Card game review: The Establishment by DPH Games

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Number of Players: 3-5

Time: 1-2 hours

Ages: 13+

Game Type: Negotiation

Gamer Type: Unique

Complexity: 6

Politics is always an interesting thing. Within the genre, there is one game that stands head and shoulders above the rest: Diplomacy. This is the standard bearer for the genre, but the game is dated and has not aged well in the modern culture of changing history to fit the narrative. This means there may be new ‘contenders’ for the throne; the contender this reviewer feels is in the catbird seat is “The Establishment” by DPH games.


One of the reasons it is hard to break into the the international negotiation/diplomacy game genre is because Diplomacy chose one of the most in-depth stories of all time – European politics. This means there are some large shoes to fill to compete. The Establishment does this by looking to the future rather than the past. As a role-playing game, it sets a vibrant story of colonization of the planets in the solar system. Each player has an interest, which is dictated by the cards they receive at the beginning, which makes for an amazing (and different) story each time you play. 8 of 10.

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The artwork for the game is just edgy enough to set the mood for the game. Shadow politics is always a difficult thing to draw, because everyone works in the shadows. The artists for the game captured this idea, but still made the cards and the box interesting. The box is a standard DPH box, which is a little narrower than a standard medium box. It still fits on your shelf well. 6 of 10.


The game is randomized by cards – which there is a very rich selection of – but here is the kicker: it is an RPG. This means that the people as much as the game are the mechanics. Everything comes down to making decisions and exerting your will on them via your influences. This tells a story. As the instructions say, there is not really a winner or a loser – it all comes down to the story you create with the game. This is a phenomenal return to the mini-RPG in a fashion which has not been seen since “Kobolds Ate My Baby” (in which almost everyone lost at least once during the session). 8 of 10.


Since this is an RPG, I will keep it brief. You can do whatever you want with your influences (even ignore your trait cards if you want to step away from the game). This means you can hit three of the big four (offense, defense, engine building) right off the bat. I do not see a route to a “rush” victory, mainly because it is a story game with no winner, so there is no real way to rush; however, the other strategy elements are there in full force 8.5 of 10.


In our polarized society, having a system where no one wins but the politicians makes a lot of sense. Politics is a filthy business where one day you are the shot-caller and the next you are the target of the shot. One of the great features of this game is that when faced with a choice that you do not care about, you can just sit it out or peddle your influence to one of your neighbors. It’s your call which makes it very interesting. 7 of 10.


Rating a role playing game is like trying to grab Jell-o. The game is either fun or it is not, and trying to explain it is long and convoluted. This game is fun and it is also unique. It shows the dirty side of politics without wading into any political debates of the modern world. This is a masterstroke by the team at DPH games, one that earned them a score of 37.5 of 50, which means we recommend that people buy this game. Sometimes it’s not who wins or loses, but the story your friends come up with as they play the game – The Establishment captures that idea, which makes it a fun and realistic game.

Christopher W Smithmyer
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