It's been almost a year since President Donald Trump took office, and one of the most incredible developments to occur during those 12 months has been the massive, widespread desire to make a difference in whatever way that one can. From the Women's March to Indivisible to the countless start-ups and nonprofits that have sprung up since Jan. 20, Americans are finding new and innovative ways to make sure that their voices are being heard. Among the many who have taken up this new form of civic duty are Dan Peterson and Neil Patel, cocreators of Conviction: The Card Game.
"Conviction is a new satirical card game that lets you and your friends convict President Trump and his cronies for all their crimes against the country," Peterson told me by phone last month. "Each player is a prosecutor, and everyone gets to take their shot at taking down Trump."
Peterson and Patel have been friends for more than 20 years and told me that they spent a lot of time as they were growing up playing games with each other. It was only natural, then, that they channeled their frustration and energy into something creative, something that sought to educate the wider public about the real facts in hand.
"After the election, I think we were all just reeling," Patel said, pointing to the frustration he and Peterson felt as they watched Trump appoint destructive personalities to cabinet positions and eventually take the oath of office on Jan. 20. That, he told me, was the last straw. "Up until that point, Dan and I had just been sharing articles back and forth, almost nonstop, losing sleep. And then we were like, 'This is not productive at all, what we're doing - it's really just frustrating.' So we said, 'Is there something that we can do to help us and others escape the reality?' People play games to escape reality, and that is what entertainment is for, right?"
The pair decided to embark on their passion project - a side hustle, really - while keeping their day jobs. It was through the development of Conviction that they were able to feel as though they were doing something, actively working toward a goal of educating (and, obviously, entertaining) the public with the truths that have so often been discarded by the current administration as "fake news." And as you might imagine, that involved a lot of work.
"The process [of building the game] was really all about keeping track of what was happening in the news, and getting into it from a wide variety of perspectives. We put in a lot of effort in helping make sure that each joke sticks and that there's layers to the jokes. So that way, there's more longevity to the game, as there's both the fun gameplay aspect but also an educational learning opportunity, from being tuned in to what the cards represent," Patel noted, explaining that much of the material that the game consists of was sourced from outlets like CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. "These were things that we were looking at anyway," he added. "And what it really turned into was, again, a channel for us to be like, 'We're reading this, but we're not just reading it and crying in a corner. We're reading and doing something with it.'"
It's something of a stunning accomplishment that two individuals working full-time jobs were actually able to conceive of a game and carry it through to execution. And just what exactly is the gameplay of Conviction? According to Peterson, "We designed Conviction to be a good balance of strategy and chance. So if you play your cards right, hopefully you'll be able to convict Trump . . . just like we hope happens in the real world, right? [Laughter] I'd say it's satirical and fun like Cards Against Humanity, while being quickly paced and sort of a casual game like Exploding Kittens." Both Peterson and Patel point to their history as gamers as a big influence on the final product that they're now releasing, games like Risk that the two would play together for weeks at a time, face to face.
One thing to note is that while the jokes may be composed of layers, those layers are not just there to be funny. "If it's only funny, then we haven't really achieved our goal," Patel said, pointing to the larger goal of educating the public at large - regardless of who they are or what their politics may be. By way of example, he told me that he had taken the mock-up game when he went to see his sister and his family over the weekend, and it ended up being played by his nieces instead. "They live in the Beltway. So they're Beltway kids, and they know politics. And the first time my 9-year-old niece was looking through the Public Figures, she's like, 'I know him. I know her. I don't know who that is.' And so she was asking me who all of these people [in the Trump administration] were . . . there's a lot of stuff in there that most people don't know. And so you may find the game fun and funny, but maybe you'll also learn something while you're playing as well."
In addition to being informative, there's something else you should know about Conviction: the proceeds from the sales of the game are going straight to the causes that need it most. "We realized that this is also an opportunity for our backers to help direct funds in a way that gives to organizations that are less well-known," Peterson told me, noting that they'll "probably end up picking the top three to direct the funds for the profits."
At the end of the day, after playing the game through to the end over cocktails several evenings this Fall, I can say unequivocally that Conviction is one hell of a fun game. So while there may be a lot that the average American can learn from it - and some very worthy causes that will benefit from it - there was a definitive goal in mind when Patel and Peterson were making the game, and that was to create a thoroughly enjoyable experience. "We wanted to make sure we kept the game simple, so you don't have to have a law degree to play the game, even though it is about convicting people," Patel said. "Anybody can roll the dice."