Political Animals is a genuinely entertaining game. Moreover, it’s one of the slowly growing collection of digital board games that fully embraces the capacity of what board games can do when all the fiddly bits are automated and can therefore be as complicated as they like.
The underlying game is relatively simple. You are attempting to win an election on a small island. The island is divided up into districts. Each district will be interested in two of five broad issues such as education or law and order. They also have a certain level of interest in these issues. So you can deploy people to hold rallies to raise awareness of certain issues then campaign for your chosen politician on the back of them. There is another candidate roaming around competing for votes and there are various other actions you can do to mess with them. You can plant scandals, then report on them. You can threaten people which will cause a worker to miss an action and various other things.
Do I sound unenthusiastic? It’s not intentional, there are lots of really, really solid ideas on display here and as a game, it works quite well.
So I’m just going to say something here, at roughly the midpoint of this review that I genuinely recommend Political Animals. It is a game where all of the pieces essentially work. I take a bus trip every week, from Glasgow to Aberdeen. It takes me approximately three and a half hours. Last time I made the journey, I played it for most of the way there. I will probably do the same this weekend.
Here’s the thing though. This is explicitly a satirical game and Squeaky Wheel released it immediately before a hugely controversial election. That’s brave and that’s important and we absolutely need more of it, yes, even with the amount of “satirical politics” games there are out in the buildup to the election, we need more games that engage in satirising politics. Because games are a genuine legitimate art form that can do anything and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
This is explicitly a satirical game and Squeaky Wheel released it immediately before a hugely controversial election. That’s brave and that’s important and we absolutely need more of it.
So you have my recommendation, Political Animals, but it comes with a caveat. Your satire is fine, but the political process it’s satirising is hugely outdated and way too broadly drawn. I’m not going to talk particularly much about the various political events of the year so far other than to say that we’re probably going to need a lot more satirists in the near future. Video games are finally in a position where some of those people, those vital cultural voices can be us.
So go my readers and buy Political Animals, it’s cheap as chips, actually quite fun and genuinely clever. Squeaky Wheel? Back to the lab with you. Watch all of Yes, Minister, all of The Thick of It, all of House of Cards and all of The Wire. Read about everything that has happened in politics in the last eight years, around the world. I want to see what you do with Political Animals 2 and I want it to be even better. If Political Animals 2 is better than Political Animals 1, I will give you a gold star. You like gold stars right? Everyone likes gold stars.
AND THAT BLOODY MUSIC HAS GOT TO GO!