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There Will Be Games

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There is something utterly vulgar about an artist reviewing his own work, but anyhow. Here goes nothing.

The inspiration for Comrade Koba came from reading Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, by SimonSebag Montefiore. It is great book. Everyone should read it. It is narrative history at its finest. Anyhow, I like games driven by theme, or even more pretentious, the designer’s will to tell a story. And after reading this wonderful book I thought… geee. This is a story worth telling. The Politruks are much scarier than any daemnon in the HellGame.

One can always argue the moral in making a light party game about the Great Terror that had a body count roughly three times as high as the Nazi-engineered Holocaust.  The answer is that of course that you can, but you should not be surprised if some people think you should not. Koba has gotten some less than amused reactions from some Eastern Europeans, but so far no one has threatened me like some westerners did after The HellGame.


 Anyhow. The first idea for the game was a political thing. Faction-making in Stalin’s shadow. Something like Kremlin or Republic of Rome. Then it grew on me that that kind of game would be very expensive to produce and also way wrong. There were no factions in Stalin’s world. It was just a dog eat dog nightmare. So, how to portray it? 


The answer eventually was “Guillotine on crack”. The end result came out nothing like Guillotine, but the inspiration was helpful.

(Note to anyone screaming“copycat”...all people creating something are inspired by other people’s work.  Everybody steals ideas from everybody. It is called “culture”.)

The basic ideais that there we have twenty-odd Comrades (Stalinist goons) and each player secretly bets on which three of them he thinks will survive. You lay out all the characters in one long line with Koba himself in one end. Then the machine starts. Koba suspects and Koba kills and each turn a player can move the Comrades around a bit before he strikes. The Comrades closest to Koba’s throne dictates the speed of the killings and who moves closer to the boss or not. The same guys are the ones suffering the greatest risk of execution or an extended Siberian vacation. But once the terror stops this change as the winner is the player whose Comrade is closest to Koba. As Koba comes to his senses after killing around seventy percent of the cast, staying close to him from the start of the game is dangerous. And here lies the challenge of the game.


We tested the game as a live event on the GothCon gaming convention. I like testing games “in public” as it usually is a good way to tell if people will like the game or not. Also, twenty geeks will find errors you never thought of. And screw up game play in way you never imagined. In this case nothing truly shattering happened to my great ideas, so what you see today is more or less how the prototype looked. 


Designing the game’s artwork was a matter of letting Patrik Hultén do all the pictures and lay out the cards. This was before I had figured making cards in InDesign out, so it made things a lot smother. We wanted the poster-art look of Soviet propaganda and if I recall correctly we started out with Malenkov as he had the right kind of suit. The low-collar, no visible tie or shirt-kind. The hardest part of the whole thing was then to find images of all the Comrades wearing that same kind of suit. Myself did the rulebook and the box and that was about it. This last version of the game was printed at Trefl Krakow in Poland. 


And that is the story.  


Is it fun?  No idea, actually. At least not anymore. It was fun making it and testing it.  And people still seem to find it enjoyable. Good enough for me.



Scariest final note. This game sells well in leftist intellectual neighbourhoods.  Perhaps because Stalin is somehow a joke these days. In ways Hitler or BinLadin is not. 30 million + dead and you become someone on a t-shirt. Pretty amazing, actually. 


Yes, and the game can be found at It is sold in the US by (among others) Flying Buffalo.


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