December 12, 2016

Democracy 3

Tags: A Gamedev Plays

This post is from the now defunct website “A GameDev Plays…”, copied here for posterity

Is a one-party state or assassination in your future political career? Find out in the entertaining (and occasionally thought-provoking) Democracy 3 as you pander to those population nodes, or maybe just reorganise the country to better optimise the demographics.

The aim of Democracy 3 is to win elections. To do this the player decides upon, and to what extent, various policies should be implemented. Consequences flow through a vast array of other policies, possible events and demographics. Finally all the changes feed into to a popularity score determining the likelihood of re-election.

The game is played out over 3 month turns, leading towards regularly spaced elections. There are limits on what the player can do each turn. The more controversial a policy, the greater the political capital required to implement it. At the start of each turn the player’s political capital is replenished depending on the loyalty of the cabinet (who can be fired & hired as desired). There is never quite enough to do all that is needed. Some policies require little capital, like Community Policing, other require so much I have never been able to enact them, like an Inheritance Tax.

Graph optimisation FTW

The mass of interconnected policies, events and people lead this to becoming essentially a game about graph optimisation. Luckily, I enjoy such games, and for a few hours this well-made game was no exception. Such simulations often collapse as they are built to teach a certain ideology. However, I could not detect that issue here. There are a wide array of possible policies ranging from the obvious like policing and education, through to the controversial like whether evolution is taught in schools, or even the unlikely such as anti-gravity research and banning divorce. The linkages between nodes appear reasonable.

The internal model seems to be designed more as a play-pit. After a few games, the fun comes increasingly from just trying out some of the more extreme possibilities. It is possible to build a socialist utopia, police state, or theocracy and still win elections. A big reason for this and one of the main advantages of the design, is that it is possible to change the demographics of the country. Teaching creationism in schools makes the religious demographic segment grow, taxing the rich makes them more likely to leave. Players can warp virtual society to their ends.

How it all fits together

A game like this is highly dependent on a smooth user interface, and Democracy 3 largely succeeds on this requirement. The main screen holds all the information needed to see the current state of the game. Hovering over an item highlights its inputs/outputs so it is immediately clear how it influences the system. However, sometimes some thought is needed to determine whether a linkage is providing a useful effect or not. For instance, a positive impact on Pollution means a worse environment, but a similar flow to Environment means a better environment. After a while these switches become less confusing and easier to spot.

Democracy 3 has a real “just one more turn” feel to it. Many times I kept playing longer than expected to see what would happen next or if I could keep up my popularity. Unfortunately what often happened was assassination or runaway success. The system always seems unstable at first (why do players start so unpopular when they are supposed to have just won an election?). Although after playing for a while, the country usually flies off towards one of two steady(ish) states: collapse (and death) or unwavering electoral popularity.

In one game my country had 10 years of greater than 50% budget deficits with a C credit rating, but it didn’t cause problems. How is that debt funded? The economy was wrecked with GDP constantly falling. Despite this, I kept being re-elected with 90% majorities. My policies of universal health-care, extensive education and a large police force keeping everyone happy. Cabinet also just seemed an annoyance with little impact and events began to repeat themselves. I started clicking “Next” without making any policy changes - year after year of inaction and my popularity never waned. Perhaps you are not supposed to play that long?

Deep dive on Tobacco Tax

I enjoyed playing this game, and it made me think for a few hours. However, I do not think I will be playing it again soon. There is definitely fun in working out how the internal model works, but not much longevity after that. It seems to be too deterministic for a realistic simulation. Extreme black swan events (either domestic or foreign) don’t seem to play a big enough role. Still it can be fun to try creating some radical political cultures. It is definitely worth picking up when cheap in a bundle. Plus it lets you play as Australia!

Democracy 3 is on the Steam store for PC, Mac and Linux at US$24.99. There are many DLC products available and the game has been bundled.

A common end to my games