You’d be forgiven for ignoring the news recently. But, as we all know, it’s hard to keep a politics nerd down.

While we’re living through some ahem ‘interesting’ times, there’s arguably never been a better opportunity to expand your collection with some absolutely stunning games that do something interesting,

8 | Watergate (2019)

Who knew wrapping Richard Nixon’s mug around an abstract puzzler would produce such a compelling game? Replicating the President’s attempts to muddy the waters around his actions, Watergate is a two player hand management game that pits one side as investigators and other as the President’s team trying their best to obscure, obfuscate, and outright lie. Dotted with references and imagery from real-world events, the game is a colossal tug-of-war between two sides that does the impossible task of educating and entertaining. Coming in quick and leaving you thirsty for more, it’s a great pick for players with little time on their hands. But for those who want a little more meat (and Nixon) on their game-

7 | 1960: The Making of the President (2007)

While the theme may make people a little uneasy going into November 2020, 1960 is a fantastic educational tool that give insight into how campaigns are fought. Taking place against a backdrop of social unrest and political turmoil, the game perfectly replicates the pivoting and judgement required from both candidates as they put together their message and positions. Built around the election map of the time, the game’s card based system requires judicious hand management as they struggle to build vital momentum and opportunistically respond to chances on the trail. Perfectly balancing resource management, long-term thinking, and sits just at the right point of complexity to be enjoyable by all players.

6 | Churchill (2015)

Moving away from the US for a moment, GMT’s infamous offering replicates the jockeying of the Allied Triumvirate during WW2 – with players taking on the roles of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt as defeating the Axis powers takes a backseat to how forces will be deployed and where. Built around ten conferences that actually took place over the period, the game is a bizarre combination of auction and bidding mechanics, cutthroat negotiations, and strategic feints. And, somehow, it all just works. Perfectly capturing the jockeying for power that accompanies statehood, this is an exceptional pick for the most awkward player count of all. And while a playtime of 60 – 300(!) minutes may seem intimidating; the game can let the most avowed history and politics fans have the time of their lives. Gather round your table, buy some tiny flags, and you’re set!

5 | Tammany Hall (2007)

Aaaaaand, we’re back to the States again. Recreating the political turmoil that followed the founding of New York, players take on the roles of officials helping immigrants settle on New York’s shores…by shoving them into as many buildings as possible and currying favour with those in power. Cutthroat by any standard, the game encourages players to use intimidation, (in and off-table) slander, and brutal ward bosses to curry the votes you need. And even then, it doesn’t stop. The winner is then responsible for installing other players into key roles that allow them to threaten their authority. If you’re keen on a game where everyone is your friend but also very, very much your enemy; this is a perfect pick for you.

4 | War on Terror (2006)

Riddle us this: When is a game not a game? If you answered when it’s an art piece that passes comment on the invasion of Iraq, you’d potentially be right. Built around the accumulation of oil, all players start the game grabbing as much land as they can and hoovering up as much of the liquid out of the ground as possible. But, before long, there’s just not enough options to make your money the easy way and use their cash to grab cards that brand their opponents as terrorists or undertake a pre-emptive strike. By halfway, the entire board is mired in conflict and darkly hilarious ‘take that’ gameplay. Quick playing and deceptively poignant, it’s a great combination with snacks, booze, and conversations about colonial ideology.

3 | Twilight Struggle (2005)

An icon for a reason, Twilight is a landmark game that maps the infamous Cuban Missile Crisis onto a stack of cards. Taking place during the height of the cold war, players are responsible to poking at their opponent to score points, influence the board, and – for the love of all that is holy – avoid nuclear war at all costs. Weighty, deep, and simple to pick up – Twilight has a staggering amount of replayability with strategy, plays, and gambits that perfectly replicate the high stakes fencing of the period. Or, if you want to avoid dedicating an entire afternoon to your game, the suitably stripped back 13 Days is also a solid choice.

2 | Dune (2019)

Ok. Now, bear with us. Out of all the games on this list, Dune is the one that most feels like an accurate simulation or real world politics. No choice so perfectly encapsulates what it means to barter, beg, or intimidate your opponents – lying and backstabbing as you desperately try to hoover up spice and pick away at your enemies. While other games such as Diplomacy may have a solid reputation of negotiation, Dune puts all the tools and options available to rulers at a player’s fingertips. The recent re-release by Galeforce9 sands (…sorry) off some the original’s rough edges and just about makes game’s insane max six-player count manageable. Cold, calculated, and cunning – it’s the perfect look into what the future of humanity could look like. But if you’re searching for something that tells us how we got to where are now-

1 | Freedom: The Underground Railroad (2012)

As close to art as it gets. Freedom covers the dark history of slavery throughout America and the repeated attempts by abolitionist to drive slaves to safety in Canada via the Underground Railroad. An incredibly uncomfortable play, individuals are tasked with working together while liberating as many slaves as possible. Before long, the game becomes about maintaining the delicate balance between raising money to support emancipation and leaving enough to funnel back into the cause. Throw in leading figures of the time, events, and shameful laws and the game does an exceptional job of realising the horrors of slavery and the bravery of those who put their lives in other’s hands in an effort to be free. Mechanically excellent, thematically haunting, and endlessly challenging – Freedom is a rare example of the power of tabletop gaming to cultivate empathy and a poignant reminder of where we’ve come from and how very, very far we still have to go.

Do you have any game to recommend, that political “nerds” love?! Share it in the comments below :)

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