We tend to focus so much on the digital that we overlook wonderful simulation engines right under our noses. Sometimes the best simulators are also simple games. Dress up chess a little bit, and you're doing combined-arms warfare. The game does not have to be digital or massive. Rather, the key contribution of Game is that games represent systems really well. It is very hard to write a book or give a lecture about a system. (Test: Explain your city's zoning system to a friend.) It is comparatively easy to create a simulation of the system, then add objectives to create a game. It being just as important to grasp systems as much as narratives or personalities, games belong in every literate person's toolkit.
Be that as it may, we can now note that board games have grown up and now present opportunities to simulate extremely pwoerful and difficult systems. Labyrinth is a maddeningly accurate and convincing demonstration of the impossibility of rational foreign policy in the Middle East. Play the game to understand why our only choices seems to be flavors of madness.This game is also cool for being a simulation of history we are still living. Helpful, that.
Another wonderful board game is 1960: The Making of the President. This is a robust articulation of the US Presidential Election system. Just for kicks, I updated it to simulate the 2012 Election. It wasn't that hard. In 1960, Civil Rights were a big issue. Today, we have the Culture Wars. Defense then was about frosty fellows in porkpie hats. Today it is about bearded gentlemen in the hills. Is the Economy still an issue today? Yes, yes...going out on a limb here...I think so. YIKES of course it is. Speaking of permanent things, the game has an Event Card called "Late Returns from Cook County" that gives the Democrat player some mystery votes in Illinois on Election Day. As we observe yet another Illinois governor heading to jail, what can be said of this game mechanic other than - COOK COUNTY WILL NEVER CHANGE. KEEP THE CARD.
I uploaded the 2012 variant to BoardGameGeek, a great site for anyone seeking effective system simulations. Having played the 2012 election variant a couple of times, I come away with at least one recommendation: Watch Pennsylvania.