Subtle Knives: Democracy 3 – Social Engineering

Graham recognised the brilliance of Democracy 3 in his review while also drawing attention to its limitations. I agree that the joy of the game is in tweaking and plucking, observing the way that a decision influences the cat’s cradle of government, and how the taut lines of the interface tremble and intersect. The new Social Engineering expansion adds 26 new policies and eight new dilemmas. Cliffski explains: “with social engineering you get to influence the population in far subtler ways. From TV ad campaigns to promote healthy eating to free parenting classes, city farms and a smart-meter program”. The scalpel rises and a country dies by a thousand subtle incisions.

The add-on is available at this very moment, either direct from Positech or via Steam. I’m not linking to the Steam page though because the direct version includes a Steam key.

Meanwhile, Cliffski continues work on Gratuitous Space Battles 2. Sexy space lighting.


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    Harlander says:

    The scalpel rises and a country dies by a thousand subtle incisions.

    Woah, did it just get ominous in here?

  2. DonJefe says:

    I more interested in Cliffski fixing the game balancing. When I play the US I get assassinated in my first term every time. When I play the UK I quickly establish a utopia where there is no pollution or crime and where I get 90% of the votes.

    Somewhere inbetween the two would feel a little more realistic. :)

    • Gap Gen says:

      Are you sure you’re not playing this game? link to

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Maybe the game is trying to tell you that you have a good potential career in UK politics?

      Any political simulator where your policies could get you easily elected in both the UK and the US would be utterly worthless. Despite the shared language, “UK Conservative” and “US Conservative” are almost fundamentally alien viewpoints to the point where the UK Libs and the US Conservatives seem to be the closest in ideology. What will win you elections in UK will not win you elections in US.

      • TCM says:

        I managed to not only solve all of the UK’s problems, and make it the most powerful country in the world, without any internal dissent, I also halfway converted it into a police state with obscene curfews and heavily armed guards on every corner with drones overhead before people even started considering voting me out of office, much less assassinating me. I did this inside of two terms.

        So yeah, the balance is a bit off.

        • Severn2j says:

          “I also halfway converted it into a police state with obscene curfews and heavily armed guards on every corner with drones overhead before people even started considering voting me out of office”

          This part seems pretty realistic..

  3. Flavorfish says:

    Love the game’s potential but the economy is too unbalanced to provide the depth it is so close to providing. It rarely takes me longer than two terms on %200 difficulty to eradicate debt and create the most powerful economy in the world. From there it only takes time to start winning %95 election victories. The economy is borked because feedback loops with no internal resistance cause the gdp to wildly ocillate from either maximum or minimum of the slider, and the game becomes a task of eliminating negative feedback loops and creating positive ones. On top of that, some parts of the game’s simulation defy economic reality, such as that immigration SHRINKS GDP.

    I’d much rather see him create an expansion that tackles the game’s big issues with an enhanced economy and new features such as creating a consistent party platform.

    • aldo_14 says:

      such as that immigration SHRINKS GDP.

      Erwaitwhat? Oh dear, that’s a bit of a biggy.

      Especially in these politicized times.

    • Cinek says:

      Yep. You very nicely nailed some of the issues that this game is. One of my personal major concerns is how much influence player has on a country without being bothered by global situation or even any internal protests unless you really f*** up. As one of the reviewers on pointed out: you can actually shrink your deficit during harsh economic crisis.
      Economy is seriously broken in this game, and it goes way beyond private POV of a game author (ie. whatever he thinks liberals of socialists are these that can build “utopia”-style country).

    • cliffski says:

      Hi, Immigration does not shrink GDP. This is just an artifact of the way the equations are presented. A low level of immigration is modeled as a negative effect on GDP, with a high level boosting GDP. If you see that negative effect, then it is a sign that the game calculates that your low immigration levels (effectively emigration) is harming GDP, you can boost it by relaxing border controls.
      I admit this is not as clear as it could be, and the same system is used in some other places. People are often looking at the fact than X has a negative effect on Y, and not clicking through to see that because X is too *low* not because it’s high.
      I hope that makes sense :D (I should re-engineer it to work differently ideally).

      • Gap Gen says:

        Out of interest, why does a low level of immigration shrink GDP?

        • Thurgret says:

          It’s a while since I’ve opened up Democracy, but as I recall, that bar would be better labelled ‘migration’ then ‘immigration’, since it can also represent people leaving your country.

          I think? I may be remembering it all wrong.

          • Gap Gen says:

            Ah, I missed the “effectively emigration” bit. So low levels = negative immigration, rather than just small numbers of people moving in.

          • hujsh says:

            There’s the possibility that without any immigration the population is shrinking (lower birth rates in Western societies) and that is causing GDP to shrink. Or maybe it could show the effects of a skilled labour shortage?

  4. Cinek says:

    Sounds like an expansion pack to make game even easier than it is already.

    Somehow I can’t see myself buying it after finding out how silly-easy the vanilla game is.

    • cliffski says:

      Some countries are easier than others. The UK is the easiest. There is also a difficulty slider :D

      • Cinek says:

        Game shouldn’t be 5-yo-kid-easy on “Normal” difficulty.

        And even if you for whatever reason assume that “Normal” should be “super-easy” – it still doesn’t explain what good is an expansion pack making game even easier.

        • cliffski says:

          the expansion pack isn’t designed to make the game ‘easier’. This is a sandbox game, it’s not about ‘winning’ but changing society and experimenting with political ideas and philosophies.

  5. SominiTheCommenter says:

    Malcom Tucker DLC please!

  6. KicktheCAN says:

    I liked this game at first but I could not figure out how to keep my ministers from quitting. In my eight years as president, I completely eliminated crime, the national debt, and (almost) pollution, and I was loved by almost everyone (Except the trade unionists, capitalists, and motorists [but they barely existed anymore so who cares]) and I had burned through every minister available to me.

  7. belgand says:

    And this sort of thing explains precisely one of the biggest problems with the game: it’s a political simulation that already has a pre-defined agenda. It does not seemingly allow the idea that social engineering is an appalling thing for a government to do to its citizens for a moment. Just like the solution to almost every problem is simply to subsidize the behavior you want, not to make legitimate decisions that aren’t just based around spending tax money.

    If you don’t wish to play the game as a democratic socialist with a strong belief in the nanny-state you’re largely out of luck.