When I introduced Sans-Papiers (the immigration game) to Isaac Joslin at the University of Denver, we had the luxury of playtime. We spent half an hour or so playing the game together, as I explained the rules in context and we navigated the situations that came up in our particular game. Isaac hadn’t played a tabletop role-playing game before, so the mechanics were new to him, although he picked them up quickly and, I felt, came away from the session with an understanding not just of how the rules functioned as we used them in that instance, but how the RPG models what it tries to model and how its rules serve the game. I was pretty confident that he would be ready to teach the game to his students, but the reality is that many students are not experienced in playing a wide variety of tabletop games; even with an experienced teacher, there is a learning curve to games that has to be addressed.
Sans-Papiers is a role-playing game about being an undocumented immigrant in France. French president François Hollande officially inaugurated the Musée de l’histoire de l’immigration last December, and there’s been a mix of stories about immigrants in the French news lately: in March, a young undocumented Albanian man won the prestigious “best apprentice in France” medal; France is taking some serious criticism for its treatment of Roma people; and of course, the far-right nationalist party known as the National Front has gained a surprising, or alarming, amount of political ground over the past year. There have also been a staggering number of deaths at sea of immigrant hopefuls trying to cross the Mediterranean in small, fragile crafts.
As promised, today the students had a last game of EU v. Russia, which one of the them joyously re-baptized “Pride and Presidents.” Two games ran simultaneously (A and B, 6 students and 7 students), and took just about the whole 50-minute period, although I did have to start timing Russia A, who had adopted a stalling tactic.
Both games were close, but Russia squeaked by for the win in each case. That makes Russia undefeated in the eight games we’ve played over four sessions. Although some games have come down to a single victory point’s difference in the final score, Russia’s clear in-game advantage is something I’ve been working to balance out – to an extent – for several weeks.
For the past few weeks, the 15 students in my current events French class have been playing a game designed to model a struggle between Russia and the European Union to gain or retain influence over Europe’s outlying countries. What with Russia’s presence in the Ukraine since early 2014 and fears about Greece abandoning the euro and somehow aligning with Russia, the game provides a way for us to explore how fears and projections of spreading Russian influence might play out.