Buy yours today lest it be rendered obsolete come the revolution…
by Adam Miller
Advocates of Communism have long grappled with the fact that their ideology’s ideas can be difficult for the layman to grasp. This is especially a problem when it is exactly that layman who you want to revolt against his bourgeois oppressors. From the original manifesto to pamphleteering to gunpoint, Communists have tried their best to get their message to the people, but as remains clear today, these efforts haven’t proven wholly successful.
In 1978 a man sought to change all that. He sought to revolutionize Communist propaganda and bring the message to the people. The man was Bertell Ollman, the content was Communism, the form: a board game. With a big F-U to the division of labor, Ollman designed and produced (both by hand, it would seem) CLASS STRUGGLE. The game claims to “prepare for life in capitalist America—an educational game for kids from 8 to 80” and wears its motto, “Play It [sic] like it is… but more so,” with pride.
Ollman’s vision for his game’s popularity was… enthusiastic. He foresaw whole CLASS STRUGGLE “tournaments” and in fact created a special “tournament” rule set “where the action really is.” For this review, I’ll be drawing mainly from the “Full” game rules (as opposed to the “Beginners” rules or the few “Tournament” addendums).
The game supposedly “reflects the real struggle between the classes in our society.” It’s object? “TO WIN THE REVOLUTION… ULTIMATELY” [?]. The game can be played by up to six players, but the manual hastily alerts us “THE REAL PLAYERS IN CLASS STRUGGLE, HOWEVER, ARE CLASSES, not individuals.” Who needs Brecht when you can read poetry like that?
These classes include Workers and Capitalists (the game’s “major” classes) and a series of minor classes including farmers, small businessmen, professionals, and students. The minor classes can’t actually “win” the game themselves; they can only ally with either the Workers or the Capitalists. Thus much of the game’s strategy revolves around this alliance making.
How does one pick their class? Hah, trick question! In its attempt to “reflect” the real struggle between classes, CLASS STRUGGLE mimics [its concept of] the real: “ONE’S CLASS IS DETERMINED BY CHANCE, which usually means by the kind of family into which one is born.” Yeah, this is actually going where you think it is. The manual continues, “Also, in our society, WOMEN AND BLACKS HAVE LESS CHANCE THAN WHITE MALES TO BECOME CAPITALISTS.”
Why, game, tell us why?
“This has nothing to do with the human qualities of women and Blacks and everything to do with the unfair rules set by our society.”
Okay, okay, enough of your dialectic mumbo jumbo. Does this rhetoric actually affect the game play?
“Attempting to reflect these rules (and not by any means to justify them), ‘Class Struggle’ calls for the following: beginning with the lightest White male and ending with the darkest Black female, everyone takes turns with the Genetic (or luck-of-birth) Die… to see who throws the Capitalist Class first.”
That’s right, your race and sex affect your ability to play this game: Like DeGrassi, It goes there. But race and sex can be tricky subjects. Like, which quality makes one less privileged? The game even thinks of this scenario: “If the people playing include a black man and a white woman, the players themselves have to decide which one has the greater handicap in becoming a Capitalist.” Now that’s what I call some good game testing!
Anyway, the rest of the game mechanics are akin to LIFE with a dash of MONOPOLY. Players throw dice to move their pieces around the board and in so doing can collect “Assets and Debits” depending on the kind of square they land on. For example, if the Worker lands on square 83 which reads “Socialist ideas are spreading among the police and the army” they pick up 3 assets. But if the Worker lands on square 69, “Pornography sales go up,” (haha, 69, get it?) they accrue 1 debit.
What really affects the gameplay is not just the overt politics, but the game's own “meta-politics.” The rules actually punish you for playing the game “incorrectly.” For example, the manual stipulates that if you throw the same number as the player who went before you, you have to skip your turn. Why? Because, “THINKING FOR ONESELF, AND NOT JUST DOING WHAT OTHERS DO, IS ESSENTIAL FOR WINNING AT CLASS STRUGGLE.” Likewise, if you happen to land on your opponent’s squares three times in a row you pick up one debit, since after all, “PRETENDING TO BELONG TO A CLASS OTHER THAN YOUR OWN WEAKENS YOUR CAUSE IN THE CLASS STRUGGLE.” But Bertell, I swear I wasn’t trying to betray my class. Please don’t punish me!
The game is resolved (normally) through a final revolution square on the board. Once either major class lands there, they can force a revolution in which the assets of the Capitalists are weighed against the assets of the Workers and the player with the more wins. It sounds simple, but one cannot underestimate the gravity of this final conflict, as the game manual makes clear. After all, “If the Workers win, humanity enters a new era of peace, democracy, and equality, which is CALLED SOCIALISM. A Capitalist victory, on the other hand, simply means the rich get richer while the poor are left to stew in their own juice, leading eventually to the collapse of civilization. HENCE THE CHOICE BEFORE US—SOCIALISM OR BARBARISM?”
There is, however, an alternative ending, namely the dreaded square 81: “NUCLEAR WAR.” If the Capitalists land here the game is immediately over—no one wins or loses—because “the capitalists are capable of any folly once they sense their days in power are numbered.” Because what could be more satisfying than having played this game for an hour only to have it instantly end with a single roll of the dice? Well, that’s nuclear war for you…
And that’s about all there is to the game. There is some bartering and diplomacy strategies involved, but what really defines CLASS STRUGGLE is the flavor of the gaming experience. Besides some of the more priceless game squares I’ve already described, the Chance cards also bring a lot of pith to board.
The following are some samples of both Worker and Capitalist Chance cards…
- You have just been laid off from work. If you blame yourself, or foreign competition, or the Blacks, or Jews, move two spaces back. If you blame the Capitalists, move two spaces ahead.
- Serious illness of mother-in-law bankrupts the whole family and drives you to drink—1 debit. Drinking is no answer to poverty.
- If religion is the opium of the older workers, then opium (pot) is the religion of the younger set. While you’re looking at the lights inside your head—“Groovy, man, real groovy”—the Capitalist slips you one of his debits.
- Sexually repressed people generally make good, docile workers, so you develop a sex-education program which makes young people disgusted by their natural functions. Easily worth a couple of assets.
- Your son has become a follower of Reverend Moon and your daughter is hooked on heroin. So what good is all your money? Worrying about it all causes you to forget your next turn at the dice.
- You embezzle one million dollars for your stockholders. No one sees or cares. Move 1 space ahead.
And finally my personal favorite…
- If you haven’t washed the dishes or made supper in the last week, move 2 spaces back. (Divisions between the people serve the Capitalist class).
The game manual concludes with a note from Bertell himself, encouraging you to help spread the game “beyond the power of our limited distribution network.” If you’d like to become a part of this revolution, you can subscribe to the CLASS STRUGGLE newsletter or just order the game at
CLASS STRUGGLE, INC., 487 Broadway,
N.Y., N.Y., 10013.*
*Note: Odds of this address being existence are… well, I mean have you heard of this game until now?