Jeux Sans Frontieres

by Henry Farrell on December 29, 2009

The “Financial Times”:

Among the wave of reality board games to have hit the Argentine market in recent years, Eternal Debt has remained a niche favourite among those who still blame the IMF for leading the country into a nearly $100bn default eight years ago. The game, by local manufacturer Ruibal, involves taking Latin American raw materials, turning them into industrial products and selling the finished goods in world markets, using IMF capital.

Also available is Bureaucracy, which exploits locals’ disenchantment with the country’s notoriously cumbersome civil service. … The game is designed to elicit groans of recognition to anyone who has ever spent hours grappling with regulatory issues in public offices in Argentina. The game, made by toymaker Habano, cheerfully invites players “to waste time and lose their patience” as they move across the board with a lengthening list of documents to procure and departments to visit in their quest to complete a simple piece of paperwork. It is a game “where everyone loses”, crows the box.

Other suggestions for topical boardgames, in Argentina, the US or elsewhere, welcome in comments.



P O'Neill 12.29.09 at 3:28 am

There’s one game somewhat related to Bureaucracy called “Flight Security”. The purpose of the game is to avoid coming to attention of flight security personnel, the snag being that players are encumbered with various “flags” such as water bottles, toothpaste, nail clippers, and deodorant. In a twist, the game has an option called “Shoot the Moon” where a player can accumulate every conceivable “flag” (items such as the above but also passport stamps from dodgy countries etc) — but if he manages to get through, the game goes out of existence forever.


Vasi 12.29.09 at 3:56 am

I still remember Douglas Adams’ version of Bureacracy. I don’t think I could make it past the sixth turn without dying.


Substance McGravitas 12.29.09 at 4:13 am


Kragen Javier Sitaker 12.29.09 at 6:51 am

The classic, of course, is Estanciero.

Our own games group here in Buenos Aires mostly plays non-realistic games with cards and dice — or Settlers.


Chris Bertram 12.29.09 at 8:15 am

Higher education funding in the UK would be a promising candidate. You try to maximize departmental revenues by gaming the system in various ways whilst the rules change in unpredicatable ways at a moment’s notice.


Dan 12.29.09 at 10:01 am

War on Terror: the board game is hilarious, and a good game in its own right. The makers now have a credit crunch card game, which I haven’t yet played.


ejh 12.29.09 at 10:52 am

Eternal Debt sounds rather like “The Great Money Trick” in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.


Alex Prior 12.29.09 at 12:44 pm

Death Sentence. Popular in the US. The player begins the game with a court appointed attorney. Comes with a pair of loaded dice.


Ciarán 12.29.09 at 1:11 pm

I suppose that the Irish could invent a version of Monopoly where every square says ‘go to jail’ but you don’t.


Fred 12.29.09 at 2:13 pm

Sounds like the University of Chicago needs to award an honorary degree in Economics to the designers.


Colin Danby 12.29.09 at 3:17 pm

The game “Deuda Eterna” dates from the 1980s. My vague memory from playing it once is that one player resisted the game’s premise and refused to industrialize, on environmental grounds.

What you need is a game in which credit conditions change abruptly, and players have options to borrow short or long-term, but that would get too hard without computer simulation.

I encountered a halfway interesting game the other year premised on commercial fishing — players formed competing fishing firms and bought boats; after several rounds they invariably overfished, stocks plunged, and so forth. The interesting part was that the game had a sustainable fishing equilibrium but was unlikely to reach it. It relied on software to keep track and generate results. Maybe someone has a link.


will u. 12.29.09 at 3:23 pm

I’ve always wanted to lay my hands on a copy of Class Struggle.


ejh 12.29.09 at 3:39 pm

A friend of mine had it: he showed it to me when I was round his house for a few days in the summer of (I think) 1984, but we never actually played it. As I recall you had to build alliances with other classes and hence I assume it was informed by a Stalinist rather than a Trotskyist approach to Marxism.


Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 12.29.09 at 4:43 pm

“I’ve always wanted to lay my hands on a copy of Class Struggle.”

I have a copy I picked up at a jumble sale held by the local Trade Union council.

If you’re a Trainspotter of Leftist Factions, it’s kinda amusing to read the rules and the board.

However, gameplay-wise, it’s a pretty badly designed game (Monopoly is tons more fun). As you’d expect, it’s hard for the Proles to lose, and the players outside of the Ruling/Working Classes don’t have much to do in the game. So it fails as a game.

Now, if Reiner Kneizer redesigned it, now we’d be talking.


Akshay 12.29.09 at 5:12 pm

There are several Global Warming Games (

As students, we once played a computer-simulation based game co-developed by some Dutch climate researchers as a communication tool. In it, six players play rich, poor, or transition economies. At each turn, the players decide wether to invest in human development (generates happiness), industrial development (generates money) or clean technology. We quickly destroyed the planet. One of the reasons was that rich countries underestimated the cost of making clean technologies cheap for everyone, not just themselves. But mainly, poor countries fell into the trap of investing far too much in industrial development, hoping to make money to help their miserable populations. It did not help much, as non-literate, unhealthy populations are not very productive. By the time it did start helping, their populations had exploded. After which, of course, their industrial development wrecked the planet with amazing speed.

The only way to win the game is for poor countries to invest massively in human development. In fact, it takes little money to raise life expectancies, improve health, educate people and lower fertility (see Amartya Sen on Kerala). And if the poor countries start investing in industrial development after improving their human development, their industrial development is far more productive. Conversely, the rich countries should invest quite massively in clean technologies. Only they have the resources for this. The transition economies are the only ones justified in wanting to get rich quick. That gives them the capability to quickly green their economies later.

We did not find this – with hindsight obvious – solution. The game was devious in implanting a certain “money illusion” in players. The players believe that if only they had more money, their social and ecological problems could be solved more easily. They do not realise that by the time they get their money, their problems have gotten worse. At which point they want even more money, etc. etc.

I don’t know if this sobering game was ever made more widely available.


Glen Tomkins 12.29.09 at 5:18 pm


This game would be the post-modern replacement for Monopoly that we’ve all been waiting for. I’m not knocking the classic. It had a good run, but the whole premise of the game is the woefully outmoded idea that making the big bucks is accomplished through acquring things like real estate, railroads, and utitlities. No need to inform the readers of this blog that, nowadays, malefaction of great wealth finds its consumation, not in the ownership of anything at all tangible, not even in cornering a market in such real things, but in devising new, nth order derivative from reality, instruments, then blowing the market in these instruments into the biggest pyramid possible.

Pyramid! is played on a board that looks much like Monopoly, only the squares represent many kinds of industries, as well as commercial and residential real estate. The players, who play the part of Too Big To Fail enterprises, start the game owning all of the industries on the board, and the object is to get rid of them as quickly as possible so that you can start creating the much higher RoI derivatives of them. You have to land on something you own in order to sell it, and you sell it to FC (Foreign Creditors, which is what Pyramid! has in place of a “bank”). Every time you land on something you don’t own, FC has to buy the derivatives available on that “property”, but you also get to create the next higher order of derivative of that industry. All the players who own derivatives on that industry are payed off by FC, at increasingly higher RoI for higher order derivatives, every time anyone lands on that industry.

Nothing in Pyramid! that happens to you costs you any money, it’s all profit. You get a $200,000,000,000 bonus for passing Go! every turn. Instead of an Income Tax square, there’s a Regulatory Largesse square, that pays you 15% of your current worth. Now, if you land on the Socialize the Risk! square, you do have to spend 3 turns in the SEC, 3 turns you could be out there blowing new bubbles. But instead of paying the SEC out of what you have, you roll the die and calculate what you would have profited from going to the square dictated by that die roll, and FC pays that money for you, into a big pile in the center of the board. If you land on the Privatize the Profit! square, which is located conveniently downstream of the Socialize the Risk! square, you get the whole accumulated jackpot at the center of the board.

Actually, there is one thing you pay for in this game. Instead of the Gas and Electric companies of Monopoly, Pyramid! has a House and a Senate that you actually have to pay money to buy. They’re good investments though, because once you own one, every time someone lands on it, you get to pick a Legislative Largesse card, and if you own both, you get to pick from the Gridlock deck. Some of those schemes the Gridlock can give you are breathtaking in their audacity, even by the standards of Pyramid! My personal favorite is the Food Insurance Mandate, whereby the bearer gets laws passed requiring every American to purchase from the bearer insurance against the admittedly high risk that they might get hungry again tomorrow, but which allows the bearer to not pay up on actually buying them lunch if he can show that the tendency to get hungry every day was a pre-existing condition.

How does this game end? Well, it ends when FC runs out of money. Who wins? Well, after the FC can no longer ship in the cash to keep it all going, and the eponymous Pyramid! explodes, players can go to a country with no extradition, or they can go to the guillotine. But sorting that out is beyond the scope of the game of Pyramid!


ejh 12.29.09 at 7:24 pm

Given its persistence as a metaphor for political manoeuvrings I’d say that chess will always be topical.


Metatone 12.29.09 at 10:15 pm

I haven’t had access to a copy of Kremlin for years, but it’s a true classic:


vivian 12.30.09 at 1:50 am

I was given a copy of Pass the Bomb by UK relatives in 2002 or 2003. It’s still there – none of us dare bring it to the US on an airplane. Good word game.


Tangurena 12.30.09 at 3:35 am

@Vasi, I also once had a copy of that game, however I never could figure it out, and by the time I found the hints/walkthroughs on the internet, I no longer had a computer with a floppy drive to play it. So I guess the game won, again.


Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 12.30.09 at 9:36 pm

Ah, here’s one that looks good:


lemuel pitkin 12.30.09 at 11:22 pm

In the spirit of the 10-year anniversary, let’s not forget The Battle of Seattle. I haven’t played it, but unlike the unplayable Class Struggle (I’ve tried!), it looks like it might work as a game.


John Desmond 01.02.10 at 12:33 am

Salutations, gentlefolk,

It may notbe all that ‘relevant’, but IMHO the best new game I played in 2009 was _Le Havre_,
(1) a game of economic development and growth, trade, resource and worker allocation, designed by Uwe Rosenberg (2), published by Lookout Games

My appreciation of it is at
Hope you find it interesting.
Best wishes for a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2010 to everyone !

Yours, John Desmond

(1) Y’all _do_ know about, right ?
(2) His _Agricola_ is also worth checking out


weserei 01.02.10 at 9:44 pm

Monopoly is itself a pretty basic variant on The Landlord’s Game, which was invented by Georgists as a way of teaching people that landowners are unproductive leeches and life is radically unfair. Which probably goes some way toward explaining how damn dull Monopoly is.


Kenny Easwaran 01.04.10 at 11:06 pm

Pandemic is a fairly topically relevant board game (I believe it was released a few months before swine flu) that is actually quite good.

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