For The People review

For The People: Fantasy Politics is a new political-themed Facebook game from Rocket Surgeon Entertainment that went into open beta this week. The game aims to provide players with a fairly realistic depiction of life in office as the presidential campaigns start to accelerate towards election season.

For The People begins with the creation of the player’s avatar, which may be male or female and customized extensively using a series of sliders to manipulate features and colors. The game gives the player a rather lengthy, unnecessary and condescending tutorial as to how to use these sliders that doesn’t really explain anything in great detail — none of the sliders are marked, so the player is informed that they should “play around” to see what each of them do. This is fine for things where there is a gradation of options such as hair/skin/eye color, but for settings with discrete options, something like a dropdown list would have worked much better.

Once the player’s avatar has been created, the tutorial continues — again, this is unnecessarily lengthy and does not really explain anything in enough detail, merely giving an overview of the interface. Once the tutorial is over, the player is simply thrown into the game proper without any guidance, though there is a help menu in the corner of the screen which may be referred to at any time.

Gameplay in For The People unfolds in several sections. While in their office, players may invite lobbyists to enter and discuss various issues. The issue under discussion may be immediately agreed to if desired, but the player will receive greater rewards if they can get the lobbyist on their side through negotiation. This is accomplished through a simple card game. Upon beginning negotiation, the lobbyist’s mood is depicted through an emoticon, and this may then be manipulated by playing various cards — up to three per “round.” If the lobbyist ends a round with their mood in the red, they will storm out, so the majority of the cards the player ends up playing are “improve mood” cards, leaving little space for those that provide additional bonuses or benefits.

Once a meeting has been successfully completed, the issue passes into the player’s “Agenda” tab, at which point they can debate it in front of a committee they chose to represent at the beginning of the game. Again, this takes the form of a minigame where cards must be played to sway unfavorable committee members to the player’s side of the fence. Rewards are then given according to how decisive a victory was attained, and the player is invited to share their political clout on their Timeline. Players may also solicit “sponsorship” for their committee debates from their friends — the more friends who sponsor the player’s effort, the greater the impact on their final result and, thus, the greater their rewards.

Elsewhere in the game, the player may take part in local debates, which again use the “card game” format but this time require judging the mood of the audience and going along with what they apparently want to hear while diminishing their opponent’s arguments. It’s all very abstract for the most part, and thus quite difficult to judge which are the “correct” answers for any given situation.

This is something of a pattern for the whole game, really — everything is so abstracted and explained in so little detail that it becomes utterly bewildering very quickly. The developers have clearly put plenty of thought into how to create a realistic but game-like depiction of the political process, but somewhere along the way the clarity of that vision has been lost, leaving the game feeling somewhat directionless and confusing at times. The player floats from screen to screen trying out things to see what happens but never really getting a concrete sense of what is actually going on or how well they are doing. A “political clout” currency supposedly measures how influential the player character is, but since this seems to be earned in various quantities regardless of how successful meetings, debates and votes are, it’s not a particularly ideal measure of progress. It may also be spent on items in the store, though “lifetime clout” is tracked separately from the amount the player currently has “on hand.”