GTM #203 - Escape from Colditz: 75th Anniversary Edition
Reviewed by John Kaufeld

When you open the 75th Anniversary Edition of Escape from Colditz by Osprey Games, you immediately realize this is no ordinary modern board game. It feels like you opened up history. The box lid respectfully updates the game’s iconic artwork, while maintaining the tense atmosphere of the game’s 1970s-era release by Parker Brothers. Inside, you’ll find the board, rules, and playing pieces, along with some perfect Osprey historical touches.

In addition to the game’s necessities, you also receive a 30-page history of Colditz and the escapes, plus reproductions of a postcard sent home from a prisoner, a Nazi poster warning prisoners that escapees may be shot on sight, and the ‘Wanted’ poster for the original game’s designer, British Major P. R. Reid, and three of his fellow escapees.

All of that, plus the historical notes on the box insert, the mock Red Cross prisoner parcel containing the game’s pawns and tokens, and the prison map secreted beneath the insert beautifully sets the stage and gets players into the theme.

Let’s dive into what you need to know about the game.

~ Adjusting, Not Re-Creating ~

The original Escape from Colditz board game is a beloved classic among old-school historical gamers (or “grognards,” as they sometimes call themselves). It’s also something of a cultural touchstone in Great Britain, much like Monopoly or Risk is in the United States. Bringing this game into the new millennium was quite the daring challenge.

Rather than swoop in from the future armed with modern game mechanics, the update team focused on enhancing and incrementally improving the original game. They clarified the design concepts, improved the artwork, and generally gave the game a smoother play experience. They also sought — and received — the blessing of the game’s surviving designer for all of their work.

~ Playing Asymmetrically ~

The game casts players either as the Allied “escape officer” for one of the five nationalities of prisoners or as the German prison commander, giving it what is known as an asymmetrical design.

As the name suggests, an asymmetrical game assigns players very different paths to victory, requiring different strategies and approaches. But even though the paths are different, the degree of challenge that the players face is roughly the same. (However, the key word in that sentence is “roughly;” more about that in a moment.)

~ It’s Cooperative-ish ~

Given its theme and design choices, Escape from Colditz is somewhat cooperative for the Allied escape officers. They must work together to strategically distract guards and collect the supplies necessary for their escape attempts.

However, cooperation only goes so far. The Allies need each other’s help to prepare for their escape attempts, but when it comes to the escape itself, it’s every nationality for themselves. The game’s victory conditions make it clear that only one person will walk (or given the theme, perhaps run) away with the top position when the game’s time marker runs down.

~ Pay Close Attention ~

Whether or not you played (and loved) the original game from many years ago, be very careful when reviewing the rules. There is a lot of very specific detail, especially when it comes to sections that clarify the designers’ original intent. There are also a number of additional notes (marked with italic text) scattered throughout the book. Read them carefully and refer back if you have any questions.

In a generous nod to those who love the original game, Osprey included the game’s classic rules in the back of the rulebook. Try playing with them for a slightly different game experience.

~ Escaping is Hard, But Not Impossible ~

I’m not going to lie — this is a difficult game for the Allied players to win. I’m not saying that it’s unbalanced, because I think the designers hit a very solid compromise between historical accuracy and playability.

But, at its heart, Escape from Colditz is a historical game about people risking their lives to escape from a very tough prison. Players can adjust the level of challenge by changing the amount of time on the countdown track, but the odds are always in the German player’s favor.

~ Verdict ~

The 75th Anniversary Edition of Escape from Colditz is a beautiful tweak of a classic board game. With its impressive historical foundation, beautiful presentation, and the blessing of the original designer, Osprey’s update easily earns a place in the hearts of historical gamers and World War II history buffs everywhere.

It’s not a game for everyone, but those who speak its language will find a game worthy of their time, attention, and investment.

  • Age range: 14 & up
  • 90-150 Minutes
  • 2-6 Players
  • Price Point: $65.00
John Kaufeld often frets over whether the word "meeple" has a proper plural form. You can find him writing about board games, parenting, and other stuff on Twitter at @johnkaufeld and in his newspaper column, The Dad Game (http://dadga.me/column).