Democracy 3 is almost exactly as you would expect: a complex, interweaving simulation of policy, crisis management and electioneering. Although this setup might appeal to someone like me who prefers a slower-paced, methodical game, I have no illusions that this entry will appeal to anyone outside that niche. Democracy 3 has a lot going for it, but in some ways its limited target demographic and emphasis on substance over style may be its downfall.
The setup of the game is simple enough. You start by choosing the country you’ll be operating in (U.S., France, U.K., Canada, Japan or Australia), then configure the circumstances of that nation (such as the ruling/opposition parties, natural disasters, etc.) to determine the tenor of your simulation. Then, you are dropped into the game as the head of the new ruling party as you familiarize yourself with the issues of the day. The backbone of the game is determining polices and adjusting government spending through the use of political capital, which is generated through your cabinet. Each of your cabinet ministers has a set of interests and political sympathies, making their management an integral part of the game. You can reshuffle your cabinet and install new ministers, but be careful to make sure what you are giving up is worth what you are getting: if your policy priorities stray too far from the interests of a particular minister, they will resign and your political capital will decrease until they can be replaced. Not to mention there is also a loyalty meter, making ministers that agree with you more often or have been with you longer more effective at carrying out your directives.
The main challenge of the game is demographics.Depending on the settings you choose, there will be an election looming in two to four years from the outset of the game and the game progresses three months each turn. Almost every demographic distinction is represented in some way throughout the game such as political factions (liberal vs. conservative), fiscal differences (wealthy vs. poor), age (young vs. retirees) and special interests like environmentalists, farmers, labor unions, big business and state employees. Every policy you enact or alter has positive and negative effects of different sections of society, meaning that much of the game is posturing and consensus building in anticipation of the election.
There are also random disasters that will require your response to throughout the game, from assassination attempts to earthquakes and hurricanes. It is important to keep an eye on situations as they develop, as they could have a profound effect on the game later on. In addition, it’s important to watch the budget: it costs less political capital to change the budget on a certain policy than it does to raise or lower a specific tax, so be careful your political agenda isn’t running away with the state checkbook. It is very easy to govern based on one’s person convictions but beware – if your popularity with certain demographics drops below a certain point – it will only strengthen the opposition party.
Democracy 3 sports its fair share of flaws. The game’s novelty wears thin quickly and sucks the fun out of running your own country. In that way, the simulation may work almost too well, plenty of serious decisions and administrative issues, but there’s a certain polish that separates the good games from the great games that just isn’t here. The political capital system can feel arbitrary and annoying, but turning it off just sucks all the challenge out of game, making the thrill wear off even more quickly. The in-game models are strange-looking, the music is droning and at the end of the day you spend most of the game just looking at bubbles meant to represent the issues on the screen, and not doing much else. Also, there is library of mods for Democracy 3 is still growing, which means for the moment you are mostly stuck with what comes out of the box. My best consumer advice for this game is this: wait until it goes on sale, buy it at the reduced price and expect to get a few good hours out of it, and not much after that.
And even then, that is assuming you are in the market for this kind of game in the first place. For someone like me who loves simulation games and politics, this was an easy sell. But if even I couldn’t find much love for this one, I doubt someone who doesn’t enjoy either of those things would. Democracy 3 is a game with admirable intentions that I can easily respect, and the bones of a great game are definitely present, but in the end the follow through just isn’t there. I hope that if there should be a Democracy 4, it can take would did work from Democracy 3 and build on it to make it the game it deserves to be. Until then, the search for a political simulation game that is both realistic and truly enjoyable continues. I’m sure it must be out there somewhere.