Poland's communist 'Monopoly' board game goes global

Posted at 07/13/2012 11:48 AM | Updated as of 07/13/2012 11:50 AM

WARSAW, Poland - Wonder what it was like to queue for hours for toilet paper or butter in communist-era Poland? Now you can experience the 'boredom' thanks to a foreign-language version of a hit Polish history-in-a-box board game.

The new multilingual, Monopoly-style "Kolejka" or "Queue" was unveiled with fanfare -- and fun -- recently by the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), a state office set up to document recent history and prosecute Nazi and communist-era crimes.

"Kolejka has been called 'the world's most boring game', but ask anyone who has queued in any communist country in the '70s and '80s and they'll tell you there's nothing more boring," joked IPN historian Tomasz Ginter.

"Waiting in line for six hours was normal for everyday food -- like, for example, steaks -- but if you were so unwise as to need furniture, it was a matter of weeks!" he said.

While Monopoly has taught the rules of capitalism to generations of players, Kolejka shows them how to survive in a planned economy where shortages were chronic, meat a rarity, oranges exotic and queuing up for hours, even days, was all too common.

And yes, it has a black market.

The game's makers say they wanted to give players the sense of tedium and absurdity that accompanied the now-simple task of shopping before the Iron Curtain fell in 1989 -- days when staple foods, petrol, cigarettes, washing powder, even shoes were rationed but shelves were crammed full of pots of mustard and bottles of vinegar produced by local communist factories.

To win, you must buy everything on a shopping list.

"But I can't buy because there's nothing in the bloody shop, is there?" said English teacher Barbara Stachowiak-Kowalska, 52, laughing and pounding the table as she tried out the game at the IPN presentation.

'You feel the frustration'

All 20,000 copies of the Polish version have been scooped up since the game came out a year-and-a-half ago. Another 25,000 have been printed for the multilingual version, in Japanese, English, Spanish, German and Russian as well as Polish. The new edition comes with a booklet to explain the historical context, telling of a time when residents had to devise shopping "strategies" to cope.

These included paying "standers" to queue on their behalf, or borrowing young children or disabled relatives -- mothers with youngsters and the handicapped were allowed to jump queues -- to reduce the wait.

"You feel the frustration. I got to the front of the queue, I was really excited -- and there was nothing to buy!" said Stachowiak-Kowalska.

True to life, the game allows players to buy on the black market where shoppers could obtain coveted goods if they paid at least twice the official price, a common if illegal practice under communism.

If you're still not convinced, given the supermarkets and western-style shopping malls that abound in today's Poland, Kolejka's inventors include photographs of the era: people lined up outside empty stores, others who hit the jackpot and head home with rolls of toilet paper strung happily around their neck.

The IPN, which is in charge of communist-era secret police archives, hit on the idea of historical board games as a way to make history lessons more fun.

"Children don't always understand, say, an exhibit on a serious topic, which is why we brainstormed and came up with a way to educate not only adults but also the younger crowd," IPN President Lukasz Kaminski told AFP.

And foreigners pose another challenge.

"I wasn't around at the time, but I imagine it was exactly this complicated," said Antoine Danzon, 37, a French resident of Warsaw as he tried out Kolejka at a weekly game night in a local bar.

"It's complicated, like the PRL," he said, using the country's old communist name, the People's Republic of Poland, before giving up and moving to a simpler game.

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