HappyCorp is making a move on Mercury City, planning a corporate-run metropolis where every resident is an employee. The Strike Council must lead the rebellion!
In “Reaping the Rewards,” I take a look at the finished product of a crowdfunding campaign. Strike! The Game of Worker Rebellion was funded on Kickstarter in late 2019, and was shipped to backers in July 2020. I mentioned Strike! in a Kickstarter Tabletop Roundup back when the campaign was running but hadn’t gotten a chance to play it myself yet. TESA Collective sent me a finished copy to try out.
What Is Strike!?
Strike! is a cooperative game about fighting a megacorporation for 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, and takes about 45 to 60 minutes to play. It is available from the TESA Collective website for $45 (though currently there’s a $10 off sale). Since the game is cooperative, it’s possible to include younger players (my 7-year-old joined in on a game) with some assistance. The themes of the game are about protests, going on strike, and organizing workers, which may be good starting points for conversations with kids about the labor movement.
Strike! was designed by Brian Van Slyke and published by TESA Collective, with illustrations by T. L. Simons.
Here’s what comes in the box:
- 50 Striker meeples (10 each in blue, gray, orange, purple)
- 24 Drone cubes
- 5 MegaDrone meeples
- 4 Energy markers (hearts)
- 14 Victory markers (stars)
- 4 Player boards
- City board
- 36 Strike cards
- 22 Ally cards
- 36 Commercial Break cards
- 2 Score markers
- 16 Action tokens
- 12-sided die
Most of the wooden components are fairly standard shapes—discs, cubes, meeples, and so on—but the MegaDrone meeples aren’t one I’ve seen before. It looks a little like a silhouette of the robot from the old Lost in Space. It’s cute, though it’s a little odd that it doesn’t look like the MegaDrone illustrations, which have multiple arms (and would have been much more complex to make as meeples). The player colors are orange, purple, blue, and gray: not typical colors but presumably picked to help with color blindness, but I’m not sure if the purple and grey are easy to distinguish. The locations on the board are also divided into these four colors, with a bit of those colors on the illustrations. We found that it could be a little difficult to see the meeples when they’re on the matching colored locations.
The rest of the components are good quality but fairly standard—cards and boards. T. L. Simons’ illustrations really help bring the theme to life, with a futuristic take on occupations like firefighter, nurse, dockworker, and so on. The player boards are large double-sided cards, with different characters on each, side, and I like the diversity in the group in ethnicity, gender, and jobs.
The cards all have a bit of flavor text on them, even if just an evocative title as on the strike cards, which also helps to immerse players in the theme of the game. The commercial break cards are over-the-top MegaCorp evilspeak so they’re kind of funny, but many are also inspired by real-life corporate tactics.
How to Play Strike!
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The goal of the game is to abolish HappyCorp from Mercury City! (That is, score 15 points before MegaCorp scores 15 points or places its 6th MegaDrone on the board.)
Place the city board in the center of the play area, with the drones, MegaDrones, and victory markers nearby. Shuffle each deck of cards separately and place them next to the board. Place the score markers on 0 on the score tracks at the bottom of the board.
The city board is seeded with strikers and drones—normally, all but the central 4 locations will get a drone, and each player places 2 strikers in their home base (indicated on your player board). Depending on the difficulty level—there are 5 to choose from—you may start with more strikers and strike cards, or more drones (or even some MegaDrones).
Each player gets a player board and chooses which side to use, as well as the strikers in their color, 4 action cubes, energy marker, and 1 Strike card from the deck. The energy marker starts on 2 at the bottom of your player board.
The player who most recently yelled at their boss goes first.
On your turn, you get 4 actions, which can be spent on the 4 actions indicated on your player board: Grow Ranks, Mobilize, Draw, and Disassemble. Each of the action spaces indicates how many times you’re allowed to use that action space per turn. For instance, Skylar the nurse can only mobilize once per turn, but can grow ranks 3 times. Each character has a different mix.
Here are the actions:
- Grow Ranks: Add a striker to your home base or another location you occupy.
- Mobilize: Move a striker along the paths to an adjacent location.
- Draw: Draw a strike card or ally card (up to a maximum hand size of 4).
- Disassemble: Remove a regular drone from your location, or a MegaDrone if you have at least 3 strikers in its location.
You can also use ally and strike cards on your turn. Ally cards show one of the action symbols—place an action cube in that space, but instead of taking the action, apply the effect of the card instead (and then discard the card). Allies may provide the team with energy, movement, or other bonuses—most of the time, one of the bonuses is related to the action symbol used.
Strike cards have 2 action symbols, so you must put action cubes in both of those spaces to perform a strike. Strike cards place a victory marker (star) in the location and award points, and also allow one player to draw an ally card. The number of strikers required in the indicated location (and number of points awarded) depends on how many victory points are already in that location:
- First victory: 3 of your strikers, 1 point.
- Second victory: 5 strikers (at least 3 of your own), 2 points.
- Third victory: 7 strikers (at least 3 of your own), 3 points.
At the end of your turn, you must draw a commercial break card, which represents HappyCorp’s actions. The commercial break may cause you to lose energy, strikers, or cards. It will also direct you to roll the die, which indicates where you must place a new regular drone. If a drone is placed in your location, you must decide whether to remove a striker from that location or lose an energy. (If you have no energy, you must remove a striker.) If this would add a third drone to a location, remove the cubes and place a MegaDrone instead. HappyCorp then scores 1 point for each MegaDrone in locations of that color.
Some cards refer to a level, such as “roll die once per level”: as your score increases, you will move through levels 1, 2, and 3. Higher levels will make the commercial breaks harder.
If you run out of commercial break cards, roll 3 times at the end of your turn for new drones.
If you reach 15 points, you win! HappyCorp has been defeated and is abolished from Mercury City.
If HappyCorp reaches 15 points, or if you would need to place a 6th MegaDrone, you lose! Welcome to your job at HappyCity.
Why You Should Play Strike!
TESA (Toolbox for Education and Social Action) Collective has created a couple of cooperative games with themes about activism: Rise Up is about organizing to promote a cause; Space Cats Fight Fascism is a sci-fi game that’s somewhat silly but has a serious core. They work with organizations to build custom games and educational projects. And, sometimes, they make games that are just goofy fun, like Good Dog, Bad Zombie.
Strike! is their most recent title, and was created in partnership with Jobs With Justice, a labor rights organization, and the game definitely has a pro-labor message to it. There’s no “both sides” here. The Kickstarter campaign itself ran during a period when Kickstarter employees were forming a union. Although not everyone is a fan of unions, I do think it’s important to remember the ways that unions have made the workplace better for us today through their collective bargaining power, from lunch breaks to health insurance to weekends off. We celebrated Labor Day just a couple of weeks ago, but we don’t always stop to consider the resistance against unions while we’re having our picnics and perusing the holiday sales. Strike! puts the labor movement front and center, and also serves as a reminder that these conflicts aren’t just a thing of the past: workers today (and in the near-future, where the game takes place) are still at risk of being abused and exploited by corporations, and it takes a lot of work to preserve their rights.
I’ve played the three other titles by TESA Collective I mentioned above, and while I like them, it has primarily been because of their themes rather than the gameplay itself. The games feel functional but not fancy, so they might not be as attractive to tabletop gamers looking for something innovative. Strike! feels a bit more polished and more like a mainstream game than the others, from its gameplay to its artwork to its component quality. All of their games including Strike! have been printed in the US (some wooden or plastic components were sourced from China), which allows them to choose ethical manufacturers but with some trade-offs like flimsier boxes or lower card quality—but Strike! is more comparable to other games on my shelf, which may give it a better chance to find its way to those who aren’t already invested in the theme.
The gameplay for Strike! isn’t complicated, but it does have some aspects that allow for some challenging decisions and strategy. I like the various characters and their unique abilities and restrictions. Everyone gets access to the same four actions, but vary in how often they can do each action. Some can’t grow ranks as often, but may have some abilities that help them add strikers in other ways. Others aren’t great at disassembling drones, but they can find ways to make up for it by amassing strikers. The special abilities tend to help balance out their limitations.
The secondary abilities—unlocked when you have enough energy—are powerful, but it can be hard to maintain that level of energy. Some characters have ways to gain energy, but for the most part you get energy from ally cards. And there are a couple of ways to lose energy: through commercial break cards, or if a drone appears in your location. You’ll have to decide whether it’s worth spending energy to keep a striker in a key location, or lose the striker but keep enough energy to use your ability later.
Another trade-off you have to make throughout the game is when to use your action spaces as actions, and when to use them to play ally cards or strikes. This can be especially tricky when you draw an ally card that uses an action that you can only do once per turn—if you’re lucky, the ally card might still let you do that action and have a bonus, but that’s not always the case. Completing a strike card, however, sacrifices the two action spaces for points (plus an ally card).
Another thing you have to manage throughout the game is the balance between completing strikes and keeping a lid on the drones. Each commercial break will add 1 to 3 drones, depending on your level. You don’t want drones appearing where you have strikers, but the real danger zones are locations that already have 2 drones, because adding one there will convert them into a MegaDrone, which are harder to remove and give HappyCorp points. If you spend all of your actions moving around and removing drones, you’ll never move up on the score track. Eventually the commercial break deck runs out, and you’re placing 3 drones a turn, which really accelerates things. But if you ignore the drones and just chase after the strike opportunities, it won’t take long before Mercury City is completely overrun with drones.
There does seem to be an advantage in grouping your strikers: there’s a smaller probability that you’ll lose a striker to a drone if you’re not in several locations, and you need to have a group in order to pull off a strike. That seems nicely thematic, too, with strength in numbers. But clumping together also makes it hard to take down drones in other locations, especially if you don’t have a lot of movement. If you look at the map carefully and where the paths connect, you’ll see that they can be deceptively far apart. Corporate HQ and the financial district are both near the center of the board, but it takes 5 steps to move from one to the other.
I like the fact that you get more points for striking in the same place multiple times. It takes more strikers to accomplish, but getting 3 points for a victory is still much more efficient. You can use the draw action to dig through the Strike deck, though I have to admit I haven’t used that technique as much myself, and have relied mostly on luck to see if I happen to get a repeat location. It’s especially effective if the strikers were already assembled in a location, and you just have to bring a few more, rather than if it happens later in the game and everyone has already dispersed.
I managed to play a few times with friends over videochat. Visibility was a little difficult for my remote players (the meeples tended to blend into the backgrounds) but overall the gameplay worked well because I could move the pieces for them and there wasn’t any hidden information. If you have alpha players who tend to take over decisions for everyone in a cooperative game, you may have to make some adjustments, but my groups were pretty good at collaborating.
As a parent, I found that Strike! was a good way to spark a conversation about workers and corporations. My 7-year-old is still a little young to really grasp a lot of it, but she does have some understanding of protests and strikes and marches. The commercial break cards often make cheerful claims with some obviously sinister intentions—my hope is that the jokes on these cards will help her to see through corporate doublespeak when she encounters it in real life. Meanwhile, my teenager is already familiar with the way we wrestle with things like the ethics of buying something from Amazon or trading our data for discounts on a product, so she was totally on board with the idea of sticking it to The Man. In fact, after playing, she introduced me to the song “The Fine Print” by The Stupendium, which I think makes an excellent pairing with Strike! (Fair warning, it may make you sad.)
I’ve tried out a few of the different difficulty levels for Strike! and had some victories and defeats. I won once on Very Hard, but that may have been a fluke, since I’ve lost on Hard the past two plays—though it was a close game. It is nice that you can adjust the difficulty level easily just by adjusting the setup.
Overall, I think Strike! works well both as a cooperative game with a hint of a sci-fi theme, and as a conversation starter about the labor movement. It feels like there are plenty of games in which players are the corporations, maximizing profits and exploiting resources and labor, but not many that take the worker’s perspective into account. Strike! is a rare exception to that rule, and is worth checking out, especially if you like the theme.
For more information or to order a copy, visit the TESA Collective website!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.