PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Holiday games for policy wonks

Over at his regular column at Foreign Policy magazine, Michael Peck plays Santa and recommends 7 Holiday Games for Wonks.

But what about the wonks? What holiday treats await those who enjoy subtler games — those that illustrate the currents of history, illuminate the intricacies of politics, and explain why the world is and what it might be? Games that require thought and guile, and not just a quick wrist and a big bottle of caffeinated Mountain Dew.

Fear not, wonkdom. We at Foreign Policy believe that the holidays should be a celebration of the cerebral. So we offer seven games that will stimulate the mind, scratch that policymaking itch, and incidentally are pretty damn fun to play. Yes, we know that real wonks aren’t supposed to have fun. But we won’t tell anyone if you don’t.

Those games are:

  • Twilight Struggle—One of my favourite games too, covering the Cold War, 1945-89. It is a game of moderate complexity and an excellent introduction into how card-driven strategy games can deal with historical political-military conflicts.
  • Pandemic—This cooperative game that is also a favourite among the PAXsims editors, and easier to play than most for gaming newbies. It is also a good game to play if you are thinking of designing your own cooperative game, and want to get a sense of possible mechanics.
  • Persian Incursion—I still have this sitting on my bookshelf eagerly awaiting an opportunity to play. Not for gaming newbies, however.
  • War on Terror —This fairly simple game doesn’t really model anything realistic, but is a hoot to play—and is now available as an iPhone/iPad app too!
  • Civilization V—The latest version of the classic Sid Meier PC game. Be prepared to lose large portions of your life if you become addicted.
  • Victoria II—A PC game of the industrial revolution, and one that I haven’t played yet.
  • War in the East—A complex PC based hex-based wargame of the Eastern Front during WWII involving thousands of simulated combat units. For those of you who want to move thousands of cardboard unit counters by hand the old-fashioned way, there is always SPI’s classic War in the East (1976).

One could quibble endlessly about what should be on this list—they are all very good games, although they exist in a large and rapidly expanding universe of boardgames and computer games that address political-military and social issues. BoardGameGeek currently lists a stunning total of 55,833 boardgames in its database, and while not all of these address serious topics, a great many do (click the link to see).

One that I would have lobbied for inclusion on Michael’s list is Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001- ?, which won this year’s Charles S. Roberts Award for the best post-WWI wargame, and which we’ve previously reviewed at PAXsims.

Have your own favourite policy wonk game? Feel free to mention it in the comments section.

Picture: No, Hello Kitty Monopoly was not one of Michael’s recommended games, but how could I resist?

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