Politics can be a dirty game and allegations of vote-buying, sex scandals and anonymous donations have become a familiar scene in the political landscape of Malaysia. In an ironic twist, these acts were the source of inspiration for a Malaysian that have turned these tricks into the popular card game - Politiko that has been featured in CNN and Al-Jazeera since its debut.
Politiko, the brainchild of 33-year-old designer Mun Kao - part of a group called Loyar Burok, which is affiliated with the Malaysian Center for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR), said he had the idea about four years ago when there really was a political circus going on. "We had some ridiculous things happening in Malaysia," Mun Kao told CNN. "You had people being arrested for the color of their T-shirts and things like that and to me that period was really absurd. It prompted a lot of emotions in a lot of people and it's being expressed in different forms. If you have Malaysian friends you can see it on Facebook and online - I think there's a creative expression tsunami going on," he said.
Mun Kao spent more than a year creating the game and he came up with several versions before coming up with the final product. His friends helped him test out the prototypes. Mun Kao said it wasn’t planned that POLITIKO be completed just before the elections.
“During the process of making the game, 50 per cent of the suggestions came from play testers who are politically-aware and game-aware,” he said. “The game is something an observer can feel or relate to just by reading the headlines in the news. It is something that affects you every day,” said Mun Kao.
The cheeky game is loosely based on Monopoly Deal but instead of dealing in property, players compete to get voters. Play with up to six friends, of any race. But are they really your friends? Remember: it's not about the people -- it's about Putrajaya. To win, you have to have eight Voter cards that meet the requirements of your Party. You can also form Alliances with other players where two-player alliances can form the government with 15 Voter cards and three-player alliances win with 21 Voter cards.
Before that can happen, players must negotiate the pitfalls of the "scheme" cards - either rising on the pork-barrel politics of free highway tolls and urban metro projects, or falling on crumbling allegiances and misplaced racial scapegoating.
Janji ditepati! Woo voters with cash handouts, use elements of Sharia law to lay low rivals, or pour petrol subsidies on troubled electoral waters. Pencapaian diutamakan! Hire phantom voters. Control the media. Cook up a sex scandal to alienate your enemy's supporters - or to betray your own allies!
The Politiko Idea
Was the game created to educate people about politics?
“It was not my intention and it’s not necessarily used to educate people about politics. I worked with Loyar Barang because it might be a useful tool for them to create awareness,” said Mun Kao.
Chi Too, who was one of the first testers of the card game, feels that it is important for people to know the current political situation. “This is how it is right now and POLITIKO helps us see how absurd the system is. People can participate in a micro country government kind of situation in the game,” he said. “It’s scary to see that the entire democratic system can be reduced to a card game and be so realistically accurate,” added Chi Too.
The game has quickly sold out of its initial run decks when firstly introduced and does not require a high level of knowledge on the Malaysian political landscape. Your non-political-savvy friends are sure to enjoy the game as well (if friendships have not been ruined).
East Malaysia Not Forgotten
The Politiko card game is on its improved 2nd edition since debut and now the card game about wacky scheming, cynical realpolitik, and Malaysian general elections invades Sabah and Sarawak in the form of an expansion pack!
Woo East Malaysian voters with clean water and electricity; alienate them with excessive logging. Force your political rivals to splinter and grant citizenship to immigrants. If nothing works, play up invasions by a foreign sultanate!
Fight West Malaysian oppression with three new political parties with unique abilities. Rally around the White-haired Rajah’s will!
REMEMBER: the East is your fixed deposit. Spend it well.
Hilarity ensues with some of the cards hitting real close to home. The game mechanics are deliberately skewered – given the political realities the game is based on. You'll be at a major disadvantage to lead an ethnic minority party in this game, so luck can be a huge factor at play in dealing/drawing cards. That, however, does not take away the immense hours of fun to be had with this awesome card game!