Published on January 27th, 2016 | by Luke Turpeinen3
Politics for Power
A Review of SuperPACS
Now on Kickstarter
The American presidential race has already been in full swing for months, but it’s only recently gotten to the point where caucuses and primaries are prepping to begin. That makes this the perfect climate to launch a politically themed game, as you can see by the four presidential race board games currently on Kickstarter (SuperPACs, Greater Evil, American Dynasty and the oh-so-witty “The Game of Politics”). Of the political games currently funding, SuperPACs is the only game to feature actual presidential candidates as playable characters.
I don’t really know what the appeal would be to a political game that didn’t use political cartoons to satirize the current political climate. There may be something to be said for a game whose jokes don’t go stale after the current election cycle, but a game with a generic theme isn’t going to be making enough of a political statement to even justify its existence. Political games, just like political cartoons exist to satirize and poke fun at this hugely inefficient process we call democracy- without the satire these games are just the boring process without any of the fun. I’m glad that SuperPACs went with a funny take on the game genre.
In addition to political figures in cartoon form, you’ll be able to find depictions of celebrities like John Oliver and Miley Cyrus. SuperPACs’ illustrations were wonderfully rendered, and the cartoons were definitely my favorite part of the game. The rest of the card design is simple and easy to read, though SuperPACs does suffer from a color-differentiation problem which will make it hard to play for certain types of colorblind people.
I don’t know why we still have this issue in board game design, as it’s been a well-talked about issue in the industry and community for years. If you have different suits/factions/resources then it really helps to differentiate them by a means other than just color. Magic the Gathering bases all of its main suits on color names, but it has different borders for each one, and symbols that correspond to the color on the card as well. There is no reason not to account for this in your design process, and the colorblind members of the hobby (which are not few) thank you for it.
SuperPACs plays fairly quickly, and is not a complicated or complex game. An average turn consists of drawing a card or taking money, then bringing cards into play (possibly with special effects) or get more money, then pass the turn. Occasionally you could use your candidate’s superpower for good effect, but for the most part turns all followed the same structure.
SuperPACs is simple take-that game, where you try to build up a series of bonuses in front of you, while messing with other people’s piles of stuff. Unfortunately, SuperPACs doesn’t do anything interesting, different or innovative with the base mechanic of a take-that game. The entire game you are either building up stuff or knocking down stuff, based on the random cards in your hand and little to no strategy. SuperPACs is the Munchkin of political games, and our play group finished with a resounding “meh”.
It’s not that SuperPACs is a horrible game, it’s just not really interesting as a game if you’ve played more than Catan and Munchkin. The designers went through the trouble of assigning cards suits, and making the players rack up their tableau in a certain way, but then very few card effects referenced suit color, or position in the tableau. If you had to fund-raise only from one column or row of Factions, or had to add factions in an org-chart style and then had card effects that shifted card around, SuperPACs would have been a lot more engaging game.
In addition to that, a lot of the candidate cards and effects are not balanced against each other. I had the Hilary-based politician, and my super power was applicable only during debates (three times a game), and was narrow in focus even then. On the other hand, an opponent could (every turn) sneak a card into play every turn by paying a nominal fee to the bank. Condition cards are also almost impossible to remove, meaning someone could get saddled with the “can’t use your superpower” condition right off the bat and not be able to use it the entire game. Both of these issue came up during the games we played and negatively effected our experience.
With just a little bit more effort put into the rules, SuperPACs could have left a much larger mark on the indie board game market. Even newcomers to the board game hobby can handle rules more complicated than what was presented in SuperPACs. That, and the subject matter calls for a game that is more involved than the simple addition problem in SuperPACs- chances are, if you’re into politics enough to play a board game about it, you can handle a game with more substance to it.