ESCAPE FROM COLDITZ BOARD GAME REVIEW

50 years ago, almost, a television series began. A co production between the BBC and Universal studios. It was of course COLDITZ. This series will in fact celebrate its 50th anniversary at the end of this year and into next to note. It followed the various lives and escape attempts of Allied personnel, imprisoned in a famed Nazi POW prison. Believed to be inescapable, it would become the ultimate test of those men from the Netherlands, Britain, France, Poland and the US (alongside their Belgium and Commonwealth colleagues.) There were successes and failures but over 24 episodes and 2 series it was a testament to bravery. This series would become a sensation. It would also launch a well known board game, inspired by events and co created with an advisor to the series, Major Patrick Reid. Reid was a legend and war hero who escaped the dreaded prison.

The original game was released by Gibson Games in 1973, to coincide with the second series and the holiday rush for gifts. It was so popular (so popular that my father had a copy and I have inherited this!) that it still is spoken of today. James May, among others, has covered it and it features in many a game fans list of games played. But with all this, great infamy exists. Some would say this was the inability to find a player for the Nazi side. For me though it is the lack of a completion for the game. You choose to stick to a time limit or number of ‘home runs’. A whole hearted fear always lurked that players for the allied side, will never victory and as such never want to play. Now Osprey games have relaunched the game. Game players be informed, there have been tweaks and tightening of elements, which makes the game improved and finally, it can be completed! Both games work like this.

What is ESCAPE FROM COLDITZ

You can have between 2 and 6 players. You can choose between one of the Allied factions (Brits, Poles, US, French, Dutch) or to play as the Nazi side. The allied teams role is to escape. The Nazi side has to stop them at all costs and avoid this. You have a few things to help you. Opportunity cards to help on the Allied side and Security cards to benefit the Nazi’s side of things. Allied players play as escape leaders, are given an escape equipment pack and then are off. Suitable for 14+ and playing for about 90 minutes or more.

Gameplay

Players on the Allied side lead teams by rolling on their turn (Doubles add up and you roll again!) and moving around the board. On said board are images of equipment to collect( passes, keys and wire cutters.) They can exchange, barter or collect these, either via getting two player pieces into rooms with the same equipment (confusing if not one of the above) or by rolling less than 5. You can also do this by negotiating with other escape leaders but this proves harder. Once collected you make good your escape (more of which later). All you need do is avoid the guards, the spotlights and the menaces of injustice and that roll call.

The Nazi side have an altogether different task on their hands. They oversee the prisoners and have to thwart escape. They do this by placing guards on black circles around the board (the same as the number of players in the inner ring) and up to 6 on the outer areas. Moving around, some places they cant patrol in but others they can, they roll and challenge allied players. Throwing contraband or escapees they catch into solitary. If they are lucky, they can call the dreaded Appell. This means all players have to line back up and start again (or face the wrath if not in the line up). There are other security cards that dish out horrid blows to the Allied. From challenge cards to instant searches and even a shoot to kill card.

What works well for COLDITZ?

So having played this game many times as a child, I remember it clearly for its successes and its failures. Osprey have done the best thing they could do. Made the game clear to the player. They have ironed out the issues with escape, time and goal. Using windows is easier, using tunnels is clearer and navigating others routes to get to the outside and freedom, more robust. This is all down to clarity of the board in truth. The other thing that works well is the round counter. No more, numbers of escapees or time limits (both of which were a bore and caused riots galore). Instead clear, achievable goals. The allied teams are able to plan and plot with an outside chance of winning. This is made sweeter by clearer cards, simplified details and a sharper sense of purpose.

What did not work so well?

Well nostalgia is the problem for me. I loved the old game because it was idiosyncratic and hard by this nature. You rarely win and that made victory sweet and failure bitter but not heart breaking. I likened it to THE LOST EXPEDITION and more recently, JUDGE DREDD : CURSED EARTH. You do not want to win easy in anything, where is the challenge, and you do not win easy here by any means but you have a chance. A fighting one. Not like its forebear, where you had the same chance as a certain Jedi and his attempt at hitting an air vent on the death star.

Overall?

ESCAPE FROM COLDITZ is a study in how to make a game better but not rob its eternal spirit. The mechanics are still similar but comprehensively more playable. The look is fresher but still respectful to its prior incarnation. The experience is as fun as before and more so for others. Finally it rewards repeated plays unlike its previous version. With this in mind, it should make for any game players favourite 90 minutes.

https://ospreypublishing.com/escape-from-colditz

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