From the end of World War 2 until the very early 1990s, the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in the Cold War. While there wasn’t any armed conflict between the two countries, there was a ideological battle between Democracy and Communism. The tension between the two countries lead to quite a bit of propaganda as each country wanted to prove their side was better. This included the board game Police State which later became Comrades. Police States/Comrades took a look at what the designer thought it was like to live in a Communist nation. Having only lived through the last couple years of the Cold War I never really felt what the Cold War was like. I was interested in checking out Comrades though to see what someone’s Communist take on Monopoly would play like and see if it would bring something new to the Monopoly-style roll and move genre. While Comrades actually had quite a few interesting ideas, the mechanics don’t do enough to save Comrades from being a below average game.
How to Play Comrades
Before beginning the game each player chooses a playing piece and one status block of all four colors. Players insert their playing piece into the white status block and place it on the Red Square space. The decks of cards are shuffled individually and put on their corresponding spots on the gameboard. The red spots are put off to the side of the board. The number of apartments used in the game are determined by the number of players.
- 2 players: 2-one room, 1-two room, 1-three room, 1-four room
- 3 players: 2-one room, 2-two room, 2-three room, 1-four room
- 4 players: 3-one room, 2-two room, 2-three room, 1-four room
- 5-6 players: 4-one room, 3-two room, 2-three room, 1-four room
- 7+ players: Use all apartment cards
A key mechanic in Comrades is the idea of status. Each player has a status which impacts what they can do in the game. There are four statuses which include: peasant, worker, party member, and party elite.
As a peasant the player has just the white status marker under their piece. They can only roll one die on their turn and must return to the Red Square space when they reach the first corner of the gameboard.
As a worker the player has the white and blue status marker under their playing piece. To move to the worker status a player has to acquire a one room apartment by paying 100 rubles and 1 connection. As a worker the player can still only roll one die but can move until they reach the second corner and then must return to the Red Square space.
As a party member the player has the white, blue, and black status markers. To move to the party member status the player has to acquire a two room apartment by paying 200 rubles and 2 connections. As a party member the player rolls both dice and can move to the third corner before returning to the Red Square space.
As a party elite the player has the white, blue, black, and red status markers. To reach the party elite status a player has to pay 400 rubles and 4 connections to acquire a three room apartment. Players who are party elite roll both dice and can move around the entire board.
The final status level is the premier position. To obtain premier position the player has to pay 800 rubles and 8 connections to obtain the four bedroom apartment. Reaching the premier position is one of the two things a player has to achieve in order to win the game.
Players can only move to a status level if the appropriate apartment card is currently available. When a player moves to a new status they give up their previous apartment card and take the new apartment card. A player is able to jump over a status level if they have the cash and connections to pay for a higher status level. When buying an apartment no change is given out if a player pays more than required.
A Player’s Turn
A player begins the turn by rolling a die or both dice depending on their current status level. If the player is on a work space, the player compares the number rolled to the number listed on their current space. If the player rolled a number lower than the number on the space, the player doesn’t move their piece and their turn ends immediately.
If the player rolled higher than the number on the space they will take power or wealth cards. Players will take cards of the type indicated on the space they were on at the beginning of their turn. If the space is on the first side of the board, the player takes one of the corresponding cards. Players take two cards when on the second side, three cards on the third side, and four cards when on the fourth side. Players must show how many of each type of card they have but do not reveal what is on the other side of the cards.
Secret Police Cards
When a player lands on a Secret Police space the player must draw the top secret police card. If the card has the word “immunity” on the back the player keeps it in front of them and doesn’t have to read it out loud. Otherwise the player has to immediately read the card out loud and do what it says.
A key mechanic in Comrades is the fact that players shouldn’t hoard power or wealth. A player cannot hold more than twice the amount of wealth or power that is required to upgrade to the next status level. The max amount of wealth and power each player can safely hold are as follows:
- Peasant: 200 rubles and 2 connections
- Worker: 400 rubles and 4 connections
- Party Member: 800 rubles and 8 connections
- Party Elite: 1,200 rubles and 12 connections
If at any point a player suspects that another player has more wealth or connections than they are allowed to have based on their status, a player can try to denounce that player. If the challenged players does not have a valid immunity card, the player has to reveal their cards for wealth or power (whichever they were challenged on). There are two possible outcomes for the denunciation:
- Guilty: If the player held more than their wealth or connection restriction (whichever was challenged), they are found guilty. The guilty player has to give up all of their cards. The guilty player also moves down to the next available status level, takes a red spot, and moves to the Red Square space.
- Innocent: If the player held less than or equal to their wealth or connection restriction (whichever was challenged) or they play an immunity card, the player is found innocent. The player (if they don’t have their own valid immunity card) who accused the innocent player loses all of their cards, moves down to the next available status level, and takes a red spot. The innocent player can exchange four of their cards for new cards if they used an immunity card. Otherwise they can exchange a number of cards equal to the number of worthless cards they held for the challenged type (wealth or power) and draw the same number of cards from any deck including the secret police deck.
If a player ever acquires three red spots they are immediately sent to Siberia and are eliminated from the game.
In addition to reaching the premier status, the other requirement to win Comrades is to control the state automobile. To purchase the state automobile you must pay 800 rubles. The car can be bought at any time no matter the status of the player. Once a player owns the automobile the only way to lose it is to have your status level reduced which puts the automobile back up for sale.
Winning the Game
Comrades can end in two ways. If all but one player is eliminated from the game, the remaining player wins the game. Otherwise the first player to reach premier status and control the state automobile wins the game.
My Thoughts on Comrades
If I had to describe Comrades, the easiest way would probably be to say that the game is the Communist/Socialist version of Monopoly. Both games are basic roll and move games that involve a very similar looking board. Comrades kind of feel like Monopoly but doesn’t feature the property buying of Monopoly and actually might have more strategy than Monopoly.
While Comrades might feel like Monopoly, it is actually quite a bit more cutthroat than Monopoly. In Comrades you have to always work against the other players. If you are below the other players in status you need to knock them down in order to take their place. Players are always working against one another because while it is beneficial to hoard money and power the other players are always able to challenge you and take it away from you. I honestly don’t think you can do well in Comrades without going after the other players.
One thing I thought held a lot of promise for the game was the idea that there is a press your luck element to the game with regards to holding more wealth or power than you are allowed to at a given time. If you want to play it safe you can upgrade whenever you have enough power and wealth to move up to the next status level. A benefit to hoarding wealth and power though is the fact that it is actually cheaper jumping multiple status levels at the same time. The game also kind of forces you to either jump a status level or challenge another player to knock them down since if the appropriate apartment is not available you can’t move up to the next status level. I usually like when games give players a risk reward element since it gives players options on how they want to approach the game.
One thing that really helps this risk/reward element is the fact that it is actually pretty easy to hide how much power and wealth you actually hold at a given time. I would say around a half of the power and wealth cards are totally worthless. The values on the non-worthless cards can also vary quite a bit. This is both good and bad for the game. It is bad that around half of the cards you end up drawing are totally pointless. The good news is that players never really know where the other players stand in the game. For example at one point I held about 15-20 wealth cards and the other player still couldn’t know for certain whether I was hoarding wealth. It turns out with all of those cards I was only slightly hoarding (had 100 or 200 more rubles than I was allowed to have). The fact that the values of the cards can vary so much and so many of them are worthless it makes you second guess whether to challenge another player.
I like when games have imperfect information and this mechanic looked like it had a lot of potential. Unfortunately it just doesn’t live up to that potential. I attribute this to two things.
First based on how the game is set up players are regularly forced into hoarding. When you land on a job you don’t get a choice of what type of cards you will draw when you complete it. If you keep landing on spaces that give you the same type of cards you will be forced into hoarding and will get called out on it. This kind of ruins the “choice” aspect of hoarding since in the game I think I might have purposefully hoarded once in the game and all of the other times were due to being forced to draw a bunch of cards of the same type.
The other problem is that there is not enough incentive most of the time to challenge someone especially when you factor in the punishment if you are wrong. If you successfully challenge someone it will send them back. It might also put an apartment you need back into play which will allow you to increase your status. There are really no other reasons to challenge another player though since you personally don’t gain anything out of successfully challenging another player. The punishment for challenging another player is really severe with you losing all of your cards, losing status yourself, and possibly the worst part gaining another red spot.
I was actually surprised by how much of an impact that the red spots have on the game. At the beginning of the game you might not think that they will really matter since you don’t think you will get three in the game. The red spots will likely eliminate some of the players and likely will put the remaining players in a precarious position. While you will get some from being found guilty of hoarding (either by choice or being forced into hoarding) but you probably get more from the Secret Police cards. I would say that the red spots can easily become one of the driving forces in the game since they will impact how you play the game.
In the game I played the two players that were closest to winning were immediately eliminated because they were forced to take another red spot due to the draw of a police card. By the time the game ended the other two players were still in the game but both had two red spots and could have been eliminated at any time. This lead to a situation where I had two immunity cards and also held the car. This meant that the other player really couldn’t challenge me since I would play a immunity card and eliminate them from the game. They needed to challenge me at some point though in order to get the car away from me. The other player’s only option was to hope that I would land on a secret police space and eliminate myself from the game.
The red spots were an interesting idea that could have helped the game but ended up having too much of an impact on the game.
The final mechanic that I thought had potential was the idea of the different status levels which impacted how you could move around the board. This mechanic made sense thematically and for the gameplay as well. I thought it was a good idea that as your status grew you would have more ability to move around the board. Basically as you played the game your character would upgrade and gain new abilities. The problem is that I question whether it is actually a benefit to be able to access the entire board. It helps being able to draw more cards when you complete jobs. This makes it even easier to be forced into hoarding though if you are forced to draw a lot of cards of the type you already own a lot of cards for.
Another problem with this mechanic is that it is actually quite easy to get stuck on the final side of the gameboard. As the jobs get more rewarding, it becomes harder to actually roll a high enough number in order finish your job. Some of the spaces require you to roll an eleven or twelve to move. This resulted in two players not being able to move for 15-20 moves. I can see that this was added as a catch-up mechanic for players who fell behind but it makes the game really dull for the players who are unable to move. This can end up helping the players that get stuck since they won’t move around the board and land on Secret Police spaces which are generally not good spaces to land on.
So let’s talk about how the game calls itself “family fun.” While it is nowhere near as bad as Public Assistance, I don’t think I would call it family fun entertainment either. I kind of see Comrades as somewhat of an edutainment game which tries to be fun while also showing what it is like to live in a communist country (at least in the mind of the designer). Unlike Public Assistance I didn’t really find anything in the game to be offensive but you can kind of tell that the game had an agenda of making Communism out to be evil. While the game is accurate in some ways, I think the game kind of over-exaggerates some of the issues with Communism.
Component wise Comrades is nothing special. By looking at the components you can tell that Comrades was a 1970s-1980s game made by a small publisher. The game pieces are really thin cardboard. The game’s cards and gameboard are pretty bland. While there is nothing particularly wrong with the components, they could have been a lot better.
Should You Buy Comrades?
I really don’t know what to think about Comrades. I thought Comrades had quite a bit of potential for a Monopoly-style roll and move game. The game actually has some interesting mechanics that could have made for a good game. The problem is that none of these mechanics work as well as they should. This leaves behind a pretty bland roll and move game that relies too much on luck and drags on for far too long. It is a shame really since with some house rules to fix up some of the game’s problems, I think Comrades could be turned into a solid to good game.
If you don’t really care for roll and move games that rely a lot on luck, Comrades is not going to be for you. If you are looking for a roll and move game with an interesting theme and are willing to take some time to develop some house rules you could get some fun out of Comrades.
If you are interested in purchasing Comrades you can find it on Amazon.