It's hard for games to translate political intrigue into their mechanics. Fiction and film do so with visual flair and wordy dialogue that allows the action to play out as intended. Due to their very nature, video games often have too many variables that can get in the way. Some games have been successful at showcasing political underpinnings, however. Prominent indie titles like Orwell and Papers, Please come to mind as examples that shine through, but they too are linear experiences that use the language of video games to great effect to weave a unique narrative in a way only games can.
Ambition: A Minuet in Power hopes to change that, providing a unique gameplay experience that relies heavily on political intrigue in a non-linear narrative. Developed by the Joy Manufacturing company, Ambition is a Kickstarter-backed project that tasks players with navigating the social battlefield of pre-revolutionary France. Players play as Yvette Decaux, a young Frenchwoman who recently moved to Paris. She must use all her wits, charm and in some cases, her powers of seduction, to navigate a growing political conflict surrounding France. The relaxing air of Ambition masks its sinister side; like an afternoon swim in a pool of sharks.
Part of the fun lies in that navigation. Yvette’s ability to chart a course in the shifting balance of power gives Ambition a surprising degree of strategy. Your goal is to not only survive the oncoming French Revolution but thrive amongst your peers. With that, Yvette must compete against several rivals, influence powerful nobles, and gain good standing with five separate factions.
The game is an odd combination of a roguelike and visual novel. Most of Ambition's gameplay ties into managing Yvette's time and gossip. You need to carefully manage her social calendar. Especially since you only get a limited amount of time to gather information and resources before a party appearance with France’s high society. You can also stretch Yvette too thin if you're not careful. This leaves her ill-prepared for major events, leaving you to decline them and focus on the bigger picture.
Where this combination shines is in this time management. Playing politics is all about keeping up appearances, avoiding impropriety, and using your knowledge against your rivals. Ambition gives players several options of what they can do to prepare themselves for the next party. How you dress, for example, is an important tactic. How modest or racy you present yourself will surely impress the right people in a given situation. Another weapon in your arsenal is the ability to gather information on specific topics of interest. This helps you increase your chances to put one over your rivals, or subtly influence members of a prominent faction for your own gains.
The real crux of the gameplay is the party sequences, where players must interact with guests using a conversational minigame. Players receive several cards, representing various idle topics such as politics, art, and gossip. Players must try to engage guests by matching their list of cards to the interests of the guests. Doing well earns Yvette reputation points, improving her chances of gaining invitations to more events between the five factions. This also helps her be in favorable standing among the factions, a key component to surviving in the long term.
The gossiping itself is shallow, especially since there's no dialogue attached to it. It's easy to manipulate guests without losing much reputation, which robs Ambition of some of its challenge. The lack of context is ultimately just quick busywork that the player will rush through to more meaningful conversations.
The game is not without its technical faults either. Currently, Ambition is plagued with some bugs that can cause hard crashes, including losing a tutorial conversation through the aforementioned minigame which, honestly, is very difficult to do. Other bugs, such as broken stats on Yvettes dresses to several bugs on the map screen, are also noticeable and showcase how much work Ambition needs before its full release in the future.
Ambition’s own ambitions are lofty, but the game is a long way from its coming out party. There is a hint of charm beneath its insecure shell that has the potential to blossom into a confident product. The question now is will it be able to navigate the world of indie gaming and court the right influence to become a power player? Time will only tell in the end, but Ambition is certainly a game to watch as it inches closer to release.
TechRaptor previewed Ambition: A Minuet in Power on PC with a copy provided by the developer.