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Co-opoly offers all-for-one alternative to capitalism

  • Members of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, from left, David Morgan, Brian Van Slyke, Andrew Stachiw and Taliesin Nyala, meet over a game of Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives in the group's Northampton headquarters.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Members of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, from left, David Morgan, Brian Van Slyke, Andrew Stachiw and Taliesin Nyala, meet over a game of Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives in the group's Northampton headquarters.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Members of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, have developed and released Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Members of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, have developed and released Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • A player draws a social card during a round of Co-opoly. The game has many elements reminiscent of tthe long-popular Monopoly.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    A player draws a social card during a round of Co-opoly. The game has many elements reminiscent of tthe long-popular Monopoly.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Toolbox for Education and Social Action has developed and released Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Toolbox for Education and Social Action has developed and released Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Toolbox for Education and Social Action has developed and released Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Toolbox for Education and Social Action has developed and released Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Andrew Stachiw, a member of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, talks about the creation of Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Andrew Stachiw, a member of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, talks about the creation of Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Brian Van Slyke, a member of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, talks about the creation of Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Brian Van Slyke, a member of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, talks about the creation of Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Toolbox for Education and Social Action, or TESA, has developed and released Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Toolbox for Education and Social Action, or TESA, has developed and released Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Taliesin Nyala, a member of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, talks about Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Taliesin Nyala, a member of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, talks about Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • David Morgan, a member of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, talks about Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    David Morgan, a member of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, talks about Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Members of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, from left, David Morgan, Brian Van Slyke, Andrew Stachiw and Taliesin Nyala, meet over a game of Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives in the group's Northampton headquarters.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Members of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, have developed and released Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • A player draws a social card during a round of Co-opoly. The game has many elements reminiscent of tthe long-popular Monopoly.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Toolbox for Education and Social Action has developed and released Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Toolbox for Education and Social Action has developed and released Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Andrew Stachiw, a member of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, talks about the creation of Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Brian Van Slyke, a member of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, talks about the creation of Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Toolbox for Education and Social Action, or TESA, has developed and released Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Taliesin Nyala, a member of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, talks about Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • David Morgan, a member of TESA, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, talks about Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

Odds are you’ve played it — perhaps many times. After all, Monopoly, at least when judged by sales, is considered the most popular board game in history, with an estimated 270 million copies sold since its debut in the United States in 1935.

But a local nonprofit group founded by two Hampshire College graduates has created the antithesis of Monopoly: a board game in which players work together to build a successful cooperative business, rather than each player trying to create a solitary financial empire by bankrupting his or her opponents.

Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives is the main calling card of Toolbox for Education and Social Action, a small cooperative business in Northampton that Brian Van Slyke and Andrew Stachiw formed after they graduated from Hampshire in 2010. Their aim is to provide a number of services, from digital design to educational workshops, to other businesses or groups looking to form their own cooperatives or build a more participatory workplace.

With Co-opoly, a game that Van Slyke first envisioned as part of his Senior Project at Hampshire, he and Stachiw say they found a way to advance that theme both to organizations and to others in a fun, informative way. And to design, print and publish their game, they also relied on the help of other cooperative businesses like Collective Copies of Amherst and Florence.

“We wanted the game to reflect our ideals and ethics,” said Van Slyke. “That meant getting all the parts for it from U.S. manufacturers, using recycled materials when we could, and getting other cooperatives involved in the production.” They also drew on the work of a local artist, Hampshire alumna Molly McLeod, to design Co-opoly’s graphics.

All for one

The game, like Monopoly, has a colorful board on which players move a game piece around with the roll of a die; players pull action cards from different decks when they land on specific spots and then must make decisions based on the information on the cards. The game includes “Pay Day” spots on which, like passing “Go” in Monoploy, players collect money, and a year-end sequence where players assess the state of their business.

But unlike in Monopoly, all decisions in Co-opoly are made collectively by players, and there’s only one actual game piece, though each player takes a turn rolling the die and moving it. The aim of the game is to build a successful-enough cooperative that players can open a second co-op business by game’s end. Along the way, they make decisions about things real businesses face, like buying health insurance for employees or upgrading equipment.

“We wanted this to be instructional but also fun,” said Stachiw. “Our own business is run as a co-op, and we can face decisions very much like the ones you come up against in the game. And there have been plenty of times when we think, ‘How did we do this in the game? That should be the guide for us.’ ”

For their first printing of Co-opoly, which they did late last year, TESA raised $35,000, primarily through fundraising and some grants, and made 1,000 copies. They’re currently raising a similar amount for a second printing but are looking to produce 2,000 games this time (the size of the box will be smaller).

The first batch has come close to selling out, Stachiw said, and copies have sold across the country as well as abroad, to families, college students, other co-ops and to schools and educational groups. The basic price is $50, but TESA offers a sliding scale for the game for people who can’t afford that, or for those who can pay a little more.

Van Slyke and Stachiw have also taken on two other Hampshire graduates and friends, Tailiesin Nyala and David Morgan, to handle communications and web design, respectively, among other things,

“We’re not trying to make (the game) a big profit-making venture,” said Nyala. “We want to use it as a way of showing that creating a co-op, running a business on a different model, is something that is very doable.”

Strict principles

The origin of Co-opoly took root in a Hampshire College classroom. Van Slyke, who was studying the history of cooperative businesses in the U.S., was trying to come up with a participatory exercise to show how co-ops and other forms of democratic decision making can work. That exercise slowly morphed into the idea of making a board game, Van Slyke said.

Initially, he worked on it on his own, then with Stachiw. The two did months of testing, taking their prototype to co-op conventions and other settings and working players’ feedback into revisions of the game, before deciding to publish it. Though they didn’t set out to make a direct counterpoint to Monopoly, Van Slyke said, that game “was in the background in a certain way.”

They learned relying entirely on U.S.-made products would make Co-opoly more expensive. A package of 1,000 dice from China, for instance, costs about $50, including shipping, Van Slyke said, while the same number from a U.S. manufacturer goes for $750 — shipping not included.

But it was a cost they were willing to absorb. They also drew heavily on suppliers from within 70 miles of Northampton to acquire or manufacture most of the game’s components, such as the four different decks of cards. Creating this specialized supply chain wasn’t easy, Stachiw said, but in the end was worth it.

“I think that’s one of the things we’re really proudest about,” said Stachiw, who studied American history at Hampshire and became licensed to teach the subject. “We didn’t come to this with any background in business ... We had to invent the supply chain and figure this whole thing out along the way. But we did it without taking out any loans or going into debt.”

And when it came to collating the hundreds of thousands of pieces into finished, boxed games late last fall, Stachiw said, TESA got enormous help from friends and other volunteers, who over five days crowded into TESA’s office in the Maplewood shops to prepare the game for shipping.

“That was really in keeping with the spirit of the game,” said Stachiw.

Alternative message

Co-opoly is about more than making decisions on how to build a cooperative business. In the game, players must successfully pass a number of tests that also challenge their creative skills. For instance, one of the four card decks requires players to take turns playing charades, doing simple drawings or conducting word puzzles; other players have 30 seconds to guess what the answers are, or the collective loses money.

Money is actually represented by “points,” which everyone receives at the start of the game and during other occasions, based on “character” cards players get specifying their age, income, and numbers of children (if any). But points are not just accumulated separately. The co-op has its own bank, and the game allows players to share their incomes with each other if an individual player is struggling financially.

That kind of cooperation is critical in the game, TESA members says, because if one player doesn’t have enough to feed his or her children or pay the bills, the co-op business fails — and everyone loses.

“I think that message is one of the best things about the game,” said Van Slyke. “This idea that we’re all in this together is important. Look at how bad things are with the economy right now. There is an alternative with cooperatives.”

To find out more about Co-opoly and TESA, visit toolboxfored.org.

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