I don’t often cover Kickstarter games. There really are lots of them, and while I’d love to dive in and write more about them, the reality is that my shelf of shame (the games I own but don’t play) are starting to creak under the pressure.
Sometimes however, something stands out as … well, a little different. Home of the Brave is one such thing. Oddly, despite having European origins, this game focuses its stare at the complex and opaque world of American politics. You can choose from six different characters, each with a separate set of cards unique to their personality.
These cards let you do all kinds of things, and some of the most powerful ones come with potentially heavy consequences. These require you to give a special card to another player at the same time as playing them. Those special cards can then be used against you later on, causing some pretty nasty effects. The beauty in this dynamic is not only that there is a constant friction between your own position and the reaction of others, but also that you have to think very carefully about how each move you take might change the way the other players treat you later on.
Each player is unashamedly self-interested too. That means if you play as the criminal, you’re not only inclined to role play the game as a dodgy dealer, but your actual cards are designed to encourage such activity. Conversely, the journalist will have an entirely different set of intentions (one such objective is trying to sleep with the president!). These intentions are reflected by the actions available to each player: the businessman, for example, will have an easy ability to earn money but perhaps more trouble earning other kinds of resources.
It makes for an asymmetrical style of play, which has the added benefit of provoking all kinds of cross-table trading and the brokering of cagey allegiances between players.
You see, Home of the Brave is much more than just a card game. It features a large playing board, which has various designated areas for attributes like ‘bravery’ and influence in certain domains (like the media, or society). It also features the national mall, which in essence forms a voting population of American citizens. The ways that players behave will shape the nature of these citizens, and which political leanings they have – manifesting as little blue cubes of democrats and the like.
Although each player is competing with one another, and will each have different motivations, the basic idea is to score a certain amount of points before anyone – which are pretty difficult to obtain.
There are a slew of other mechanics at play too. There are regular voting rounds, in which new legislation is decided upon by the players. This might be new climate change policy, which of course will upset the oil lobbyists if it becomes law. Earlier, perhaps one of the players needed some new funding and ended up in the pockets of Big Oil. Now, that player will suffer some nasty penalties if the vote goes the ‘wrong way’. Suddenly, the vote becomes far more political, with most players having something or other significant at stake – and the remaining players can grow rich quickly if they are able to sell their vote for the right price.
It’s this back and forth between players – the deals and pacts that emerge throughout the course of the game – that set it apart from other board games. Not only that, but it really does seem to capture a sense of US politicking, with a somewhat poignant sense of superficiality to players’ ethics that grows as the game unfolds. OK, so hear me out: maybe arming kids with guns is a good thing? Well at least it might mean more voters for my other project, which will increase my influence in the media. Then I’ll have the means to enact positive change! Oh, but for this next vote I kinda owe this guy for the last … you get the idea.
Home of the Brave is a game that, at the surface level, offers players a way to emulate the glamour of US politics, at times managing to successfully mimic the feeling that shows like House of Cards so artfully convey. Yet it’s also something that occasionally touches upon something even deeper, and perhaps more scary: the workings of a global superpower is little more than a dastardly game between the vying, selfish interests of an elite few. So … have fun 🙂