Thatcher’s Tech Base (TTB) is a Doom II modification that was released on Friday the 24th of September, with the help of the websites how to install guide after ten minutes of downloading and extracting I managed to get the game working. Six hours later I had made it to the end screen and a sequel hook. My final runtime was just over an hour, the other five hours were me reloading after dying. I’ve enjoyed Doom, Doom II and Wolfenstein 3D for years, ever since I found them installed on a computer in my town’s internet cafe. Though sadly I was never very good at them, so if you were an old school Doom pro you’ll probably beat my time, and if you’re not a pro then copy my strategy of saving in rare moments of peace from slaughtering everything in a room.
TTB feels like Doom II, its pacing, its maze and gauntlet mix for level design, the soundtrack is original but aside from a few tunes inspired by old British patriotic jingles like Land of Hope and Glory are just like the soundtrack to the original Doom II. The webpage has a bandcamp that plays some of the tracks and I’ve been listening to them while writing this. The levels are covered and I do mean covered in detailed sprite work that’s gory and gross, and full of highly detailed 1980s propaganda posters and graffiti. The only parts of the game that show that it's a 2020's modification and not from the 1990s (when shareware mods were common) are the things it does that were simply impossible back then. Other than a short opening section in a demon prison where Thatcher and her acolytes have escaped, the entirety of the game including boss battles and secrets is in one level. That’s over an hours worth of gameplay with dozens of unique assets with no loading in between. The sprite work that covers the walls of this world is just too crisp and clear for an older machine to have run, you can read most of the gravity and text on the vote Tory posters.
The plot is very simple, Thatcher has gained control of a part of hell and is attempting to return and bring an army of demons and party activists with her. Its the players task to go to the tenth circle of hell ie. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to stop her. The demonic horde is quite diverse, most of the roster of enemies from Doom II are here but have been given a light blue makeover. Jokes aside the world of TTB does look like a hell version of the late 1980s/1990s UK. Apart from some very brief text boxes the old Doom games told their stories through environmental design and TTB maintains that tradition. You can tell Thatcher has escaped because the prison at the beginning has a lot of corpses of guards and busted open cells and damaged machinery. You can tell you’re getting closer to the final confrontation the more closely the scenery resembles a Tory party HQ and the British government. The final showdown with a Cyber Thatcher (see the box art) is in the House of Commons complete with both aisles full of sycophants willing to fight to the death to protect her.
Though this does mean that the game has a target audience of people who are already intimately familiar with the legacy of the Thatcher’s government and her successors, something the game acknowledges by being dedicated to them, and since this is a modification of a licensed property, instead of payment which is illegal due to copyright law, the game devs at Doom Daddy Digital recommend that you donate to one of several charities on their webpage. The charities are ISWO support for Mining families, Stonewall, The Hillsborough Justice Campaign, ICTJ The International Center for Transitional Justice, Living Rent, and the Scottish Refugee Council. This might at first glance seem a bit of random list but they all represent some of the victims of the Thatcher government, Mining communities were ripped apart and occupied for over a year, queer Britons were left to die through AIDs with the UK government only taking action once it had definitely started affecting heterosexuals, but even after that gay people were still criminalised and scapegoated (Ed. Google Section 28), Hillsborough was ofcourse where the police managed to kill 97 Liverpool FC fans, which was covered up by the government in 1989 and to this day the families of the deceased are still battling government indifference and inertia, the ICTJ campaigns to expose systematic human rights abuses and given that Thatcher’s administration escalated the conflict in Northern Ireland and turned parts of Britain into militarised states. Living Rent is one of the many groups dealing with the ugly aftermath of one of the Conservative government’s flagship policies, mass selling off of council housing and deregulation of the housing market, and the Scottish Refugee Council, well in addition to using Scotland as a test bed for most of their reactionary policies before rolling them out to the rest of the UK, the Tory party of the 1980s was also openly hostile to refugees, which to be fair is an example of the continuity of British government rather than a break with tradition.
I’m old enough to remember the lingering effects of the Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s partly because the Labour governments that followed did very little to change or counter act that legacy. So I ate everything TTB was serving me. I understood that the NUM stickers on the walls were about the 1984-85 Miners strike, I understood the graffiti that were references to the IRA and the fighting in Northern Ireland, I understood why the 1% health pick ups are milk cartoons and why the words “you’ve snatched some milk” flash on the screen when you pick them up. I also chuckled a little when I noticed that the evil base full of dripping acid and exploding barrels has health and safety at work signs. And I understood what the red baiting vote Tory posters were getting at. But I don’t think that’ll be easily understood by someone playing this without that prior knowledge.
To take just one example, there’s a really clever part of the level that’s a BBC communications room, in it there are two banks of monitors with images of the UK and groups of blue uniformed soldiers at the desks. I enjoyed seeing this, but if you didn’t know just how overtly pro government the BBC was during this period and how the Conservative party used it to manipulate the population I think a lot of the messaging is lost. I do wonder what a Doom completionist who plays TTB with no real knowledge of Thatcher but loves the game and its modding scene would think. Hopefully the strengths of the game and the sheer never ending examples of just how hated Thatcher and the Tory party were will pique their curiosity and they’ll learn more about it when they’ve made it to the end screen or gotten a 100% of the secrets. On my first full playthrough I only managed 11% of secrets, and there’s an entire path of the level locked behind a series of doors that needed a red key card to access which I never even saw, so after finishing I dived back in, though I will probably have to wait for someone else to write up a walkthrough.
In summary, if you like the old Doom games you should play this game its in the top tier of mods and games inspired by them. If you remember the Thatcher administration and its austerity and police state actions, you should play this game even if you don’t like Doom games. It’ll take a few minutes for you to adjust but once you’ve got the hang of using a Winchester rifle and grabbed the Trident missile launcher you will find some catharsis. If neither applies to you, I would still say give the game a go, even if the game play doesn’t click and you don’t come away with an in-depth understanding of the damage the combination neoliberal economics and patriotic traditionalism and respect for authority can do to a people, you will at least get a taste of how varied and visceral the resistance to it was.
You can learn more about Thatcher's Tech Base and play it yourself via their Github.
One of the most amazing things to come out of this rennaisance of boards we are going through is that our shelves are evolving. There was a time not so long ago that I could have accurately said that (despite a few homebrews) the games I had could all be summed up as either combat or market orientated. This is often reduced down to Ameri-Trash and Eurogames, and for the longest time, these were your options, however with each year that goes by we see games take on different mechanics, different purpose.
The games that have best explored this renouncement of “fight or farm” have been the co-operative ones of which Pandemic is probably most notable, how it is far from alone in pitting the table against some sinister menance which it must work to over come and as we get more and more indie games get the proffesionally produced games, we are getting truly spoilt, not just with the abstract and artistic games, or the narrative builders but also with games willing to take on a political cause.
One such game is “Disarm The Base”, a 1-4 player co-operative game that tasks the players with making their way into an airbase and disappling fighter jets, hopefully to then egress safely and claim victory with a banner drop none the less.
Tho the manual insists the narrative is hypothetical, it's hard not to draw comparisons with the Ploughshare Four who back in 1996 made their way into an airbase and caused £1.6m worth of damage to a Hawk fighter jet which was on it's way to Indonesia where it would likely be used to commit unspeakable horrors. The jury agreed and found the four women not guilty, noting the Genocide Act and that it was indeed legal and lawful to take actions which would stop the mass murder of innocent people.
Unlike games like Riot or Bloc by Bloc, this is not a game of molotovs, guns, and violence. This is a non-violent, stealthy affair where the aim isn't to overcome the security guards but avoid them and weave your way through the defences, tracking down fighter planes and disarming them. Players can chose where to move and how best to utilise the cards they are dealt to acheive their objectives. These cards also provide the autonoma for the guards, turning on spotlights, closing gates, and moving the guards between the hangers. If they see you, you are caught and removed from play, if two players are caught, the mission fails.
It's not too difficult to pick up, tho in our first run through we neglected to be as mobile as we should focusing on cards rather than the guard patrol around the outside of the base haha our bad, on our return we were much more prepared! Tension was high but the atmosphere light, you're going to have mini debates over what to do next, is the risk worth it? Do you wait until you get a code to enter the hanger or just break in?
Play takes about an hour if you're going at a casual pace but if everyones up to spend you could easily play through in thirty minutes. One of the issues with the game (like most co-op) games is that it's prone to a bit of “quarterbacking” with one player instructing everyone on the best action to take, so we put in place an informal rule not to slip into being a boss but to work as a team. The game however comes with a couple of different rulesets mitigating this and infact making the game significantly harder or easier if you so wish. This makes it much more accessable to new players but also challenging to the more experianced. There is also a solo mode which is really cool to have, more games should!
The build quality is significantly better than many self published games and it's obvious that a lot of thought and love went into it. On writing the review I also see that it's non-profit with the cash going towards the Campaign Against Arms Trade. Sure the game isn't one you'll be spending all night on, if you're anything like us it'll find it's way into your “warm up” collection before you hit the big games. Quite simply it'd make a great edition to any collection and given that there has only been a limited print run I'd highly advise you support Dissent Games and go Disarm The Base. ■
Find out more at www.disarmthebase.com
You can follow Dissent Games on Twitter @dissentgames
Their next project Library Labyrinth, a feminist dungeon crawler set in a library is coming to Kickstarter soon www.kickstarter.com/projects/dissentgames/library-labyrinth
I don't get along with "zaney" video games. Maybe I'm just a grumpy git with no sense of humor but I just can't get into them. Across the board from Team Fortress to Borderlands, I just can't get into them. So when I first saw a trailer for The Outer Worlds, my eyes rolled right back, I gave a good huff and booted up the buggy mess that is Star Citizen. I'm the kind of player who would rather have weight to a game. I want it to make me think about my actions, fret over them afterwords and dare I say it, develop as a person. Ok, so sure, sometimes I'm looking for some idle distraction to relax too and that's what PUBG and Euro Trucker 2 are for!
If I'm going to invest emotionally with a story it needs a narrative I can get my teeth into and truly feel. This for me, always means less bubblegum and more substance.
Deus Ex did this, Colony Wars did this, Skyrim did this and it's why they remain so treasured by the gaming community. They draw you into their world, make you invest and leave you rambling like a mad man over the proverbial watercooler and leave you thinking about your choices long afterwords. The Outer Worlds started making this kind of noise on the run up to it's release but I'd invested in bah humbuggery so carried on ignoring it until a couple of days after it comes out, half my social media to spilling over with praise for it's politics and, ah what the hell, I went and bought it for PC (Yep, Epic finally got me), I want to play me some space revolutionary!
Fair warning, there are plenty of spoilers after this point.
The Outer Worlds is set in the colony of Halcyon a couple hundred years into the future. A group of corporations – know as The Board - have cobbled together and bought the rights to the fledgling colony and have driven it into the ground. You come into the game a frozen popsicle in a colony ship called The Hope which after some mysterious malfunctions turned up late and get's mothbballed on the edge of the system. Thankfully for you the infamous Dr. Welles is at hand to rez you and send you packing off to do his bidding. There is a pretty good theory (which the creators effectively confirmed during a QnA) that it's set in an alternative timeline where the Anarchist Leon Czolgosz never assassinated William McKinley in 1901 and subsequently the governmental curbing of large scale buisness trust under Roosevelt never occured. Subsequently they've been left to run rampant and Halcyon is a prime example of this. Flooded with crass advertising, forced corporate compliance and all manner of woes for the workers and customers alike.
The game is lush, like amazingly beautiful. It's an orgy of visual delight. The score and foley are similarly fantastic and you'll find yourselves truly absorbed in no time. Straight up, I can't here the theme without getting shivers of adventure. The main combat is driven by gunplay and for this you're armed with a diverse array of weaponry and they all feel meaty enough. The various types of weapons (force, plasma, shock anmd a couple of rarer specials) all give differant effects when you murder someone and it's all very satisfying. Yeah, it's safe to say that graphically everything has a very high standard of polish on it. The colonies aestethic is a curious clash of frontier western, golden era pulp, art deco and Juche propoganda which... well it works, it really works.
Instead of a vast map to explore you'll bounce around five main maps areas with a similar amount of smaller, self contained, mission specific ones. There isn't any flying of space ships mind, you just jump from one to the other. This actually works and provides the game with several very dissimilar environments and keeps a fast paced space opera feeling. Aside from The Groundbreaker which is a self contain space ship come station, these spaces all have the feeling of being a small part of a wider world and you're simply at the bit we're focusing on for the story. However it is here that I find my first criticisms. Once you've been there, killed/fetched/hacked your way through the lab/ruin/base then you're done with that location. Even when the game drags you back to places you've been before there is absolutely zero incentive to check up on people you've affected, the NPCs are all limited in their little parochial encampments and once you've ticked them off you'll never see them again.
It's drive through heroism, and while not the worst sin a game could commit, it's was the first aspect to pull me out of the game, I started fast travelling and just speeding through towns with little care or need to stop by and say hello.
Now, you've played this game before.
Here you are random stranger, come to do the fetching and killing with your near super hero prowess. Enjoy sunny Halcyon, meet the dead eyed locals who can't do anything for themselves and save or ruin their day as you see fit. Get yourself a few companions and help them grow! We've been here before, but their ain't nothing wrong with retreading well loved ground. Encounters with the local wildlife and maruaders are limited to set areas rather than random occourances and you're given the usual variety of ways to go about things, hack the security system, smash them with your hammer, snipe snipe, or go in all guns blazing etc. This is made even more fun with additional of "science weapons" such as the shrink ray and mind control gun which I'm sure are going to bring us plenty of memes. Combat is a bit basic tho, with the AI being a weak and held into a rather rigid "threat assessment" system thats pretty easy to cheese and there is little in the way of tactical combat from the AI. This time around you also have the ability to slow down time and deal specific debuffs to your prey, this is called " Tactical Time Dilation " and it works quite well. It'sdefinitely worth making good use out of TTD, not it is vital in some of the harder fights, it also makes for some tidy Max Paine esk moments (my particular favourite is blasting some poor fella while diving off a a house). You have this ability due to the chemicals used to ressurect you, but the game spends literally about two lines of dialogue on this and moves you along. It's never a great sign when the game can't be assed explaining your super power to you but by this time you've landed on Edgewater and already hating these corporate bastards so let's move on!
There is an interesting but woefully undervalued system of consuming drugs and food via a vape that's right out of Barbarella that is your health and skill buffer. I would have liked it more if combinations had interactions but alas it's just a way of bumping up the stats. Mind you I didn't use it much as you auto heal in two seconds and the game is pretty damn easy. This isn't a bad thing so much but given how much you stumble over weapons and consumables it seems bit of a loose extra. I'm sure on "Super Nova" difficulty it comes in much more use tho.
One of the first computers I had a gander on was a record of a man's suicide. The chief concern was that as an indentured servant he had actually damaged company property and they were not happy. It set a grim tone that I was pleasently suprised with. Over the next hour I was supporting striking workers at the cannery and meeting with deserters after being sent on a mission that would give me my first ethical hurdle. Do you keep the power going to Edgewater, forcing the deserters to abandon the Botanical gardens they had made their home, pushing them back into the corporate fold or do you reroute it to the deserters new home and shut down the company town?
This should have been a really hard hitting moment for me, but it wasn't.
You see I always play my first run through "straight", by which I mean I play myself in this fictional world. I'm playing on normal and I'm not looking up "best solutions" or any of that. In both in Edgewater and The Botanical there were curious statements made in passing and in the dialogue. The leader of the Edgewater is a seemingly reasonable man Tobson, a typical middle management pettifogger, asking you to do right by everyone. The leader of the deserters on the other hand is a women called Adelaide whose quite comfortable with the idea of letting the workers in the town die due to starvation, because hey, it's for the environment and liberty and what not.
A little looking around the place and it becomes evident that "it's aint Saltuna in the cans", meaning that there is some Soylent Green situation going on at the cannery, while back at The Botanical they are able to grow crops, simply because they are using corpses and fertilizer.
I go with the lesser of two evils and as I'm specifically intent on fucking over corporations I make the call to pull Edgewater's power because that's what I would have done.
What ruined it for me is two fold. First, it's immediatly apparently that the games revolutionary branding is actually going to be more about thje binary choice to support the evil corps or deserters with indigestibly muddy ethics. Second, I know games and understand the silent language we all accept. So I'm 90% certain that with enough back and forth, the finding of a specific document, the right dialogue path or some shit, I can reveal to both Tobson and Adelaide that they are cannabal pricks and they'll agree to share the power or something, you could almost taste it. I don't want to be "playing" the game to get all the ticks and the best ending. Solutions like this shouldn't be hidden behind the modern day version of "rubbing the right item with the right object to progress the story". It should come from our actions and intentions instead (similar to this is the super weapon on Monarch which turns out to be a form).
So bye bye Edgewater despite the concerns of my first companion Parvati, and I'm here feeling railroaded. Ok, so this is the just in intro so maybe I should just get on with it?... Still, I would have liked the option to push the workers into seizing the cannery and then working with Adelaide to establish a better food basket for the colony. If you CAN do this, feel free to shut me down, but I tried and failed and for a game that's trading on its counter corporate politics I thought this would have been the default go too? Instead we get a fairly standard by the numbers mission which some hidden solutions if you know the secret math.
This is the grounding of my third and primary point of concern.
The politics are shite.
I really don't understand where other people are coming from with their fawning affection over the games revolutionary patter. It's all surface, it's hideously shallow and pretty inept. I'm not asking for quotes from Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution or anything but the first time you see the word "Revolutionary" it's to define a npc class from a faction of religious zealots call ed the Iconoclasts and "anarchy" is only ever used to mean "chaos". Almost everyone, even the anti Board types are full of praise for the the corprate system. The standard line is "sure they are bad guys, but without them who would protect us? Who would keep order?" urgh. Wretch. This is repeated time and time again even from allies who hate The Board. They don't want to end the corporations, they just want a better type of corporation.
(This is woven into the game itself as it seems there isn't even a corporate free ending that could be considered good)
The Outer Worlds really dives into this in the third act when get to work for a corporation The Board have cut out of the colony proper with an embargo and propaganda campaign. They are a Democratic Socialist's wet dream. Monarch Stellar Industries (MSI) want a more ethical form of capitalism and eventually if you play I like I did (not simply murdering everyone corporate for no reason but trying to do "what's right") you end up leading them into an alliance with the afformentioned "revolutionaries" who are akin to right wing libertarians and christian survivialists.
Even your companions constantly berate you for being so naive if you cuss out the corporations. The only light in the political window is Felix, but he's played as a violent thug of low intelligence, lost in a somewhat arbitary loyalty and romanic vision of revolution. The only faction that seem legit are the crew of The Groundbreaker who hold onto their position as a bastion of liberty in the colony and even tho they hold offices for both the evil Board and the local mafioso Sublight Salvage & Shipping. Maybe I'm wrong here, maybe Max and Ellie turn out to be full on Black Bloc bad asses if you take them to get lit on Scylla together but I doubt it.
It's a bloody waste of a great premise that never delivers on the compliments it seems to be getting. I actively tried to be anti corp, but without randomly mowing down their guards this seems impossible. I was well respected by them right up until the end game.
Ok, the end game is a nice protracted fire fight where the outsiders come together and help you take down the big bad but this itself happens with zero build up. I feel like I missed a chapter where I went around rabble rousing and building up a plan of attack, they just randomly turn up. Given that franchaises like Farcry, Killzone, Half Life and Red Faction have all taken on social movements and political commentary in a much better manner, I was expecting the ground work to have already been put down. I went in looking for a work class revolution to join and I struggled to find even an anti-capitalist dialogue string let alone a revolutionary that wasn't played are corrupt in one way or another (ok, Zora comes close in the end).
Saying all this, it does do a grand job of visibility with a diverse range of characters and the very first asexual story thread I've ever encounted in anything other than a small indie game. So fair's fair top marks there.
So is it worth a play?
Yeah, go on, it's worth it. If you like fast paced narrative driven gameplay and can get behind the cheesy space opera stuff, you'll love it. It isn't half as zaney as I thought and I got pretty invested in some of the storylines (Parvati is pure and needs to be protected!).Jjust don't expect too much as it feels like half a game. I felt that it constantly drops the ball on going deeper and so many of the interesting possibilites hit a dead end. Why didn't we get to explore the mechanical love affair Ada and SAM seem to have? Why did we never get to usurp the social order in the capital Byzantium, even after we get to know it and realise it's falling from grace? What the hell is happening with Earth?
The game is refreshing in a world of microtransactions and is very well made. Heck, no day one patch tells us that they are quite happy with what they've put out. I only encountered one of two bugs such as the missing text on the computers and the odd visual glitch. There are a couple of game breakers but they seem quite difficult to find yourself in and in thirty hours of gameplay that is rather rare. The character creator is pretty cool with a good array of options. Politically it rises above some previous failings by including afro hair styles and while you have to select male or female as a template, males can have makeup and the females can fashion themselves with a beard. The vibe here is Adam Ant meets Peaky Blinders depending if you want a dirty face or some big ol' scars. Easy to miss there are also some blemishes and features hidden under "make up" and while it could do with allowing multiple layers it's plenty servicable given that you're almost certainly never going to see your face again.
On normal the game is mostly a cake walk (aside from one particular Mantiqueen and RAM, there was little threat). If you have a decent set of dialogue and science skills you'll avoid a bunch of fights and with the right companions, with the right perks, you'll walk through it. You're tripping over guns and food so you never really find yourself in a tight spot either, infact I never really had to use any of the venders for anything other than the bypass shunts and mag-picks or the odd obviously a quest item purchases. This isn't really a major problem with the game tho, it's flaws lie a little deeper. I want more politics, more social development and more reason to treat it as a epic adventure come walking simulator as I do Fallout and Skyrim. Tho The Outer Worlds makes the right kind of music it never really becomes as substantial as either of these other titles, and I'm not sure we can blame budget or anything like that. There is a wee game we reviewed called "A Bewitching Revolution" which managed to do all three of these in a much smaller and confined narrative space. As it is, after beating it, other than trying the challenge of Super Nova or replaying as a corporate stooge or violent insurgent terrorist there is little reason to go back to it right now, tho hopefully this changes with DLC.
At the end of the day tho, I think the game is well worth your time, get hold of a copy and give it a spin. Just don't go in expecting a proper space sim and certainly not something to sink your Anarchistic teeth into. It's a fast paced space opera full of thrills and spills but it's as shallow as a paddling pool. Accept that and you're going to have a blast, look for something deeper and you are going to find it lacking. The story is engaging, the dialogue pretty hilarious at times, I really liked filling my spaceship with enough bits of tat that it looked like an American dinner and for some reason I got quite serious about collective tossball cards.
You'll invest and you want to talk about it and that's what games are about. It'll make you want to ramble on like a mad man over the proverbial watercooler or leave you squirming about with a knowing smile when your mate says "no spoilers!". The Outer Worlds sure did that for me and for that reason it's thumbs up. Seriously tho, the politics of it were a let down and a few choice quotes don't change that. ■
Rhyddical is just another pseudo bohemian revolutionary Anarchist who expects better of us all but does his mains in Tesco anyway.
(mildly proofed and edited 03/11/19)
During the height of the 1984-85 UK Miner’s Strike, Wanted: Monty Mole for the ZX Spectrum was released, in which the titular character; a strike-breaking miner collects coal from a South Yorkshire coal mine in order to support his family during the strike. The antagonist, Arthur Scargil (leader of the National Union of Mineworkers) is defeated by venturing into ‘Arthur’s Castle’ and collecting ballot papers while dodging flying pickets and cans of Scargil’s signature hair spray.
The game was written by the 19 year old son of a mine training officer, Peter Harrap through the British software house Gremlin Graphics. Founders Ian Stewart and Kevin Norbun thought that the miner’s strike would be a good hook for the game, so built it around the strikes motifs like Scargil himself, as well as the concept that the miners get screwed over no matter what, as once Monty defeats Scargil, he gets arrested by Thatcher’s militaristic police force (presumably sent by Scargil who owns the mine?) and gets sentenced to 5 years in prison. It all resulted in an incredibly convoluted story, that evidently treats Thatcher’s almost state of emergency regime as though it was a moral equivalent to Scargil’s Miners Strike.
The concept of collecting ballot papers and a vote casting scroll to topple Scargill is a reference to the reactionary line at the time that the Miners strike was illegal because it happened without a national ballot being held. In a similar vein, the flying cans of hair spray refers to the famous Daily Mirror photograph of hair spray in Scargill’s briefcase contents. This incident was used by the British media as Scargill’s tan suit moment, in which Etonian op-ed writers tried to emasculate him by pointing out supposed vanity.
As a result of this controversial subject choice, eight radio stations, national newspapers, and national television news reported on the game, including ITV’s News at 10 Program, and the BBC. The media wanted to cash in on any vague semblance of the miner’s strike controversy that could enrage enough viewers into tuning in.
The software house, which was located in Sheffield and not that far from the South Yorkshire coal mines, profited hugely from the exposure of their new game. Gremlin Graphics subsequently tried to alleviate political adversity by publicly promising to donate 5 pence per copy sold to the Miner’s Welfare Fund. The fund ultimately denied the donation without a comment.
When asked why they chose to villainize Scargill in a 2011 Metro interview, Ian Stewart described the decision as “unashamedly a PR stunt. It was opportunistic.” and “I’m not a political person. I’d rather it be remembered because it was good a stunt.“ It wasn’t too different from the logic of the media coverage, and ultimately devoid of much political gravitas beyond ‘Now is the advent of neoliberalism. Let’s see how profitable it would be to devour and sanitize an event in which 142,000 miners are fighting for their jobs.’
Wanted: Monty Mole earned the accolade ‘best platform game’ in the then prolific Crash magazine, and spawned six successful sequels, and ultimately became the unofficial mascot of the ZX Spectrum.
“In my view Monty Mole will be a future Spectrum hero and there will be posters of him adorning every wall in Britain. After hearing about this game on the News, I thought it would be a winner, and when it arrived I found I was right.” - Crash! (October 1984)
The strike ultimately fell into a trap set by Thatcher’s government, who anticipated it and who had organized large amounts coal stocks to be stored near power plants resulting in the strike’s failure and subsequent symbolic death of the British labor movement. This was just a few years after Raegan fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers, and taught America’s ruling class that they could exploit their workers in favor of ‘competitive work practices’ and fire whoever disagreed.
In retrospect, the bizarre concept of demonizing Arthur Scargill as a machiavellian plutocrat who oppresses a monocle-bearing scab mole doesn’t really add up to much. It’s a goofy take on what equated to pop culture in 1984. Devoid of any real meaning, or even harm, and mostly just a useful example against the ‘get politics out of video game’ debate, Wanted: Monty Mole is an obscure and confusing relic of the miner’s strike. ■
The debate on the political nature of content in board games is one which has come to the forefront due the increase in gaming in general. Among the main titles on which it debated there is The Landlord's Game of 1903, the original title of Monopoly. Monopoly was born as political criticism and intends to address an important issue: that of the monopolisation of the landowning market.
However, in Monopoly landlord accumulation is not accompanied by texts, mechanics or critical images. Nothing is aimed at an organic critique of the accumulation and the identification of the player is not supported by emotions against the game or the role that it plays within it, rather against the other players. In Monopoly there’s a critical intent towards market monopolization but it is too softened by mechanics to succeed and certainly cannot be considered a radical leftist critique to the society of that time.
With the arrival of Professor Bertell Ollman things change. In 1978 Class Struggle was born “To prepare for life in capitalist America”. It’s “an educational game for kids from 8 to 80” and with it opened the way for serious game philosophy towards a radical leftist social critique in the world of board games.
It was not a matter of taking a politically active topic too far. In Class Struggle the critique of some aspects of social and political life during the cold war years are evident, transparent and even full of propaganda intentions (such as the card "If it is the opium of older workers, than opium (pot) is the religion of the younger set"). The content isn’t sweetened to increase the mass appeal of the game, it just goes to the point: avoid the nuclear catastrophe fuelled by the capitalists and to steer the workers towards the construction of committees, unions and parties for the creation of a socialist society in the USA.
The board games up to this point had emancipated themselves only from ancient religious function to arrive at an alleged neutrality of their own content, all in favour of the mechanics: strategy, mechanics for entertainment, challenge, gambling, bluff, frustration and observation, and attention skills. Actually the themes aren’t neutral, they are often full of sacred, militarist, bourgeois contents etc. and at best they try to show sincere criticism through fantastic metaphors.
Only one year after the creation of Class Struggle, in 1980, in Italy the C.UnS.A. - Collettivo un Sacco Alternativo - carries on Ollman's experiment with the publication of Corteo (‘Demonstration’): A simulation of street clashes in Italy, between the police and various movements of the '77 such as Autonomia Operaia, Marxist-Leninists, Lotta Continua, Democrazia Proletaria, Anarchists, Feminists, radicals etc.
The rules book is descriptive, it maintains the textual prolixity typical of those years and describes ironically the performance of critical operations.
This begins in the manual, when for example it describes how;
“The reactionary right has organized a rally in a town square to demand the anti-strike law, the deportation of gays, the closure of the underground press and the death penalty. Authoritative members of the Government and the Dominant Party send certificates of understanding and solidarity. “
(Storia di un CORTEO, scenario antifascista, Mondadori, 1980, p. 27)
The game mechanics are quite exciting, and they complete the alternative theme well: you can play like a human tide (the Demonstration) that although slow and divided into many ideological currents, when compacted, is invincible (the union is strength!) ; on the other hand it can be fast but fragile if scattered in small groups. Even the representation of opponents is interesting. The fascists, for example, just get hit, a sign of the times in which social movements shined. In fact there is no Fascist player, the Fascist pawns are directly controlled by the police player as points to be taken away from the opponent.
Riot - Cast the First Stone (made by No Board Games) can be considered a tribute to both games even if the mechanics are certainly different (it is in fact a strategic one with the addition of card driven mechanics and area control). However, the setting is undoubtedly different. In Riot we certify the dark times we live, it is linked to the reality that surrounds us and not a simple historical reconstruction, the game itself can be an element of education in the here and now.
For example, the question that has prompted the insertion of Nationalists within Riot is the demand for the development of an Anti-Fascist culture accessible to those who are not reached by essays, flyers and revolutionary media but are more reachable through use of pop culture, gaming and nerd culture. For those who have tried Class Struggle, they will have had a smattering of Marxist culture and will know well what values to attribute to “Capitalists” and “Workers”, the merits of the ‘chance cards’ and the highly captioned board. For those who have played the game Corteo, they will know well which neighbourhoods the activists come from and how the police protect the various Fascist rallies. At the same time Riot, in giving control of the Fascists to a player, shows how the political affinity of the Nationalists lies with power and not with the other demonstrators and how their action must be, in terms of game mechanics, rather slimy.
It is also important to remember that at the gaming table one socialises: that is, one can understand more about their peers, learn to be together, orient oneself within a theme with mechanics designed to educate as well as let us learn a new vocabulary. The words we choose to describe the theme, the game mechanics and the names of the components create a text practised and discussed continuously. The game is shared par excellence: it is not a book, a video game, it is not an island. You can learn, you can debate.
Engaging with new forms of media is essential for political organising, we cannot exclude any form of communication and we should seek to understand how today, unlike yesterday, there are more effective and often unexpected means to reach a wider audience than a magazine, a flyer, a song or a book.
Finally we consider the tinkering and hacking methods of gamers is certainly a positive. We want to develop this kind of community, one which goes from modification of cultural objects to self-production and DIY games creating more independent and radical production. ■
Anteo is part of the No Board Games collective, an independent board game publisher but, above all, a project of reappropriation and radicalization of board game culture.
Their game Riot - Cast the First Stone will be included in the next edition printed of Organise!
You can download a free Print and Play version of RIOT below:
The world opens up before me a small functional apartment in a grey city, open sky above me shows flying cars darting round a bleak cityscape. The apartment is illuminated by a few dashes of colour in the form of incense sticks with drifty smoke rising up, flowers dotted about, a square wheeled bicycle in the corner and the eyes of a black moggy, who as I try giving it a pet tells me “If socialism does not stand unflinchingly for the exploited and oppressed masses of all lands, then it stands for none and it's claim is a false pretence”... ok then kitty! . I venture out into the streets and a moment later a owl gives a hoot hoot and tells me “The police are afoot! But where are they going we've no way of knowing”... a moment later two black clad fash come storming alone trying to bash the innocent. Not to worry, I'm a which a with a quick burst of magic I've turned the, into neon pink pigsa who run off... Welcome to A Bewitching Revolution, a short FPS adventure about a communist witch who uses their power the ferment revolution.
This indie gem by indie game developer Colestia is available on Steam as a a free to play game and Colestia's own site as as a pay as your feel download. You might recall Colesta from the micro puzzle Post/Capitalism which did the rounds a spell back, their modus operandi is simple... to create atmospheric games laden with seditious propaganda, educational resources and gentle nudges for people to go out and make a better world. A Bewitching Revolution does this like Marmite, you will love it or hate it. The politics are right up front, the game oozes revolution and dissent. If you like that kind of thing you're going to have a great time, if you don't then, well buddy, you're on the wrong website. The setting manages to be both Kafkaesque and Whimsical at the same time. My head canon immediately placed me as a young Granny Weatherwax transported through time and genre to Ridley Scott's L.A. circa. Blade Runner.I don't know if that was intentional but it certain felt fitting as I explored this dark, decaying city and went about injecting it with a magic and life.
The game itself is a a short narrative set in a pseudo open world capsule of an bringing social change to an Orwellian nightmare. You travel around planting seeds of change (both figuratively and literally) using Tarot as a medium to share revolutionary propaganda helping to crack squats, unionise the workforce and destroy advertising before taking on and defeating the state. The music is a single track by NY Vice called “Smooth Steering” that is very A E S T H E T I C and reminiscent of Stranger Things with it's mysterious and etheral vibe. The soundtrack is infact very complimentary to the graphics which are smooth mooted tones of grey and brutalist design, which adds to the oppressive environment and made all the more interesting subsequently by being highlighted by flashes of neon colour wherever the people have risen up.
The game works very well as a pocket of Communist propaganda in itself however I truly hope Colestia takes it further and adds more environments for us to explore and rabble rouse in. Perhaps playing focus to different aspects of the struggle as we go on and exploring different branches of Communism, Socialism and Anarchism, entire sections given aware to woodland occupations and the such? Eitherway it's five star, well worth an hour of your time, it could do with a save function and Y Inversion (please) sure, but as it stands you have a lush game that'll get your wanting to cook up some revolutionary action in your cauldron and maybe bring some of that energy into the real world. Great little game to sharing with gamer comrades who are a starting to learn more of the theory and the hopeful message will be a hit with any radical. so get downloading and have fun taking back the city! ■
Check out Colestias other games at Colestia.itch.io
Rhyddical is just another pseudo bohemian revolutionary Anarchist who expects better of us all but does his mains in Tesco anyway.
A few years back before Bloc By Bloc a small group of Italian Squatters wanted to bring the world of civil disobedience to the table top with “Riot – Cast The First stone”, a might little game where you could field one of three factions of the police and fight for the streets- there is a review in the archive, we'll pull it up soon!
In the mean time they are cooking up some trouble again and are looking to start with a fresh new look so are having a logo competition! They are asking radical board gamers and creatives to have a draft of a logo for them ie for “No Board Games”
The logo must keep in mind their philosophy:
1 To spread the culture of radical board gaming.
2 Keep the pricing fair and accessible.
3 Create sustainable board games.
4 Make racist board gamers afraid again!
All the enrants will be shared on Facebook, so everyone can vote their favourite favourite tho they'll retain final decision to save any Boaty McBoatface style gaffs and trolls.
Take part at the contest is easy*:
1 Check our their website by clicking here.
2 Draw a logo.
3 Send the logo to: [email protected] no later than 31/05/2019 or share it directly to the event's Facebook Page.
The prizes up for grabs:
1 - €99,99
2 - A copy of “Riot – the board game”.
3 - A copy of their next board game.
4 - Free gadgets!!!!!!
Furthermore, they'll be using entries to scout for artists who they'll be looking to work on their next board game (for payment obvs) so it's showing off your portfolio with a few steps and the chance of loot.
What you waiting for?
Make racist board gamers afraid again 😉
*If you are fascist, gangsta, a cop or a priest: sorry! You can’t join the contest. 🙁
RIot's Facebook page:-
The Competitions Facebook Event:-
No Board Games's Website:-
This Thursday Clapton CFC (everyone's favourite antifascist London footie club) is running their first ever Esports Social. It's at ExFed (199 Eade Road,, N4 1DN) in London from 6:30 'till 10:30. We recon it's a fantastic move by the Tons to bring the antifascist, LGBT+ positive vibe and drive to Esports and heck who doesn't like to hang out and play games?
In their own words:-
“At the last members' meeting, a unanimous decision was taken for Clapton Community Football Club to expand into the realm of video games.
We're beginning by organising gaming socials for Clapton CFC members and non-members alike. Bring yourself, your mum, kids and your pals, whether they're gamers or not!
We'll have arcade machines, consoles and even PC games on offer. There might even be a small Tetris tournament. You can BYOB, there’s a cheap bar and stone-baked pizza next door too
All in all looks like a great event and hopefully it'll encourage a series of similar events around the country why not? So if you're in London this Thursday, got your peripherals and banners packed and get down to Exfed. This is exactly the kind of stuff red and black gamers all over should be getting up to.
Got a similar event happening? Let us know!
Here is the Facebook Event
and the page forClapton CFC
In light of Google’s Stadia, Marijam Didžgalvytė discusses the possibilities for changing the modes of production in the videogaming industry, via Walter Benjamin.
The backlash against Google’s proposed alternative to console gaming – Stadia – has already been significant. Among the concerns are the practical (such as the dependence on internet speeds) and the ethical (such as the likelihood of freemium logic dominating the experience). Obviously, a company with Google’s track record and drive toward platform monopoly are hardly likely to provide an answer to the unethical capitalist modes of production that characterize the entire gaming industry. Nevertheless, the emergence of Stadia as an idea gives us an opportunity to begin discussing the situation. Ultimately, we cannot even begin to think about political utility in gaming until we sort out the modes of production of the hardware. Is Google the answer? No, but new possibilities are emerging.
Whilst trying to discuss political utility in video gaming, the obstacle that constantly re-emerges is the means necessary to even engage with this medium. One would be correct when stating that video gaming can never be truly appropriated for radical purposes due to its sheer dependency on consoles/PCs and their production in the Global South, often in appalling conditions. The ethics behind the manufacturing of these devices has been a growing subject of concern for years — suicides at Chinese manufacturer Foxconn or conflict minerals required for most micro-chips that have funded genocide in the Republic of Congo.
In what circumstances then gaming can ever possess a meaningful critical voice, when its sole existence is indistinguishable from hyper-capitalist relations of production?
With the ever-increasing power of computing and network technology, the future has the potential to be dominated by a reduction in hardware and the development of cloud-based technology, as Google’s Stadia makes plain. The following is a selection of examples where these trends have already emerged.
In 2012, the development of Ouya gaming console was funded via Kickstarter, raising $8.5 million and becoming the website’s fifth-highest earning project in its history at the time. The selling trait of this new console, besides its $99 price tag and modular design, was that it essentially worked as a router connecting to servers and running games directly from them, rather than having a built-in ability to insert original CDs. A separate, ‘Free The Games Fund’ Kickstarter campaign was created to fund the developers making the games specifically for Ouya’s servers. Unfortunately, the momentum didn’t last — the selection of games made for this console was not particularly diverse, the controller had minor design and delay issues and that was enough for the production to be discontinued in June 2015.
Nintendo NX was the original concept behind the Switch – a hand-held device which one can plug into a base station at home, making it possible to play games on TV sets. Controllers connect to the console when it’s fixed to the dock. Again, the attempt here is to reduce the bulk of hardware produced and combine many gadgets into one, harnessing the cloud power. Nintendo has been granted the patent for a ‘Supplemental Computing Device’. To summarise the core concept, it allows for an extra device to provide extra resources to a gaming system through two means — through on-board hardware and through utilising resources in the Cloud. In theory, such devices could be made available to boost a system as it ages, for example, to give it extra power rather than replace a console outright. Whether this is part of the future of the Switch is still to be seen, of course, but as a concept it could certainly be part of the future of a more ethical and sustainable gaming.
This software created in 2009 was meant to be the gaming equivalent of Spotify or Netflix — it offered subscribers to rent or demo computer games without installing them on their device. This setup allowed the games to run on computers and devices that would normally be unable to run them due to insufficient hardware, and also enabled other features, such as the ability for players to record gameplay and to spectate. Onlive had many challenges, but perhaps the most difficult was latency, or input delay — it is the perceivable amount of time players wait for a game to send commands to a data centre and then send back the results. Some analysts valued Onlive at $1.8bn. But after two years of under-performance, in August 2012 the company laid off all its workers, and its assets were eventually sold for less than $5m.
The potential offered by technological advances such as Onlive is immense — one could buy a Raspberry Pi micro-computer for as little as $5 — $35* and play all of the top-end games on that setup. The problem Onlive had with frame latency is a factor many developers are currently addressing. For instance, the popular fighting game Street Fighter requires the input delay no longer than 17 milliseconds and Onlive could only achieve 135 milliseconds. However, Boyd Multerer, one of the key architects of the Xbox One, is optimistic:
‘Here’s the thing with Street Fighter, the entire background image isn’t latency sensitive at all. It’s just the fighters that need to be rendered super fast. Now, is the background most of the pixels? Yes. So in a hybrid model, the background can be a beautiful image rendered in the cloud, while the console can focus all its power on the fighters. That’s the best place to be.’
Although this solves the issue of receiving the visuals back to one’s monitor, Multerer does not elaborate on the speed necessary for the input from the controller to arrive to the server.
The always-online aspects of the Cloud-based technologies are not for everyone and may still take significant technological leaps in order to be achieved. In the short-term, it would be fascinating to see gaming companies adopt the ideals of Fairphone and Fairphone 2! The Dutch company is currently working on its third model of ethically produced smartphone — the materials used are from conflict-free zones, assembled in Netherlands by well-paid professionals. At €520 it is not cheap, but due to its modular design, all of the parts can be upgraded so the phone can have an unusually long lifespan. I would love to see a company like Valve, jumping on to creating a console and monitor equivalent of Fairphone. Perhaps the production could take place in Greece, as Valve’s former employee Yanis Varoufakis would have some connections there, no doubt.
In his text ‘Author as Producer’, Walter Benjamin argues that it is not enough to pass something off as having ‘revolutionary content’ while still utilising contemporary relations to production: it is essential for the author/artist/activist to become a conscious producer, one who considers and evaluates her own work, and her relation to the formal means of production, in a ‘truly revolutionary way’ (Benjamin, 1970). As argued by Benjamin:
‘The activists and the representatives of the new objectivity can wave their arms as much as they please: they cannot do away with the fact that even the proletarianisation of an intellectual almost never makes a proletarian... the bourgeois class gave one a means of production which, on the basis of the privilege of culture, makes him solitary with it.’
In essence, Benjamin insists that the beginning of any operation in a political context should not start from the author settled outside and looking into the subject matter, but from within the area of discussion itself. Not only does that critique a lot of what is perceived as instrumental for social change, but it negates the entire notion of political aesthetic in art, writing and/or games.
While all of the above examples still utilise for-profit organising structures and the text does not address the shift in employment that would occur in the event of the decline in manufacturing industries in the Global South, these topics must be discussed in some urgency. As the Chinese middle class is growing in unprecedented speed, the change in conditions should inevitably advance the price of the devices we got so used to acquiring cheaply. Storing computer power in servers, which then can heat our homes, is a much more economically and ecologically viable option for future electronics and if we wish to give any civic merit to digital mediums, we must take notice. ■
Marijam Didžgalvytė is the creator of video series Left Left Up on videogames & IRL politics. She has written for Guardian, Kotaku, Vice, GameIndustry.biz and many others.
Marijam also leads the Communications Committee of Game Workers Unite International.
Check out her work @marijamdid on Twitter and marijamdid.com
(This article was originally shared on Everyday Analysis)
It’s ok… read that name a few more times… go on buy a copy before I’ve even talked about it. Ok, you ready?… Is it as good a game as it is a name? Fuck yeah. The TESA collective have pedigree for making top quality tabletop games with a strong social message, from Co-opoly to Civio, the games wear their politics front and centre and do a great job at making social change a fun (and educational) game for all.
So the premise is this, there is a rising wave of fascism sweeping across the galaxy, threatening to throw the Interspecies Galactic Alliance under autocratic rule. The regime known as The Rat Pack has convinced the powers that be that all cats must be tightly controlled… or forced into feline exile. But everyone knows, cats don’t like to be collared, and they don’t like to be caged.
So the fash are rats and the players are cats, taking them on in a co-op, all win or all lose fashion. Your team of 2-4 players hop from planet to planet raising your forces and hopefully liberating atleast four before the fascists take over the Galactic Alliance, which means you’ve got to get on with the job! Meanwhilethe Fash rats use propoganda and (haha) laser pointers to wrestle back control so you have to use your three actions per turn wisely, utilising cards from a resistance deck.
At the end of your turn you roll a few dice to see what damage the Fascists are doing and the games stratergy comes from knowing when to let this happen and when to counter it.It sort of works like a dice rolling version of Pandemic so team work and planning are the name of the day.
It’s a night starter game, something reasonably light to play before heading on to a heavy or maybe even to have a few rounds off down the pub after a meeting, accessable and fun and really worth a play.
They’ve recently released an expansion called “Secret Moewssions” which tho I’m yet to play will be on my list for sure. It’s a bit on the steep side with shipping but worth it if you have the resources or can get your FLGS to stock a copy.■