Imprisoned within the infamous Colditz castle during World War 2, allied Prisoners of War (POWs) had to utilise their ingenuity, patience and experience to plot their escape from the high walls and prowling German security officers. This game brings their endeavours to life, and was devised by a former Colditz POW, Major P.R. Reid.
This board game is as iconic as the story it tells, and we were lucky enough to have played a 1973 first edition that can also be found in the Imperial War Museum, London. In this review we put the age-old expression to the test, “they don’t make them like they used to” … or do they?
Escape From Colditz - Inside The Box
The main bi-fold board measures 20” by 28” and provides you with a birds-eye view of the castle, allowing the POWs to plan their escape and the security officers to try and stay one step ahead of their bid for freedom.
The POW and security officer pawns are beautifully finished; made of solid, varnished wood. Two wooden dice allow pawn movement across the board using circular spacing.
A lovely touch is the replicas of prisoner paraphernalia: Game-play cards are enclosed within an authentic Red Cross package and you can find out more about P.R. Reid’s time at Colditz by reading a booklet that resembles prisoner documentation. Gameplay cards also hold historical facts too.
Rules are found within a four page A4 instruction booklet/escape manual, entitled “To all Prisoners of War!” further immersing you into the historical nature of the game. Endearingly, additional rules had been added onto slips of paper courtesy of a 1973 type-writer! Cute.
There is also a colourful set-up and gameplay guide.
Playing Escape From Colditz
The aim is simple; to escape or to prevent it. One player must take the role of the security officers, with all other players selecting an allied nationality, of which there are five to choose from. In order to survive in the outside world, you will need to collect a Personal Civilian Escape Kit, components of which are picked up within rooms in the castle.
The right tools to break out are also needed; rope, wire-cutters, keys and German passes are collected using the same method. Dice rolls determine how far a pawn can move, but if you roll a 3, 7 or 11 you also pick up an action card. This can aid your bid for freedom if you’re a POW or help prevent escape if you are the security officer.
We played Escape from Colditz as a two-player game, which really gave it a feel of cat and mouse. However, game play would undoubtedly be improved with more players, and therefore allied forces, due to increased complexity in strategies employed. To counteract this, we chose to play under a time-limit, with two POWs needing to successfully escape for the allied forces to win.
This game is truly iconic: with its historical note, high quality components and immersive game-play. However, there are a few let downs. For example, seemingly incomplete gameplay instructions (even with the additional typed rules and amendments) forced us to deploy house rules on occasions.
Secondly, low rolls could allow a POW to avoid confrontation by simply moving back and forth in their safe areas (why would a POW give an officer opportunity to arrest him in the open?) But perhaps we are just modern gaming snobs who expect perfect rules.
This is a game that generations of children have grown up with, and is suitable for the whole family or for gaming nights between friends. It will be interesting to see how the recently released 75th Anniversary Edition compares.
We can, in part, agree that “they don’t make them like they used to” but at least we know the new edition still has wooden pawns!
This blog was originally published on April 3rd, 2017. Updated on April 27th, 2022 to improve the information available.