I don't get politics. I've tried. I know I should care more about how my country is run, but to me politic boils down to a plum spoken Etonian in a posh suit having a shouting contest with an overweight Northerner in an ill-fitting suit. Which is why Statecraft is an interesting proposition, by mixing real life political theory with some pretty visuals and light hearted satirical humour can Statecraft teach me something about politics?
This simple 4 category system is the basis for the game. Every potential supporter for your political party will have requirements in these four categories. There are a number of scenarios that you can play in Statecraft but the majority are based on gaining as many of these supporters as possible.
To entice these supporters to your cause you will have to woo them by building up a cabinet of ministers and playing manifesto cards that build up your standing in each of these categories. Each manifesto card has two different manifesto options available to you, for example you could hire more police or recruit a volunteer police force. They will both be based on the same theme but give two different options to tackle the problem.
Where Statecraft gets interesting is that some supporters will not join a party that supports a particular ideology too much. A good example is the middle class supporters who don't want a political party that's too extreme. This means that sometimes you have to reduce your support for a particular ideology, and to do this you will publicly denounce a policy, gaining negative rather than positive influence on your ideologies, or fire a politician from your party, taking their policies with them. This therefore, allows you four different ways to play each manifesto card and various methods to tweak your standing.
It also means that game is constantly changing. You may announce a policy to grab a particular supporter, only to denounce it or sack that politician in the same turn. You can also poach supporters of other players, which is easier when your opponent no longer has the political ideology they support.
It may not come as a surprise to you that the game is full of take that action cards, or it may and if so take that! These cards can have some drastic effects, such as stealing politicians off opponents or forcing them to play or discard cards. Again these action card have double meanings, as many actions in the game require you to discard a card they often become fuel for your political machinations, largely because you want to hold on to a particular manifesto card. On the whole I found these instant action cards rather distracting. I found the power of some cards would have massive game changing effects whereas others didn't actually appear to do anything of any benefit.
However these action cards are nowhere near as distracting as the event cards. For more advanced games it is suggested to seed the action deck with event cards; one off events that's force the bearer to make a decision and often force the player in the lead to face an even worse effect. My issue with these cards was twofold. First they are a different colour card, so players knew they were coming up, and every player I tested this game with hated that. Players didn't want to know that an event card was coming, they wanted it to be a surprise and that was mainly because of my second issue.
At the end of every turn you draw up to three cards, and many of the event cards force you to discard two cards. Those with a grasp of basic arithmetic can see the problem. Starting your turn with no cards effectively means you miss your turn, you can't play any manifestos and you can't discard cards for other actions. Missing your turn in a modern board game is, to me, unforgivable; there's nothing worse than having to just sit and watch what's happening and have no effect on the game.
But there were a couple of cards that were even worse. One particular event caused all players to lose their current supporters. This effectively reset the entire game and forced us all to start again. It's a small mercy that this happened near the beginning of our game, lengthening a 90 minute game by an extra half hour, but if this had happened near the end of the game I fear there may have been a table flipping of epic proportions and I would be finding game tokens imbedded in the plasterboard and taking an emergency trip to IKEA.
Thankfully these event cards are optional, and as such we agreed that we would either remove them from future games, or prune the deck so that the nastiest of cards never see play until we consider ourselves experts.
As I’ve already mentioned, I’m not a political person, but one of my players is on top of his political theory and was very impressed with the level of detail. The detail also extends to the art and comments, and the game not only looks very striking on the table but also is genuinely funny. As with most games this humour is going to wear off but it made us all smile a few times.
If you can handle a little bit of randomness, or are willing to tweak the game to remove the worst cards, then there is a lot to enjoy in Statecraft. The way the game constantly changes as you try and meet the demands of your potential supporters mean you have to keep a careful eye on all the other players. It’s this constant shifting that makes you feel like a flip flopping politician as you alter your manifesto to try and entice new supporters over to your party, yet at the same time attempt to stop your opposition from stealing your supporters from you, and this is what makes Statecraft right on theme.
This Kickstarter preview is based on a prototype version of the game provided by the publisher; the final product may look, play or smell different to that used in this preview.