Jacobin Packs Social Commentary Into Class War

Published: November 8, 2021 3:18 PM /


The box art for the game, Class War

If you're familiar with contemporary magazines in the United States, you might be familiar with Jacobin. It is one of the largest magazines in the country dedicated to promoting Left-leaning American values, specifically socialism, across multiple fields including politics, economics, and broader culture. This is important because they are now putting their name behind crowdfunding a board game called Class War.

According to the Kickstarter campaign, Class War is a two-player asymmetric strategy game. Both players are part of a collective entity, either as Workers or as Capitalists, where you will fight for social dominance in an unstable constitutional democracy. Either you crush any dissent and continue unimpeded as Capitalists, taking your place as masters of industry, or you will triumph over a skewed system as Workers to make a more equal and just society.

Naturally, Class War isn't exactly subtle with the social commentary. As shown off in the campaign, certain Worker cards and mechanics are seen as helpful and beneficial like organizing labor unions, protesting for a livable wage, or demanding a wealth tax. Alternatively, the effective cards shown for Capitalists learn more on efficiency at the cost of human well-being such as automating your workplace for greater profit, hiring scab workers, calling the police on employees as a scare tactic, and pushing to have tax breaks pushed through Congress. There are multiple character cards that are thin parodies of various executives and social reform advocates. Capitalist cards are constantly depicted as duplicitous with snakelike or wormlike appearances. Worker cards are mostly characterized by their role, with the exception being an overt Bernie Sanders stand-in Birdy Feathers, and visualized as either deer or literal workhorses.

A card depicting a lawyer as a snake person
Yep, this is definitely about something.

If your first reaction from reading these descriptions is disgust, a bit of perspective might be in order. Despite vocal dissent from certain parts of the gaming community, the presence of Class War using gameplay as a vehicle for social commentary is simply carrying on a tradition. The most popular example of this is the original incarnation of the board game Monopoly. While it did go on to become a franchise when it first started out it was meant to be a critique of capitalism. The idea that late-game sessions would become patently unfair except for those who connived their way to the top wasn't just a reward for savvy play, it was a message. It is such an apt critique that Jacobin cites Monopoly as part of the Kickstarter campaign.

For a more sobering example, there is 2009's Train designed by Brenda Romero. On the surface, it appears to be a straightforward game where players load up a train with people and are tasked with getting their train to the finish line at the end of the track, suffering obstacles and setbacks along the way. Except once the game concludes, it is revealed that the destination was a concentration camp in Auschwitz. It is a devastating and brutal singular experience about blindly following orders, complicity in the face of atrocities, and the dark side of reducing certain people and ideas to abstract numbers on a chart. Many acclaimed outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, commented on its effectiveness. Romero herself has even given a GDC talk about why she believed the medium of board games made the message of Train all the more powerful.

In perspective, a crowdfunded card game about the challenges facing our current political and economic climate is not just to be expected, but encouraged. The Kickstarter campaign for Class War will conclude on December 2nd, 2021.


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