Kolejka: An Educational Board Game About Communism

Kolejka Board Game

Having visited the Soviet Union in February 1987 and seen the lines of people patiently waiting for items of food, I am very interested in this new board game, Kolejka, created by the Poland’s state-run National Remembrance Institute.  The name, Kolejka, means “queue or line” and it intends to build bridges by helping young Poles to better understand the hardships of life of their parents and grandparents under communism.  As an international educator, I see this game as a tremendous learning tool for not only young Poles, by anyone who wants to understand history, economics, politics and the Polish language.

Two to five game players are tasked with buying a number of goods from a shopping list, but a lack of deliveries, shortages and the connections competitors have to communist authorities turn the task into an exercise in frustration.  Players try to buy basic goods but 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. Cards, meant to represent, status are issued, so a player needing the the store’s last bed can be pushed aside by a “mother with small child” or “friend in government” card.

As reported by NPR, Karol Madaj, the game’s creator stated,”We want to show how it was when you lost your chance because someone with high connections jumped the line.”  Madaj is a 30-year-old who still remembers spending long hours with his mother in lines.  He went on to say,”We may laugh at it today, but it was not funny for them, when they were wasting their lives in lines.”  Madaj went on to say that the game is best played by members of various generations because it evokes emotions in older players who start to talk about their experiences.

The game also comes with 2 education films:  the first is a 1983 documentary film titled “Everyone Knows Who They Are Standing Behind” directed by Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz and the second is a 2010 documentary titled “What Did They Deliver? The Life of Queuing in the People’s Republic of Poland” directed by Konrad Starczewski. I’ve also read that the game comes with a booklet of Communist era jokes.

As an educator, I would have students play this game and then play Monopoly, the popular American game that, according to Wikipedia, is a redesign of an earlier game called “The Landlord’s Game” which was first published by political activist (and Quaker) Elizabeth Magie.  The purpose of that game was to teach people how monopolies end up bankrupting the many and giving extraordinary wealth to one or few individuals.

Both games serve as great educational tools, allowing students to compare the pros and cons of each system.

Koejka will go on sale in Poland on February 5th. (Obviously, the game is in Polish, so you will need to speak or be able to translate Polish to understand the details of the rules/cards.)