Review: Statecraft

Game Name: Statecraft Published Year: 2016
Game Publisher: Inside The Box Boardgames (ITB) Player Scale: 2 – 6
Game Designer: Peter Blenkhan Run Time: 30 – 90 minutes

In Play Close Up

In Statecraft, players are leaders of their own political Factions as they compete to build their manifestos, gain the vote of the fickle supporters and navigate the world’s ever-changing and turbulent political, economic and natural landscape.  If that sounds a little dry, dangerously educational and informed, wait, just wait, because Statecraft explodes from the table with vibrant graphic pop art, a sardonic smile and tongue firmly and securely in cheek.  Be warned though, there is a good chance you will learn something playing this game, whilst having a cracking time.

Statecraft is a tableau building game with a very clever and highly variable hand management system at its core.  The tableau you’ll be building is that of your Faction of Politicians and its Manifesto of Policy cards.  Each faction has a Leader which is randomly assigned at the start of the game, and from there you will grow your party to include Junior and Senior Politicians with a broader range of specialisms which will allow you to make use of and play a greater range of Policy cards, all of which you need to alter your ideologies and attract those all-important Supporters.

In your turn, you’ll play cards from your hand, and with them you’ll either adjust your Ideology Tracker, recruit new Politicians or poach Supporters from your opponents, and you can do as much of this as you have cards, most of which are Policy cards.  These cards are, I think one of the game’s defining features for two reasons:

Policies

A whole pile of Policy cards

One, each card has four varying and different uses, being split in two with almost opposing policies which affect your Ideologies and Budget differently by whether a player chooses to Announce or Denounce a policy; Announcing a policy will add to your Ideologies and Denouncing will do the opposite.  This mechanic deftly handles the thematic issue of ideology; by not reducing political persuasions to a binary Left or Right, instead, it creates a more complex map of how each/any policy resonates with supporters.  In short, real life politics aren’t black or white, and so neither is Statecraft (literally).

The second great thing about these cards is the intellectual and emotional effect that radiates from the game and the thinking it forces a player to do off the table.  How I personally feel about ‘Immigration Quotas’ and ‘Voluntary Military Service’ is pulled into question, sure I want Authoritarianism score to increase but do I morally agree with playing this card?  I continually feel the need to try and build a fictional utopia, and assess the policies I play accordingly, I quite enjoy declaring that I am Denouncing ‘Data Trawling’ and for a moment I feel like I am doing something good, and just, and right – if only in a card game.

 

It isn’t all Policies though, within the same deck are Action cards, adding a Take-That element to the game with cards like ‘Assassinate’ (particularly nasty) and ‘Slander Opponent’ (also very nasty).  To further mix things up you’ll add some Event Cards to this deck – these are purple backed so you’ll be able to see and anticipate them before they are drawn.  These cards – and sometimes they are Emergencies – have an immediate effect on all players, and may cause extra issues for the current Incumbent player (the player in the lead) – which makes for a great catch up mechanic too – occasionally, these Incumbent effects can really stiff the lead player, and in particularly close games this can be quite vexing.

Statecraft has ten individual Scenarios for you to play, many of which hinge on gaining the most supporters, however; each is different, they all have a variety of end and win conditions, and some even have additional special rules.  Further to this, each scenario will make use of a different number of the Supporter deck, meaning the demographic landscape of each game changes too.  Upon reading the rule book the game boasts 200,000 permutations, and that’s before you take into account player count and play styles.  From what is a pretty compact box you’ll get a great many games from Statecraft before you start seeing repetition.  One of the issues with Statecraft stems from this variability, some games can be over very quickly – even with larger player counts if one player is able to win supporters early it can result in a short-lived one-horse race – which can be a little frustrating if you’d planned/hoped it would be a cornerstone game of your game night.  Likewise, the games can be drawn-out battle of attrition “The Promise of Culture” for example has the winner being the player with the greatest Budget deficit at the end of eight turns, and just like real life, it turns out it is really easy to spend loads of money meaning these games sometimes feel like they lack complex choices.

Supporters

Supporters

Statecraft looks great on the table, the graphic pop art really differentiates itself from most other games, and visually it draws you, and anybody nearby in, simply because of how charming it all looks when it’s laid out – which, in a two player game is an impressively small footprint for such a “big” game.  Stagecraft really wins with the graphic design too, brilliantly clear and concise iconography streamlines the mechanical complexity making the game very easy to get to grips with quickly.

In PLay 4 Player

Statecraft at the Wednesday night Board Meetings

You can play Statecraft just as a game, looking only at the symbols, colours and numbers, it’ll look real nice, and you’ll enjoy it and have fun, there will be a winner and losers.  Satisfied with a good game you’ll put it back on your shelf for another time and that will be that.  However, as with most games, Statecraft rewards engaged play; you’ll enjoy the challenge and the puzzle if all you do is adjust the “yellow track” when you “play” that card.  But, the game will be enjoyed far more if you pay attention to the details, invest and create a narrative for yourself.

 

The Good:

A clever, thought-provoking (and funny) game.

Mechanical and thematic balance.

Massive replayability

Vibrant artwork and colour pallet

 

The Bad:

Event cards can really sting the leader

Take-That actions can be very aggressive

“Unpredictable” gameplay length

Poor box insert

3 thoughts on “Review: Statecraft

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