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MBA courses teach their pupils that business is a dicey, dynamic world where anything can happen. But no amount of seminars and lectures can prepare the budding entrepreneur for the surprises awaiting them in the post-communist environment.
Fortunately, a new board game offers the greenhorns a chance to brush up on their bribery skills and sharpen their knives for cutthroat competition. Forget about building hotels on Park Lane or paying rent on Kings Cross Station. This is your chance to take a stroll along the boardwalk to the State Armaments Factory. If you pass Party Headquarters, give yourself 200 privatization vouchers.
Know your place
The fundamental difference between "Bribeopoly" and its Western cousin is that in the post-Soviet version, the players do not start from equal positions. Instead of the usual ships, thimbles and other playing pieces, there are five specific characters, each having a place in a sharply defined pecking order.
Who you are, and your relationship to the other participants (who you know), counts for a great deal.
At the top of the tree is the character Politico, represented as a little man in a suit with a pronounced potbelly. He starts off with a fair amount of cash and control over most of the properties on the board, which he may sell or exchange for favours during the game.
He also controls the bank, so it pays to be nice to this guy.
The next most powerful figure is the Oligarch, in the form of a plastic figurine of a 500-series Mercedes Benz. He has been a chum of the Politico from their days playing on the same collective farm basketball team, and knows a thing or two about Politico's links to the former secret police.
So the bank issues him with a large amount of cash in different denominations (greenbacks, euros, rubles, Azerbaijani manats, Albanian leke and Moldovan lei are all used in the game). The Politico also gives the Oligarch a few high-rental properties at the beginning.
In third place is the Investor, represented by a small mobile phone. This player starts off with a great deal of cash, equivalent to half the money in the bank, but has no property. It's suggested that he waste no time acquiring some real estate, because for all his riches he can be cleaned out after just two or three rounds of the board.
Fourth in importance is the Reporter, symbolised by a lap-top computer. She starts off with a bit of cash, but no property. However, at the start she's in possession of more of the Threat and Favor cards that can be used to get ahead in this game.
Judicious use of blackmail and palm-greasing can reward her with a considerable empire.
At the bottom of the heap is the small counter of a vodka bottle. This is the sole possession of the Pensioner, who starts off the game with no cash or real estate. In fact, she is not even allowed to roll the dice: the rules state that for every turn she must move exactly one space ahead, and take whatever fate dishes out.
However, this character has the considerable advantage of being completely indestructible. Because she's no threat whatsoever to the other players, there is no way she can be removed from the board.
Who gets to play each particular character is more a matter of brute force rather than luck. The recommended method for starting the game is to place the counters on the floor, with each contender then taking five paces back, and at the count of three charging in boots and all to grab one. Ready, set - steal!
As with pansy Monopoly, the objective in this game is to collect as much property as possible and force your opponents into bankruptcy. But unlike its distant relation, Bribeopoly not only permits cheating but positively encourages it.
Furthermore, this game offers the thrill of murdering your fellow conman.
In place of the "Go" space, all players start from Party Headquarters, the mother of all things in this world. The players attempt to buy properties that, as with editions of Monopoly in various countries, reflect the nuances of the local environment.
So, for example, instead of the Water Works, you can buy the Vodka Factory. The Nuclear Power Station stands in for the Electricity Company.
If you land in jail, you must bribe each of the other players to get out. Until a deal has been struck with everybody else, sit and rot. The equivalent of Free Parking is the BMW Dealership.
As with the Community Chest and Chance cards in Western Monopoly, Bribeopoly also has spaces on the board where lady luck delivers news, either good or disastrous, to the players. In this game there's just one deck of these messengers of fate, called Sauna. As the name would suggest, these cards can reveal the whole gamut of possibilities when you have powerful and unscrupulous friends doing deals in a sweaty, alcohol-soaked environment.
For added enjoyment, it is advised that a player landing on Sauna should remove one item of clothing and chug 100 grams of vodka.
The Sauna can produce good news for the player, such as: "Your wife's business partner is elected to the city council. Collect one property from each player due to new zoning regulations."
It can also put you into hot water with bad news such as: "You have been assessed by Transparency International. Pay 1,000 rubles to each of the other players to hush them up."
There is also another set of cards that leaves nothing to chance and everything to human indecency. At the start of the game, each player except the Pensioner is given two red-coloured Threat cards and two green Favor cards. Because she is supremely devious, the Reporter gets three of each.
During the game, players may use these as currency, or just for making special deals. For example, the Investor may surrender his Favor card to the Politico in return for not having to pay when he lands on the Protection Money space (the equivalent of the Monopoly Super Tax zone.)
The Threat cards may be used to achieve more sinister ends. For example, the Oligarch may present one to the Investor, at which point the hapless foreigner must surrender the most valuable property he may have in his possession.
However, another nuance of the game means that these cards should be used extremely sparingly. If one player manages to collect a Favor card from each of the other players, they may order the execution of one of the others. Death sets in if the victim rolls an even number.
It's even more exciting if any player collects four or more Threat cards. They may then order the bombing of another player. If this poor soul rolls an odd number, they shuffle off the mortal coil.
Additionally, if any other player or players are within three spaces of the bomb victim, they too are eliminated. Four to five spaces away results in grievous injury due to which all property and cash must be surrendered to the bank.
Ultimately, the greatest joy of Bribeopoly is that, despite the fact that the dice seem to be completely loaded at the beginning, upsets can still happen. One of many possible scenarios would involve the Politico drawing a Sauna card that reads: "Your business dealings have been exposed in the Washington Post. Go directly to your villa in the Bahamas and leave the game."
If he has a Favor card left, he could give it to the Reporter in return for publishing a story that muddies the water enough to get him off the hook. However, this could theoretically leave the Reporter in possession of enough cards to order a hit on the Politico, which would put him out of action anyway. Seeing the nasty turn of events, either the Investor or the Oligarch could decide to bomb if they have the resources. A total bloodbath could ensue.
All of which would leave the Pensioner the only player in the game. She can simply sweep the whole board - if there's anything worth salvaging from the ruins.