#Boardgame culture or propaganda? When the CCP makes a boardgame.

I like reading the boardgame news. I like seeing what my favorite designers or publishers are planning on next. I also like the business side of the industry and am fascinated by how the hobby boardgame industry survives (or thrives?) in this COVID time. Along the way I often find new games. In the past few days I came across an article in the China Daily (Hong Kong Edition) titled, “A game where culture wins.”

Oh my! An article about a boardgame in China! Then I read the lede:

Players can enhance their knowledge of the country and good governance in an entertaining way, Hu Haoyu reports.

Hmm. “Knowledge of country” seems like history; I like that because I am all about historical gaming. But what could they mean by “good governance?” So I kept reading.

It is a game that tests their knowledge of culture and history and casts a keen eye on the future. Players are given scenarios that challenge their ability to ensure good governance.

There’s that phrase again. What does it mean? The next paragraph tells me:

The game, A Great Nation’s Dream, requires them to act as administrative figures to build a country in different scenarios while learning to apply the policies and theories of the Communist Party of China via series of questions and answers.

Oh.

The design is no accident. The committee of designers (“20 insiders from various industries”) thought a boardgame “might prove to be an effective method for people to learn more about the nation by, for instance, implementing policies like a good provincial chief, as well as providing information on such issues as patriotism, culture and political theory, among other things, through gameplay.” To ensure the quality of design they used three teams to develop the game and had over “1,000 gamers test-played it over the course of 300-odd rounds of evaluation.”

While many folks complain that Eurogames are a collection of soleless mechanics often with a loosely pasted on theme, I wonder if A Great Nation’s Dream is going to redefine what a “Party Game” is. I mean, look at the gushing comments!

Chen says, who adds that in the game all people, Chinese as default, work together to advance modernization in fields such as education, culture, social insurance and many other areas to attain harmony and happiness for all.

“With the explosion of knowledge nowadays, this game provided a creative way to let our society embrace patriotism education.”

“This game can help people to learn more about Party principles and theories in a fun, relaxing way, to get better motivated toward building our nation together….”

The article goes on to quote an American expat; “The game, Bass says, is fun, easy and educational; it evolves great strategies and “by making your citizens happy, you win.””

As of the publication of this post I could not find an entry on BoardGameGeek for the game or it’s publisher. I found that rather surprising given the politics of today. I was positive that many American universities or high schools (like my local radical woke district) would already be snapping up this game for use in Civics or Political Science classes.


Feature image “Young people play the board game, A Great Nation’s Dream, through which they learn while being entertained -they are given scenarios of various types to act as administrative figures to build the country in a comprehensive way, meanwhile learning to apply the policies and theories of the Communist Party of China. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

8 comments

  1. Interesting!
    Slowly, board games are discovered as an interesting medium for political information/propaganda by state actors (as opposed to just private designers/companies reflecting societal tenets in their work (say, Phil Eklund’s Pax games) or state-adjacent institutions (often more serious wargames like RAND’s recent Hedgemony)).
    The only other case I can think of is Days of Ire as the project of the Hungarian embassy in Poland. Which begs the question: Is “A Great Nation’s Dream” designed to appeal to board gamers, including international ones (like DoI was), or to a general (presumably Chinese) audience (so, with not-too-sophisticated mechanics like a roll-and-move with event cards that quiz the players)? Curious to see what becomes of this.

    • Let’s not forget that even Jim Dunnigan, one of the grandpappys of wargaming, designed his own political game Up Against the Wall Motherf***er! in 1969. See https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/12246/against-wall-motherf
      For A Great Nations Dream, the article makes it seem that the game is aimed at a domestic audience. Putting sarcasm aside for a moment, I could see some copies ending up here but mostly as an item of interest, not as a serious attempt at marketing the game.
      I would be interested to know how many copies of Monopoly or it’s related titles have ever sold into the PRC market. And if it is do they play up the original anti-landlord message?

      • A serious attempt to market the game outside of China would need a lot of localization.
        Monopoly is an interesting case – especially as it is a game from a time when the CCP was more rigid in its censorship. Nowadays, I don’t think they would change things (or revert to its original message) given how rampant profit-making is in the growing Chinese middle classes. Also, Twilight Struggle has a loyal Chinese following (several of the elite competitive players are Chinese), even though the board game has a political message that the PRC was nothing but the pawn of Soviet/US interests during the Cold War of which the CCP surely does not approve. It seems that there is a tighter screw on movies than on board games – I guess they are still too much of a niche medium.

    • “To get rich is glorious.” – Deng Xiaoping

      I think there are quite a few examples you could produce of governments, or government agencies, publishing or distributing board games For The Greater Good.

      Here’s a short Geeklist of them, though there are certainly more:

      https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/55718/board-games-published-governments

      I remember playing one of the items on the list, a board game in grade school called Oh! Canada.
      This was produced in 1974 by the Canadian federal government’s Commission of Official Languages to promote bilingualism across the country, and was issued free to schools.
      Dull roll-and-move game; you know, if you want kids to play a game, you need to make it interesting at least.

      Of course, most of the effort nowadays goes into production of propagandistic video games, and there are many examples of those.
      In fact I am curious why the Chinese government issued this as a manual game.
      https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/are-video-games-precision-weapons-in-the-pentagons-propaganda-wars/

      I didn’t think that Days of Ire was supported by the Hungarian government; I know that one of the people involved in the design does work for the Hungarian diplomatic service, or did at one time.

      Brian

      • Thanks for the list! Did not know Kolejka was also published by a state (or state-adjacent?) institution. This and 303, published in Poland in 2010 and 2011 might have been an inspiration for the Hungarian diplomat who initiated the development of Days of Ire. If I recall correctly (though my interview with him was three years ago and I don’t have my notes with me right now), the board game was supported as a part of the 60 year commemorations of the Hungarian Uprising by the Hungarian embassy in Poland.
        Anyway, all the recent examples have moved away from roll-and-move – so well-designed board games seem to move into the toolkit (albeit much more niche than video games) of information campaigns by state(-adjacent) actors.

  2. “1,000 gamers test-played it over the course of 300-odd rounds of evaluation.”

    So, it’s had almost as much development and testing as GMT’s not-yet-published “Mr. President”!
    Seriously, if you are going to call something like this propaganda, then do so… but realize that there are plenty of examples of this kind of thing outside the Middle Kingdom, produced by the private sector yet, that demonstrate the workings of the nation’s government in just as semi-fictional light.
    “Poleconomy” is a Canadian example.
    https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/3114/poleconomy
    I think there are municipal bylaws that require each household in Canada have a copy, or had one at one time.
    At best, I think this might liven up a Chinese equivalent of a dull high school Civics class.

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