Lining Up to Play Kolejka

Kolejka (“Queue”) is a boardgame produced by the Polish Insititute of National Remembrance. I imagine that institute has a lot of work because Poland has so often been the abused stepchild of Europe. The game, designed by Polish game designer Karol Madaj, simulates going shopping in Communist-ruled Poland, an activity that largely consists of standing in line waiting for whatever goods the store happens to get, assuming the store gets goods at all.

It’s beautifuly produced. The board depicts the shops and delivery trucks and is done in a dull gray, allowing the player pieces and goods to pop color against it. Everything has a distressed, hand-made feel to it. The cardstock is flimsy and easily bendable, which normally would count against a game, but adds dramatically to the feel here. In addition, the game is printed in Polish. It comes with six rulebooks in different languages, and each comes with stickers you place over the polish text on the cards to convert them to that language. When I first started placing the English stickers I was trying to line them up carefully, but I screwed one up and it went on crooked. Turned out I liked the look of the crooked sticker more. The goods cards don’t get stickers, which I’m glad, as it leaves the Polish text on them and contributes even more to the theme.

The gameplay is pretty easy. First, you line up your player bits at the five shops and the outdoor market. The game insists you place the figures touching each other, which is a great detail to add. The lined-up people look physically uncomfortable. Then you reveal which stores will actually get merchandise. The next step is the meat of the game: manipulating the queue. Players play cards allowing them to shift the position of their own pieces, other players’ pieces, the entire line, or the merchandise itself. You can even do the ultimate jerk move and close a store completely, preventing anyone from getting goods there this turn. There is a lot of wailing and cursing in this phase. Once everyone is done with cards, the stores open and some lucky people get merchandise. Even if you don’t really need whatever good you get it’s still useful, as you might be able to swap it for what you need at the outdoor market. You repeat until someone has gotten all the items on their shopping list.

A lot of times a game like this, one that might get sold in a museum gift shop or something, is a dull, lifeless affair. Not so with Kolejka. The gameplay is brutal and mean, with some good decisions to be made. (The designer has a number of other games to his name.) However, this doesn’t come at a sacrifice to the educational value. The rulebook has a nice essay at the back talking about the historical basis for the game and how the gameplay and cards were influenced by the reality of the events. The gameplay itself also gives a good feel of what it’s supposed to be simulating. One of Eric’s guys stood in front of a clothes store for several turns waiting for clothes that never arrived, and when they finally did, James and I pushed him out of the way to grab the goods for ourselves. In that moment, Eric WAS a dude living in Communist Poland.

We played with four and had a good time of it, but I think it’s probably at its best with the full five players. Kolejke (which even has an expansion!) isn’t the greatest game I’ve ever played, but it’s a solid game that achieves its goals remarkably well.

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