Political Animals couldn’t have come at a better time given the current state of politics. We live in a world where hate speech manages to inspire people to vote; where the idea of kicking out immigrants and threatening to build huge walls genuinely receives praise from people. If you thought Brexit was bad, how about watching a man with zero political experience end up becoming President of the United States of America? The political world is bloody mental, and now you can experience it from the perspective of cute animals.
Hailing from the Philippines, Squeaky Squad have combined their adorable cartoon aesthetic with a hardcore political game to create Political Animals. Trust me when I say looks can be deceiving… While Political Animals may look like the type of game a child might enjoy, I’d be surprised to hear if you didn’t struggle with the game’s mechanics initially. The cute animals will probably appeal to children, whereas the in-depth strategy game most likely appeals to adults. I’m unsure why the developers would choose to mix these two radically different things together, and though it may look nice I’m not convinced it was such a good idea.
Mousey will bring the change you want to see in the world
Players will control a team of four animals, each equipped with special skills that will help them to win their campaign. The leader of your political party will be one of the fourteen starting animals, ranging from a sweet little mouse to a wolf in a business suit. If you happen to like the look of Beary, a well-dressed bear with a cigar, but you aren’t a fan of his/her traits, you can change them anyway you’d like to make your chosen creature the perfect animal. The rest of your staff are comprised of other animals that aren’t quite leader material, such as Pigafetta, a pig thug that can threaten opposing staff members.
Like all successful leaders, they’ll have to have a few policies that define their character and cause. From Education to Law and Order, there are a list of issues to choose from which then become that leader’s speciality and consequential backbone for their campaign. After choosing a map and base, the thirty-day campaign will begin. Each turn depends on the player splitting ten logistics (action) points between their team of animals as they move them around the map, acquiring additional finances, securing supporters and maybe even causing a bit of trouble for their opponent. Having set the budget beforehand, players will have to manage it wisely, ensuring that they have enough to secure their political victory while still being able to pay their team.
We like to think Piggy is a cartoon version of David Cameron
To add more pressure, players will be able to see the red outlines of their opponent on the map as they hop across districts, drumming up support. Certain districts won’t automatically be in support of the issues that the player has chosen, making it even more challenging to win over those voters. However, similarly to the real world, money can speak louder than words and there are a number of ways that players will be able to sway things in their favour. Whether its sweetening up an influential patron or risking a costly scandal later on by bribing a district, Political Animals sets out to test players’ moral values.
Of all the aspects that players will have to juggle, securing the support of the patrons appears to be one of the best ways to ensure that the campaign is successful. The ten logistics points, stagnant budget and underwhelming support that players start with is nowhere near enough to carry them through the campaign without breaking a sweat. This is easily remedied by the patrons that are waiting to be wooed by the next potential leader of the country. There are three types of patron: Influential, which decreases the cost of logistics (meaning that you can cram in more actions per turn); Wealthy, which raises the amount of funds that you can gain in a district, and Popular, which improves the effect of campaigning within districts. Relationships with the patrons may prove to be beneficial for a while but sadly, their foundations resemble more of sand than they do concrete. Before long, patrons may start to demand more or change their stance on certain aspects of a player’s campaign, at which point the player will be forced to either continue appeasing them, or cut their losses and move on.
I understand some of these numbers
One of the more interesting things about Political Animals is the way it looks at the voting process from the campaigner’s perspective. Players choose the policies they want to focus on at the beginning of the game, but those policies almost never come up in any real detail once the campaign begins. The goal of the game isn’t to make a difference to the voters, it is solely to win the election by any means necessary. Whether that be through bribing every district you pass by or ‘gifting’ ever patron you meet, players will soon forget about their policies and focus only on the task at hand: securing as many votes as possible. This type of message isn’t something you’d expect to find in a political game that looks like this, but as I mentioned earlier, looks can be deceiving.
As stated earlier, players are given the option to choose their staff members, the island they start on and their AI opponent’s settings. All of these variables are good enough to make each election campaign run differently, though it would’ve been nice to see a dedicated scenario mode in which players are put to the test. Personally, I don’t mind picking the Pig character, naming him ‘David Cam’ and having him use funds to remove his party’s ever-growing list of scandals in order to become the next Prime Minister. It definitely would be more convenient to do the obvious American/British political campaigns, though I’m sure the people playing this type of game are more than ready to prepare their own challenges.
Look at all all the districts I don't control...
The tutorial in Political Animals isn’t so much of a tutorial, if anything it’s more of a short series of windows that describes what each function does. In my mind, a tutorial should attempt to teach you how to play the game. It’s all well and good knowing what the Rally button does, but why not teach me to use it instead of describing how useful it is? This game demands a lot of patience from its players, and they will need to get used to failing as they learn how to make their way through campaigns. Political Animal’s deep learning curve can end up leaving players with an unexpected headache, and it really doesn’t help that the cute aesthetic lures players into thinking the game should be relatively simple.
POLITICAL ANIMALS VERDICT
My main issue with Political Animals has more to do with the lack of hand-holding than anything else. I feel like a lot of people who may be interested in the game would be put off within ten minutes of trying it. There are so many different districts to keep your eyes on, all the while you are slowly running out of money and you lack enough logistics points to do anything about your problems. If you are in the mood for a political strategy game and you are willing to put the time in, Political Animals will reward you with an in-depth turn-based game filled with backstabbing and bribery. It is blindingly obvious Political Animals has a lot to offer, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to invest your time learning how to play it.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Winning the first election by the skin of my teeth
The art-style is adorable
Winning a difficult election can feel like a real accomplishment
The learning curve is very high, so be prepared to fail a lot
You’ll need to become creative when it comes to setting yourself a challenge as there is no scenario mode