Teaching Time: 5 mins
Playing Time: 20 mins
Setup Time: 2 mins
Value For Money: High
Price: Print and Play
Solo Play Review
I've got a game sat on my development shelf called Oligarchy which is designed to simulate a range of governmental systems via simple mechanisms but I've not gotten it to work yet. Luckily I'm a pretty open hearted guy so I was delighted to see Austerity, a Print and Play designed to simulate a range of governmental systems via simple mechanisms, and by and large its pretty darn good.
Its a simple build. If you have a good stock of Euro cubes there's no actual building to do in the basic version and even in the full version if you're using proxy cubes there's still only a few pages to cut up.
The game itself is a bag builder, or technically a bag editor. At the start of the game the bag is built to represent levels of wealth and debt, crime and law etc. present in the institutions of your chosen country. Cubes in the bag are drawn out in pairs representing events with debt or crime generally generating bad events and wealth, law or welfare good ones. The game revolves around investing in adding cubes to the bag sufficiently to allow you to remove the negative ones and achieve certain set goals. In the extended version of the rules you can select a generic country type (such as tinpot dictatorship or capitalist democracy), adopt policies (police state or protectionism), purchase additional institutions (higher education) or change the aim of the game (war footing or Olympics). However complex it becomes the base mechanisms remain clear and simple and carry the game's various elements along smoothly.
The game's best points are largely emergent and show up when you play with all elements active. For instance, if you adopt a police state then protectionism becomes hugely beneficial, neatly simulating a basic version of real world events. There are points when this breaks down, or gives way to stinging satire, depending on your point of view. For example, the drain associated with free trade makes capitalist democracy much harder to win with than a tinpot dictatorship under a police state. It might be true that running a tinpot dictatorship is easier than an effective capitalist democracy, but they are in reality rarely mighty international forces so the relative ease of for example claiming the Olympics with them feels somewhat odd (unless this is an intentional piece of satire directed at the World Cup, in which case its masterful).
The game looks great without being over designed making it clear to read and not too ink heavy to print. Its rules are clear and, aside from one or two timing conflicts, highly effective. It neatly simulates a good range of political institutions in an effective, if simplified manner resulting in an enjoyable and satisfying game. Also, I don't have to develop Oligarchy now. Probably.