Statecraft – Pre-Kickstarter review

The nice folks at ITB Games recently got in touch about their upcoming game Statecraft and the pitch was interesting enough for me to cut out a couple of hundred cards and give it a play! A game of politics and politicians it didn’t sound like anything else I had played recently and so I ventured to Tabletop Cafe to recruit a few volunteers to help me out.

I’ll say straight off the bat that we did get some rules wrong, but that I have now clarified those with the designer and that the points we tripped up on will be much clearer in the final release. I also took some photos of play but they have gone the way of the ether! I’ve nab some setup photos from ITB’s site to give you an idea as we go.

It looks something like this midgame.

Statecraft revolves around it’s Scenarios, the introductory one being about a good old Democratic Election. Each scenario gives you a certain number of supporters you can try and rally to your cause, a number of politicians you get to look at when recruiting and the win condition as well, which is usually about the number of supporters you can recruit.

You start off with a tracker and a party leader. The trackers keep track, surprisingly enough, of your budget, the turn number and most importantly, what policies your party is currently favouring. You have 4 types of politics Socialism, Capitalism, Anarchism and Authoritarianism. Initially you will start out with 0 points in all of these, but soon you will start declaring policies and this is where the fun begins.

At the start of the game you draw 3 cards from the Policies and actions deck. Actions are your fairly typical muck around with the rules of the game stuff but the policies are where the meat of the game lies. On your turn you can announce or denounce a policy from your hand. To do this you simply slide it under the top (announce) or bottom (denounce) of the politician you choose to deal with that policy, the only caveat being that they have to have at least one symbol that matches the policy in question.

When a policy is announced you slide your trackers up the points indicated on the card for the 4 types and adjust your budget up or down depending on what the card says. When you denounce a policy you do the opposite. Each supporter has a bunch of demands on it saying they like at least x in Capitalism or will tolerate no more than y Anarchism. If at any point during your turn you match these demands you can add the supporter to your pool, stepping closer to victory.

Now you only start out with a leader so at some point you are also going to want to recruit some other politicians. In order to do this you discard a card from hand, your hand is fairly limited so this puts a nice control on what you can do in a turn, and draw 3 politicians. These can be anything from junior flunkies to President Obama. Yep you heard me right. Junior politicians can be added straight away to your cabinet but senior politicians can only be recruited by the empty seats of a junior politician. Out of the way junior, Obama is coming through!

Like this!

So these new politicians can announce and denounce their own policies allowing you to really ramp up your campaign. The tableau building you do here is really fun and I loved the little stories that emerged from, for instance, Obama announcing privatised healthcare whilst denouncing the NHS. The supporters in the pool really push you towards certain policies meaning you might end up with a hilariously horrible government that wins all the same. Really neat. Oh policy cards are also double ended so they have 2 opposing policies on each card allowing for even more variation.

Now one of the rules we got wrong was that we refreshed the supporter pool when one was taken, which we shouldn’t have. I can see how that would change the game into more of a battle which I really like as the way we played it I kind of steamrollered everyone in the opening scenario.

Our second game introduced the Events and Emergencies deck. Oh boy that deck. You split this deck into 3 then shuffle 1,2 or 3 piles into the policies and actions deck depending on how chaotic you want things to go. If someone is forced to draw one of these cards that means that it resolves causing each player to make a choice from it, hitting the Incumbent, the player with the most supporters at the time, for something or maybe just plunging the world into a global pandemic. You know, small stuff. This can greatly shake up the game and provide a really interesting element you have to work around as you fulfil the goal on your scenario.

The other thing we got to play with in our second game was the Advanced rules set. This is the game as it is meant to be played and it certainly shakes things up. In the intro scenario we found that once a player had a supporter there was nothing you could really do to snatch them away. Now however as your policies shifted about if your supporters were no longer satisfied they could be snatched away to someone with a more appealing manifesto. We could also fire politicians who no longer served our purposes giving us their policy cards back to hand that could be used to power other actions. This opens up a whole new level of play and a really interesting one as you now have a lot more things to consider as you manipulate the electorate!

I really enjoyed Statecraft and it appeals to the part of me that loves games where stories emerge as you play. This has always been a love of mine and the interesting tableau building here definitely scratches that itch for me. The artwork is really neat and the overall graphic design suits the nature of the game down to a tee. True we ran into a few rules problems, but the designer has been very receptive to my questions and they were already working on an updated rulebook that answered a lot of my concerns.

If you are looking for a really engaging puzzle, where fun stories emerge as you play with a theme that is quite different to a lot of games out there, I urge you to back their Kickstarter later in the year, I know I will.

Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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