Are you ready for Jacobin the board game?

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One of the most beautiful things about capitalism is that, wherever there is demand, there will be supply. Even though dedicated Marxists make up a very small percentage of the American public, they can still integrate themselves into pop culture with ostensibly fun and hip cultural ephemera, be it through Che Guevara t-shirts, colorful stickers, or, now, board games.

Originally crowdfunded on Kickstarter, Class War: The Jacobin Board Game follows in the tradition of Monopoly and Class Struggle in being a board game mixed with anti-capitalist theory. And it’s not subtle with its commentary either: one player plays as the workers and the other as the capitalists as they struggle to gain control of the workplace and the political system.

The game has two levels of play: In level one, players vie for control over the distribution of wealth from their workplaces as they gather their forces to win an election, which triggers level two. In level two, players also compete to pass “Demands,” like Universal Healthcare or Deregulation, and the first player to pass a “full program” (two or three demands depending on game length) wins.

Strategy-wise, the worker class needs to try to build up a large enough force of “figures” to overwhelm the capitalists, while the capitalist class tries to prevent this by restructuring the workplace to keep the worker’s wages down, and by accumulating as much wealth as possible. (If the bank runs out of money the player with the most wins, which is almost always the capitalists.)

The most charming aspect of Class War is its card design. Each card is accompanied by a little funny quote, written with the style of a certain kind of online millennial socialist humor. The game even includes “Hero Cards” that parody famous capitalists or socialists like “Buff Jezos” (Jeff Bezos) and “Birdie Feathers” (Bernie Sanders). Even the most rabid free-market capitalist will have to admit they can be quite amusing, if a bit heavy-handed.

The gameplay, however, is much weaker. Level one is probably the most enjoyable to play, but in level two the game becomes much more complicated without requiring that much more strategy, making it more tedious than enjoyable. 

In political terms, the game is heavily steeped in Marxist theory. That means it portrays life as a worker under capitalism as being incredibly bleak. This framing, however, is inconsistent with actual worker attitudes towards capitalism and their workplace.

A recent Pew Research Report found that 88% of Americans are either “extremely/very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their job, and that 89% of Americans are “extremely/very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their relationship with their manager or supervisor. Moreover, a 2021 Gallup poll found that while only 60% of Americans have a positive view of capitalism, 97% say they have a positive view of small business and 84% say they have a positive view of free enterprise, suggesting that Americans are very supportive of the essential elements of capitalism.

So, while Class War may be a decent way to spend a Saturday night with a friend, players shouldn’t take much stock in its worldview or class analysis. 

For more on pop culture socialism and anti-capitalist critiques, see Episode 30 of the Free the Economy podcast (“Ugh, Capitalism”) with guest Jeremiah Johnson, either as audio or video.