Review: The Great Escape
Publisher: Ideal
Year: 1967

Three children looking excited while handcuffed to a game board

how we met

I found The Great Escape recently at thrift. I picked it up because it’s a giant box and made by Ideal, so it was probably going to be great. When I realized that the happy kiddos on the cover are handcuffed to the game board, nothing could have persuaded me to put it down again.

how it plays

In The Great Escape, players have one hand handcuffed to the weights in the corners of the board. The weight is really a plastic piece that is meant to fit to the corner of the board to make you feel trapped. You can remove the weight in case of emergency, but the handcuffs really don’t come off without breaking or the key.

One hand handcuffed to corner of the board and all the cards are in place
This is Keri’s lovely hand, trapped

The game board has multiple cards that are face down and different spaces have arrows pointing to the cards. Players must roll the die and land on an arrow by exact count and then they can flip up the card indicated by the arrow. This will be a piece of a key in one of four different colors. Then players may look at any other card on (or off, see next paragraph) the board. If the color matches, they get to keep both cards face down in front of them.

Once players have cards face down in front of them, their cards can also be chosen to pair with a face-up card from the board.

A completed key with four matching cards
This is what a complete key will look like. This will let you choose and try a handcuff key

Players may only have three cards in front of them, so if you end up with a pair that is not the same color as your existing pair then you must choose one card to place back on the board face down, in any spot that you like.

If you do collect all four pieces of a key in a single color, you get to reach into the jailhouse and choose one of the six handcuff keys (without looking!). Then insert the key into your handcuff. The same key will unlock all four handcuffs. If the key does not work, set it aside, re-hide your four key cards on the board, and play continues. If the key works, you win the game!

Six red keys in different shapes
Simply press the key into the lock. If you have to force it, it’s the wrong key

how it went

The Great Escape is one of the many games we played during the July 4th holiday, and the only one that required handcuffs. Bill immediately flexed and broke his handcuff, so he was able to fetch us drinks and other sustenance while we played.

A closer look at the four pawns
A closer look at the four goofy pawns

It’s important to remember that you can pair with other player’s cards in order to make matches. Some players might be hoarding three different colors which will prevent matches and slow down gameplay, so go after them. But this weird 3 card limit does cause problems. I was holding onto a single yellow card for most of the game, so unless everyone remembers that then they are prevented from getting an entire yellow key.

The rules seem fairly explicit that you can only turn up opponent’s cards, but if you mess up early and end up with only 3 matching cards in front of you – say you had three cards in front of you, found a matching pair, then threw away a mismatched pair at some point – then the only way to capture the fourth card is to match it with one of your own. We allowed that.

A close up of the Jail House with a cartoon cop on it
A better look at one of our Keystone cops

We were not particularly lucky during play, either in landing by exact count or choosing the right key. As we got toward the end of play, there was a certain amount of double tapping to land on the space desired, and even peeking at cards on the board before choosing one for the match. But we were pretty ready to look the other way at that point. In fact I am convinced now that the young man on the cover is exclaiming, “Why don’t you just act like you landed there, Ricky?! I need to take a piss.”

A shot of our play with John flipping off the camera
This is a shot of our early play. As long as John keeps handcuffing himself to game boards, he can flip off the camera all he wants

We were on our fifth key choice when John blatantly cheated to finish his key card matches and unlock his handcuff. And John won The Great Escape! Kind of. You could also argue that we all lost.

play or pass

Pass. As much as I enjoyed being literally tethered to the game board, the necessity to land by exact count became too much for my enthusiasm to overcome. The Great Escape is captivating for sure, just not in all the ways I had hoped.