The cut and thrust of political agendas at their most devious make for some great material for board games, be it the theme, the player interaction or the mechanics. We have brought you some of our favourites and present a diverse choice: from two-player head to heads to vast sprawling area controls; tight games of backstabbing to legacy experiences drawing from roleplaying. We hope you enjoy our delve into the ‘art of the possible’ and that you find something to viciously betray your friends over … all in the name of good clean dirty fun.
Imagine having the fate of an entire kingdom in your hands. You and your friends are sat around a table having just discussed something that will affect thousands of people for years to come. You call a vote. The other 4 can’t agree and the decision is split down the middle - it’s all up to you. You take a deep breath… and pass because you want some money.
This sort of thing happens in pretty much every game of The King’s Dilemma and, if you’re willing to go along for the ride, I think it’s one of the most unique and brilliant experiences you can have in all of board gaming.
The premise? Set in the fictional kingdom of Ankist, 3 to 5 players take on the role of the King’s council. During a game, you will draw random ‘dilemmas’ from a facedown deck of cards and discuss, then vote, on the outcome.
Each game takes place over the course of one king’s reign and the decisions you make will not only affect your generation, but generations to come. If you bankrupt the kingdom now, you’d best bet your ancestors are going to pay for it in the future.
Throughout the campaign, each player represents a family with their own ambitions and desires. This, coupled with ‘agenda’ cards that are drafted at the start of each game, means you’ll be voting differently as your allegiances shift - you might be Greedy one game and Rebellious the next.
The story doesn’t shy away from heavy themes and you may find yourself on the wrong side of history more than once. However, with legacy elements (envelopes, stickers/cards to sign) and a narrative that evolves based on your choices, The King’s Dilemma feels like making history in a box.
War of Whispers is a game that has politicking baked into its soul. The theme has you running a faction of political agents in a fantasy mediaeval realm. You're working to affect the fortunes of different empires on the map, who'll be fighting to occupy territory and gain power. In setup, you'll draw loyalty tokens for empires and put them on a score board. At game end three empires will give you increasing numbers of points for the number of city spaces they occupy. One will score you nothing and one will score you negative points. Each round you place agents in the courts and steer their actions as well as taking powerful special cards.
The underpinning joy is that the loyalties are hidden from other players. Unless at the end of a round you choose to reorder them, they then become public. So the game becomes one of bluffing and brinkmanship: concealing who you need to do well, interpreting the preferences of your opponents and making/breaking short term alliances with fellow players. It’s pacey and brutal at times – making for some crunchy decisions and exciting plays. I've enjoyed taking actions as an empire I need to do badly and throwing its armies into devastating battles. I have enjoyed bluffing another player into seeing a common goal. I've enjoyed being thoroughly stiffed by my opponents and manoeuvred into stupid plays by silken words and false promises.
The sting is drawn from being the victim of ploys because of their elegance but also because the whole game runs to four rounds. War of Whispers is as lean as you like – it takes the essence of a massive factional fight and distils it into tight, elegant, vicious fun. SU&SD’s review said this was Game of Thrones in an hour – they were right!
Who wants a game that takes a snippet of history and lets you relive all its tense and technicolour colour? A game where regardless of which side you play you will be heavily invested in the strategic struggle for power over the board? This could be many games, but for me, the epitome of a tug of war political game has to be Watergate. This two-player specific game is an asymmetric game themed around the Watergate scandal. In the early 70s, President Nixon was embroiled in a political scandal. It centred around the Nixon administration’s covering up of a break-in. The Washington Post was trying to blow the whistle on the scandal. However, there were a lot of witnesses that were silenced. Not killed, I realise that sounds very Kray twins, no they were just paid off etc.
In this game, the Washington Post player is trying to use clever card play to try and connect the witnesses with Nixon and each other by pinning evidence to the board. This player wins once they are able to connect two witnesses and Nixon with evidence. The Nixon player is burying evidence again by playing their cards cleverly. All the cards in the game come from your player specific deck, each of these cards is multi-use, it can be used to move tokens in the tug of war towards you, or it can be used (but discarded out the game after) to be used for the event which will make big moves towards getting yourselves ahead on you opponent.
If you want something immersive, and play two-player then you cannot go wrong with this!
It’s probably not surprising that a game as big as Twilight Imperium has politics in it. Once the game has progressed to the point that someone conquers the old galactic capital planet in the middle of the map an Agenda Phase is added at the end of each round.
Each time, two agendas get voted on. The twist is that you don’t know what the second agenda is until the first one has been resolved. Agendas take the form of a one-time initiative that will mean some effect will get resolved immediately. The other type of agenda are game altering laws. These can fundamentally change the way the game plays.
Each players voting power is determined by the planets they currently control. Interestingly, planets that are good at producing materials are generally rubbish at producing the influence required for voting meaning you’ve got to be a bit clever about how you expand your empire.
Any planetary influence you spend to try and sway the first agenda in your direction can’t be spent on the second agenda when it comes up to vote. This gets you considering how important the outcome is to you. You don’t want to overextend yourself and then find the second agenda would be an incredible boon to your plans.
There are ways to mess with the system. Playing certain cards may get you a look at both agendas before voting but my favourite way to mess things up are promissory notes. If somebody gives you one, you can play it to force their hand to vote how you want. Once you've obtained one of these notes, there's nothing to stop you trading this away to the first players’ rival. It’s a great system that really makes the cardboard galaxy come to life.
A power vacuum has appeared under the sea in Abyss. The fight is on to secure votes and assent to the throne. Will you have the influence needed to get you there? This is political power brokering, underwater style.
Abyss is a card game for 2-4 players competing to recruit seven Lords. Lords will enable you to gain control of powerful locations across the city. Whilst they're worth immediate points, their specialist powers and keys are their true value in the war for the watery throne.
Becoming ruler of Abyss isn’t about simple set collection. To recruit Lords, you must bribe them, and the currency here is sea creatures. These are your allies. Some Lords are pure, and require only one type e.g. 6 crabs. Others are more complex and can demand combinations of different ally types. Once you have a Lord in your favour, you must then affiliate an ally to them.
Pushing your luck below the waves is your path to allies, but you do have choices. You can either “explore” the depths (reveal a card from the deck), or take previously discarded cards from the Council (handy if you can remember what they are!). If you choose to explore, you may battle a monster or push on for a juicy ally. But, again, this game is sneaky. You can’t just take the top card you reveal when exploring. No, it has to be offered to the other players first.
I love Abyss. My dear friend and fellow blogger, Hannah, introduced me to it, and I haven’t stopped playing since. Designers Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier have combined a brilliant mix of push-your-luck, memory testing, drafting, and auction style mechanics. If you like strategic card games with large-scale table presence, Abyss could be a great choice for you.