A devastating history lesson awaits.
The year is 1933, and Hitler has just been made Chancellor of Germany. I’m Harro Tiedke, a 32-year-old anarchist with stubble, glasses, and a cigarette permanently affixed between my lips. Alongside my friends and allies – a mish-mash of doctors, social democrats, and those the Nazis would deem undesirable – I’m doing everything I can to resist.
Through the Darkest of Times is a strategic resource management game from Paintbucket Games in which you recruit people into the resistance in Nazi Germany to complete different tasks laid out on a map. This can be collecting donations, distributing flyers, joining public protests, or pretty much anything that can disrupt the Nazi regime.
Each recruit has a different backstory and a rating in three skills: Secrecy, Empathy, and Propaganda. Different tasks benefit from high ratings in these skills, and the higher they are coupled with the more people you assign to a task increases the percentage chance of it succeeding.
After amassing some revolutionary supplies, recruiting comrades, and attending my first public protest, I make my way home and notice a mysterious figure that appears to be following me. I dive into a bar and watch the patrons for a while before settling in my small flat. I gaze out into the street for a while and see the same shadowy figure watching me. He looks up at my window for a moment and leaves. Brief scenes like these play out from time to time, as the SS begin to clue into my insurgency. It’s not long before brownshirts knock down my door and take me in for questioning.
It’s a pretty tough game to sit through. A title so thoroughly grounded in such a turbulent history will always be, but a title that accomplishes so much within this setting even more so. Each turn lasts a week in-game, and between them you’re given a selection of newspaper headlines updating you on the goings-on under Hitler’s rule. Ten minutes in on the show floor at Rezzed, I see the first report mentioning concentration camps. It’s like a gut punch from reality, and depressingly relevant in a world where Fascism is once again on the rise.
Publisher HandyGames’ PR Manager Florian Emmerich tells me that Through the Darkest of Times is a direct response to this resurgence, and is the developers’ “weapon of choice.” “They are game designers, so what can they do to oppose the right-wing movements on the rise?” Emmerich explains. “Make a game!”
The black and white colour scheme with smatterings of red for points of interest reminds me of Schindler’s List and the regalia of the Nazi party, and turns out to be a deliberate homage. “We think it fits perfectly with the game,” Florian tells me. Through the Darkest of Time’s aesthetic also draws direct inspiration from the style popular in the 1920’s Weimar Republic. “Not following it directly, but this is where the inspiration comes from.”
A week of interrogation and solitary confinement goes by, and the SS can’t find any evidence to charge me, so I’m released. One of my comrades tells me that his wife is pregnant, and he’s worried about what might happen if he gets taken away and his child grows up without a father. I convince him to keep going, because a Germany with the Nazis in power is no place for a child to live. After the day’s activities, I’m drinking in a bar when masses of crowds rush out to find smoke and a bright orange glow illuminating the night sky. The Reichstag is burning.
“We are showing history as it was,” Florian tells me. Quite a large chunk of Through the Darkest of Times’ audience will already know the parallels between its events and those of today, but Paintbrush Games hopes that those who might not will play the game and think more carefully. “We called it the ‘Darkest Times,’ and I think that’s not only for Germany but for all of mankind. I don’t wanna go back to that time, nobody really wants that. Hopefully, some people who play the game, they will maybe think twice. That would be the best we could achieve.”
Half of my team is arrested and taken in for questioning. I likely won’t see them for weeks, or perhaps never again. I’m stretched thin. Nondescript figures in swastika-laden uniforms are dotted about the map. I can’t interact with them, they just stand there. Looming. It makes me feel trapped. Like my days are numbered.
Still, I must push on, I can’t give in. I walk past a shop on the way home, surrounded by brownshirts brandishing signs declaring the owner a “known jew.” I wrestle my way inside. The owner seems hesitant to sell me anything, lest the men outside take issue and assault me, but I insist. Not long after I return home, I’m taken in for questioning again. This time, I don’t come back.
Through The Darkest of Times is currently slated for a Steam release, but when we’ll be getting our hands on it is still to be announced.
Astrid is a formidable foe that has studied the art of the keyboard for many years. Her primary subjects of interest include labour rights in the games industry, really weird and artsy indie games, and adding “but Communism” to the ends of game titles as a means of coming up with ideas for what to write about.