Political Animals Review - On the Campaign Trail
Played On: PC
Reviewed By: Willem Den Toom
2016 has been interesting to say the least as far as the state of current global politics goes, so it's timely that Political Animals released into this environment where many armchair pundits might feel they could do a better job than the real politicians of the world. Political Animals gives them just that opportunity, albit in digital form and with cutesy animals rather than people.
Political Animals is best looked at as a digital board game for one or two players. It plays like one and takes about as much time to finish. Don't let the cute exterior fool you - underneath the cute animal candidates and whimsical music lies a deep game of territory control. It's unlikely you'll be able to grasp the full mechanics in your first game, even with the tutorial activated, and it takes a few games to get into the swing of things.
You begin by selecting a candidate from a series of cute animals, ranging from a bear with a cigar to a barong wearing alligator. The look of your candidate doesn't matter, it's simple personal preference, as you can customize your perks and flaws as well as your campaign platforms to your liking. The specific platforms such as healthcare, law & order, religion, are all essentially just a number, there are no real fundamental differences between them - having a strong law & order platform only means you will do better with voters who care about law & order, there are no specific edicts, advantages or disadvantages for carrying one platform or another - it only belies in what areas you are strong in and where you are not. This is a little disappointing to say the least and I was hoping that there was a little bit more to each platform.
You also get to select a series of three campaign helpers. Each helper have specific strengths and weaknesses, and depending on the type of campaign you want to run, you can pick and choose the best agents to use. Want to run a clean campaign? Hiring a lawyer can help get rid of those pesky scandals. Want to run a campaign of intimidation? Maybe a thug might be better.
Once your party is set you'll select a board to play on - these are caricatures of various countries including the United States, the UK, the Philippines and others divided into various territories. Each territory will have two platforms they are concerned with, and can help determine what areas is best for you to focus your campaign on.
Once the game begins proper you can begin campaigning proper. Each of your four animals can participate in a variety of activities - be it raising funds, performing rallies, or perhaps it's bribing political influencers or slandering your opponent. Depending on the individual regions specific situation, each of these will have various degrees of effectiveness, and it's up to you to figure out which is the best way to go.
The mechanics of the game are deep and difficult to discern, as there is no real one formula for success. In my game, I found myself using rallies to drum up concerns over one of my political platforms, then using my candidate to campaign on those very platforms, all the while having my rabbit courier raise money across the country while my owl lawyer kept me squeaky clean of any potential scandals. However, that isn't to say a campaign of heavy bribing, threats and slandering my opponent could not have been just as effective.
Random events also happen regularly. For example, choosing to side with native land owners over big business, or having to deal with rumors of extra-marital affairs. How you deal with these can help or hinder your campaign, so it's wise to take the time to research the pros and cons of your choice (the game outright tells you what you will gain or lose, so making this choice isn't too difficult.) The problem again is that these events seem to exist in a vacuum. For example, even if you have a strong campaign platform for religion, it still might be more beneficial for you to side with women's right activist groups on abortion against the church, and even afterwards you can still campaign towards a strong religious platform without any real sort of consequence to your decision.
As the campaign progresses you'll receive news updates on where you stand in the polls. Furthermore, once the polls have determined you own the majority of votes in an area, the area will shift to your color, meaning you have "won" that area. At the same token, you will also be able too see your opponents areas, so throughout the campaign you will have a rough idea of where things stand. Once the campaign period is over, your votes are tallied and you either win or lose. The game ends there, and you can begin again on a new map or with a new candidate.
Overall, Political Animals runs out of steam quicker than I had hoped. Despite it's deep number mechanics, there lacks any real sense of consequence. At the end of the day, your fighting for numbers, but they never seem to be more than just that - numbers. This sort of detachment from actual political issues and their effects leads me to wonder about this games longevity since once you've played a few campaigns, you've seen through the surface of the cute graphics and music and are left with somewhat of a cold numbers simulator.
- Excellent cute art-style aesthetic
- Adorable music
- Deep number system
- High learning curve with a relatively flimsy tutorial
- Lack of real consequence and effects across many game elements
- Game becomes one of cold numbers once players go past the external facade