21 November 2020
One way to enjoy politics!
If you’re bored of politics on the telly, social media, and everywhere else, turn it off, and take your turn at being the political puppet master
Lets get it out of the way. Twilight Struggle is the political boardgame that seeks to make you warm up to the Cold War. A fast game of controlling countries through the use of spies and politicians. Play cards from your hand to gain influence, or reduce that of your opponents. With a defcon status to worry about, as well as military ops and a space race track. It’s more or less what everyone wants Risk to be.
Politics is often more palatable when it’s being carried out on the back of a dragon. So here we have the intrigue of Westeros laid out before us. Take control of the regions and cities of the realm using the twin arts of charm and violence. Make an alliance with your friends, only to backstab them later, when convenient. You might not have a friend anymore, but at least you have Winterfell. It’s the closest you’re going to get to actually pushing around symbolic stags, wolves and dragons in a big fantasy war tent.
3. A War of Whispers
If all the mud is a bit much, why not go for the quieter, cleaner, but equally as deadly A War of Whispers? Play as the secret society of right-hand men and women who look to gain purchase within the slippery world of rising and falling empires. Play to your empire’s strengths to ensure their survival, and undermine the attempts of your enemies to make theirs outlast. The real benefit of this game is that it is much shorter than many games of epic political struggle, taking place over just four snappy rounds.
Rome is the home of many of our ideas of modern politics. In this interpretation, your goal is to gain influence throughout the city and beyond. With the military, construction, shipping and the forum represented it can feel a bit fiddly, but with that comes the feeling of slowly nudging along a great machine. If politics is about encouraging the avalanche to fall on the right side of the mountain, then Trajan is the ideal version of that.
Politics isn’t all about backstabbing. It just feels like it. Occasionally those in charge are forced to do something good, usually in the face of disaster. Thus, we have Lisboa, where you play out the nobles working as part of the reconstruction after the earthquake of 1755. As a member of nobility, it’s not entirely a kindness that you’re involved, instead, you’re trying to curry favour and gather wigs. That’s right, wigs. We told you it wasn’t all about backstabbing.
6. Crusader Kings
This is the last ‘move some chaps about with swords’ game in the list. We promise. Based on the huge and expansive Crusader Kings videogame, famous for its extreme gritty fidelity to the spiderweb of royal houses, and the intrigue between them. And then there’s a bit of war too. Oh, and religion. The tabletop version focuses on the grooming of your bloodline side of things, which is as joyously creepy as it sounds.
A political game for the masses, or for those with masses of friends. Secret Hitler is a game for 5-10 people set in 1930’s Germany. The group is split into fascists and liberals, and a ‘Secret Hitler’ is chosen. Hilter doesn’t know who the fascists are, the fascists know who Hitler and the liberals are, and the liberals don’t know who anyone is. The game is then played out by electing a chancellor, who attempts to pass a law from a random deck. The goal of the liberal is to pass liberal policies or kill Hitler, fascists the opposite and to elect him. A deeply dramatic (and silly) game of insidious politics.
8. Pax Pamir
Cole Wherle’s dive into the power structure of nineteenth century Afghanistan. The game focuses on the Afghanis resistance and manipulation of the European powers which attempted to make their land a proxy for their own scuffles. Sound familiar? It’s a tableau builder, but one that expresses power excellently by offering ways to interfere with other players. It’s also the most delicious looking game in this list.
Coup, and all of it expansions, is a game of noble court drama. Bluff and bribe your counterparts. Strengthen your line’s stake and sow rot in the roots of the families that dare stand in your way. Only one family will survive this game of keeping your characters secret from one another. A key mechanic of the game is that players are encouraged to challenge one another, when the time is right, to interrupt their actions.
The creators of Copenhagen, and the upcoming Inner Compass, devised this, their first game together, on a long drive back from Essen. Pitched as ‘Twilight Struggle in only 45 minutes’ 13 Days is a two-player strategy game with big decisions dropped at your feet. Failure may be deadly. If politics is about managing a crisis without immediate immolation, then 13 Days does its best to let you and friend play on the Cold War nuclear see-saw.
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This article originally appeared in issue 40 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.