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Escape from Colditz

  • Object:

    Board game

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1970s (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Reid, Patrick MBE MC (Major) (designed)
    Palitoy Company Ltd (manufacturer)
    Parker Games (manufacturer)

  • Museum number:

    B.367:1 to 18-2012

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

  • Public access description

    This 1970s board game was produced in Britain by Palitoy. It was inspired by the former Prisoner of War camp at Colditz Castle in Germany, active during the Second World War. Titled 'Escape from Colditz', the game was devised by former POW, Major Patrick Reid, MBE, MC, who was one of the few people who managed to escape the camp, and went on to write about his experiences.

    Players can choose to represent the German guards, or one of five different allied countries (Britain, America, the Netherlands, France or Poland). Prisoners have to try and escape the camp by rolling the dice and collecting 'Escape Equipment'. Guards have to stop the prisoners from escaping.

    The game originally featured a Swastika on the box, although this was changed to an Imperial Eagle at a later date.

  • Object history note

    This board game is based on the prisoner-of-war camp at Colditz Castle in Germany during the Second World War. It was devised by Major PR Reid, who was one of the people to successfully escape from the castle. Produced in England by the Palitoy Company in the mid 1970s it has proved one of the most durable and popular war games.

  • Historical context note

    It has featured in the Museum of Childhood's War Games exhibition in a section dealing with nostalgia for battles of the past within the From Reality to Fantasy theme. It is used alongside war comics from the 1960s to demonstrate an acceptable way to interact with the subject of war.

    It is for two to six players, one of which must always be the Germans (black counters); the others choose to be one of five nationalities (Allies) represented by different coloured playing pieces - British (red counters), American (blue counters), Dutch (orange counters), French (brown counters), and Polish (green counters).

    The order of movement begins with the player to the German player's left and proceeds clockwise about the table. The Germans always move last in the sequence. Once one round is over, play repeats at the German player's left and continues until the game is over.

    The playing pieces are moved by the score on the throw of two dice. Doubles allow the player to an additional throw. No player is required to use any or all moves and the movement allowance can be split between two or more of his pieces. They cannot be saved for later turns or transferred to other players.

    In order to escape, each prisoner must first obtain an "escape kit", composed of food, disguise, compass and forged papers by visiting various rooms in the castle or by using 'Opportunity Cards'. Once collected, this kit is not lost or expended.

    Other equipment or materials must also be obtained in order for a player to make a successful escape attempt: wire cutters; lengths of rope; forged passes; and keys. These are gained, like the escape kit, by visiting rooms or using Opportunity Cards. Unlike the escape kit, these cards can be confiscated at certain times by the German player and once used are expended and placed back in the pile.

    Opportunity cards (taken from a shuffled pile) are gained on a roll of 3, 7 or 11 (not counting rerolls due to double throws). These present the player with additional opportunities for escape. Some cards allow 'free' equipment to be gained (without visiting the rooms required). Additional cards allow players to use one of the three tunnels shown on the map, hide escape equipment to avoid confiscation, steal the Staff Car, move to safe hideaways, escape solitary or avoid being shot during an escape attempt. Players may keep their opportunity cards secret or secretly show each other their hands in order to assist each other's escapes.

    On the German player's turn, a 3, 7, or 11 results in that player taking a 'Security Card' rather than an Opportunity Card. These allow the German player to undertake counter-escape actions, such as 'Shoot to Kill', 'Detect Tunnel', call an 'Appell' (a counting parade forcing all pieces back to starting positions), or perform searches. Once used, Security and Opportunity Cards are discarded.

    Playing pieces caught while escaping, in possession or equipment or found in unauthorized parts or the castle can be put in solitary (a series of rooms on the board) for a few turns to temporarily reduce the number of pieces available to the player. Pieces shot while attempting to escape are removed permanently.

    The game is given a time limit or a target of escaped prisoners (usually the first to two) with the objective of the player operating the guards being to limit or stop the escape attempts. A final option (used normally as the time limit comes to an end) is to perform a 'Do or Die'. A special card is taken which details how many die rolls are used (from three to seven 2-dice throws). These throws are made and summed (doubles again allow rerolls, no opportunity cards are taken) and if the result is enough to reach an escape target in a single bound (no escape equipment needed), then the escape is successful. If not, the entire team is removed from play.

  • Descriptive line

    Boxed board game, Escape from Colditz, made in England by Palitoy in the 1970s

  • Labels and date

    In the post-war period there was a continued nostalgia for the heroes who defeated Nazism.
    Stories of bravery were repeated in all forms of popular culture. They formed an acceptable way to interact with the subject of war, away from representation of current conflicts.

    While other comics diversified into sci-fi and fantasy, Commando, first published in 1961, focussed all its attention on the Second World War. Its nostalgic style and format remained unchanged for decades.

    Films and board games were inspired by wartime exploits, such as the escape from the infamous German prisoner of war camp at Colditz castle. These remained popular and in the public’s consciousness for many years. [2012]

  • Production Type and Product Note

    Mass produced

  • Collection code

    Museum of Childhood