1 March 2011



From an article on Brenda Brathwaite and her game design:

“[Train] unfolds atop a shattered window. Three model train tracks run diagonally across the broken glass. Game pieces include two stacks of cards, a black typewriter holding the rules, 60 yellow wooden pawns, and six gray model boxcars.

Each turn, players can roll a die and choose to advance their boxcar or load it with pawns; alternatively, they can use a card to speed or slow a boxcar’s progress. Brathwaite’s goal, she says, was to make a game about complicity.…

At that point, Train had not formally revealed its subject, and Jon and the others played as though it were a normal board game, trying to outrace each other. When Rob was the first to move a boxcar to the end of the line, he followed the rules and drew a Terminus card. Train’s theme was no longer hidden. The card said ‘Dachau.’

Train is the third title in a series of six non-digital games she calls ‘The Mechanic Is The Message.’ The series was sprung one afternoon in 2007, when her daughter Maezza followed a thoughtless rehash of the day’s school lesson about the Middle Passage by asking to play a game. Brathwaite invented a game on the spot. She had Maezza spend half an hour painting wooden pawns and grouping them into families. Brathwaite then scooped the pawns at random, placed them on an index card, and explained the rules: You have 10 turns to cross the ocean and 30 units of food; each turn you must roll the die and use that much food. After a series of high rolls, Maezza looked to her mother: ‘Mommy, we’re not going to make it.’

[Brathwaite] decided to make games about five more ‘difficult’ subjects: Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland, the Holocaust, the Trail of Tears, illegal immigration, and Haitian poverty. Her goal was more than ‘blast-the-Nazis fun.’ ‘I wanted to do a design exercise to see if you could use game mechanics to express difficult subjects,’ Braithwaite says. ‘Every single atrocity, every single migration of people—there was a system behind it. If you can find that system, you can make a game about it. All games are, is systems.’”