So, you want to know about political games? Political simulations often have the same alluring attraction as war games and strategy games. The average person likes to test their mental prowess to see if they can do better than their real-world counterparts, or perhaps exert some control over a digital space that resembles their own situation as a way of coping with life’s trials.
Either way, there is an addictive quality to them that’s unlike the rush you get from shooters or RPGs, although the escapism is no less real. Whether you’re setting economic and trade policies, standing strong on the international stage, or leading a nation through a war or some other crises, there’s plenty of things to keep an eye on in a genre that attempts to model every facet of what goes into running a nation.
For our list of top political game picks, we’ve more or less focused on government simulation games rather than games that instead try to recreate or push a specific political agenda – there’s plenty of really interesting options in that latter category, such as Papers Please or America’s Army, but they deserve a dedicated piece. That said, we have included one or two exceptions that really stand-out. Enjoy!
Here are some of the best government simulation games on PC:
- Democracy 4
- Superpower 2
- Supreme Ruler: Ultimate
- Rebel Inc: Escalation
- Twilight Struggle
- Power & Revolution 2020 Edition
- Tropico 4
One of the poster children of political games, the Democracy series views government simulations through the lense of policy and popular opinion. You play as the primary head of state for a country, and can set whatever policies, laws, and other choices to test your political ideas. The only goal of Democracy 4 is to get re-elected, but it’s a game that by design is supposed to be without inherent bias.
The digital population you rule will dynamically and randomly react to your policies, giving you the pushback you need to simulate the careful negotiation and compromise between political ideals and voting population. It’s such an intricate simulation that national newspapers in the UK have used it several times to test the manifestos of political parties in the run-up to elections. While it doesn’t have all of the management capabilities of more old-school simulation games, this is the truest ‘political game’ you’ll ever play. It’s currently in Steam Early Access.
A precursor to games like Power & Revolution (mentioned below) and other similar series like RealPolitiks II, the SuperPower series started life in 2002, with the better known sequel launching in 2004. SuperPower 2 would eventually get a Steam release ten years later in 2014.
SuperPower 2 is an old-school simulation game, with a meaty, information heavy UI, lots and lots of buttons to press, and the entire ruling infrastructure of any one of 140 playable nations. What I remember most about it is the fact that most games ended in someone getting nuked – usually me. The game has had a robust mod scene keeping it alive all these years, and THQ Nordic recently announced it would be reviving the series with Superpower 3, due sometime in 2022.
Supreme Ruler: Ultimate
Supreme Ruler, as a series, has skewed more towards the war game side of the simulation spectrum because most of them tend to focus on a specific conflicts such as WW2 or WW1, but there have been other games set in the Cold War and modern times as well that have less military focus.
Supreme Ruler: Ultimate released in 2014, and is an attempt to marry all of the games together into one – starting just prior to The Great War, you can lead a single nation through both global conflicts, the cold war, and then into modern times and the near future. There are also specific historical scenarios you can play through as well. While military and fighting mechanics are key to this series, there are also robust political management aspects as well that can rival other more dedicated games on this list, as you also need to run the country as a whole, no matter what’s going on.
The only thing we’d say about this is that developer Battlegoat has done little to upgrade their tech over the years, so while this project is ambitious and well researched, it’s also as clunky as most old-school indie titles.
Rebel Inc: Escalation
We’re taking a break from more global facing political simulations for a more localised game that you should definitely try if you’re looking for a well-researched take of the War on Terror. You’re in charge of a fictional region inspired by Afghanistan, tasked with trying to rebuild after a devastating conflict. This involves not only manging civilian matters to bring prosperity, but also fighting off insurgents who will oppose you.
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On the face of it this could be mistaken for a simple real-time tactical war game, but there are plenty of tools available to you that don’t ajust involve fighting. You’ve got to make best use of international aid and funding to build infrastructure, amenities, educate the populace, and eventually train replacement forces to take over so your initial NATO troops can be sent home, something which gives you a boost.
There’s strictly speaking no direct government simulation in Rebel Inc, but you do engage in local politics and enact policies that help the local authorities rebuild. Ndemic has put a lot of time and effort into making this a sensitive, authentic experience. It’s a shame that recent events seem to have proven the real-world strategy doesn’t actually work.
This is the digital adaptation of one of the most fascinating cold war board games of our time. A nail-biting two player experience, one person represents America, while the other Soviet Russia. It’s a card-driven game where victory points decide the final winner, but given you have most of the world to play with you have to carefully pick your strategy.
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Again, there’s no government simulation here, but Twilight Struggle is a political strategy game aimed at trying to recreate the subtle yet momentous ideological posturing that dominated the cold war period until the Soviet Union’s collapse. Wars are present in a very abstract sense – mainly via the cards as flavour text – but the main goal is to have more influence in a country than your opponent, and through that the most influence in a region, making sure you score at the opportune moment.
Be careful though – too many aggressive actions can cause the DEFCON track to reach its highest level. When that happens, the player who caused it to go there loses anyway. The balance in this game would make even Thanos smile.
Power & Revolution 2020 Edition
Buyer beware, this series suffers from the annual release syndrome that can befall famous sport franchises, but the 2020 edition of this geopolitical simulator seems to have a decent following at the moment. There’s a 2021 edition as well, but the response to that one is more negative and the changes seem minor.
This game lets you play as the heads of state of any one of 175 playable countries, with plenty of data and research into making the countries as accurate as possible to their real-world counterparts. The game even models on-going events, with the 2020 edition specifically featuring the COVID-19 pandemic as a major event.
It’s just as much a city builder game as it is a political game, but Tropico holds a special place in our hearts because it brought a humerous, slightly dystopian twist to the nation building formula. You are the newly appointed dictator of a banana republic, and must take it from an ex-colonial outpost to a thriving paradise, either through exports or tourism, or both!
While more recent entries like Tropico 6 are also pretty good, Tropico 4 sticks with us specifically as it touched on some really interesting political dynamics in a way the previous games hadn’t. While you couldn’t control your government in fine detail like many of the other games above, you could enact certain policies, and a large part of this was dedicated to international relations. You could even set superpowers against each other in competing for your influence, although if you took things too far one of them was likely to just invade and overthrow you.
Tropico 5 and 6 do this as well, but as new developers have come on board and put their own twist on the forumula, the nature of Tropico has changed, and the series embraces some of the memes and tropes inherent to the setting a bit more wholesale, losing some of the political tension of the earlier games. Whether you pick up Tropico 4 or a later entry though, you can’t really go wrong.