Saturday, February 6, 2010

Class Struggle Review

Straight out of 1978 comes Avalon Hill’s Class Struggle, the board game of capitalism and socialism. The game embodies the struggle of the workers of the world to succeed in a world dominated by the prosperous few, leaving the restless many to toil away in a society stacked against them. The game is for two to six players and greatly benefits from having the full six players, it definitely loses something when one or more of the minor classes are not represented. The game time varies depending on the number of players, but it should take about an hour.

Truth be told, Class Struggle is not a very fun game. It’s interesting, it’s opinionated, it’s good for a laugh, but it is not all that fun to play. I think that this stems from the fact that the creator of the game, Bertell Ollman, is an academic teaching a political lesson with a board game, rather than a board game designer making an academic game about politics. It also has the most unintelligible rules that I have ever read. Seriously. I’ve read quite a few game manuals in my time, I even sort of enjoy them. But this one is just a series of bulleted points, essentially non sequitor rules floating out in the ether. It is the job (chore?) of the players to try to make sense of it, and nothing is really easily found. Normally a rule book is indexed or at least divided into sections like setup, moving, etc…This one is sort of like that, but not actually. It really takes away from the game. Plus, there are three different levels to play it on; beginner, full, and tournament play. I’ve played Class Struggle a couple of times and I still really struggle with the basic game play. Or maybe I’m just giving the game the benefit of the doubt by assuming that there is more to it than there actually is. Or maybe I just don’t care to learn the more advanced rules since the beginner game is not all that fun.

In the beginning of the game all of the players roll a die to determine which of the six classes they will represent. The rules are structured so that the Capitalists will most likely be portrayed by the lightest skinned, white male present. Which is sort of funny. The entire tone of the game is extremely critical of the Capitalists in the world and I’ve found that it is more fun if each player sort of adopts the personality of their given role. If the Capitalist player isn’t acting like a bully they are missing out. There are six classes in the game; Capitalists, Workers, Farmers, Students, Small Business, and Professionals. The game can only be won by the Capitalists or the Workers, the other players win by being allied with the winning class. The winner is the Major Class that has the most assets at the end of the game. Game play is fairly simple in that it is just rolling the die and moving that number of spaces and reading what the space says (usually collecting an asset or debit). The game also uses a D3 for movement, which is sort of odd. That part is simple. The rest is where it gets tricky. The end game is particularly awkward. When a player reaches the end of the board they can then begin to move other player’s pieces, but the rules for this are a bit convoluted. There is also a nuclear war space that can only be triggered by the Capitalists, if they land on this the game ends and nobody wins. Yay for capitalism!

One of the very strange things about Class Struggle is the inequality among the players in their ability to actually play the game. The game is about the Workers and the Capitalists; everyone else is just along for the ride. I understand, from a thematic approach at least, why this is. It is mirroring the way that the real world works, or at least the world that the creator is trying to portray. However, the end result is that it is not all that much fun for someone from one of the minor classes. It is literally possible for them to have the entire decision making process removed from them. They do not even get to necessarily decide where the alliances lie. And with the game really just being played by rolling and moving it gets a monotonous feel to it pretty quickly.

The game pieces are nothing special, pretty generic offerings. The board is a simple series of alternating colored squares that wind their way inward towards the game’s conclusion. My only complaint is that sometimes it is hard to tell when the player jumps to the next level of the board, other than that it is fine. The game also includes two stacks of assets and debits. Each class is represented by a cardboard symbol that affixes to a wood block so that it can stand upright. There are also alliance cards with the symbol of each minor class that go to the major class when they form an alliance. There is something charming about the late 70’s artwork and aesthetic feel of the game.

Apparently this game was created as a learning tool about the dangers/horrors of capitalism so making a fun game was not really the priority. So is it actually a game? What it be more appropriate to call it a classroom tool? I don’t think I can recommend buying this game (especially since it is rather expensive. Thanks Cris!) but if someone you know has it, it’s probably worth a quick play one evening.


Anonymous said...

i<2m trying to find the game but i can't. do you have an idea where i can find it? thanks a lot. by

Fran said...

Mine was purchased on Ebay. It was a bit pricey, about $60 or so. There is usually one or two on there at any time. I tried to get it cheaper and had no luck with it.

Anonymous said...

Greetings from Russia!

It`s very interesting to play this game, especially in aspect of classwar`vision by people of the West during coldwar when this game was created. Also playing must be fun^)

But the problem lies in the fact that those rare instances that appear in the e-bay immediately bought up by collectors of board games and the price of the game due to this demand are quite large. Maybe someone has it? We gladly would have accepted it as a gift, or exchanged for matrioshkas and balalaikas. Just joke. May be it`s possible for you to scan or photograph the entire game (with all the details and cards) and send to the e-mail address orwell ( at ) if you had it?

Maybe you're familiar with those who have it?

We would be very grateful for your help! Thanks in advance!