Escape from Colditz is a classic game that was originally released in 1973 based on the successful escape from a prisoner-of-war camp Colditz Castle by Pat Reid during World War 2. The original game was held in high regards and rightly so. It mixes elements of a card strategy and luck of the roll dice game-play.
Osprey Games are releasing a new version of this classic in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of the events that the game is based upon. The newly published version will contain updated rules and brand-new artwork and is set to be released on October 20th. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to get our hands on a copy before release and get to play this updated version.
Playing time: 90 minutes to 4 hours (possibly longer)
The objective of this game is pretty clear from the title, but just to clarify it, you need to navigate your way out of Colditz.
1 person plays as the German prison officers, the other players play as attempted escapees from the allied forces. Each player controls a specific number of player pieces dependent on how many players there are altogether.
- 2 players: 8 prisoners plus 6 guards
- 3 players: 7 prisoners for each allied nationality plus 12 guards
- 4 players: 6 prisoners for each allied nationality plus 14 guards
- 5 players: 5 prisoners for each allied nationality plus 15 guards
- 6 players: 4 prisoners for each allied nationality plus 16 guards
Whoever is sat to the left of the player controlling the German guards goes first and then play proceeds clockwise around the table.
For the player controlling the German guards to win, all they must do is ensure they stop any player letting 2 POW’s escape. They must do this until the round limit counter completes which can be set from 70 rounds or less. We opted to go for a 50 round game and despite some tense final rounds did not get 2 POW’s to escape from one player. For the other players controlling the POWs to win one player need to get 2 successful escapees.
Each player attempting to escape is given an “Escape kit” card. This is used once a player has managed to successfully get one player piece to escape. The 2nd POW to escape needs to build a new escape kit from pieces that are scattered around the castle in different rooms which are composed of food, disguise, compass and forged papers.
There are also tools dotted around the prison which need to be collected in order to aid escape including wire cutters, rope, keys and forged passes. These are essential to conduct a great escape plan. But players should be careful when trying to collect all of the escape kit items and additional escape tools, if the guard sees something suspicious he can search you, confiscate one of your escape tool items and throw you in solitary confinement.
Each player moves their pieces based on the value of the dice roll they made. In the new rules that we were playing if your combined figure from the roll was 5 or less you got an opportunity card regardless if you were a POW or officer.
The opportunity cards are little bonuses to help out both the POWs and the officers. For example a POW opportunity card can offer things like the option to dig a tunnel from a certain point of the castle, exchange an opportunity card for an escape item whenever you like or even more helpful cards such as be let out of solitary straight after being put in, or avoid losing an item if searched.
The guard’s ‘opportunity’ cards, called Security cards, are equally as useful for them but can be terrifying for the POWs. The harshest being a shoot to kill card which can be used on a POW when they are on the verge of escape, the distance the bullet can travel is double the dice roll, so a very good chance that if a guard uses this on a POW that thinks they’re almost free, they’ll be killed.
The players controlling the POWs can opt to work together for the most part of the game for strategic purposes. For example one POW is in need of a rope piece for escape and the guards might be in other areas of the prison resulting in this opportunity being once in a life time to escape, this player can ask if anyone has a rope available to borrow for an escape attempt. For the most part the other players controlling POWs would and should be helpful, but they might choose to not help if their on the cusp of a great escape plot their selves and require the item you’ve asked for.
The new edition of Escape from Colditz is presented beautifully. The pieces are in stored in legitimate looking WW2 themed boxes, the rule book and history book are nice and the actual board when folded up correctly has the games logo presented in gold. It’s truly an experience opening this up for the first time. Within the box there are also numerous historical items included with the game for you to read and research more on the events of Coldtiz. It’s all very smart and a game you feel like you should be delicate with and take care off. Not a game you’d want beer bottles or cans around on the off chance of accidents occurring.
Our first play through of the game with 4 of us took us just shy of 4 hours to complete. This is more so as it was our first time playing and skimming the rules and such. The first few rounds the players using the POW pieces were getting their bearings around the map of the prison and figuring out the best strategic places to leave pieces in order to quickly attain escape items. It took a long time for the properly thought out escape attempts to happen, despite my best efforts earlier in the game only to be the first player to have a POW shot on site.
While it did take us a long time to finish the game it never felt like it was dragging. Each round progressively got quicker and quicker the more comfortable we got with the tactics for the game. In the closing rounds some of us would be practically forfeiting our goes as we didn’t want to move our pieces as we were banking on specific opportunity cards to come in our possession. This sped the game up a lot.
What makes Escape from Colditz so great is the actual importance and story of this game. This is a game based on real events. And the creation of the game was aided by a legitimate escapee from Colditz. While we can sit there for 4 hours or so creating our tactics to escape, it’s quite breath taking when you realise that the lengths we’re striving for to escape with our plastic character indicators will never ever do justice to what it must have been like for the POWs there that were trying to conduct an escape.
The additional historical items that are within the game are incredible touches to remind the players the significance of the game they are about to undertake. To me what separates this game from others is that while your imagination can run wild playing any board game as you create an image in your head of what you’re playing out, someone, or should I say many people have seen the real thing you’re picturing. It’s an incredibly clever game based off some of the darkest times in our history. While I say it’s a clever game I’m actually contradicting myself as the game is very simple to play. The rules aren’t over complicated, the point of the game is very simple. The clever side of it is the storytelling of making those real and terrifying events play out on this board.
Another part of this game I thoroughly enjoyed was the player interaction. 4 hours to sit and play a board game could be quite a challenge as you might lose interest after so long, but because this game is semi team based, the interactions between us players controlling the POWs kept the game ticking along nicely. The player controlling the guards was involved throughout too as he’d start to become suspicious of our activities so would interrupt our planning and arrest players as he felt our planning was going to well.
The game was very well received by the 4 of us playing it, and throughout the 4 hours we played we were laughing during gameplay (which is a little weird given the context of this game). But the laughs were from silly escape attempts that should never have even been tried, from the guard searching our POWs only to be shot down when we’ve played an opportunity card telling him to effectively “do one”.
Escape from Colditz while long is a game I enjoyed immensely. Everything from the way the game is presented, the incredible historical artifacts with the game, the simplicity of the game in principal but the execution being incredibly difficult. It does seem that we’ll never see a POW victory in the game mind as we discussed upon completion how difficult the task of 2 successful escapees per player could be. But that’s not to deter us from trying. I’m highly anticipating the next time we play this game and would like to try from the guard’s side as I was playing from the POW side. That’s perhaps the one caveat to the game in that because it’s so long, you’ve got to have a willing player take the role of the German guard’s on for 4 hours. And then might not play the game again for a week/month etc till enough players can find the time required, so that player won’t get the POW experience for a while. But that is completely dependent on how easy it is to find free time for the players and nothing related to the game itself.
I feel I’ve blabbed on for too long now, so to sum it up nice and simply, Escape from Colditz is simply superb, I think with that said I’ve just about covered every possible positive superlative in this review for Escape from Colditz and they’re all definitely justified.