The Price of Coal weaves a historical story of labour rights in West Virginia’s coal country
Explore the beginning of the state’s hard road to unionisation through card-based storytelling.
Live through a period of rising tensions just before the US government sent federal troops to quash a workers’ uprising in new card-based storytelling RPG The Price of Coal, whose setting draws on the real events surrounding the Battle of Blue Mountain in 1921.
Created by game designer Jennifer Adcock, The Price of Coal leads three to five players through a GM-less narrative RPG that unfolds over a single session. Each participant will embody the role of both a West Virginian coal miner and one of the townspeople or relatives of another miner, acting out scenes in pairs or a group based on card prompts.
The design is inspired by other card-based tabletop RPGs, such as Avery Alder’s The Quiet Year and For the Queen, Alex Roberts’ tale of knights and attachés reevaluating their relationships to a shared monarch. Each turn, one player draws a card with a scene prompt on it and then chooses which of their two characters will act it out, with other players joining in as feels appropriate. Characters are portrayed on their own cards, illustrated by artist Jaqueline Florencio.
Gradually, the interconnected web of relationships - grudges, debts, love, and responsibility - takes shape, along with the simmering frustrations of a work force held captive by the owners of the highly profitable coal mines dotting the mountains and hills of their homes. The game ends at the Battle of Blair Mountain, where the fate of all will be decided just as the US Army descends against the United Mine Workers union.
The events portrayed in The Price of Coal took place throughout 1920 and 1921 when a coalition of coal workers began organizing to demand more safety and pay for the grueling and deadly work necessary to extract coal from West Virginia’s earth. Coal mining towns were notorious for the insular and suffocating control exerted by the companies - they often owned nearly every resource, public service and store, paying miners in scrip that could only be spent at businesses owned by the company.
The result was an extraction of wealth alongside the coal, and frustration boiled over when the miners revolted in 1921. Martial law was declared, and army troops brought in surplus WWI aerial bombers and munitions to silence the workers. The Battle of Blair Mountain lasted nine days and claimed the lives of roughly 100 miners. “A century may have passed since the battle, but the fight for workers’ rights continues to this day,” the crowdfunding page reads.
The workers creating this grim reminder of a game include designer and editor Camdon Wright, project manager Kate Bullock, layout artists Miguel Angel Espinoza and editor Jessica Mifsud.
The Price of Coal’s Kickstarter campaign runs through September 15th (launching on the day the Battle of Blair Mountain began) and offers a digital and physical edition for $20 (£15) and $25 (£18), respectively. Due to global shipping crisis, it will only be available in the US at first, with Indie Press Revolution planning to stock copies for international fulfillment after the campaign.