Branches of Power

Common Sense Media says

Creative simulation teaches kids the legislative process.

Age(i)

2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Quality(i)

 

Learning(i)

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Branches of Power shows kids that all three branches of government in the United States work together to pass laws that benefit citizens. They learn that civic participation, consensus, compromise, and sacrifice are central to law-making. At times, however, the game seems to suggest that the executive and judicial branches are less important than the legislative branch.

Positive role models

The executive, legislative, and judicial avatars controlled by the player all work best when they are cooperating to turn issues into constitutional laws. The executive avatar gets to pick three key civic issues, and the legislative character gets to choose two social values that impact law-making. The judicial avatar wants to safeguard the Constitution. Ultimately, all three avatars depend on the player to make what the game considers to be "good" decisions.

Ease of play

Branches of Power uses an intuitive point-and-click interface, but players need to figure out how to use their avatars in tandem to develop all of the game's issues into laws before time runs out. 

Violence
Not applicable
Sex
Not applicable
Language
Not applicable
Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable
Privacy & safety

Minor privacy and safety concerns. Kids can register with iCivics to create site avatars, unlock achievements, and access to social areas of the site -- including classes, comments, and forums. Registration requires an email address. Once registered, kids get a secure public user name. If a kid registers as part of a class, iCivics asks for his or her first name and last initial to give to the class "leader" or teacher for class management. iCivics uses some user information for fiscal development, site analysis, and site administration.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Branches of Power is an online simulation game where kids to use the executive, legislative, and judicial branches to develop laws around popular, but age-appropriate, social issues. Players will do best if they have a basic understanding of each branch’s role in lawmaking, law enforcement, and judicial review. Branches of Power will work best with either adult or peer support in learning how to play and how to finish the game in its half-hour time limit. Kids, teachers, and site supporters can register to participate in social areas of the iCivics site.

What kids can learn

Subjects

Social Studies

  • citizenship
  • government
  • power structures
  • the economy
  • timelines

Skills

Thinking & Reasoning

  • applying information
  • decision-making
  • problem solving

Creativity

  • combining knowledge

Self-Direction

  • achieving goals
  • initiative
  • time management

Engagement, Approach, Support

Engagement

The intuitive point-and-click interface makes it easy for students to interact with the game map. First-time players will struggle with the half-hour time limit.

Learning Approach

A clever map and different characters illuminate the key parts of the legislative process. The legislative branch is the clear star here; the other branches don't seem as substantial.

Support

A ton of in-game help, including instructions for every portion of play, assists students when they get stuck. Moreover, players get constant visual and textual feedback as they score points and grow their towers. 

What kids can learn

Subjects

Social Studies

  • citizenship
  • government
  • power structures
  • the economy
  • timelines

Skills

Thinking & Reasoning

  • applying information
  • decision-making
  • problem solving

Creativity

  • combining knowledge

Self-Direction

  • achieving goals
  • initiative
  • time management

Kids can learn how a bill becomes a law, how politicians compromise to pass laws, and how all three branches of government get involved in the law-making process. They can also learn how to manage time and work toward achieving goals. Branches of Power cleverly captures the essence of law making, but it leaves you wondering how important the executive and judicial branches are.

This Learning Rating review was written by Chad Sansing

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What's it about?

BRANCHES OF POWER asks players to switch between executive, legislative, and judicial avatars traveling a symbolic political landscape to develop issues (empty lots) into laws (golden towers). Players must manage ten issues into laws by game’s end. The executive holds press conferences to raise citizens’ awareness of each issue. Then the legislator holds town hall meetings to gain the support of particular voter factions with different values like competition and cooperation. Once enough people support the issue, the legislator drafts a bill. If the bill passes, is Constitutional, and veto-proof, then its law is home free. Otherwise, players must use the other branches to challenge the law so it’s revised before time runs out.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Branches of Power is a clever take on the law-making process. It doesn’t quite capture the complexity of checks and balances, however, in that the legislative branch seems the most substantial and powerful. The executive’s press conferences are goofy, and the judicial branch doesn’t factor into the game at all if the player passes sound laws. While playing the game, you might feel like the executive and judicial branches serve the legislative branch and the law-making process, rather than protect the Constitution and citizens’ rights.

That being said, the legislative branch’s town hall and law-making portions of the game really shine and demonstrate the values-driven, political give-and-take of effective Congressional compromise. Moreover, the game’s sequencing of the law-making process is accurate despite its uneven presentation of the individual steps.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about civic-participation in law-making.

  • Families can talk about what kinds of personal traits a leader needs to handle many responsibilities at once.

  • Families can also discuss why people have different ideas of "good" and "bad" rules.

Game details

Platforms:Linux, Mac, Windows
Price:Free
Pricing structure:Free
Available online?Not available online
Developer:Filament Games
Release date:May 1, 2010
Genre:Educational

This review of Branches of Power was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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