Dennis Mihalsky, a 29-year-old public school teacher, graduate student, and activist, likes to tinker with things. He was playing bingo with friends at a West Village bar on a Sunday night in March when his phone started to vibrate. He pulled it out; it was yet another news alert about a rumored shakeup in the Trump cabinet. Annoyed, he put his phone away.
He stared at the bingo cards and thought about the news alert. An idea began taking shape: With the constant turnover in the White House, what if there were a game where the numbers on a bingo card were officials in the Trump administration? He said bye to his friends, went home early, and got to work on Cabinet Bingo.
Cabinet Bingo, which launched in April of this year, works like the regular game. Players enter their email through Mihalsky’s site, Dennis Disrupting, where they can download bingo cards and mark them up. The object of the game is to correctly guess which member of the Trump administration will be the next to get fired, so anyone who wants to play should probably acquaint themselves with the news. Players then upload the marked-up cards to Instagram, with the hashtags #dennisdisrupting and #cabinetbingo. When a player gets an entire row correct, they are placed in a raffle to win a MacBook.
The game is free to play, and Mihalsky said he put up his own money for the site and the laptop. “Up to this point it’s been financed by myself,” he said. “It’s been a little rough since I’m in grad school.” Since none of the rows have been completed, no one has won a MacBook yet.
Satirical political games are nothing new. “There are many generally politically themed card games from the 19th century and probably European games with political subjects from the 18th century,” Nicolas Ricketts, a curator at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester New York, told The Outline via email. “Historically any topic that becomes a real current or trend in popular culture will likely be interpreted as a board or card game.”
Board games, like other objects, can also reveal a lot about the time when they were created. At the height of the Great Depression, in 1935, American toy manufacturing giant Parker Brothers released the Game of Politics, where players compete for votes as they contend with potentially compromising political positions and a limited budget. The same year, Parker Brothers released another game that simulated the workings of American socioeconomic system — and it sold like hot cakes. That game was Monopoly. “During the Great Depression, it seems, Americans dreamed more about getting rich than becoming president,” reads a description of Game of Politics on the Strong museum’s website.
Several decades later, the Watergate scandal was a blow to the public’s trust in the government, but a boon for game companies like the American Symbolic Corporation. That company released The Watergate Scandal Game in 1973, where players accuse each other of crimes using cards that list specific offenses, such as “You have committed perjury,” and their consequences. All in all, as many as six Watergate-themed games came out in the 1970s, including three board games: Watergate Impeachment, The Watergate Caper, and The Watergate Game. Today, most of them can be found on eBay for less than 40 dollars.
There may be a simple explanation for all of these Watergate games. Nixon was easy to lampoon. His mannerisms, paranoia and the bumbling nature of the Watergate break-in made the scandal a shoe-in for game creators. “It may be likely that Nixon’s crimes did inspire more satirical games — they were so easy to [satirize],” Ricketts said.
In 1981, Reagan would get the board game treatment with Reaganomics, where players are tasked with balancing the budget while avoiding war, unemployment, and a corruption probe. In 1994, Bill Clinton found his face immortalized in 1994’s Wafflin’ Willy, where players have to maintain popular support while weathering various political controversies, such as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. In 1995, Clintonopoly — basically a modified form of Monopoly — drew inspiration from the Whitewater scandal, while 1998’s Willie’s White House, which followed a similar format, referenced Monica Lewinsky. Many of these games share the same goal: Power must be obtained and maintained at all costs, as players get rich in the process. (Recently, The Outline did a little experiment and tried to revamp Monopoly for the present).
Donald Trump is unique among American presidents in that he is the only commander-in-chief who has actually made a game about himself, albeit several decades before he took office. In 1989, Milton Bradley released Trump: the Game, another Monopoly spin-off, where the aim is to invest in real estate. A TV commercial for the game referenced Trump’s business philosophy, one he’d immortalized two years earlier in the Art of The Deal as the art of winning for its own sake, regardless of the consequences. The commercial’s tagline: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s whether you win.” The game’s initial run sold poorly — as did its 2004 re-release, which coincided with the debut of The Apprentice.
Then Trump was elected.
While Trump the Game has since become a source of mockery for outlets like Vox and Mother Jones, it can now command prices over a thousand dollars on eBay; one optimistic seller is offering a copy for $20,000, although the vast majority of copies are available for less than $70.
Since Trump took office, game-makers have tried to crowdsource money for a number of Trump-themed games, including the Monopoly-like Impeached!, where players try to survive Trump’s first-term in office while fighting off political enemies and impeachment proceedings, and Duck Trump, where players attempt to earn a living as immigrants as Trump tries to deport them (both fundraising efforts were unsuccessful). Civics in Chaos is a card game, and probably the most ambitious Trump game. Players try to get laws passed in Congress, and must deal with partisanship and the occasional presidential tweet. The game raised money in a successful Kickstarter campaign, and copies will be shipping out soon.
Unlike Civics in Chaos, Cabinet Bingo is focused on one thing only: Who’s next? There’s no complicated list of instructions to read, and if you know how to play bingo, you know how to play Cabinet Bingo. There are no numbers; just pictures and names. The chances of someone seriously coming to some sort of epiphany from playing Cabinet Bingo is slight at best, but it’s a succinct reflection of the way the president uses suspense to keep everyone, from the press to his own advisers, on edge.
“The board game is not making fun of a man and/or administration,” Mihalsky said. “It is critiquing the high turnover that is happening within the White House. It's no secret.” Still, while Mihalsky says he’s not making fun of the president, bingo appears to have become the go-to game for just that. Back in August 2017, Buzzfeed reported that some European diplomats were playing a version of word bingo whenever they the heard the President speak, counting the number of times he used descriptors like amazing and very, very great. Stephen Colbert came up with Dictator Bingo, and Joe Scarborough has Trump Twitter Bingo. In a follow-up phone call, Mihalsky said that the game “would be geared towards people who have negative feelings about Trump.”
Though the game has only attracted 1500 subscribers so far, Mihalsky sees it as serving a bigger cause. Cabinet Bingo serves as an introduction to his site, Dennis Disrupting, which Mihalsky is attempting to position as a resource for people who are tired of political gridlock, regardless of their political affiliation. “It’s time we young people disrupt their division and tell them what we want,” reads the site’s About Page. “They've been listening to money for far too long.” Of course, it remains to be seen how this will be achieved with digital board games and t-shirts, which Dennis Disrupting also sells, but time will tell.
When I spoke to Ricketts, the museum curator, about these recent Trump-related games, he sounded intrigued, but said he’s holding off on acquiring any for the museum. “We have no immediate plans to acquire more Trump-themed games at present, but we may consider it after they are successfully on the market.”
As of now, the bottom row of the bingo card has one person left. It’s White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly.