Pass A Bill

by Leo Weinreb profile

2024

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Number of Reviews: 2
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Whip it good, May 15, 2024
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2024

(I beta-tested this game)

In my first review of this yearís Thing, I lifted up Potato Peace as an example of a game that has the trappings of a game about politics but isnít actually a game about politics. Part of the reason that concept struck me the way it did is that Iíd only recently tested Pass a Bill, which despite its Schoolhouse Rock-baiting name likewise resolutely avoids having anything to say about the actual exercise of legislative powers in this or any country. For all that the protagonist Ė a newly-elected representative whoís either well- or terribly-positioned for success by virtue of being the only independent in a two-party legislature Ė has their heart set on getting a bill enacted into law, much like the game theyíre profoundly indifferent to the actual substance of said bill, and the process of doing so requires not a single iota of politicking or parliamentary maneuvering.

And despite the fact that it took me a little while to readjust my expectations, thatís OK! Pass a Bill is slapstick, not satire. Yes, it makes no sense at all that the majority whip wonít talk to you about moving your bill until you check in with the minority leader and let her lard up your draft with poison pills, but it does make for a silly bit of shuttle diplomacy. No, I donít know why said whip is a violent weirdo bent on getting your personal oath of loyalty (Spoiler - click to show)(nor how heís managed to get elected to two separate seats for two different parties). And the gameís eventual climax is impossible to take seriously but good-natured nonetheless.

In terms of presentation, Pass a Bill is an appealing mix of primitive and sophisticated. The black background, white text, and blue links put us firmly in Default Twine territory, but thereís an inventory and hints sidebar that provides helpful information throughout, and the MS-Paint-style illustrations similarly have more than their share of rough charm. And for all that thereís a clear spine through the game, there are a fair number of branch points, easily-rewindable deaths, and Easter Eggs to reward poking around a bit.

Pass a Bill is still a sillier game than I tend to enjoy Ė nothing wrong with comedy, but I tend to prefer stuff that either has more bite, or goes even farther to dress up dumb jokes with a veneer of sophistication. But itís got some appeal nonetheless: I ultimately wound up thinking of it as a kind of extreme version of a yes-and improv session where an initial, politics-heavy setup gets quickly and entertainingly pushed into absurdity, leaving only a rough framework and handful of NPC descriptions in its wake. If itís more Mr. Bean Goes to Washington than Mr. Smith, thereís nothing wrong with that.

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