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Otto Schmidt

It’s technically not a war game but there is competition between players  and for my part there’s precious little between shooting down another player with an AK47  or  bashing his “rig’ to bits in a demolition derby or drag race thus forcing him to go deeply into debt which he can never pay. The guy shot by the Ak47 is at least dead and out of his misery. Unless it’s a zombie game in which he can be brought back for an even more hellish existence.

Morally the difference between murder and mayhem is up to you. Which is better an end in horror, or a horror without end?

Historically the game is the only one I have ever seen which rips off the game design of the “Game of the Goose” with the board being a spiral. (See Faulkner. Games Ancient and Oriental  for a good exposition of the early versions of this game design). It is not circular like Monopoly or many other family games but essentially a line. you start, you pass through squares which give you life “adventures” and you get to the end and that is it.  Your life is liquidated in every sense, usually at half price, and the winner is the person with the most teeth.  I bought it simply for that for my board game archive, which I use for inspiration for ideas to rip off for miniature game design. For example I ripped off Buccaneer for my sailing ship rules.

It is a gallows humor game.  A grim and savage satire on the life of rural and urban lower white classes and there is a message in here, but on the whole the ruling principle of the game is “schadenfreude”– a fine old German term which means deriving pleasure from the misery of others. It is, I suspect primarily for the enjoyment of non-rednecks who have been born above such a status commonly known as “poor white trash”  and the game would have redeeming social value if it was played by persons in that lower class as a demonstration of what their life will be like unless they change their ways.

Let me make one observation about this. The satire of he game is on those people who WILLINGLY chose this life style .  Simple observation of these people in real life  shows that few accept this and most are desperately trying to avoid the circle of poverty and petty crime it depicts. A huge swath of the people who join the armed forces and do valiant service for the country come from these classes, and so do those who work as hard as they can to keep body and soul, family, and decency together. So the satire is supposed to be aimed at the true slackers.

On the other hand… the game is popular enough that TWO game expansion kits have been produced and sales seem to be brisk. This I suspect says something about people in general. I cannot believe that at $39 for the base game and $18 for each expansion this is a game that is a pure gag gift and not played, which says something about non-rednecks more or less whistling past the graveyard. I note that the same game could be reworked “Middle Class Futility” and be just as complete  a satire about most of the rest of us  and played by the very wealthy. If you are inclined to doubt check out Jerry Springer, or Judge Judy, or a host of other shows which troll human misery to present these situations for people to look down upon and feel smugly superior to.

I find the game truly sadistic because for the player WITHIN the game, there is no way 0ut. This is made eminently clear by a cursory look at the rules. The only way to get out and succeed is to land on certain squares of the board which will give you absolutely enormous wealth. However the game mechanics make it impossible to ever get to those squares, and you constantly zip by them with only a look, just like your real life counterpart who knows there is such enormous wealth but utterly beyond him as if it was on Tau-Ceti 4.

But there is more than one joke in  the game. The first course of the spiral is your education. In this when you get to the end of this section you roll for your education and the choices invariably are low pay, low status, and entirely inadequate to keep you out of debt and misery the rest of the game.  Your salary varies from $200 to $500. By the time you get to your graduation you already are usually more heavily in debt than you can ever pay for the rest of your life.  The rest of your life is more of the same except for hoping for a card which will give you a few hundred that you vainly attempt to pay off your debt with, but always fall behind again.  Neophytes to the game import their proper middle class values and attempt to apply the lessons of their lives to the game, but the jokes on them.  There is a second joke here… that within the confines of the game the players ARE doing what they should- they are trying to improve their lot  by getting an education, by exercising thrift, by living decently, but it’s all governed by a chance die roll and their own efforts are worthless.  There is therefore little difference between  the high end and the low end of what can be achieved. One begins to see that while the game may be savage about its estimation of “the redneck” the savagery extends to the non-redneck playing the game.”

The joke is on you too!

Change the cards from “Spend the mortgage money on beer, get into a fight with your spouse and lose a tooth”  or “House flattened by two other players drag racing and crashing right through your home. You must buy a new home. pay $3000″  to  ‘Corporate downsizing and company  moving to India you are out of a job forever and your wife leaves you  ” to “Little Melissa comes home pregnant with a black baby pay $3000 for an abortion” and you are instantly l transported from Redneck Fears and dangers to Middle Class fears and dangers and the game is really no longer a game.

There are several more bits of sardonic humor which I will leave you to find out on your own.

I do find value in the game for the war gamer and war game designer. I have seen MANY rule sets which are essentially the same. By the death of a thousand cuts  (or a thousand modifiers) players in games are prevented from any reasonable hope of winning. In the desperate desire to try and make a game realistic  or follow history the game is forgotten and players are locked into a hopeless situation where they are little more than rats in a maze and there’s no cheese, and only the chance of being tortured like a small animal. I especially mean for example those Napoleonic Rules which are essentially- “All French are +4”  Gamers where you can win if you can roll a 7 on one six sided die and the opponent rolls a 0.  People who design these rules wax loquacious on the realism and intellectual challenge, but there’s really none of that. It’s simply one more way to make sure you stay in debt to the French and lose a tooth.

The Horrific end of Redneck life is on the last square of the final reckoning. All through the game you have been loosing teeth so that when you die you have only abut a third of what you started with. You are allowed to buy back teeth at $100 a tooth, and you get this from liquidating all your assets at half price. Then when you have paid your debts, and you usually have no money to buy back teeth,  Cousin Sammy or whatever, who has been the guy extending you credit all through the game, comes back and for each $100 you owe him (and by the way Cousin Sammy on the cards always has a full set of gleaming choppers)  takes one remaining tooth for each $100 you owe him.  Nice huh?

Bleak game huh?

True Game.

Realistic game.

Like one of the denizens of the game who spends the mortgage money on beer, I wonder sometimes how much better I would be had I not spent a lot of money on toy soldiers.

As I said, the existence of Jerry Springer and other bottom feeding shows, and their seemingly inexhaustible popularity along with survivor shows, crime drama’s, and funniest home videos shows that people have an inexhuastable appetite for schadenfreude and cautions us about being too judgemental about the game.