Politics are all about antics, from blowhard rhetoric to orchestrated photo ops and theatrical debates. The Contender—a new game from the Oakland branding and design studio Guts & Glory, John Teasdale, and Justin Young—capitalizes on the latter. Think of it as Cards Against Humanity meets the campaign trail, with a didactic angle.
The game is structured so that one player acts as a moderator and the others are all candidates on a panel. The moderator deals five argument cards to each candidate then throws down a topic card, like gun control, corporate handouts, terrorism, education. The candidates then respond, using the argument cards the moderator dealt. The strategy comes with trying to form the strongest response. The twist is that the argument cards are snarky summaries of actual statements from smattering of presidential hopefuls like Al Gore, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, and Ross Perot, among others. They’re categorized into facts, distractions, and attacks—strategies good debaters keep in their back pocket.
For example, a distraction card stating, “I’m on a mission from God” is based on the Michele Bachmann quote, “I will not seek a higher office if God is not calling me to do it.” An attack card that reads, “You’re cheating on America” is based on this snippet from Teddy Roosevelt: “The man who loves other countries as much as his own stands on a level with the man who loves other women as much as he loves his own wife.”
To find the quips and quotes, the designers pored over debate transcripts and reviewed hours of tapes. “There really is no substitution for some of the lines that come out of the mouths of candidates when the chips are down,” says Faun Chapin, of Guts & Glory. “Biden and Reagan are probably the two kings of the deck for different reasons. Reagan’s one-liners are still just battle-rap-ending devastation. Biden is such an amazing cartoon character. We really didn’t have to translate him because you know he damn well meant to call something ‘a bunch of stuff.'”
The designers based the game’s retro graphics on old printed matter and the work of Lester Beall. “We’re hoarders of all kinds of vintage printed materials and have been collecting vintage political ephemera for sometime,” Chapin says. “There’s something really amazing about the dissonance of layout and content that was prevalent particularly in the 1970s that really gets us excited creatively. There is a naïvety and clarity seen in the design that influenced decades of political visual language.”
The visual and literal language of politics are amusing and undoubtedly absurd at times. This game, which surpassed its funding goal on Kickstarter and ships in late 2015, offers an bit of perspective as the 2015 and 2016 elections ramp up and candidates spew more and more hot air. “We hope playing The Contender is like stepping behind the podium and being part of the best debate that’s never happened,” Chapin says.