[Game Design Concept] Politically-Based Card Game

You’ve heard me talk about how life inspires me to write short stories like Lady Yellowbird and the Flight of the Sad Panda, but I haven’t discussed how things around me also inspire me to design, write or play games.

The recent events here in Madison have made me wonder if political tactics and issues can be resolved by playing a game of cards. So how do I envision this working? Well, there’s a few different ways I’d explore in game design to see if it was possible. Since political ideology often runs the gamut of extremely simple to extraordinarily complex, I could see a problem where the politics is over-simplified. In short, you’d have to decide up front whether or not the game would be educational or not.

Educational games can be a ton of fun, but let’s say for the sake of playing devil’s advocate you didn’t want to instruct people about the differences between political parties. In that case, the game mechanic I’d use would have an element of customization. So instead of just having a pre-generated political party, you could customize your own according to what you were trying to do.

Enter the point of the game.

For a politically-based card game, I could see that the main focal point of the game would be to either a) win an election or b) pass a huge agenda (or smaller series thereof). Gameplay would consist of smaller tasks to achieve this goal. The opponent configuration could be player vs. player, team vs. team (requiring more cards) or players vs. general public.

Items you’d want to pass might range in difficulty from national healthcare to something smaller like government research on a disease. Each agenda would have the list of requirements on the card. In order to get national healthcare you need to have X, Y and Z. Maybe that X, Y and Z requires negotiating for certain advocates in order to get it to pass. Maybe to pass it for a vote you roll dice and add the number of advocates. Maybe in order to win an election you need to pass through the relevant phases and “win” by accumulating votes.

In this way, games are born. While this is a really rough idea and isn’t sophisticated by any stretch of the imagination, it’s a start. After brainstorming, I’d work with different prototypes of cards to come up with a simple game. My requirements would be: 1) Everything has to be printed on the cards. This reduces cost to create and doesn’t require additional instructional inserts or pieces. 2) The game isn’t inflammatory. Would have to be accurate, nonpartisan (e.g. not skewed unfavorably one way or the other) and family-friendly. 3) The goal would have to be clear.

So, with those requirements, I’d definitely re-think the end goal and lean more toward “winning an election” than “winning an agenda.” Instead of money, you get votes.

This idea isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. Many of the kinks would be worked out during rounds and rounds of playtesting or even moreso when (if) I ever worked out a prototype. In many ways, that’s where I feel the true power of game design comes into play. For once you’re at the table, rules can be adapted, tested and fit within the parameters of who’s playing. Theories and concepts are great and all, but until I see them in a game, they’re not a reality. Much like this concept.



Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Firefly, Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

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