Polish Toledo

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Friday, January 04, 2013

Socialism Game

The Waiting Game - Kolejka - Teaches Downside of Socialist Life

Do ya think it might be just a little ironic that a board game involving high finance, real estate deals, and the acquisition of wealth came out smack dab in the middle of the Great Depression?

I’m guessing you already figured out I’m talking about Monopoly, which is probably the most recognizable game ever marketed by Parker Brothers.

Well, are you ready for another irony?

Two decades after the Poles defeated the terribly harsh conditions of socialism with it’s failed central planning and bloated inefficient government bureaucracy, a game has been successfully launched in Poland recalling all the misery under the years of communist tyranny and the lack of free enterprise, individual liberty and even simple things like the scarcity of toilet paper.

Now that Poland has the fastest growing economy in Europe and was the only country there to avoid a down year during the economic crisis, Poland's National Remembrance Institute released the antithesis of Monopoly – called "Kolejka" – last year.

Although referred to by some westerners as "Communist Monopoly" the game doesn't let players collect rent or buy land. Instead, they often get frustrated because they can't buy anything even after waiting in long lines. "Kolejka" (pronounced ‘ko-LAY-ka’) means line, or queue.

About a third of Poles are too young to remember the old days, so the game was developed to teach young people about life under Communism. There are no railroads, utilities or glamorous avenues for sale. Players can’t erect hotels, charge rent or make piles of money. In fact, the game inspired by Monopoly is all about Communist socialism rather than capitalism.

Players are on a mission to buy a number of goods from a shopping list, but frequent lack of deliveries, shortages and the connections other players have to communist authorities turn the task into an exercise in frustration.

Players must wait in endless lines at stores for scarce, basic goods. But, just as it was in reality, goods like food supplies run out before they reach the game’s counter. Alternatives may be offered in lieu of lacking items; for example, if a bed is needed, stools may be offered instead. For added realism, cards, meant to represent status are issued, so a player needing the store’s last bed can be pushed aside by a “mother with small child” or “friend in government” card.

During its development the game was tested on 100 people and was found to be an authentic representation of the difficulty of doing mundane chores in Communist times. According to Remembrance Institute, the game was not inspired by any nostalgia for the Communist era, which lasted from the end of World War II until 1989. Instead, it is to educate young people who do not remember Communism by using the game as a tool to open up dialogue between the generations.

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 talk about how things were for the older generation.

A game about waiting in line for scarce goods may sound rather depressing, but it’s been a hit with both young and old even having a laugh or two while playing "Kolejka." And just in case that doesn't happen, the game comes with a book of jokes from the Communist era, as well as archive photographs of real people waiting in line and a booklet providing a historical overview.

The game might bring back memories of sad times, but it's great that we can look back on these times with a certain amount of humor. In the gray, drab communist era Pole’s had a saying: “With capitalism, it’s man exploiting man – with socialism, it’s the other way around.” Today you might hear: “Kapitalizm dobry, socjalizm nie.”

Playing this game will be an eye-opener for some of my comrades who subscribe to the philosophy of fundamentally changing America. So, I’m glad the Institute will be launching a version in English, which will be sold via the Internet. But, don’t hold your breath. There may be quite a wait. Just get in the kolejka. It will make you appreciate the game even more when you finally get it.

However, if you want to play po polsku, I’ll give you a friend in the media card that will let you cut in line at: planszomania.pl/ekonomiczne/2927/Kolejka.html