July 22, 2011

Review: Politics - Unpretenious Package But Packs Plenty of Punch


There are only a few topics that are commonly understood to be taboo during discussions at work or in public areas, at least in the United States: sex, religion, and politics. There are some valid reasons for this forbiddance, most notably that most wars that are waged are because of these subjective topics. The fate of the Earth even seemed to come into question due to a significant difference in political ideals during the Cold War and the threat of nuclear winter. Politics, designed by John Ruf under No Mana Games, won't put the fate of humanity in the palms of power hungry politicians, it will, however, cause debates, strife, and backstabbing (so choose your players carefully)!

Critical Gamers would like to extend a special thank you to John Ruf for supplying us the review copy.

The Game
Politics is a card game for 3-5 players, ages 12+ and takes about 30-60 minute to play (as if you couldn't see that on the image!). The whole purpose of the game is to collect five victory point tokens before the other players. This is achieved in a number of ways, but mostly by fulfilling secret objectives that are dealt out at the beginning of the game. The secret objectives typically involve using the other major mechanics of voting on bills and the kickbacks that are received when a bill passes.

Game Pieces
Of all the areas of Politics, this is the piece that needs the most work. Politics is an indie title that was self-published by John through the print on demand game publishing service The Game Crafter. This fact is pretty self evident when examining the game pieces. While not bad per say, they are lacking. I think there is a lot of possibility to expand upon the art, style, and quality of what is provided. I understand that to produce high quality items for an indie title is difficult and expensive; so I try not to fault the game on this aspect but use it as a marker for places for the title to grow in any future iterations.

Some examples are that the different types of cards are only identified by the name on the backside of them. This could be expanded upon by adding different styles for each of the cards, like using the image of The Bill on Capitol Hill from Schoolhouse Rock! Seriously though, there are plenty of possibilities and examples from released titles out there that have different types of cards that can be definitively distinguished from one another due to art (I'm looking at you Talisman and Arkham Horror). One aspect that I do enjoy is that there are funny little quips at the bottom of the objective and kickback cards.

The only other pieces that are included in the game are a rules page and two different colored chips. The chips are fairly standard small sized poker chips. The rules are deceptively simple although it took me about 2 full reads to get it. It helped a lot to just go through the rules as we went through a round. Although be careful if you do that, you might miss the rule of passing influence.


So here is where Politics, despite its decidedly indie presentation, really stands out. At the start of the game each player is dealt five Objective cards, 10 influence tokens, and the group votes on who will be "the president". So before the game even really starts, there is the potential for debate and animosity between the group. Note that being the president is not trivial so this decision must be weighed carefully. The person whom the group has chosen to be president then chooses two Bill cards from the face down draw pile. The Bills come in three different colors: red, green, and blue which will correspond to the player's objectives. The Bills themselves have a variety of effects on one player, many players, or all players (the image above is an example of a Bill). The president then picks one of the two bills that were drawn and places the other on the top or bottom of the draw deck. The president calls out the target player, reads the proposed bill and play then begins on the player clockwise of the president.

That player has three different options: request a Kickback, abstain, or call for an immediate vote. If that player chooses to request a Kickback or abstain, the same three options are then given to the next clockwise player. This continues until one of the players calls an immediate vote or all players have requested Kickbacks or abstained. At this point a vote will commence with players going around the room and vote YAY or NAY on the bill, majority wins. If the bill passes then the following things occur: the effects of the bill are resolved, players who have requested a Kickback as their action reveal their card and resolve the effects, and then any player who has successfully achieved one of their objectives can reveal it and gain a victory point. Players then count their influence tokens and the player with the highest amount becomes the president and a new round is played.

What makes this game what it is are the effects of the Bills and Kickbacks. First, having to target a player with a Bill as the president really can start some rivalries between the players. When a player gets their vote taken away from them, it really stirs things up. Once you start messing with someone's ability to make decisions in this game, the frustration sets in. When you add that with the uncertainty of the Kickbacks the game doesn't have many dull moments.

Final Thoughts
When I first received the small package from John Ruf and The Game Crafters, I was a bit skeptical about what type of experience the cards and chips might hold. After finally convincing some family and friends to give the game the "good 'ole college try" we were pleasantly surprised about the experience that lies within. However, I think this game has a specific targeted audience as it can be vicious in its mechanics and between the players. Personally, I enjoyed it and will continue to push co-workers and friends to play it with me. The one biggest issue about the game contents is that there are not enough cards to play. We ended up recycling the decks in about every play session. It's not too significant due to only needing five victory points to win, but loses some replay value on seeing the same cards in every play. One good way to add cards would be to expand upon the voting system a little more. There were only a few instances that had vote changes and this could be expanded upon for both the Bills and the Kickbacks. Either way, we enjoyed the game and with a little expansion to the content and updates to the art, Politics will have a broader market appeal and higher replayability. Critical Gamers gives Politics a 3.5 out of 5.

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Posted by Critical Gamers Staff at July 22, 2011 10:24 PM

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