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Subject: Kolejka: Waiting in Line in Communist Poland: The Experience: The Game rss

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Theron Seckington
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Kolejka! Or as I pronounce it, “Kol-esh-ka,” though sometimes “kol-edge-ka,” or when I forget where the J winds up, “kol-jek-ka,” or the English translation, “Queue.” Queue as in “line that one waits in.”

Wait. I forgot the Internet. “Ko-lay-ka.” Got it. My apologies. So, Queue!

I came into contact with this game through Reddit. Or rather through my friend Pete who found it on Reddit and then demanded, belligerently, that I buy it, which I finally did thanks to Board Game Geek’s marketplace MOVING ON

As a little context for this game, Kolejka was published by a Polish think tank called the Institute of National Remembrance whose mission is to research crimes committed by the Nazi and Communist parties in Poland and make that information available to the public. As part of their outreach and programs, the IPN (as it is called) also publishes educational board games. The IPN published this game to help the younger generation understand what life was like under Communism. This fascinates me, possibly because while the government of Poland produced a worker placement board game about providing for your family the United States Army made a violent first person shooter.

Since I just briefly mentioned the chief mechanic, I may as well begin the actual review. Kolejka accommodates 2-5 players. Each player receives a shopping list of 10 items drawn from five different categories and the first person who is able to complete their shopping list wins the game. “Okay,” you mutter, cockily, “build up resources until I can buy-” but I’m going to stop you right there because it’s not an economic game, it’s worker placement and then worker manipulation based on your hand of cards.

“But you didn’t mention any-” IN ADDITION - jeeze - to the unique shopping list, each player receives an identical set of 10 cards. These cards, which are done in a beautiful lithograph-slash-collage style, do everything from scoot your pawns a couple spaces forward to jumping to the head of the line to shutting down an entire store for the day because if you don’t get that bookshelf then nobody does and the uniquely bastardly “Community List” card, which rotates the entire line one hundred eighty degrees. Anyone who is familiar with the old game Sorry! can imagine a nightmare scenario where the entire game is played with a handful of Sorry! cards as your hungry, dishevelled, chair-less Poles careen around the board like graceless directionless migrating ducks.

“Is there a cat-” THERE IS A CATCH you only receive three cards at the beginning of the work week and you can only hold three cards in your hand. Your 10 cards have to last you the entire week before they’re restored, which is brilliant since the entire game is based around scarcity. Oh, and don’t think you’ll be happy that at least your significant other made off with the precious furniture because there are more pawns on the board for Speculators, who not only take up an extra space but snatch up goods to sell to the barter-driven black market, where you can theoretically sell two of your excess goods for whatever table scraps are up for grabs - but you’re never going to have any excess goods, are you, and when that Speculator runs off with that table you had your eye on you will howl with rage and the Kafkaesque unfairness of it all.

The game involves a lot of luck and a lot of scarcity. It’s not even fair to call it “resource management,” since something will run out and the game does not care*. There are some tough choices to make.with very little information and with all respect due to the families that suffered under the Communist regime you will feel the loss of each possession with the core of your being. You will shout hateful things at your coworker’s wife and your best friend and not have to apologize because they hate you too because you stole chocolate from them, you bitch. In some ways, you’ll find yourself immersed in materialistic narcissism much like the main character of American Psycho, and also like the main character of American Psycho you will grin and wink at yourself as you play a card and deftly schtupp two of your opponents at once.

Kolejka plays best with the largest group of five players, though the expansion (which I do not own) apparently adds a sixth player as well as as an additional currency (vodka!) to manipulate the Speculators and the black market. This game involves a lot of randomness, and most of the actions you’ll find yourself playing are based less around manipulating things to your own advantage and more around making a terrible situation slightly less bad and watching your friends, and not you, slide quietly into victory. You’ll laugh, you’ll swap stories (but not goods, never that) and you’ll speak in terrible Eastern European accents. As a mechanical system, Kolejka is not as impressive as other worker placement games; as a narrative device, I found it really brought us together with its theme and its very human story. It’s up to you to decide what experience you want with your games, but for me, I’ll take it and recommend it with a smile. Now give me your desk, comrade, it’s needed.

*The game kind of cares: If the game becomes impossible to win then whoever is the closest to finishing their shopping list wins.
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Gordon J
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This is a fun family game. Or a fun party game for people who don't normally play boardgames. For each round you get a hand of cards that help your people that are waiting in line, it is the playing of the cards that makes this game fun, the kind of fun 'screw your neighbor' effect works here. "Oh, you were first in line to buy a toaster?' I don't think so, slap down a card, "now you are last and I"m first."

I agree the more people you have the more chaos and fun it is. My wife is Polish, so of course it has extra meaning for her and her family when we play it. It is a big hit in Poland.
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Ethidium Bromide
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Nice review.

I have two things to comment on.
First, "kol-esh-ka" in Polish means something like "a buddy" but in deminutive and a bit derogative form.

Second, the pictures on the item cards are pictures of real products from seventies and eighties of the 20th century. I wore Relax shoes, I listened to radio Kasprzak and I have drank the tea sold in paper bags, which on their other side had "flour" printed on.

Cheers. Enjoy playing Kolejka!
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Theron Seckington
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I did not know either of those things about pronunciations or item cards. Thank you for the tidbits and the feedback!

Quick clarification, I should have specified: the collage art I mentioned is on the action cards (or queuing cards, as they are called in the manual). Next time I review something I will spend a little more time talking about the art.
 
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