When I was asked to review the new Anniversary edition of this classic game, originally published by Parker Brothers, I was delighted. My first thoughts were to go back to the original artwork to see how things might have changed and, if you compare the picture below with the following one of the original box art, you'll see a curious mixture of past and present.
Gone is the swastika to be replaced by the Prussian eagle - definitely a sign of changing times, attitudes and concerns about sensibilities. Though Colditz Castle itself has become a much larger and more emphatic backdrop to the scene, I confess to preferring the smaller, but somehow more dominating image of the castle perched on its crag, white in the moonlight. Yet the moon itself actually features in the new picture. What are those POWs doing trying to escape on a night of a full moon? Equally I prefer the focus of the older image on the two would-be escapers dominating the lower foreground in a much more dynamic pose. Whereas, the anniversary edition's escapees are distinctly less impressive, especially with the startled expression of the left-hand figure and the overshadowing German guard.
[It's worth noting that even early designs differed considerably. For example, one UK Gibson's edition removed the swastika and any human figures, while retaining the castle on the hill and focusing on displaying the game contents.]
The attribution to the devisers of the game and particularly the reproduction of the signature of the key figure, P. R. Reid, are still there, but, not surprisingly, the mention of the T.V. series [which I watched assiduously at the time] has been omitted. Also left off the box is the reference to his two "memoir" books about his time and experiences in Colditz. These are still worth your attention.
As a 75th Anniversary edition, the new production of the game by Osprey Games provides an excellent upgrade of what was a fairly ground breaking product for its time. The typical larger, shallower box, easily prone to damage, has given way to a much more sturdy package. Opening it, you're immediately struck even by the folded reverse side of the playing board, with its semi-embossed, golden title.
The Rule Booklet has been augmented by including alongside it a History Booklet as well. The essential simplicity of the game can be judged both by the fact that the new Rule book encompasses both the original rules [4 pages] and the slightly extended new rules [11 pages] and in total these are still far fewer than the 30 pages of the history
This historical material is largely drawn from Michael McNally's Colditz Oflag IV-C in Osprey's Fortress series. As such, it is resplendent with coloured drawings and two very effective black and white period photos that substantially add to the atmosphere of the game.
This picture especially of the inner courtyard captures the claustrophobic feeling of the towering walls, as well as the comparatively greater freedom the inmates of Colditz experienced at times.
This atmosphere is further augmented by the sketch that adorns the bottom of the game box.
As briefly commented on, you can be wholly nostalgic and simply play using the very same rules that I experienced for the first time back in the late 70s, a few years after its first publication. In reality, playing with the updated rules is virtually identical. As the introduction spells out, the intentions have not been to use "decades of game development" to create a modern remake which would have led to "something entirely new." Instead, I would describe what we have been given as a more thoroughly explained set of the original rules. The ambiguities, uncertainties and inevitable arguments that accompanied playing the game have been ironed out.
There are only a few real differences. The first is a form of game aid and that is the sets of Escape markers. These help identify points in a POW pawn's escape route and simplify the task of remembering these points that are important for game play. Then, the Do or Die cards are not used, unless you decide [as the option is given] to reintroduce them into the game!!
The next small modification is that a set number of rounds [i.e. turns] is suggested for play. Like the original, which suggested a set period of time to play the game, this can be adjusted at the players agreement. In fact, one main element of Escape From Colditz from the very beginning has been its adaptability. Perhaps because of its simplicity, the game has attracted many home-brewed variations and "house-rules."
What seems to me the strangest tweak is that each player is given a complete Escape Kit card to begin the game. The logic of this seems slightly odd, as the major part of the game used to be spent in gathering the requisite four items [food, documents, disguise and a compass] to create an Escape Kit, as well as items such as wire cutters, rope, keys and passes to use on your route out of the castle. Now a significant part of that task is done for you, though once again all is discretionary and you can dispense with this change as you wish.
At top left, you can see the Personal Escape Kit card and the other cards show the range of other items you may need on the route to freedom.
It is also balanced by the fact that in the original game, once a player had created the Escape Kit, it remained with them and could be used by each subsequent POW attempting to escape. Now you have to give it up after a successful POW escapes. So, in a way it's just swings and roundabouts. In the past, it took longer for your first POW to manage an escape and then quicker to get your next one out. Now, it's quicker to get the first one out and slower to get the subsequent one out.
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