Political Animals shares many of the same traits with other election simulators like Democracy and The Political Machine. These types of games aren’t for everyone obviously and only cater to the policy wonks and political groupies (like me). However, Political Animals tries its best to wrap the messy and potentially dry subject matter into a user friendly and intuitive experience.
I first saw this game at the PAX Indie Minibooth and was instantly drawn to the art style. It would not be a stretch to say that the art style and UI design is the best part of the game. This is not to disparage the rest of Political Animals because I quite like the game, but this art is just top notch. It is simple and easy to follow while maintaining an overall theme: politics is silly but necessary. The game is instantly memorable.
Political Animals was created by Filipino developer, Squeaky Wheel, and an election game seems like such a spot on idea. As a native born Filipino from a family that has been in and out of politics, the Philippines would be a great incubator for political games. Elections there are extreme with high stakes and constantly shifting and changing alliances. I’m not surprised that a Filipino developer could so easily distill the ruminations, scandals, and machinations of a election cycle in a playable and enjoyable game.
The main loop is very board game inspired, and while somewhat repetitive, there is always something to do. The core concepts are reinforced turn after turn. I honestly looked through half of the tutorial before I started skipping the extremely helpful tool-tips. Essentially, you are moving your candidate and staff around a map with several districts. Through raising money, political rallies, fundraisers, and subterfuge, you are trying to change undecided voters over to your side. The more entrenched and dominant a candidate becomes in a particular district makes it harder for their opponent to campaign there.
While effectively simulating an election cycle in broad strokes, Political Animals never fails to remember that it is a video game. Negative and positive consequences are outlined astutely. You will always know what will happen with every decision. The fun of the game is being presented with several terrible or mediocre options and trying to figure out how to effectively turn that into an advantage. I’ve thrown wealthy patrons under the bus to secure fifteen thousand more votes. I’ve also given up votes in secure districts for money or to simply wound an opponent in a vulnerable district.
At first glance, this approach almost seems too simplistic, but there is some real subtleness in the strategy in Political Animals. Each candidate can be imbued with customizable traits and the ensuing campaign must be tailored to their strengths. My first candidate had better logistics (more actions per turn) but was terrible at actually speaking at their own campaigns. I had to make sure to have ample staff that could rally supporters to overcome my disadvantage.
With a great art style with intuitive gameplay, Political Animals is a perfect entry in the political game genre. The game is always providing great feedback that translates into hard strategic decisions. If there was an option for multiplayer like Twilight Struggle, it would have everything you’d want in a election-based game.
Vote Tanuki 2016 for Great Justice.
Unique Drops received a copy of Political Animals from the developer.