Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Escape from Colditz 75th Anniversary Edition (Osprey Games)

Colditz Castle is a Renaissance castle in the town of Colditz, Germany. After World War II began, the castle was converted into a POW camp for officers who had become security risks or were dangerous. Despite it being considered an impossible to escape prison, it had a high amount of successful escapes. Major Pat Reid was one of the POWs to escape Colditz Castle. He designed a board game with screenwriter Brian Degas called Escape from Colditz. Osprey Games gave the game an update to commemorate the 75th Anniversary. It plays 2-6 players, ages 12+. Play time is variable in length depending on number of players, and it retails for $65.

1. Before beginning decided upon the number of rounds. 50 is standard for new players, with 40 being used for more experienced players.
2. Decide which player will take the role of the German Security Officer. Each other player is an Escape Officer of a different nation among the allied POWs at Colditz. Give each player a number of pawns of their color based on the number of players there are.
3. Separate the Escape Equipment cards into four piles and place them face-up beside the board.
4. Give one Escape Kit to every Escape Officer.
5. Shuffle the Security and Opportunity decks and place them face-down beside the board. Then, deal one Security to the German Security Office and one Opportunity card to each Escape Officer.
6. Set up the POWs according to the starting positions in the rule book. The German Security Officer then decides where to deploy his guards. One guard for every Escape Officer must be deployed to guard posts in the inner courtyard, and between two and seven extra guards in the outer courtyard. Remaining guards are placed in the Barracks.
Game Play - Start with the Escape Officer to the left of the German Security Officer and proceed clockwise.
1. Roll both dice. The combined result gives you the total distance you can move your pawns (Guards or POWs). You can split the result as many times as you wish, but you may never move a pawn through a space with another pawn.
2. If an Escape Officer rolls doubles, he may move a POW out of solitary for the cost of one movement point. If you ever roll doubles, you may roll again adding the extra dice to your total. (Note: You may never roll more than two extra times due to rolling doubles.)
3. On your turn you may gain Equipment cards, which can be freely traded between other Escape Officers on any turn, but the German Security Officer's team.
4. Escape Kits are gathered similarly to Equipment cards, but an Escape Officer can never have more than one at a time. It takes four pieces to make and you must have one POW in each of the four room types at the same time.
5. You escape by using Equipment to get through obstacles and the Escape Kit once you reach a target on the board. A guard may make an arrest by moving into the same space as a POW. The game ends when the round counter reaches zero or two POWs from the same nation escape. There is the possibility to have multiple winners if Escape Officers pull this off on the same turn.

For the most part, Escape from Colditz is a simple dice-rolling, point allocation system. It is a classic game in this sense, and it shows in some of the mechanics, like being rewarded for rolling doubles. Osprey Games is aware of this though, and let's you know they are aware. They have enough great games in their catalog that they could have easily updated the game's rules and mechanics to bring it more in line with modern gaming, but they felt it would be doing a disservice to the game and its designers, who were so closely tied to this game and the history which it represents. I applaud them for this decision.

As for the art and components, when you first open the box, you feel a bit immersed in theme. The boxes inside which hold the cards and other components feel like you are opening a kit from World War II. Yes, the player pieces are pawns, which most people look down upon, but meeples were not needed for a game like this and would distract I believe. I really liked the way the board looked too. Yes, it is a lot of individual spaces to move and absorb on initial glance, however, the color scheme has a very intuitive feel to it.

The game can play a little long (a couple of hours), but I really enjoyed the one versus many nature of it. Yes, it can be tough mentally/emotionally to play the German Security Officer, if you immerse yourself in the theme, but it is still a rewarding experience. What I really like about the game is the decisions you have to make. For example, if you have one POW close to escaping, but could be caught, you can move another of your POWs to intercept a guard, be caught, and let the other one escape. To some it might be a matter of moving pawns, but again, if you immerse yourself in the theme, it is a beautiful sacrifice that a person made for the betterment of another.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience this game provided. If I had to compare it to anything, it would be The Grizzled. It provides a tense experience that leaves you feeling drained after playing it, but in a good way. You feel like you have all the time in the world when you start with 50 rounds, but as it counts down, you get to 40 and then 30, and then 20. Suddenly, your pulses is racing and your stress level goes through the roof! This is how a game should make you feel! With that said, it is not a game I would want to play multiple times in a row, or maybe more than once a month, just because I feel like it would lessen the experience and make it more playing a game and maximizing your chances of winning, not experiencing the emotional and visceral response. However, I feel like this is a game that everyone should play at least once, and I firmly believe it belongs in every high school history classroom in the country.

This game was provided to me by Osprey Games in exchange for an honest review.