the policy making card game


* Please note the complete rules included in the .zip package include a complete card list


Politics is always a good topic for heated discussion, but it's seldom fun. The aim of this game is to present a playable version of the policy making process, as an entertaining and educative way to talk about politics. In Powerplay players attempt to promote their preferred policies while others oppose them using political strategies, resources and events to do so.

Not particularly, however I have tried to keep some of the cards as descriptively informative as possible. Some variation in the game between card listings and effects and their "text book" definition or usage comes from the need to balance out play and accommodate the subtleties of the real world policy making process and the parameters of the game.

Two to six.

Alpha Test Status and You
Please note that this is the alpha test version of this game, please forward your comments or suggestions to Peter Chen. Grammar and spelling corrections are also useful (I use Australian English spelling). The game is not intended for commercial release, but possibly as a freeware educative aid. If anyone has some artistic skills and would like to dedicate this to the game, I'd like to hear from you.
If you are going to send comments, please include: Your name and any the names of players you played with (so I can credit you as playtesters), how many times you played the game and with how many players (ie, three games with four players per game), and provide both specific and general comments. If you have additional rules or cards to suggest, please include your proposed text, incorporated suggestions will earn you a place in the design credits.

Aim of the Game
The aim of the game is to be the first player to successfully progress their public policies onto the political agenda and into action. The player to be the first to successfully bring four policies into effect is the winner of the game and the other players are the losers (sorry, its a zero-sum game... there is no prize for second best).

Materials for Play
Powerplay requires the standard deck provided and each player will need about 30 small coins per player to record their level of political capital (or any other small token or object).
Five types of cards are used in the game, as illustrated:

card example 1

card example 2

Game Time
Game play is divided into rounds, turns and phases. Each player's actions (as listed in Progression of play below) constitutes a turn, containing a number of elements (phases), once each player has had a turn in order, one complete round has been completed.

Progression of Play

The Playing Surface

Playing Surface Example

Order of Play Actions Explained
Announce Event
Event cards can be announced at any time, interrupting the flow of play while the details of the event are read and the results announced. Some events will be directed at the players own policies or network, and others at other players, many are ambiguous and can be used for either, or effect gameplay generally.
Once completed, discard event cards to the discard pile unless directed by the card.

Propose Policy
Policies are proposed by announcing the act and placing them in front of the player's resource network (with the text towards the proposing player). Policy cards have no effect until they are implemented (ie they neither count towards with victory conditions of the game, or allow the proposing player to use the one-off effect listed on the card).
A player may never have more than three policies proposed at any one time.

Deploy Strategy
Strategies can be deployed either supporting or opposing a proposed policy. Strategies must be deployed by a resource in the deploying player's resource network that is compatible with the strategy's class and played on a policy amenable to the strategy. Strategies require the expenditure of political capital that must be discarded to the "bank" when tabling the card.
Strategies supporting a proposed policy are placed beneath the policy card while strategies opposing the proposed policy are placed above the policy card (relative to the player who proposed the policy). Upon deployment of the strategy the effects of the card are announced and brought into effect.

Ally Resource
At the start of play, each player will have no resource cards on the playing surface. As resources are allied, they are placed into a network with their text facing the player. To ally a resource the player must spend (discard) political capital equal to the resource's income. The first resource allied is simply placed before the player. All subsequent resources must be placed with their text facing the player and a connection (the handshake) connecting to another connection on a different resource, as shown:

Connecting Resources Example

Table Decision Point Card
During each players turn, following their decision to Propose Policy, Deploy Strategy, or Ally Resource (if desired) the player may additionally table a Decision Point card on a proposed policy of their choice. The player need not play the card on a policy in front of themselves, but may choose any proposed policy. The card is placed over the proposed policy.
Each Decision Point card has a number of rounds indicated before the policy's implementation can be resolved (see Implement Policy, below).

Implement Policy
Proposed policies are implemented (successfully brought into effect) when indicated by a Decision Point card or relevant Event card (Snap Decision Point!). Once a decision point has been tabled on a policy, the policy implementation must be resolved in the turn indicated (or for Snap Decision Point!, at the point of tabling the card), and can only be delayed or negated through the use of event cards or the effects of tabled strategy cards.
During the appropriate phase of the proposing player's turn (d), the policy implementation is successful if the number of supporting strategies outnumber the opposing strategies.
In the event of a tie, players may contribute political capital to either side. The side with the most tokens will be victorious.
If the policy is successfully implemented, it is retained by the proposing player (adding to their successful policy cards for determining game victory), and the results of the successful policy (it's effects) are read allowed and brought into effect, if desired by the proposing player. If the policy is unsuccessful, it has no effect and it is discarded. All strategy cards and political capital tokens associated with the policy are discarded regardless of success or failure of the policy.

Additional Game Terms Explained

Splitting Networks Explained
As a result of either converting or negating a resource (the outcomes of successfully implemented policies), a network may become split, as illustrated:

splitting network example 1

In this case the player must chose which part of the network she wishes to retain, and discard the remaining unattached cards, for example:

splitting network example 2

Optional Rules
The Law of Decreasing Co-ordination:
The larger the organisation, the greater the cost of co-ordination and ensure smooth administration and prevent duplication of endeavour. For every resource in the players network over six, one political capital must be paid per round to maintain organisational cohesiveness.

Visionary Leadership Win Conditions:
Instead of four policies of any type enacted as a win condition, victory is only achieved when a player enacts one policy from each type (economic, social, symbolic).

Ideologically Driven Win Conditions:
At the start of play, each player selects and announces one type of policy (economic, social, symbolic) that they will aim to enact three policies of to win the game.

Design Notes
Any, even casual student of public policy / political science / public administration is going to observe a large number of inconsistencies and problems with the way the game uses terminology and fails to incorporate key parts of the political process. At the broad level, adherents to Marxist or structures of dominance style literature are going to baulk at the underlying plurality of the game, similarly post modernists are going to find the lack of treatment of inherent social power relations problematic. These divergences in approach are unavoidable and reflect my own personal bias towards empirical network analysis.
On another level, my friends from the United States will note a lack of Presidential references and an under-emphasis on the executive-legislative divide, role of congressional committees, etc.. This too is unavoidable. Coming from Australia we can see a number of differences between the US Federal system and the Australian (or "Washminster") model of government, namely, the dominance of the executive over the lower house of the legislature, and the subsequent lack of a divergent stream of policy making between the two arms of government. Australia has no Bill or Rights which prevents the use of Supreme Court judgements on certain policy areas, and limits to a degree the amount of purely symbolic / rhetorical policy that emerges from the political process (for example, the Communications Decency Act). Additionally, Australia tends to lack the Committee-Agency interface (because of the whip hand Government has over the budgetary process) and so Iron Triangles and Subgovernments are technically more relevant to the US than here in Australia. Canadians will probably understand the differences, however I welcome seeing a "US variant" of the game. For my British friends, you will probably see a disturbing "Americanisation" here, for which I apologise and blame the state of the discipline in Australia and the failure of the Empire.
Overall, this is an attempt to fit a lot of rather disparate theory and understanding of the policy making process into a single card game, and many of the limitations reflect this. One of the most glaring limitations is the conceptualisation of "resource networks" that neither reflect Helco's Issue Network (or atomistic network of policy makers) or Rhode's Resource Dependency theory of networks (where groups are bound together to create value in the political process). You can understand how balance considerations changed some of the way terms were used by observing that the network is a table element, Iron Triangle a strategy and Advocacy Coalition an event. The battle of style over substance? My side is winning. However, the aim has been to capture the essential nature of a complex system where different resources, events and strategies combine to effect political outcomes.

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Comments, Bugs, Additions: Peter Chen
© 1999 Peter Chen