/ Deanna Dahlsad / 11 am Fri, Sep 19 2014
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  • Review: Kommissar, the cold war board game

    Review: Kommissar, the cold war board game

    Deanna Dahlsad escapes Soviet Russia, sends her friends to Siberia, and braves the wicked Kommissar in this 1960s-era board game.

    Kommissar is a vintage board game by Selchow & Righter, produced in 1966. A Cold War era game, Kommissar is based on the economics of USSR -- or at least how Americans imagined the economics of communist commerce worked. The goal of the game is to flee the country, but getting to the People's Airport is not enough. You must also have collected enough Rubles (500) in order to get on the plane to "retire in a warmer climate," if not a democratic or capitalistic place.

    So how do you get Rubles in the USSR back in the 1960s? Why by collecting forbidden American or Western items (such as cowboy boots, Bermuda shorts, and nylon stockings) and then selling them for cash at the People's Hock-Shop, of course! You can make a lot of money that way -- so long as the Kommissar doesn't catch you, that is.

    siberia kommissar board game

    This is a game for two to four players, however there are five pawns; the black one is for the Kommissar. (More on him in a bit.) In order show how "backward" communism is, movement on the game board is counter-clockwise, as opposed the traditional clockwise. And, when your turn is over, it's the player on your right's turn. When it is your turn, you roll the dice and follow the directions on the game board spaces. This often means drawing cards from one of the two decks. The brown deck is the People's deck, and it contains all the forbidden contraband as well as Party Cards -- as in Communist Party Cards, which can be used to protect yourself later. The red deck is the Kommissar deck. This one is full of bad things, such as being sent to Siberia and the People's Jail, but it also contains Party Cards.

    vintage-kommissar-contraband-cards

    Other spaces on the board include donating and collecting Rubles, paying tax, and riding the Trans Siberia Railroad to Siberia. There are also the Nishegorodskaia Boulevard and Nazdorovie Avenue spaces which offer the player the option of gambling via the forbidden game of People's Roulette. Here you can win draws from the People's Deck. Get too greedy, and you can lose all the cards drawn and one half of your Rubles.

    Some say this game is a lot like Monopoly; I disagree. While there are plenty of ways to get set-back in Monopoly, those are mostly the luck of the draw. In Kommissar, however, you (and your game-playing opponents) have plenty of chances to go on the offensive and "challenge" another player. Game challenges are chances to not only rid your opponent of their forbidden items and send them to Siberia via the Trans-Siberia Railroad (far, far away from the airport), but get some Rubles yourself.

    You may challenge a player one of two ways.

    Selchow & Righter kommissar game

    The first is by sicking the Kommissar on him. This is only possible in a limited area of the game board as the Kommissar covers a very small area. He can move from Red Square (in the center of the board) to the People's Hock-Shop (top left corner), and back. Or he can move from Red Square to the People's Airport (top right corner), and back. That's it. The Kommissar is moved only when a player rolls a six on one of the dice and the player opts to use that six to move the Kommissar. (A player may decide to move his own piece that six spaces, plus whatever number is on the other die, especially if no other player is on the either of the two paths that the Kommissar can take.)

    When the black Kommissar piece occupies the same space as a player, the player is challenged and must produce a Party Card. If he does, the player just continues his game play. But if he does not have a Party Card, the challenged player must turn over one forbidden item and pay that item's value as a fine to the People's Bank. (I was rather disappointed that there was no kick-back for players who helped the Kommissar catch citizens with contraband. Like Monopoly, you may want to make your own House Rules.) After making his payment, the player then has to go to the railroad station to take the train to Siberia.

    The other way to challenge is at the start of your turn. In order to do this, you must have a Party Card. If so, you display your Party Card and announce which player you are challenging. Similar to the challenge with the Kommissar piece, if the player has a Party Card he must produce it. If not, the player must turn in his forbidden item card and, before he goes to the train station for a ride to Siberia, he must pay the player who challenged him the number of Rubles the item was worth. The other difference with this sort of challenge is that if the challenged player does produce a Party Card, the challenger may continue to challenge him so long as the challenger has Party Cards of his own. Man-o-man, you can really whip through Party Cards this way.

    Kommissar-1966

    So it's easy to see how this game can be far more vindictive than Monopoly.

    Also unlike Monopoly, there's no houses and hotels to set up, and there's no $200 for passing "Go." However, if at any time a player runs out of money, the communist state directs the People's Bank to dole out another 300 Rubles to that player. Collectively, this means less time is spent on the mathiness of mortgages as well as buying (and/or selling back to the bank) houses and hotels. But you can more than make up for that with some relentless challenges!

    If you love the kitschy graphics of the 1960s, and I do, you’ll really appreciate the game. The contraband cards, while not colorful, are full of amazing 60s-style pop culture graphics. Some of my favorites include the "Hero Man" comic book, the bongo drums, and the "Modern Jazz People's Red Band" jazz record.

    Kommissar remains one of my favorite games. I love it as much for its kitschy graphics and time-capsule politics as I do for the fun of playing it.

    / / 20 COMMENTS