TLDR: Download the app here 🙂
So some of you might have heard of a card game called Politiko. It’s a regular fixture at CILISOS gatherings, allowing us to pick our favourite Malaysian political parties, and engage in a battle for who can gather the most voters.
What started out as an art project by designer Mun Kao just before GE13 in 2013, morphed into a full-blown (and very fun) card game after some balancing and cultural touches from acclaimed local writer, Zedeck Siew.
“Well, it was an art project that was in the form of a game! Just that I paid less attention to game-y aspects of things like gameplay, balance and really polishing of finer details. which is where Zedeck did most of the work and made it to be much more accessible and conceptually stronger.” – Mun Kao
However, even though the Politiko card game and its add-ons has sold 8800 copies to date (pretty impressive considering it’s aimed solely at the Malaysian market), both designers knew there was a key element missing in the game.
The missing thing from their card game that drove them to spend tens of thousands to create an app
So in a nutshell, the main goal in Politiko is to gain as many voters as possible. Each voter has certain descriptions e.g. “Malay, Rural, Moderate”, which dictates which parties he can join. For instance, the voter card “Chinese, Urban, Liberal” can’t be picked up by the player representing UMNO (or as its known in the game, Malay Nationalist Party). And the first party (or alliance) that hits a certain amount of voters wins the game!
However, all that changed AFTER GE13, where BN won the election, but lost the popular vote. Cos Malaysia parlimen is won by winning the majority of the 222 parliamentary seats, each of which has VASTLY different number of voters in each – Putrajaya has 15,791, while Kapar has 144,159 voters.
“One of the things we wanted to highlight in the game is that you can actually win the election with less voters than the other coalition, which is exactly what happened in the last election. This is malapportionment. And you can’t really represent that in a board game, so that’s why we created an app” – Mun Kao
Late last year, Mun Kao and Zedeck started exploring the possibility of building an app to represent a board game, where instead of winning voter cards, the player now has to win seats on a game board. The board tiles representing each parliamentary seat are arranged by the app in a way that is purposefully unbalanced. That way, players can sort’ve passively learn how Malapportionment and Gerrymandering work to make winning an election easier or more difficult.
“It isn’t really a hard-learning thing, but as you play the game, without even realising it you’ll learn how malapportionment and gerrymandering work” – Zedeck Siew
So they teamed up with developers Night Morning (assumedly named after their working hours?), and rushed to develop an app for Politiko in time for GE14.
“It would usually take 6 months to develop something like this, but we managed to make it in 3. They actually brought a mock-up of the game to explain how it works. But one of the things was playing an app is that you lose some of the social element. It’s like playing a board game in two separate rooms. So we actually tried that so they could feel the loss of the elements” – Abu Huraira, Business Director, Night Morning Studios
Coincidentally, their studios also developed another election game for Astro called PilihanSaya.
But there wasn’t time to develop Politiko into a Multiplayer game, so they created an AI for it
3 months is already a tight deadline for any app, much less a strategic online board game. With the official first version launched at artisan bookstore Lit Books a few days ago, the developers couldn’t fit multiplayer into that timeline, so instead, they developed an AI (which for strategy games isn’t so easy).
So to simplify this version, a single player will get to either pick the United Nationalists Front, or the People’s Hope Coalition, and the opposing side will be controlled by AI.
You get to play two cards that will either steal voters or handicap your AI opponent, then it will do the same to you, and after 8 turns, whoever holds the most seats wins. The cards are quite legitimately hilarious tho – there are unique cards for either side of the party. Here’s a full list.
And the Schemes have very clever effects on the game board. Here are some examples:-
- Petrol subsidy – Gains 3 voters
- Financial Scandal – Opponent loses one voter every turn
- Three Corner Battle – Opponent loses one voter every turn
- Royalty Card – Cancels the effect of any card played by the opponent
Also, the board is meant to favour United Nationalists Front’s in terms of the kinds of voters it can sway, but cleverly balances out the Coalition‘s hopes with more powerful cards.
And if you download the game (free mah!), you might make it better
In the two days since its release, the Politiko app has already garnered some pretty good reviews on the Play Store. Apple Store approval still hasn’t come yet, but we’ll update when it does.
However, the short deadline resulted in a simpler game. To be honest, we miss the dynamic social element of the card game, but this app is still simple good fun. And it’s only the beginning. With more proven support and downloads, the developers have multiplayer support and in-app purchases like other parties, and schemes planned.
Much like the election then, your support can determine who comes out on top. Although, in our first playthru as the United Nationalists Front, things didn’t quite work out the way we expected. At the last two turns, the opposition brought out its “Ex-PM weighs in” card, and the Coalition stole the victory at the last moment.