Books: Playing Politics
Playing Politics: The Nightmare Continues
by Michael Laver
This book is a rare little gem that deserves wider exposure in the game-design community. Written by a Professor of Politics, its aim is to teach readers the forces that drive the political process. Prof. Laver has cleverly distilled a number of common political scenarios into a dozen small games. The rules to each game are simple, but the dynamics that they unleash are subtle and complex, including electioneering, coalition negotiation, bribery, backstabbing and more.
This is fun in the “Social” category (or perhaps the “Antisocial” category). The games are all about dealing with other players: deciding whom to trust, when to tell the truth and when to lie, when to make threats and whether to carry them out. The mechanics are abstractions of real political situations, but are also common in many games (Poker, Diplomacy, Settlers, Mafia…) and for good reason. It is fun to lie, cheat and scheme (and maybe, in rare cases, even tell the truth!)
The real value of the book, however, lies not in the games but in the analysis. Each game is carefully analysed to outline the dynamics it exhibits and draw out their causes and consequences. Variations on each game show how small changes to the mechanics can produce quite difference dynamics of play.
Prof. Laver’s aim is to demonstrate the underlying causes of political activity in the real world, and he does so well, but to the game designer his book provides a toolbox of useful dynamics we can build into our games. When it comes to social games, politicials scientists have been designing and analysing games for a long time, and we would do well to draw on their experience. This little book is a friendly and accessible place to start and I thoroughly recommend it.