Bravo to the Los Angeles Times for this California Budget Balancer "game".
I've long believed that the only way to nurture a civilized democracy is to give voters the opportunity to struggle with the real choices that government faces. My own work has included developing games and decision tools that enable communities to think about their choices in transport and urban form.
Budget balancers bring the same principle to the hard choices that are expressed in a government budget. Everyone's balanced a household budget, or at least monitored their spending and seen its consequences.
Yes, they contain a million assumptions and simplifications, but once you've played with them you may well ask: "And why does the real thing need to be so complicated?" Good question.