly difficult.

Only when a player would have to play a card from their hand but they have none left does the game end.

Ending the Game

The game ends in a number of ways:

  • When all the players have escaped (they each have a completed escape route in front of them). In this case everyone wins! The players have achieved a complete success.
  • When a player has to play a card but has none left. This means the draw pile has ended and they have played with fewer and fewer cards until they played their last card. When their turn comes round, there are no tokens in the cup so they must either play or discard but have no card to do so.
  • If anyone has escaped, the players have achieved a partial success. Players who have not escaped are free to beg for help or curse their luckier companions. In either case, they are still doomed to a watery grave.
  • If no one has a completed escape route, the game is lost. But at least you all share the same fate.


To add an imaginative element to the game, before play each player should state what their character is locked up for and whether they "did it". Then, as each card is played, use any element of the card to add to either your character’s back story or to narrate how their escape is progressing. You might use the name, something in the picture, even how it relates o the card underneath.

If a card is successfully played down, narrate something positive. If a card causes disaster to strike, the narration should be negative. When discarding a card, narrate something that doesn’t advance the plot such as a missed opportunity or descriptive colour.

It’s probably best not to add any narration when giving a clue as the player concerned will need to concentrate on assimilating the information they have just received.


Escape! is easier to win than Hanabi, so hardcore Hanabi players (or those who like the idea of leaving their friends to drown on a sinking prison ship) may want to ramp up the difficulty. Use one (or more) the following variants to make things harder:

Bowels of the Ship Variant

The most obvious way to increase the difficulty is to require 4 corridors on each escape route. This leads to a longer, more strategic game. Cards are just as easy to play down but mistakes cost more as there are fewer cards to play with. Also, be aware that if playing with 5 players, this means you must be very careful what you discard!

Dark of the Storm Variant

Reduce the number of clue tokens to 6. This wll increase he luck needed to succeed and lead to a more risky, exciting game but may also mean the players lose through no fault of their own.

Rat Warren Variant

The number of allowed escape routes is equal to the number of players - 1. So 1 on a two-player game, 2 in a three-player game, etc. This variant clogs players' hands with boats and keys they cannot play but do not dare discard, leading to fraught decisions.

Every Man for Himself Variant

Have escape routes that are completed count towards the maximum allowed. So, in a five-player game, when there are two unescaped players left, there can only be 2 escape routes in play, not 5. And only one escape route when the last player is left. This makes for a more cutthroat game, as a ful victory becomes much harder. Do you dare play the last corridor so that someone else will launch the boat?


This game owes pretty much everything to Hanabi. I recoomend you give it a try if you haven't already.


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