Escape from Colditz
Publisher: Osprey Games
Release Date: October 20, 2016
Price: $65.00
Game Designer(s): Pat Reid, Brian Degas
Format: Board Game
Number of Players: 2 to 6
Playing Time: 180 minutes
Age Rating: 12+
ISBN: 978-1-4728-1893-5
ICv2 Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5

The original version of this game came out over 40 years ago, and while flawed, those people who played it over the years found a lot to enjoy in the game.  Osprey's re-issue was a chance to address the flaws in the original, but unfortunately, the solutions have left players of the new version puzzled over solutions that were not solutions. When asked about this, Osprey's response was to tell people to create their own “house rules” based on what they see as being wrong.  This is already creating arguments on gaming websites.

The mechanics of the game are based on each player controlling pawns of a nationality [American, British, etc.].  The German player controls prison guards, and other players control prisoners in Colditz prison, during World War II. Historically, Colditz was a prison where officers were sent, and the prisoners were valuable enough that simply shooting them was a last resort for the Germans.  This is reproduced in the game by sending pawns to solitary confinement if they’re caught trying to escape or with escape gear.

Each turn, each player rolls dice, and these determine the number of movement points that can be used by that player.  Both sides get extra movement points upon rolling doubles, and both sides get to draw a useful card if the die roll is 5 or less.

For the Allied players, each one is trying get two pawns free of the prison.  For the German player, keeping any Allied player from reaching their goal is the victory condition.  Escape is rarely easy, as it requires a combination of equipment and position on the board, as well as enough movement points to avoid arrest during the escape attempt.  Prisoner pawns can be arrested if the controlling player leaves them in a vulnerable location, or if the player has already acquired escape equipment.  Arrested prisoners are sent to solitary confinement, and only certain die rolls and cards can get them out.  Getting too many of your nationality arrested can lose you the game, because you need them moving around both to obtain equipment and to work toward escape.

Because the original game was designed by a writer and a survivor of the prison, rather than by game designers, there were a few unclear rules.  The most unclear were those dealing with what German guards were allowed to do, and whether they could impede the movement of prisoners without arresting them.  The new version “solved” this by creating places where German guards cannot stand around, but now other, even worse forms of blocking are possible.  That seems to create a big advantage for the German if there are only one or two Allied players. Essentially, the game seems to be more balanced the more players there are, which is unusual.

Allied players have their best chance of winning if they manage to cooperate extremely well, but the game is designed to have a solo winner.  Sometimes you can only prevent the German player from winning by helping another Allied player to win.  Sometimes you have to do nothing at all for several turns, in order to set up for a future move or be ready for multiple players to do things at once.  Sometimes you CAN do nothing at all for several turns, due to bad die rolls.  Some players will find the dependence on the results of die rolls to be frustrating.  The number of die rolls is enough to create a good averaging effect over the course of the whole game, but bad luck near the end of the game can be devastating.

This old-school die-rolling mechanism, combined with the game’s length, will make this a daunting game, and not for those who want a short Euro-style game.  If you can get five or six people willing to commit three hours, though, it's a challenging, serious game that’s well worth playing.

--Nick Smith: Librarian Technician, Community Services, for the Pasadena Public Library in California.