Time: ~15 minutes
Times Played: 6
The current political regime in charge of the United States has been the source of parody and mockery and a simple internet search will score you a ton of videos, songs, and written accounts. It’s not surprise that this parody has found its way to the world of tabletop gaming and if you’re a frequent browser of Kickstarter, you’ll find a smorgasbord of Trump caricatures.
For full disclosure, I was provided this copy of President Bigly from creator Dan Blakely for this review. The provided copy has not impacted my views below.
President Bigly is another one of these satirical takes on the current US political leader. Unlike many of the previous mention, this game was funded. Funded doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth your time however. That’s a big question with satirical games set in the here and now. The parody might be enough to get people curious but is the gameplay rewarding enough to keep them interested?
Obviously, President Bigly is a spoof of Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States. To understand the Bigly reference, I refer you to the BBC article that gives a tremendous breakdown of when it was used (during a debate with Hilary Clinton), why it was used (?), and what it meant (??). If you’re not comfortable with this parody or worry that it will cause contention with those you play with, I’d avoid it. There’s a time and place for politics and with the current state of the nation, some of us use games to distract ourselves from what’s going on at the Executive (and Legislative…and Judicial…) level. Just wanted a fair warning.
The game itself comes with 56 cards. Within that deck are six Chaos cards, four Tranquility cards, one King of America card, and the remaining forty-five (for the 45th President?) are the Action cards.
President Bigly is unique in its gameplay in that it offers not one, but two different ways to play based on how the players want to proceed. They can elect to Embrace the Chaos or they can prove their wholesomeness by Spreading Tranquility. Embracing the Chaos has players using the red text on some of the Action cards whereas Spreading Tranquility has players using the blue text. Depending on which way they are playing will also dictate how the game ends. With Chaos, you want to be the last player in the game. Tranquility wants you to not be the last player in the game.
Each round, a player plays a card from their hand and performs the action (if there is one). That player can then keep going and play more cards or they can end their turn there. Regardless of how many cards are played, they will draw a new card at the end of their turn. This continues until one player remains and if the Chaos rules are implemented, that player wins. If the Tranquility rules are in effect, then that player loses.
The game also introduces some Power-Play Combos and Defenses that can help players when they’re impacted by other card effects.
So lets talk about the game. The cards and artwork are great. The art by Megan Norris helps create a unique world for the game and while the cards are obvious parodies, it is at least original in their implementation of each. The use of pigs and the caricatures (Teflon, Nyet, Twitter bird) all remind you of the 45th President while not beating you over the head with it. The cartoony art definitely helps. You can laugh at the absurdity for a little before realizing how close to home it all hits. The levity is nice. Even the artwork that could cause some controversy, such as Sam Sheeple and Jorge, are done in jest and portrayed in a non-negative light. The game isn’t about bashing anyone or any belief overtly as it is to point out the absurdist nature of everything.
The game plays quick. Fifteen minutes is at the top of the play time and most games honestly will last under ten once you know the rules. The rules put the pace of play in the players hands as they can decide how many cards to use each round, thus quickening or lengthening the game.
The actual gameplay itself is light. The game won’t be overly complicated or difficult to learn and besides the round structure, most of the rules are on the cards themselves. The text is easy to read and the difference in color will help players know which they’re using. For those that are colorblind, the left is always the Chaos side and the right is the Tranquility side. The only difficulty will come from the combos that can only be seen on the singular rules pamphlet. That was our major hang-up as we passed it back and forth.
With the randomness of the card draws and the abilities of the cards coming into play when played, there isn’t a real strategy that one can follow. A player could be stuck with several sidestep cards in the Chaos variant that forces players to pass on drawing a card. This is troublesome as you want to be the last player in the game but you have no way to mitigate this initial hand. That can be frustrated but for such a light and short game, it is what it is. If you’re not a fan of such randomness though, this may not be something you want to play even with the short length.
When playing Chaos, we thought there wasn’t enough Chaos happening. The player interaction was few and far in between. There are cards (Kickbacks, Paybacks, Veto) that can impact another player but nothing felt truly chaotic. We were expecting to have to change hands or discard your hand to draw back up to the number you discarded.
The Tranquility variant does add a different feel to the game. You’ll still recognize that you’re playing President Bigly but the difference is enough to give a little replayability to the lightweight package. I personally prefer the Chaotic version as promotes interaction between players but if you and your group are not into that, the Tranquility variant provides much the same feel of the game without the interactivity.
The King of America card is a trump card that allows players to win the game outright if they also have one card from each matching set. This is completely independent of which variant is played and just adds another wrinkle to the game.
Regarding player counts, this is definitely a game where more players is better. After trying it at two- and three-players, I would only break this out with four- or five-players. The two-player version has a variant set-up but the decisions made in the game aren’t as important and deep as one expects in a two-player game. President Bigly wants an audience to enjoy the disorder and artwork.
This isn’t a game I would plan a night around but it could be a cute filler if you’re into lightweight satirical games. I feel like once this current presidential regime has passed this might be more appetizing as you can laugh about the past but for those currently living it, it may hit the nail on the head too hard and the gameplay, while cohesive and understandable, isn’t deep enough to warrant repeat performances in a given night. We would play twice at most before breaking it out again on a different evening.