Try to imagine a quintessential DC board game, and you’d likely come up with something akin to The Partisans. The new board game aims to get at the heart of the Hill by putting players into the mindset of politicians, hellbent on changing the government through the use of backroom deals, negotiations, and ever-important luck. Players have to balance voter concerns with lobby money—one wins you the game, while the other is essential to whip votes.
Each player is randomly assigned one of six ideologies to champion: traditionalist, nationalist, communitarian, blue collar, libertarian, and bourgeois. Each party has different stances on 10 hot-button issues—think national security, crime, global warming, and immigration. Ultimately, the goal is to pass bills that move the state of the nation closer to your ideological views.
It’s harder than it sounds. You, the face of your faction, have to balance listening to your voters and winning Victory Points, listening to your randomly assigned lobby to bolster your political capital, and managing your relationships with politicos across the aisle. The bargaining, the trading, and the unavoidable back-stabbing aspect is reminiscent to the popular Settlers of Catan.
Nick Reddick and Andrew Park, the masterminds behind the game, are two local lawyers who have dipped in and out of politics their entire lives. Altogether, they’ve worked for five different campaigns in as many states. Nick’s wife, Rachel, ran for the 2018 Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania’s first congressional district, but was defeated by lawyer Scott Wallace in the primary.
Gameplay can be a little frustrating to strategy game newbies. I was treated to a test run of the game with Reddick, Park, and three of their friends at Reddick’s Capitol Hill home, and witnessed the madness firsthand. After being thwarted by yet another shady backroom deal between the traditionalist and bourgeois factions, Hallie Ryan—the libertarian—cried foul, “That should be against the rules!” To which Alex Berger, the traditionalist, rebutted, “There are no rules.” It was an exchange I could realistically see happening in the halls of the Capitol.
Players can vote on 70 amendments, which were carefully researched and balanced so each faction has an equal playing field. Reddick and Park didn’t avoid explicit references to current events, either. One of the cards is dubbed the “Build the Wall” amendment (good for nationalists). The game is complex, even after two years of simplifying the rules. Gone are mechanisms like the Doomsday Clock or political funds (although Reddick hints that they might make an appearance in expansion packs, should the game do well).
The chaos of the 2016 elections spurred Reddick and Park into creating some sort of explanation or simulation.
“Everyone we knew was dissatisfied with the political system,” Reddick says. “It was a way to show it’s not politicians to blame completely, but the incentives that they’re facing—it’s the system that we’re creating that’s pushing politicians to do things that are irrational.”
Roleplay, according to Reddick, is a good way to step into the mind of an alien ideology by “providing some level of empathy.” Inspired by the interactive roleplaying popularized by cult classics like Dungeons & Dragons, the game encourages players to embrace the ideologies they’re paired with—and quite effectively, if our test game was any indication. At one point, the traditionalist Alex Berger declared, “I’m trying to save America for Jesus!”
Reddick, who was assigned the nationalist ideology for our playthrough: “While I personally don’t agree with most of the things a nationalist would stand for, just playing that role helps me see where they’re coming from.”
For a game created to help Americans glean a deeper understanding of our flawed political system à la Catan, The Partisans has already gained international attention. Reddick and Park’s $40,000 Kickstarter reached its goal a month after the campaign went live, thanks in large part to support from a greater international community.
Luke Peterschmidt is a partner at Fun to 11, the game’s publisher. He first tried The Partisans during a board game retreat with Park. The game appealed to his DC roots, and he was hooked.
“Political board games are actually very hard to sell,” Peterschmidt says, “but being able to make such a fun and interesting political game—one that gets at the heart of what politics is supposed to be about—was very tempting to me.”
Luckily for the Partisans gang, Peterschmidt had an ace up his sleeve: Extra Credits. The famous educational YouTube channel marketed the game to its 1.6 million subscribers and leant its distinctive, fleshed-out stick figure graphics to the game, selling it as “the first Extra Credits tabletop game.”
Eager to give the game a whirl? Pre-orders are available now for $49, and first copies will roll out in six months. The Partisans team is planning on offering the game at a discounted rate to schools and libraries.
“The core of our game is to try and get people to learn about cooperating and negotiating,” Park says.