GOOD

Russia Bans ‘Communist Monopoly’ for Its Anti-Soviet Views

Authorities won’t let people buy a game about shopping under an authoritarian regime.

Image via ipn.gov.pl

“Upon opening the box, you have entered 1980s Poland.” The instructions for the Polish board game Kolejka (“Queue,” or “Line Up”) explicitly ask players to imagine what it was like to be lost within the logistical maze of a communist regime. This past weekend, Russia banned Kolejka for its perceived anti-Soviet tendencies—though the game has been out for four years, and Russia hasn’t been Soviet in any official capacity for more than 20.


Newsweek’s recent report about the ban likened the game to “Communist Monopoly”—a fitting term, given that both Kolejka and Monopoly were originally intended to skewer the communist and capitalist systems, respectively. The rules are devastatingly simple: Players of Kolejka are given a family of five “pawns” and a shopping list. The first player to acquire everything on their list wins. Seems easy enough, but because of the game’s setting, the stores are mostly empty, and players must wait in line for them to receive deliveries—which are, of course, erratic and unpredictable occasions.

Kolejka was designed by Karol Madaj and launched in 2011 by Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance, a research institute also responsible for investigating communist and Nazi crimes. In Poland, people loved the game, awarding it the country’s 2012 Game of the Year Award—around the time when, as France 24 reports, all 20,000 copies of its initial run had sold out. (In an amusing twist, Kolejka was so popular that people lined up for hours to buy it, according to the Wall Street Journal.) The game has become a staple in Poland’s history classes, and an international version of Kolejka was released in 2012. The INR offers a free PDF of the game on its website.

Screenshot via PDF of the original (Polish) version of Kolejka

Kolejka hit Russian stores last November; more recently, consumer watchdog group Rospotrebnadzor accused the game of being overly critical of Russian history, and in response, Russian authorities required that Kolejka’s historical references be removed or it would be banned. As the request is antithetical to the point of the game—which is to educate players about life under Soviet rule, including Russia as a major player—the INR has stated that it has no plans to change it.

The game’s instructions include historical photographs and frank writing about Polish history under communism, as well as extensive information about dissent groups, rebellion, and struggle—with the accuracy of all stated facts overseen by Polish historians. The product cards contain photos of objects from the communist era, such as Popularna tea, Przemysławka eau de cologne, and Relaks shoes.

But Kolejka is not a dry history game; it uses humor to convey the ludicrousness of the era’s logistics. Cards featuring personas like “Mother Carrying Small Child” or “Colleague in the Government” allow players to jump ahead in their queues; others, highlighting typical interruptions such as “Delivery Error” or “Closed for Stocktaking,” can interfere with errands. Players are also able to trade goods on the black market.

Simple role-playing helps players foster empathy for “those who were unable to escape the absurdity of communism,” as Kolejka’s instructions put it. Perhaps the game’s slapstick race to the front of the lines rings a little too true to modern-day Russia, which the European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity describes as “a democracy in name” only.

Screenshot via PDF of the original (Polish) version of Kolejka

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