24 August 2013

Kolejka (boardgame review)

Have you ever wanted to enter the wonderful world of communist era Poland and queue for toilet paper while fending of people trying to get in front of you and watch with despair as the last roll is sold to the lady standing in front of you? Now you can!

Kolejka is a Polish game which replicates the society where queues were seen everywhere and standing in one was the norm. This bizarre world has players quest for food, electronic equipment, clothing, toilet accessories and furniture - most often by standing in line to an empty store and hoping that today will be delivery day. Each player controls 5 meeples, that represent your family, and you distribute them at the start of the game to stand in line in front of one of the 5 stores or near the open market where wares can be swapped at a 2:1 ratio.

Each turn players can play so called "queuing" cards which can help you to cut in front of other players in many inventive ways (all based on true and accurate methods from the period). You may for instance play "Mother with a small child" card, which allows you to move one of your meeples to the nr2 space in the queue, or you may know someone who works at the store who can sneak out some merchandise for you before they open with the "Under the counter" card.

There is a surprising amount of tactics and backstabbing involved in this game, the 10 queuing cards in each players deck are identical to what all other players have. So you can deduct what cards people have left once they have played a certain card. Sometimes it is better to save the most powerful cards to play at the right moment so that the situation favors you - other times you may just want to screw with an opponent and prevent him from purchasing goods.

It's a very tight worker placement game, and despite the simplicity of the design it offers both factors of luck, chaos, planning and cunning to the game. It simulates well the randomness of standing in line, just because you are banging at the door of the store does not mean that you will be served. There may be no goods today, but maybe tomorrow... do you take your chances or do you swap queue and try to hunt down the other items on your list?

The game really squeezes every single drop out of the theme, and offers a fun (and funny) gaming experience with bizarre situations.

A regular  turn of the game goes like this:

1) Each player draws "queuing cards" so that he has a hand of 3 at the start of each turn (if possible).
2) Players take their meeples and line up in front of the stores.
3) Deliveries are made, a random number of random items get distributed to stores. This means that there will never be enough items for everyone and most often stores will be empty.
4) Players play queuing cards, where they alter their place in the queue. Each card in each players queuing card deck can only ever be played once - so make it count and use the cards at the right moment! Each turn has 3 queuing card phases so a lot of changes in the queue can happen if everyone plays their cards.
5) Stores open and each meeple can take 1 item card from the store
6) When all items in a store are gone, or if there are no more people standing in line to that store, it closes for the day.
7) Players can now take their purchased goods and exchange them on the market. As long as there are items that they want. The exchange ratio is 2 for 1, so it often pays off standing in line to stores that provide goods that aren't on your shopping list since you can swap them later.
8) Turn ends. Players may withdraw any of their meeples still on the board if they want to redistribute them to other stores in the next turn, otherwise players will keep their place in the queue over night.

Additionally there are black meeples standing in each queue, these are not player controlled but symbolize a "speculating buyer" - people who stood in line all day and either sold their spot to desperate people short on time or who purchased goods and sold them later on the market at a greater profit. These add additional stress to the game as you will have NPC meeples buying the very limited stock in a store - forcing you to buy desired items on the marketplace if you really need them.

The game lasts 5 turns, and the player who is the first to successfully purchase all the items on his shopping list wins. If no one succeeds (quite likely) then the player with least amount of missing items wins (in other words everyone loses, but you were the best of the unfortunate ones).

The game is originally printed in Polish, the international version however comes with Polish content along with 5 additional rulebooks (one of them in English) and in each rulebook you get stickers to upgrade the Polish queuing cards to your desired language. It takes a bit of time and effort to do this - but luckily you don't need to translate the product cards.

The product cards remain in Polish, but are color coded and belong to 5 different categories - the exact product printed on the facing of the card does not matter. If you buy a chair or a table has no impact - as long as you get 1 furniture card for your shopping list.

All the rulebooks also cover a bit of history, describing the times of communism in Poland and how real life queuing simulated in the boardgame actually worked. The game is printed by the Polish institute of national remembrance  which aims to educate the younger generations about "the old days" and I guess also aims to cure the nostalgic people clinging to some misguided love for the communist state. In many ways, this is the polar opposite of the game "Monopoly". Monopoly which was invented to teach kids about capitalism turned into a super popular boardgame. Kolejka aims to teach about communism (it's a much better game and less of a "chance" game than Monopoly though).

The most ironic part of the Kolejka boardgame is that it became super popular in Poland, so much that people queued for it, the institute which printed the game was unable to meet demand so real life simulated the boardgame situations quite well! Check the story in Wall Street Journal.

It's also a very cheap game and I can see it being a good game to play with the family or perhaps even as a party game since it is light enough in the rules department but still provide that edgy gameplay that makes it fun and competitive.

Kolejka supports 2-5 players, and a game should take no longer than 2 hours. It is recommended to play with 5 people, but it lists variants for 2-4 players as well, you simply reduce the number of stock cards for each product category. Perhaps the game has one additional layer for people like me, who have parents able to tell bizarre stories about standing in line – 2 years for a TV or walking home from the store with a bandolier of toilet paper across your chest (illustrated in the rulebook with a photograph). 



  1. Thanks for this article. I have never heard of this game until now.

    1. The international version was released just this summer, so it's pretty new. The Polish version has been around since 2011.

  2. Blimey, this us interesting - very niche!

  3. Nice review of a brilliant game!

    I wonder if the topic isn't too exotic for people in the West. ;)

    Pity they did not translate the product cards and shopping list, they add some additional flavor to the game. Though I understand this would be tough for an international version.

    1. The shopping list titles could have been translated, the product cards on the other hand would have been difficult as they are all original brands and names of real products that were seen in the 80's. It's not that important since the product types are color coded, but yeat I get what you mean.


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