Whether you like it or not, politics is something unavoidable in real life. As such, many board games are based on notable political events or demand political skills from players. This article sums up the currently Best Political Board Games on the market in 2023.
Introduction to Best Political Board Games in 2023
As an overview, politics in board games can come from two sources:
- From the background story or the theming. This is when a board game is set in a highly political background, although this does not mean the gameplay itself is overly political. Watergate would be such a game.
- From the actions of the players. In these games, the politics come from how the players interact with each other: trade, alliances, etc. Many games are very liberal in this, leaving a lot to the players. Perhaps the greatest example is the mighty Twilight Imperium.
Some board games also combine both aspects, i.e. Secret Hitler which combines historical theming with social deduction, or Game of Thrones, which is, well, Game of Thrones on a board, with all of its background political intrigues.
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10. A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition)
Game of Thrones probably doesn’t need much thematic introduction, as we’ve all seen the series to the (bitter) end. A country split into family possessions, who then form (and break) alliances, wage wars, squander over political influence, promote people into court, and play mind games with each other is a prime example of politics.
Well, the board game includes all of the above. It’s basically a dudes-on-a-map, but with a strong emphasis on bluffing, negotiation, and other political games. If you liked the show and wished how it would be to command one of the great houses of Westeros, here’s your best bet! Just make sure to find at least three like-minded people, as the game shines brightest at higher player counts.
9. Secret Hitler
A somewhat controversial theme, this game is set in Germany in the 1930s. How the Nazis came to power included ruse and outplaying their opponents. You can re-live these events in Secret Hitler.
Secret Hitler is a social deduction game where the players are given secret roles: fascists, liberalists, or even Hitler himself. As players try to figure out who is who and enact laws that will put Hitler to power (or assassinate him, if you’re on the other side), there’s a lot of acting, voting, intrigue, humor, and deduction involved.
If you’re comfortable with the theme, this one is really fun and great for parties. If promoting a bloody dictator is something you frown upon, that’s alright too, there are other social-deduction games around.
8. Battlestar Galactica
For fans of the sci-fi series, the Battlestar Galactica franchise has a cult-like status.
The background story speaks of a devastating war between distant human colonies and a cybernetic race called the Cyclons (who turn out to be a human-created AI). In it, the colonies are mostly destroyed and the majority of the remaining human population flees to Battlestar Galactica, a giant battleship that survived the attack. Their mission is to find the fabled 13th colony, Earth.
The board game stays true to this premise. Players play the roles of characters from the show and must cooperate to overcome fuel shortages, food contamination, morale, population, and political unrest.
Here comes the twist. At least one of the players is secretly a Cyclon, seemingly cooperating, but working against human players behind their backs. Bluffing, deduction, and intrigue are guaranteed. Will humans come home successfully or will the Cyclons bring down the ship?
ps: Since Battlestar Galactica is out of print and thus very hard to get for a reasonable price, you might as well check out Unfathomable, a re-skinned version, set in the Arkham Horror Files universe.
7. A War of Whispers
When wars are fought, the heroes on the battlefield are mere pawns in the hand of rulers. But not even rulers are without their “bosses”. There are cliques that try to control the world, pull the strings, and place wages on other people’s destinies.
You play as such a clique in A War of Whispers. Five mighty empires are at war, but you are not in direct control. What you are in control of, is placing political figures into empires, helping them (or not helping them), and then betting on the desired outcome of the war with loyalty tokens. If you bet on the right “horse” at the right time, you just might become the grand puppet master!
6. The King is Dead: Second Edition
While the historical facts around King Arthur remain unclear, this doesn’t stop him from appearing in modern culture. The King is Dead is set after the death of King Arthur. The kingdom of Britain is in turmoil, and you must unite the Scots, Welsh, and British under your rule.
Players play as members of the court, placing influence among the factions, and gaining their allegiance. The tokens are placed (or swapped, removed, or otherwise manipulated) on the map of Britain. All the actions are card-driven, requiring a lot of hand-management from the players while ensuring smooth gameplay.
5. Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile
Oath is a product from Leder Games, most know for their astonishing strategy game, Root. While Oath shares high production standards, it is a different game.
It’s set in a fantasy kingdom, where the players assume the roles of various characters, such as the chancellor, citizens, or exiles. Each will have its own agenda: trying to remain in control, or usurp the chancellor and take his role, guaranteeing gameplay full of role-playing, scheming, and backstabbing.
What sets Oath apart, is that the game remembers what happened in previous games and this affects future games, allowing players to build dynastic stories that will spend several generations (games), while still allowing them to reset the progress and start from scratch if they so wish.
4. The King’s Dilemma
Welcome to the kingdom of Ankist, where several houses are in the King’s cabinet, competing over his affection. I wonder where they got the inspiration? 🙂
The King’s Dilemma is a legacy game, where the story arc is expressed through a never-ending queue of issues that ravage the Kingdom. These range from global economic and military questions, down to individuals and their problems. You, the council must resolve each of these dilemmas on King’s behalf.
After a debate (which includes convincing, bribing, and bluffing), players then vote on how to settle a dilemma. But beware, as each solution will have effects on the whole kingdom – which may not be aligned with your house’s agenda.
Will you help keep the kingdom stable or will your acts be more selfish?
What started as a simple burglary attempt on the Democratic Committee offices in Watergate, was (thanks to the investigation of two hard-working journalists) blown up as a major political scandal. The connection between the spying mission and President Nixon was proven and it led to his resignation in 1974.
The board game version of the events is set after the burglary. One of the players plays as a journalist and opposing him is the Nixon Administration.
In a tug-of-war card game, players will either try to establish enough connection between the events and the president to bring him down or destroy the evidence and make it to the end of the presidential term. The sides come with a unique set of cards each, ensuring each side plays thematically differently.
2. Twilight Imperium (Fourth Edition)
Here it is. The Big One. The game all of us dream of playing but few actually ever do. The game of managing a galactic civilization has it all: the exploration of the hexagon map, expansion, exploitation of the systems, and war with other factions.
You’ll manage your economy, politics, trade, negotiate and make alliances with other factions, and contest the luxurious central tile, the Mecatol Rex. A modular board ensures a high variability factor, while asymmetric factions make the experience highly thematic.
So where’s the catch? Well, the game mechanics are highly complicated, the game is quite expensive, it requires a full table for the greatest experience, and the game can last 8-12 hours. But those who overcame these obstacles speak of an unforgettable experience unlike anything else in board gaming. Will you become one of the consecrated?
1. Pax Pamir: Second Edition
Afghanistan has never been a peaceful place. Not today, not in the past. One such troubled era was after the fall of the Durrani Empire in the 19th century. Leaders of different Afghan factions try to increase their political power and forge a new state, while various European superpowers use the Afghani stage to settle their own scores.
Each player is a leader of an Afghan faction, placing influence tokens on the map of Afghanistan. The placement is card-driven. Players purchase historically-thematic cards and place them in front of them (tableau-building) and these cards allow them to manipulate influence in different ways, even disrupting and interfering with other players’ influence.
The goal is to form a coalition strong enough that will be able to rule Afghanistan in the future. Will you be a part of that coalition?
Conclusion (with honorable mentions)
To sum up the article, I’d like to name a few honorable mentions, that are also worth checking out.
- Die Macher, a very complex game about elections.
- Maria, a game about succession in 18th century Austria.
- Dune, a game of political influence and fighting on the planet Arrakis.
- Freedom: The Underground Railroad, a game about slavery and abolitionism.
- A bunch of games from GMT, a publisher that specializes in historical accuracy, but its games come with the cost of accessibility:
- Imperial Struggle (18th-century global clash between France and Britain)
- Twilight Struggle (Cold War)
- Fire in the Lake (Vietnam War)
- Cuba Libre (Cuban Revolution)