1933 Berlin. As the Nazi party rises to power, lines are drawn in the sand to separate who is German and who is not. This line runs straight through marriages between Jewish and “Aryan” Germans. Over an in-game decade, players explore how the Reich’s racial policies, restrictions, and violence strip away liberty, security, and dignity for these families.
Though their marriages initially shelter them, the Jewish men in these partnerships will not escape. When they are finally seized for deportation, the women in their lives have one last chance to keep them alive. To do so, they must stand up and defy the Third Reich.
In the very heart of darkness, is such resistance even possible?
Rosenstrasse is an elegaic, immersive historical role-playing game for four players and one facilitator. It explores marriages between Jewish and “Aryan” Germans in Berlin between 1933 and 1943, and culminates in the eponymous women-led protests. Each player takes the role of two characters, at least one of whom is Jewish and at least one of whom is female. As a result, players experience this story of persecution and resistance from multiple perspectives.
No prior knowledge of history is needed to play Rosenstrasse, nor does prior knowledge prevent enjoyment of the game. The game has been successfully play-tested with everyone from historians and Holocaust educators to people who knew almost nothing about the history. Similarly, you do not have to be an experienced role-player to enjoy the game. It is accessible both to long-time role-players, and to people who have never role-played before.
Instead of historical expertise, we ask players to bring human expertise to bear. Each character is paired with another as spouse or sibling. For example, Max and Annaliese are young, romantic, economically vulnerable lovers; Ruth and Izak are siblings who embody close-knit family bonds, but who are treated very differently by the Reich. These relationships are at the heart of the game. If you have cared about another person as a friend, family member, or romantic partner, then you have the expertise you need to play.
Rosenstrasse is designed for four players and a facilitator. It runs as a one-shot in approximately four hours, and comes with everything needed for play. Facilitators will benefit from reading the game materials before running the game, but players can simply pick it up and get started.
The game is scene-based and highly structured. It comes with eight pre-generated characters and a set of more than eighty scenes for those characters to encounter. Each scene is targeted to one or more specific characters, and begins with a description of the situation these characters face. The players are then presented with a prompt for their characters to react to, or a question for them to answer. The facilitator guides their responses to remain consistent with historical reality, and helps draw out thematically appropriate elements during play.
While the scenes themselves are pre-generated, we have designed prompts that give players substantial emotional latitude in how they respond. Will your character retain their dignity in the face of humiliation, or collapse in shame? Will they turn to their love as a shelter from suffering, or grow to resent their partner? These are the decisions that you, the players, will make. In turn, your choices affect which scenes are included in a particular run of the game, and you will determine the fate that the male characters meet at the end of play.
Here’s what comes in the boxed set of Rosenstrasse.
Facilitator’s guide (center)
The Rosenstrasse book helps the facilitator run the game. It contains all information needed to play, including instructions for the pre-game workshops and post-game debrief. The book also includes guidance for the facilitator on how to run each individual scene, helping them keep it appropriate to the tone and theme of the game.
While we recommend that facilitators read through the book before running the game, we’ve incorporated instructional design principles to make the book accessible on-the-spot. If your group wants to, you can pick this up and immediately be ready to play.
Character cards (left)
Character cards provide background information about each character in the game, such as their religion, how they spend their time, and whether they have children. Character cards also define the relationships between playable characters. For example, Max Edelman’s character card explains how much he adores his wife Annaliese, and her character card reveals that she feels the same way about him.
Each player receives two characters, one male and one female. Siblings and spouses are played by different players, as shown below. Each player, therefore, has two very different relationships to explore with two different play partners at the table.
Scenario deck (bottom)
The scenario deck contains all the scenes from the game, and is the core driver of play. Each card contains a different scene, beginning with the scene-setting text and ending with the question or prompt for the characters. Some cards have special instructions, such as Update cards that provide new information or Complicity cards that put the player in the role of Germans complicit with the regime.
While the information on the cards is also included in the facilitator’s guidebook, the cards allow the group to run the game quickly and easily. The group simply moves through the deck, playing out scenes as directed on each card.
Risk matrix (right)
The risk matrix is a tool for the facilitator that tracks the vulnerability of the Jewish men in the scenario, depending on the choices the characters make. The facilitator is instructed to keep the risk matrix secret from players, just as people living under the Reich did not always understand how they would be treated by the state. The risk matrix affects the outcomes for the male characters of Rosenstrasse, and determines whether certain scenes are encountered.
Star tokens (not shown)
In 1941, all remaining Jews over the age of six were required to wear a yellow star. We capture this historical development by including star tokens with the game. These tokens are distributed to those characters who are considered Jewish by the Reich - which does not always align with those characters who consider themselves Jewish. In the portions of the game that take place after 1941, characters who wear the star must show their token before entering a scene.
IMPORTANT NOTE FOR BACKERS IN GERMANY: In accordance with German Criminal Code 86A individuals backing from Germany will not receive the yellow star tokens in fulfillment. Non-representative print and play substitutes will be provided as an alternative for these backers, and for anyone else who requires a suitable alternative.
Postcards (not shown)
At the end of the game, some characters have the opportunity to send postcards to their loved ones. We enclose a set of printed postcards with period photographs to use in your game.
If we make our stretch goals, we will be able to include additional items in the box, so keep an eye on this page!
Games can broaden our perspectives, for example by revealing the lost and forgotten histories of women, by centering marginalized historical experiences, and by providing a multiplicity of perspectives rather than a single dominant narrative. Walter Benjamin called this process “brushing history against the grain,” and remains critical today. Brushing history against the grain is a political act meant to allow us to re-imagine our past, understand our present, and create our future. Through historical role-play, players can be invited to participate in this process.
One challenge of Holocaust media is that it often flattens Jewish lives into a single story of victimhood. Not only does this dishonor the complexity of Jewish lives, it also allows non-Jews to implicitly cast themselves as the heroic saviors of the helpless Jewish people. Rosenstrasse seeks to brush history “against the grain,” recovering the lesser-known stories of women during wartime. However, focusing only on the women of the Rosenstrasse story would play into the dominant narrative of the non-Jewish rescuer, when in fact the vast majority of Germans were either complicit with or actively participating in the Nazi regime. By requiring every player to have two characters, one a Jewish man and one a protesting woman, we were able to focus on the heroism of the women while still centering Jewish voices.
Previous research on Holocaust education games has shown that while such games have potential, they also risk trivializing the Holocaust, or having players learn the wrong things from the experience. We have therefore playtested our game with over 150 players in five countries, including a formal qualitative research study with 18 subjects. Our players have included both professional historians and educators, and people who previously believed the Holocaust was a hoax; both expert role-players and novice gamers; both the descendants of Holocaust survivors, and the descendants of perpetrators and collaborators.
Our findings show that Rosenstrasse is a transformational and highly effective experience. For example, after playing, many players say they now understand why Jews did not simply “just leave” Germany. Other players cite the game as a spur to activism on behalf of the oppressed, even months after play. Almost every group conducted spontaneous historical research after the game ended, and multiple players reported visiting the Rosenstrasse memorial in Berlin because of their experience in the game. These are exceptional results for a transformational game, and we are therefore looking to bring it to a wider audience.
We have an incredible lineup of stretch goals if we are able to raise the money. Here are the first few to give you a taste of what is coming. New stretch goal targets will be revealed as we get closer to funding our base goal.
As our first stretch goal, we will create a companion ebook to use alongside the game. We have recruited an incredible lineup of people to contribute, including role-playing experts, historians, learning theorists, activists, and more.
As our first stretch goal, the book will include the following:
- An essay on the Rosenstrasse protests from world-renowned historian Nathan Stoltzfus
- An essay on the power dynamics of marriage from ground-breaking game designer Avery Alder
- An essay on the role of games in activism from life-long non-profit leader Dana Gold
- An essay on historical games from field-defining game researcher Kurt Squire
- An essay on "upstander" education from innovative Holocaust educator Jackie Reese
- An essay on perspective-taking from behavior change expert Geoff Kaufman
- An essay on the value of retelling stories from trailblazing historical game designer Julia Ellingboe
- An essay about developing empathy in games from pioneering scholar Karen Schrier
- An essay on Jewishness and game design from not-so-secret superhero Benjamin Rosenbaum
- A reprint of the Manifesto for a Ludic Century by designer-provocateur Eric Zimmerman
- An essay on our research with Rosenstrasse, from the designers and research team
If we reach our first stretch goal, all backers at the $18 level or above will receive a digital copy of the Contributor’s Guide. As part of future stretch goals, we have additional essays to announce - we hope we are able to showcase some of our remarkable contributors!
A full game of Rosenstrasse is a transformational experience, but it is also a substantial time commitment. We know that people have complicated lives, and gathering five players for four hours is not always easy. For this stretch goal, we will produce a two player version of the game that runs in less than two hours. Find a friend and get a taste for the game - then try the full version when you’re ready.
If we reach this goal, the two-player version of the game will be delivered digitally to all backers at the $18 level or above.
As our third stretch goal, we will produce a pin with our key takeaway from the game - Resistance is Possible. We will be including a collector enamel pin in every physical copy of the game with our key takeaway from the campaign: Resistance Is Possible. This pin is currently planned to look like the following mock-up, with the text and the Rosenstrasse female silhouette on a black metal background with raised lettering and border. This text honors the idea that active resistance against antisemitism, bigotry, and xenophobia in all its forms is possible - and that we must never again let that kind of hate and injustice take hold of our world.
At 500 Backers, we will be also be including a second enamel pin as a companion to the first! On this one, the male silhouette is featured on a black metal background with raised lettering that reads "Continuity Is Resistance". This text honors the idea that the descendants of survivors of the Holocaust continue to live, and celebrates Jewish lives everywhere. Waking up every day as a Jew, and continuing to survive and thrive, is a type of resistance all its own.
... and more to come!
Risks and challenges
Rosenstrasse is nearly ready to go. In 2017, we produced a limited edition version of the game that has been played at festivals around the world, and that was also used for playtesting and research. Based on what we learned, we made major revisions to the game text and flow for the Kickstarter edition. These changes are already complete. We are now updating the layout and form factor of the game to make it as easy as possible for you, our players, to use.
Moyra has previously run a successful Kickstarter for the first War Birds book, an anthology of six games about women in World War II. While Jessica hasn’t run a Kickstarter before, she’s had over fifteen years of professional experience as a game designer and consultant, so she knows how to get games out the door. We’ve put together a terrific team to help us with the areas where we don’t have as much personal expertise, in particular layout and logistics. We also have incredible, highly experienced advisors giving us guidance.
Throughout the process of making our game, we have engaged with Holocaust education experts, historians, game researchers, and other stakeholders, including second- and third-generation descendants of survivors. As we continue the final revisions to our work, we will continue to work with these individuals and groups to make sure our work is both respectful and effective.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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