App review by Caryn Lix, Common Sense Education | Updated June 2014
Power Play

Power Play

Useful but bite-sized intro to states’ rights vs. federal law

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Social Studies, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Presents evenhanded look at complex interplay of state and federal rights

Cons: It goes quickly and is unlikely to grab kids for long.

Bottom Line: Used tactically, Power Play is an effective way to introduce or review the differing rights and responsibilities of the state and federal governments.

This game would be an excellent follow-up activity to a class discussion around issues of government -- or a good introduction to the topic. Following the game, it would be a good use of student time to come up with their own arguments. Students could use an online game design website such as Gamestar Mechanic to create their own versions of the game, or to create a board game using their own topics and arguments. The other games in the iCivics curriculum offer natural extension opportunities like Branches of Power, which addresses the branches of the federal government, and Argument Wars, which digs deeper into formulating arguments in the context of the Supreme Court.

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In Power Play, students consider whether power should be centralized in the hands of the federal government or extended to individual states. Players pick one side of the argument at the game's start. Statues representing different spheres of influence --  taxation and education, for example -- are positioned between "federal" and "state" zones as they actually exist. Students send in players to make arguments that will move the statues closer to the desired zone. If the arguments don't match the category, nothing will happen; if they do, the statues will advance in the appropriate direction. 

Full Disclosure: iCivics and Common Sense Education share a funder; however, that relationship does not impact Common Sense Education's editorial independence and this learning rating.

Power Play provides many opportunities for kids to think about the essential structure of the United States of America. They'll encounter persuasive arguments on both sides of this many-layered issue, learn factual information, and then put those facts to use to further their own arguments. Unfortunately, the game itself is brief and won't compel kids beyond a relatively short play session. It also may take a little bit of time to grasp as it's not a readily familiar game type.

Overall Rating


Should get kids thinking and engaged, but only in a brief burst.


Solid civics facts integrated well with gameplay helps kids think through complex problems.


Provides solid instructions but can still be confusing at first.

Common Sense reviewer
Caryn Lix Classroom teacher

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