“Republic, Socialism, Humanism”

My goodness. May Albert Monteys illustrate everything.

The story of the Spanish Maquis is a long one, laden with setbacks, betrayals, and defeats. First formed as a guerrilla force in the waning years of the Spanish Second Republic’s fight against the junta that propelled Francisco Franco to power, the resistance was soon displaced to France. There they spent time in Vichy concentration camps, fought alongside the French Resistance, and eventually returned to their homeland only to be abandoned yet again when the Allies declined to finish the job of rooting out fascism. The Maquis continued to wage a losing war for years to come, buoyed only, as cartoonist and onetime soldier Josep Bartolí i Guiu put it, the possibility of “Republic, socialism, humanism.”

Resist!, co-designed by David Thompson, Trevor Benjamin, and Roger Tankersley, is a solitaire game about the brave men and women who strove to retake Spain. I’m tempted to declare it the best portrayal of a resistance movement ever put to cardboard. Here’s why.

It's technically closer to how we conceptualize maps than some of the ancient maps we've uncovered.

As close to a map as it gets.

If you’ve been paying attention to some of the discussions here and elsewhere about how war is portrayed in board games, you’ll recall that some of the big questions are real whoppers. These include: “How can we represent victory conditions when real life doesn’t have them?” and “How do we depict atrocity?” and “How do we make these conflicts more personal?”

Ask a wargame designer to solve these problems and you’ll get insightful answers. Better maps, maybe, that account for rough versus smooth terrain, urban versus open fighting conditions. Perhaps a form of influence in addition to raw control, all the better for expressing the ideological undertow that carries along the tanks and rifle companies. Multiple stages for removing resistance fighters; they can’t be eliminated before they’re spotted. A broader geopolitical context. Logistics. Fog of war. Chits and tracks for every errant detail.

These are perfectly good answers. But they’re the sort of answers that appeal to people who think in maps. You know, the sort of people who might feel comfortable working at Belfer or RAND, spending their days thinking about nuclear deterrence and how to sidestep the consequences of mistreating Latin America for a whole-ass century. Most of us don’t think in maps. Even those of us who were trained to read maps generally don’t staple ourselves to mental geography. We think in relationships. Near and far. Spheres of proximity. Degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. Which grocery store stocks the peanut butter we like.

Which is why Resist! needed to be designed by a team with one foot in the realm of wargames and the other back here on Earth where we occasionally think about topics other than geopolitics. It doesn’t contain a single map. Nor does it feature any tracks. It barely even has numbers.

Instead, it’s a game about relationships.

And kill fascists. Awesome.

My Maquis make hard decisions.

At its most surface level, Resist! is about managing a group of resistance fighters as they undertake missions to undermine the Francoist dictatorship. Beginning with a stack of Maquis cards, you draw a hand and choose one of four missions to tackle. Each card shows its own character, lovingly illustrated by Albert Monteys. There’s Abel, the priest who cannot in good conscience support this regime despite its national Catholicism. Benigno, unassuming camarero, willing to poison the drinks of fascist officers. Soledad, the socialite with fine taste in jewels and a soft touch when picking locks. Jacinto, schoolteacher, good with books and maps. Marcelino and Domingo, whose advanced age should see them enjoying the sun and their grandchildren, not stalking through the forest. Celia, child, invisible to patrols on her bicycle. A child. My God, a child.

I want you to notice something. With the last paragraph, I set out to describe Resist! at its most basic. Even then, I couldn’t help but segue back into describing the people. Every turn asks you to stare into their faces. To consider their occupations. To consider their lives. Often, to reveal them to the authorities.

Every turn unfolds bit by bit. You draw your hand. Now you begin planning. Abilities come in two flavors. “Plan” abilities come before the actual attack. This is the legwork that goes into a successful mission. You’ll reveal which soldiers are guarding which objectives. Sort your Maquis pile. Draw new cards. Maybe remove an enemy via distraction or righteous murder. When you choose which mission to tackle, you switch to “Attack” abilities. These are more immediate. Higher combat strength. Last-minute cards. Sniping the engineer you just revealed. Your total strength is tallied, then used to remove enemies and destroy the objective. Most of the time, there will be stragglers. Repercussions.

Many spies have many eyes. FOUR EYES, even. Take that, spy!

Spies are deadly.

Perhaps the hardest repercussion to swallow is that some of your Maquis will be revealed. Secrecy is the patron saint of the resistance fighter, and having a card’s cover blown means removing it from your deck. Yet revealing your fighters is a constant necessity. Every card is divided into two faces. The weaker side allows its Maquis to remain hidden, surviving the mission and maintaining cover to fight another day. The other side is tougher. Higher attack values, better abilities. But they’re revealed in the process. This is one of the central paradoxes of guerrilla warfare. You fight for the people. But to fight, you must sacrifice them. On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself staring at a mission that became unexpectedly complicated. Revealing a Maquis would make all the difference. We could accomplish our objective, safeguard civilians from reprisals, maybe liberate another partner in resistance. But who to give up? That their sacrifice will permanently weaken our gang is secondary to the loss of a reliable friend. Losing a card means severing a relationship. Will it be strong Ricardo, the carpenter and demolitions expert? Scheming Adela? Passionate Consuelo? Our inside man Adolfo? Not the child. Please, not the child.

The beauty of this system lies in how it folds little truths into its play, secreting harsh realities into an experience that otherwise seems harmless. It reminds me of Peer Sylvester’s The Lost Expedition, although the comparison is a limited one. Games about jungle exploration are also usually relegated to maps. Why not, when explorers are also necessarily cartographers? Instead, Sylvester focused his camera on the sights and tolls witnessed and paid by the explorers themselves. The Lost Expedition was not about a map. It was about slow starvation and infected cuts and running out of bullets. Where most games have us consider their topic from the perspective of its conclusion — the finished map, the scoring criteria set in stone, the potential boundaries clearly drawn — these games instead opt to confront the uncertainty of the lived experiences they hope to evoke.

Sorta. That's what the fascists like you to think.

Your activities may put civilians in danger.

Secrecy, sacrifice, and the gradual withering of the Maquis are the major details harrowed into Resist!, but they’re hardly the only ones. Resistance groups throughout history have been destroyed from within by government operatives, here represented by spy cards. In a more complicated game, spies would take some major effect. Here, they can prove devastating merely by appearing in your hand at the wrong time. More than once, I’ve been on the verge of completing a mission, only for my final draw to reveal one of those damnable traitors. The emotional response this achieves is nothing short of remarkable. Without adding any overhead to the rules, spy cards offer moments of betrayal, stretches of paranoia, even counter-espionage. When I’m holding a card that will rid me of a spy, they’re nowhere to be found. Eerie.

Similar touches are everywhere. The danger your activities pose to civilians in the form of counter-guerrillas who will merrily murder them for no reason at all. The abundance of women in your group. The difficulty, including a spike in severity soon after your presence is announced. Even the question of when the game will conclude. There are scenarios you can pursue, but those are optional. In its main mode, Resist! refuses to draw clear lines. After each mission, there’s a pause. In that moment of quiet, you’re asked whether to continue the fight or disband, likely into the obscurity of exile or settling for Francoist rule. There are victories to be had, but they’re long shots. This game is more honest in its appraisal, asking you to choose between one defeat and another. This is the reality the historical Maquis faced. By not letting players off easy, Resist! goes further in honoring the memory of its protagonists than a hundred maps.

This image is 10000% more earned than the dumb Girl Power pose in that Marvel movie.

Girl power.

That’s the important part. This isn’t a game that can be easily peeled into separate categories. There is no “setting” vs. “theme.” They are the same. Remove any one part and the entire thing collapses like ruined bricks. Over the past month, the world has watched in awe and horror as the Ukrainian people resist a savage attempt to destroy their selfhood. We remark on their grit, their resolve, their willingness to face untold horrors to manage their own destiny.

What we are really remarking on, though, is their ordinariness. They are farmers, shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, men and women, young and old. This is the truth of resistance. Every Maquis in Resist! is powerful, but the two with the highest combat numbers are telling. One is Nicolás. He is a laborer. He carries a pickaxe and a basket of stones. The other is Roberto. He is slight and bookish, with eyeglasses and a tidy vest. When the moment calls, they are both transformed into avatars of Ares. They are courageous and fearsome. They are the terror that robs fascists of their rest, because that strength may be concealed in anybody who refuses to submit to a bully.

Resist! taps into that transformation a dozen times in one sitting. It celebrates ordinary people, terrible sacrifices, even the losing fight. And it does so with a human touch that’s so often overlooked and so desperately necessary when we talk about war.

 

(If what I’m doing at Space-Biff! is valuable to you in some way, please consider dropping by my Patreon campaign or Ko-fi.)

A prototype copy was provided.

Posted on April 12, 2022, in Board Game and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. Rarely am I so thoroughly convinced to buy a game after reading a review.

  2. Sounds amazing, this one may be hard to Resist!

  3. Coming to Gamefound on May 15, 2022!
    I know I’m signing up.

  4. Looks like a very appealing game indeed. Thanks for the review!

    In the historical context this might not be an analogy: “Over the past month, the world has watched in awe and horror as the Ukrainian people resist a savage attempt to destroy their selfhood.”. The partisans in your comparison has not received any sympathy from our “world”, e g our western civilizations, since their ally is viewed as an enemy. They are fighting, though, as fiercely as the others.

    While I daily help refugees I’m also fully aware of the realities of those who for 8 years have waited for revenge while being called a “cancer tumour”. Now it’s literally brother against brother. My heart bleed for the simple noble people on both sides. One comfort, even though friends suffer, is that we at least until now see drastically fewer civilian deaths than is common is such wars. But statistics doesn’t heal wounded souls.

    I wouldn’t write this if it weren’t for your deep interest and understanding in how to interpret history. I’m not talking about values or sympathies, just about simple facts from the ground. I’m not agitating for anything, merely encourage folks to learn more than what the headlines say. For those interested in history Zaporozhian Cossacks today remembers how 300 of the stood the ground 8 years ago on this very day.

  5. You had me at “Albert Monteys”. LOVE his Universe! series.

  6. I’m so grateful for this article. I probably never would have known about this game, and it is exactly the kind of game I’m always searching for. Thank you for discovering and sharing gems like this.

  7. Comparing the struggle of republican socialists, communists and anarchists in Francist Spain to Ukraine is not only head-spinning in its irony but also totally a historical and absurd. Given that all left opposition has been banned in Ukraine as opposed to the ultra right wing nationalist wing, the fact that the Ukrainian president now appeals to foreign parliaments, like the Greek one, by live video link with members of the openly neo-nazi azov at his side, the fact that the Ukrainian resistance is armed by the most powerful imperialist nations the world history has ever seen, I struggle to appreciate the parallels with civil war Spain. Are the innocent men, women and children of Ukraine dying for a redistributive political economy, a state in which the interests of working people is directly represented, in which healthcare, housing and education are a public good? I must have missed that.

    • Thank you for making this point. It’s a very important and underdiscussed topic: the corruption of the Ukrainian leadership, and they strong possibility that they have committed war crimes as well. I don’t entirely agree with your position, though. One can find parallels in the phenomenalogy of conflict. The vast majority of those affected are working, mostly depoliticized masses, whose lives are suddenly overturned. Families. Not sophisticated ideologically. Suddenly thrown into existential panic.

      • If the terms you use are loose enough you can compare any struggle. In fact, you can compare and conflate anything if the concept is broad or abstract enough. My issue, my revulsion, is with the tacit moral equivalence drawn between resistance in Ukraine (a banner broad enough that it contains actual zeig heiling nazis) and those who fought fascism in Spain. Republicans, communists and anarchists would have died before calling a fascist or nazi their brother, sister or comrade.

  8. Breathtaking review. Can’t wait to try this one.

  9. I was already fairly interested in this game, but this review just pushed me over the edge – I would love to have a copy of this. Thank you Mr. Thurot (again)!

  10. Would this work as well in the context of the Cretan resistance to the Nazis, say, where the actors were privelaged to (broadly) view themselves in the context of a larger ongoing conflict? Having written that question I realise there is probably a lot to unpack there about how resistance groups during second world war viewed themselves, but I’ll stick with it.

    • I’m not sure which “this” you’re referring to. The game? My review of the game? Either way, there’s an unfortunate moralistic impulse at play, where unless we agree with a movement’s political stances on everything, we cannot be awed by their resistance to invasion or oppression.

      • No one can stop you from being awed because it’s a completely internal affective response. They might say the social values and relations manifested by the time and place of that response need to be examined and in this case that the values at stake in every struggle are not the same and should not be flattened therefore by comparisons based on concepts as vague and nebulous as ‘resistance’ and ‘awe’. Whose resistance, to what?

  11. “After each mission, there’s a pause. In that moment of quiet, you’re asked whether to continue the fight or disband, likely into the obscurity of exile or settling for Francoist rule.”

    Is the game, or specifically this aspect of the game, more powerful because the allies chose not to pursue the eradication of fascism in Spain and therefore disbansion, in this context, represents an absolute defeat.

    I appreciate my question was unclear. Sorry if it remains so. However, I do not feel I made any moral judgement.

    • Ah, I think I see what you mean. I would answer yes, in this case. Because the cause was historically doomed, the possibility of settling for failure or partial victory is more poignant.

  12. This review directed me more toward Lost Expedition than this game, which is fine by me.

  13. I suppose one could very well be awed by Southern US slave owners resistance to the Union, many were and still are, and I would have to say that it isn’t the awe that I object to but the social relations and values that the Union fought to change. Historical context matters, I think, does it not?

    • I absolutely agree. Historical context matters.

      Which is why I appreciate the comparison to the Union. Until his assassination, Lincoln was deeply unpopular. He employed mercenaries, closed dissenting presses, suspended habeas corpus, and declared martial law, all of which led to many voices, including in the Union, regarding him as an enemy of liberty. I expect we would probably agree that his temporary curtailment of civil liberties acted in the longer-term interests of equality and liberty, even if they seemed (or were, in fact) regressive at the time, and even if they could be used as pretext for similar regressions later.

      Will the same be said of Zelenskyy? I have no idea. I’m as concerned about certain of his actions as anybody. But I’m wary of applying the label of “historical context” to a conflict that has yet to be examined through the lens of history, or counting my chickens before they hatch.

      In this case, though, I’m writing mostly about the ordinariness of the Ukrainian people who are currently fighting to preserve their democracy — a deeply flawed and incomplete democracy, yes — from the aggressions of an outsized neighbor wielding an invented casus belli and all too eager to slaughter and torture civilians by the thousands.

      • I think you’ve misunderstood my comment and so your answer is beside the point. My point is not that the South is equivalent to Ukraine or that Zelensky is equivalent to LIncoln or that Putin is equivalent to HItler. This is not the game I am playing. My point is quite the opposite, that there is simply no equivalence. Whereas you seem all too happy to play this game of historical and moral equivalence despite replying that you wouldn’t want to count your chickens before they’ve hatched. Ordinariness is a totally blank concept that can ultimately be applied to anyone. Do you mean that they’re untrained civilians?

      • Could you also develop what you mean by ‘ ‘deeply flawed’ and ‘incomplete democracy’ regarding Ukraine and ‘outsized’ with respect to its ‘neighbour’. Euphemism isn’t particularly useful if you’re trying to have a productive argument.

      • Nope. I’m done chatting with you. Off with ye.

      • I don’t remember Lincoln addressing foreign parliaments with white supremacists.

      • spacebollocks

  14. Gotta say, it’s super weird seeing lefties fall for Russian propaganda in this comments section.

    • If you were referring to my comment above, in which I mention the corruption of Ukrainian leadership, and the likelihood that the Ukrainian military used cluster munitions, it’s fair to say that Russian propaganda has advanced those same arguments. That doesn’t mean they are inherently false, but yes, if I was only getting that from Russian news sources, I would indeed be full of shit.

      On the other hand, I think it’s also pretty obvious that Western media is massively slanted against Russia, and almost jingoistic in their adulation Ukraine. That’s a problem too.

      Of course I sympathize most closely with the Ukrainians, who were invaded in what should amount to a massive war crime. And yes, even though the mainstream media detests Putin, I too loathe him, not because propaganda told me too, but because I know what he did to Grozny, his support of neo-fascist leaders, etc etc

      But I’ve also become weary of glossing over the Ukrainian leadership’s questionable right-wing tendencies, quashing any dissent, close ties to neo-nazis, because it fills in important context, when we think about questions like “how much aid should we give, and who will we be arming” We see the Ukrainian military as freedom fighters. We also saw the Mujahedeen as freedom fighters.

    • Example?

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