Platforms PC
Developer Squeaky Wheel
Publisher Positech Games
Release Date November 2, 2016

Review code provided

I feel like everything, especially elections and politics, can be improved if everyone involved is a cartoonified farmyard animal. Such is the case in Political Animals, an election simulator that throws its players into fictional battlegrounds and casts the candidates and their operatives as a variety of said animals. Your goal is simple – hit the campaign trail and use every strategy and resource at your disposal to win an election.

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There’s a temptation to take one look at Political Animals’ cutesy characters and colourful art design and perhaps see it as a simplistic take on a complex topic. That would be a mistake. While not the most complex political simulator available, Political Animals has a decent amount of depth and a fairly complex system of interconnecting mechanics that make it a deep, satisfying game to play.

That’s not to say that Political Animals isn’t a simple game. Rather, Squeaky Wheel has taken this complexity and crafted an easy to pick up game around it. While there’s a lot going on in Political Animals, it’s fairly easy to figure it all out. Useful information is a single mouse click away at all times, and once you’ve learned how everything works it’s easy enough to see what you need to (try to) do to win.

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Political Animals is closer to a board game than it is to a simulator. You select a character from a handful of animals to be your candidate, customising them to suit your play style with various abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Then you select three agents, each of whom have their own special abilities. These characters act as your pieces on the map. You move them between districts and perform various actions to help you get elected.

These abilities and actions are your standard political-type stuff, and everything you do in the game is interconnected in some way. Your main goal is to win over undecided voters in each district. Districts will have two main policy concerns and you’ll need to leverage these to sway people to your cause, as well as actively campaign in each of the districts to make undecideds aware of you. When you set up your candidate you can choose two of these policies to form your platform.

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It’s here that the game’s simplicity can suck some of the air out of your campaign. Because you’re limited to two policies, and each district only has two policies you can campaign on, there are districts you simply cannot hope to win over, as well as districts you can’t help but win over. Policy concerns seem to be fairly evenly spread, so every game of Political Animals essentially boils down to the same basic tactics on repeat until election day.

You make use of these policies through rallies and campaigning. Essentially, it’s a two-pronged attack – you send your agents or candidate to a state to rally about a specific topic (getting everyone riled up over healthcare for example) to increase the effectiveness of campaigning on the topic. Only once the numbers are high enough do you start to actively campaign on the topic. To do so beforehand is simply a waste of resources and something your opponent won’t be doing.

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This is the core way that you’ll win elections. There are plenty of modifiers that can change your course slightly. Random events can bring massive amounts of voters to your side, or dissuade them in equal measure. Each district has three patrons and you need to keep them on your good side if you want to play as efficiently as possible. Giving them gifts will keep them happy, if they favour your opponent then taking actions in their districts becomes much harder and less worth your time and money.

Money and logistics are the currencies you’ll be spending to take actions. Everything you do will cost both (except fundraising, naturally). Each turn you’re given 10 logistics points, with every action you take outside of movement costing a varying number. You need to manage this resource carefully to maximise your efficiency each turn. The amount of money you put behind a gift, rally or campaign speech directly affects how beneficial it is to your cause.

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This is some of the more basic stuff that goes into each game of Political Animals, though it is by no means everything that goes into it. Scandals can cost you massive support, unless they’re directed at your opponent, which can turn entire districts against them.Your candidate and staff will each have a special ability, such as being able to report on scandals, blockade districts, threaten opposition employees and more. Like I said, it’s a game that has a lot going on with it.

The fact that your opponent can do everything you can makes for some pretty interesting matches. All of the drama of a real election is contained within Political Animals, wrapped in a cute, cartoony presentation that makes the entire thing kind of funny. In the games that I’ve played I’ve seen everything from major comebacks, tight races, elections that swing wildly back and forth and everything in between. The best part is you don’t have to be President afterwards, so you can take the gloves off and say or do anything you want without worrying about following through. Whatever gets you the win.

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As you become more and more familiar with the game and how it all works you’ll invariably hit on a strategy pattern that works for you. While the maps offer some variation (most of them appear to be modelled after real life countries) and the customisation can keep things fresh for a while, Political Animals can start to get a little samey after a while. It’s not that the game gets worse as time goes on, rather that once you’ve hit a winning strategy it’s on you to change things up and keep it interesting.


Summary

Political Animals is The Animals of Farthing Wood meets political intrigue meets an election simulator/board game, which is something I definitely needed after a year of brutalising political discourse. It’s a complex game that never gets too complicated or overwhelming, with an easy to figure out user interface that puts every scrap of information you need one click away. The level of customisation for each campaign is decently robust too, although it’s easy to get locked into surefire winning strategies the deeper into the experience you go. Still, there’s a lot to keep you entertained and challenged, and if you’re a fan of political games or strategy games, or games that feel like they could be board games, then Political Animals is most assuredly worth your attention.

7


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