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Brian Robson
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[Note: this review originally appeared as a Golden Oldie article in Counter magazine.]

Escape from Colditz was the first ‘proper game’ I owned - Santa kindly dropped off at our house on Christmas Day 1973. Now, some may think that describing Escape From Colditz as a ‘proper game’ is pushing the envelope somewhat and, in today’s terms, they would have a point. But given that we were still playing and enjoying Escape From Colditz until the late 80s and the advent of German games, there’s a case to be made that this more than just a standard roll-the-dice-and-move-the-dobber game.

Indeed, the game was hugely popular when it first appeared as it was launched at the same time as the highly successful BBC TV series of the same name … a large part of the appeal being that Escape From Colditz was designed by Major Pat Reid, one of the first escapees from the castle, which undoubtedly lent the game a certain caché and the illusion of realism.

The game (for anyone who may be unaware) is a world war two prisoner of war escape adventure, with one player assuming the role of the German security officer and the others taking the parts of allied escape officers. The board displays a bird’s-eye view of Colditz castle with the courtyard in the centre and the barracks, perimeter area, and escape targets around the outside. Rooms in the courtyard contain the means to gain various pieces of escape equipment, access to tunnels and some safe areas where a player cannot be arrested.

Initially the allied player’s pawns are placed in the centre of the courtyard with the German pawns spaced around the board. On their turn a player rolls two dice to determine their move for the round and can split movement as required between their pawns. Allied players seek to move around the courtyard gaining pieces of escape equipment, represented by Equipment Cards, while the German player attempts to thwart their plans by blocking movement and arresting any players carrying escape equipment.

A roll of 3, 7 or 11 gains an allied player an Opportunity card which can allow access to tunnels, fast moves, escape from solitary and, my personal favourite, the ‘Staff Car’ which allows a player to jump into the security officer’s car and attempt a quick ‘home run’. German players can gain Security cards which can allow tunnel detection, searches, roll calls as well as the dreaded ‘Shoot to Kill’. Doubles give a player another dice roll.

When an allied player feels they have enough escape equipment and/or Opportunity Cards to attempt they make the break for one of the targets around the outside of the board. If they are caught they are arrested, escape equipment is confiscated and the pawn is sent to solitary.

We rarely played the ‘Do or Die’ card which allows a number of die rolls (between 3 and 7) to make a successful escape attempt or the player was eliminated from the game. This made things too haphazard.

The winner is the allied player who manages to get most of his pawns to a target within the agreed playing time. The rules make it hard for a German player to win – basically he has to stop all escape attempts – but we generally agreed an escapee limit of 50% in order to balance things out (or no-one would play the Germans!).

Despite the fact that dice rolling plays a significant part in the game there is rarely a sense that players lack control. If a player doesn’t roll high enough to attempt an escape they can do something else and try again next time. It’s all about waiting for the right opportunity. Allied players generally work together to confuse the security officer and this collective effort is a large part of the game. Opportunity and Escape Equipment cards can be freely swapped to optimise a player’s plans.

You would think that the German player would be overwhelmed by all of the allied bluffing but there is a nice movement mechanism where one or more German pawns may be moved directly from the barracks to any of the marked spaces dotted around the board to head off trouble.

Although the game is for 2 – 6 players, in reality at least 3 are required or the bluffing aspect simply doesn’t work. With 5 or 6 there could also be a fair amount of down time – dependant upon the players - while collective tactics are agreed and card swaps arranged. Our four player games were usually set for 1½ hours and didn’t outstay their welcome.

For its time, Escape From Colditz was an excellent game and one of the main entry games into adult gaming for many Brits my age (40-ish!). It’s also a game that almost everyone recognises, so it’s useful as a comparison to non-gamers while explaining the type of games we gamers actually play. However, unlike Mediterranean (another game from this era), it is not a game that will be played again anytime soon. By today’s standards it is fairly slow and feels a bit plodding despite the strong link with the PoW escape theme. This is a shame because, with the exception of the Dragonquest roll playing system, I have probably spent more time playing Escape From Colditz than any other game.

But I must say that few other games can capture the feeling you get when the Staff Car roars out of the front gate on its way to freedom …
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Jim Patching
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I dug Escape From Colditz out of my attic recently. It was very battered and missing most of its pawns (which we replaced with Axis and Allies pieces!) but we had a blast playing it again.
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Peter Visser
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You seemed to have had a great time. How did you deal with the rule that: "The bartering or exchange of cards is permitted between Escape Officers at any time."?

It has been describted as:"This is the one major loophole in the game, which basically locks it for the escapers if they work together. Whenever a POW is arrested, his Escape Officer can simply give all of his equipment cards to another nationality rendering them immune from confiscation!"
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Brian Robson
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DeadFisk wrote:
You seemed to have had a great time. How did you deal with the rule that: "The bartering or exchange of cards is permitted between Escape Officers at any time."?

It has been describted as:"This is the one major loophole in the game, which basically locks it for the escapers if they work together. Whenever a POW is arrested, his Escape Officer can simply give all of his equipment cards to another nationality rendering them immune from confiscation!"

Good question ... I had to trawl back around 20 years in my memory before remembering what (if anything) we actually did!

We had a house rule that, if you were arrested, you could not simply pass your cards to another player. The German player confiscated one Escape Equipment and one Opportunity card at random from your hand. The remainder of your cards were 'safe' and could then be passed to another player.

We called this the "Caught In The Act" rule ... the reasoning being that an arrested POW should definitely lose some equipment, but not it all because the player is planning escapes for his other POWs and it would be tedious to build it all up again. It seemed to work reasonably well and made playing the Germans less of a chore.
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Juan Bascuñana
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Have you seen the new spanish edition from Devir?

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/24866

It's a must have edition!!
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gordon
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We use to play this in the flat when I worked in Edinburgh.
One of my flatmates made a new set of rules for the german player (It ncluded border guards etc.) and made it MORE difficult to escape.
I still have the photocopied, handwritten rules in my now battered box (It runs to quite a few pages!)
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Joe Donnelly
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The rules summary posted here in the files section includes an easy fix to the problem of card bartering. Allied players cannot trade cards during the German player's turn.
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Simon Harris
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Just a quick plug for my (very small) claim to fame (0; I was at a game fair more ago years ago than I care to remember when this game was being launched and no less a person than Major Reid himself was demo-ing the game.
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Brian Robson
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Sunray11 wrote:
The rules summary posted here in the files section includes an easy fix to the problem of card bartering. Allied players cannot trade cards during the German player's turn.

But doesn't that make the game drag on? The aim of the "Caught in the Act" rule was to achieve a balance between the weakness of the Germans and the length of the game.
 
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Matiu Chamberlin
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Far out I can remember playing this game many many years ago... It was given to me when I was about 7 - a real classic - actually I think we read the rules wrong when we first played and simply played our simplified version from then on. I tried to hunt this game out of my parents cupboard a few years ago but als couldn't find it. I don't remember it being harder to play the Germans, just a bit of that isolated feeling trying to play against 4-5 other players!
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Ben Jackson
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Great game, graba a bottle of scotch, put the Great Escape on the DVD and get into it.

The german player has only won one, but we love pulling this out if we have the time.

The theme is sensational, and you really get the atmosphere of being a POW and sneaking around with your excape kit.

When you get to the last fifteen minutes the "Do or Die" cards come into play.

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Confusion Under Fire
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DeadFisk wrote:
You seemed to have had a great time. How did you deal with the rule that: "The bartering or exchange of cards is permitted between Escape Officers at any time."?

It has been describted as:"This is the one major loophole in the game, which basically locks it for the escapers if they work together. Whenever a POW is arrested, his Escape Officer can simply give all of his equipment cards to another nationality rendering them immune from confiscation!"


I remember playing that when a POW used his first piece of equipment that he then had to lay face down the rest of the equipment that the POW was carrying so he couldnt suddenly change his mind if a guard appeared at a spot he wasnt anticipating and when the POW escaped all the equipment he was carrying was lost regardless if he used it or not. We also only lost one piece of equipment for every POW arrested.
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