Tuesday, January 25, 2011


"Those who were too young to remember how it was back then will be able to play this game with their parents or grandparents and maybe talk about how things were for the older generation,"

Monopoly was developed at the depth of the Great Depression, a simple, easy to play game designed as a celebration of capitalism and luxury. In a way it was a sort of mockery of the big business tycoons as well, with you trying to control everything from utilities to hotels to railroads, looting the community chest, and being thrown in jail. But at the same time it portrayed wealth creation, investment, and earning as a positive thing.

Communists have a different approach to economics, and those who lived under communist governments a different approach entirely. I remember well the Russian Language teacher I had in high school telling us stories about his visits to the country. How he'd get to shop at special tourist-only stores, about the lines and tales from locals about buying whatever shoes they could at the shop even if they didn't fit. They'd fit someone, and maybe you could make a trade. Shortages of toilet paper and basic necessities were the norm in Communist Russia, and this wasn't in some podunk village in the Taiga, it was downtown Moscow with a Communist Party Handler's family. They'd line up for everything when supplies arrived, hoping they'd get something.

And its these lines that a new game out of Poland called Kolejka commemorates. The game is by older Polish citizens who remember well the old communist days of lack, fear, and restriction. And most of all, the frustration and lining up in hopes of getting what you need for your family. Jill Petzinger at Der Spiegel reports:
There are no glamorous avenues for sale, nor can players erect hotels, charge rent or make pots of money. In fact, a new Polish board game inspired by the classic Monopoly is all about communism rather than capitalism.

The goal of the game, which will officially be launched on Feb. 5, is to show how hard and frustrating it was for an average person to simply do their shopping under the Communist regime in Poland. The game has been developed by the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), a Warsaw-based research institute that commemorates the suffering of the Polish people during the Nazi and Communist eras.

Just like in the original Monopoly, acquisition is the name of the game. In this case, however, that means struggling to get basic necessities such as food, clothing and furniture. "In the game, you send your family out to get items on a shopping list and they find that the five shops are sold out or that there hasn't been a delivery that day," the IPN's Karol Madaj told SPIEGEL ONLINE Thursday, explaining that the game "highlights the tough realities of life under Communism."
Just like in the Communist era, players can leverage certain advantages to get what they need. The "colleague in the government" card is the equivalent of the famous "get out of jail free" card in Monopoly. Any player lucky enough to have one of these beauties can secretly find out when the next deliveries will arrive in the shops.
Its been long enough now that people just don't remember communism as well, and generations are grown to adulthood without having ever experienced it. There's good reason that Poland and other eastern European nations have statues of Ronald Reagan in them; they remember the horror and misery of communist rule. And they're worried their kids wont.

Its not like they can rely on Hollywood to remind anyone. Every few years someone puts out another movie about how evil Nazis were, or how bad the McCarthy hearings were. But when it comes to communism they act as if it never really happened. Cold War era movies should be pretty hot about now, it was an interesting time and the Russians were snappy dressers, but that would not fit the narrative very well, so the left won't touch it.

Communism didn't work and can't work with real people. It wasn't just a miserable failure, but a misguided and infantile understanding of human nature combined with corruption, brutality, and cruelty. The attempt to strip out all tradition and ethical guidelines to start afresh ended in hundreds of millions of deaths and many times that in misery, sadness, and oppression. Kolejka is an attempt to remind people of how it was, when academia and entertainment want to pretend nothing ever happened.


eric said...

Very interesting. May have to check this one out if my family ever gets over its "Settlers Of Cattan" addiction. Settlers is a great game... teaches more about economics in one hour than Monopoly teaches in a lifetime, and is fun to play as well. Someday when my daughter learns what "futures trading" is in the marketplace, she's going to think, "Oh, that's like when dad promised to trade me the next three wheat cards he draws in exchange for one of the lumber cards in my hand."

Larry said...

In the Communist Monopoly game, the "Go to jail" block means your playing piece mysteriously disappears.