Congresswolf (Ellen Cooper, Choice of Games)

congresswolfCongresswolf is a Choice of Games story that debuted just before election. You play the campaign manager for a congressman or woman and make the sorts of choices one makes on political campaigns: go for grassroots donations or woo high-value donors? Allow yourself to be bribed, or keep your nose clean? Say what people want to hear, or try for some idealism? The complication: werewolves exist and are a marginalized class of people in both social aspects and under the law. The campaign manager before you was killed by a werewolf, and the killer is still at large. And there are reasons to think your candidate might be secretly lycanthropic themselves.

The game does a different take on some of CoG’s standard self-definition approaches. You can name yourself or pick a genderless name from a list; one of your main romantic interests also has a name that could be male or female, and the story rigorously avoids using any pronouns for that person. So instead of explicitly defining sexualities, Congresswolf takes a Jigsaw-style approach and lets you imagine what you like here.

The campaign structure is a natural fit for a Choice of Games piece: there are several different goals you could reasonably have when running a campaign, especially a campaign overshadowed by a murder investigation. There’s enough predictability to let the player attempt a strategy, but enough variation not to get boring. Your campaign includes some cyclical, predictable tasks like setting a budget for the next month and picking ad strategies, together with increasingly high stakes events, such as meetings with the press and debates with the other candidate.

I also thought it worked pretty well thematically. The very flexible nature of a Choice of Games protagonist sometimes makes it difficult for CoG works to focus on really personal problems or relationships. Here, though, we have a narrative that’s mostly about the protagonist’s management abilities and devotion to various causes; assorted side characters come and go, but they’re often instrumental to the protagonist’s cause.

Just occasionally I did run into some issues where the text didn’t quite flow together perfectly: if you intentionally spike a bill in Congress that would make things better for werewolves while you yourself might be infected, for instance, the text describes you as both personally pleased and personally disappointed. And a few times the descriptions framed things as though I must be worried about my relationship with a werewolf activist named Thomas, even though in that playthrough I’d done everything possible to avoid him and blow him off.

For the most part, though, it’s a tight piece of ChoiceScript-style design: well-paced, with clear agency and consequence, and with enough varied outcomes to be genuinely different on a replay.

Disclosure: I played a copy of this game that I bought with my own money. I do have a contract for a work in progress with Choice of Games, but do not gain financially from sales of Congresswolf and had no involvement in its writing or editing.

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