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Subject: Kennedy Strategy rss

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Max DuBoff
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This started as a reply to this thread about advice for Kennedy, but it got long enough that I eventually decided to post it as a stand-alone strategy article. I hope it helps!


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Because this game is more fluid than TS, it's harder to give specific strategy tips. Everything depends on the board. That being said, I'll try to give an outline of how to win and what Kennedy has to remember.



The Map

The map reveals a lot about how to get to 270. The four regions vary immensely, of course, in electoral size and shape, and each deserves a thorough examination.

Nixon will usually win almost the entire West. As Kennedy, it's almost never worthwhile to fight for states in the West. One notable exception is California, which may be worthwhile to significantly invest in if circumstances permit. Washington is often worth putting a cube in with a card that can put influence anywhere. Alaska or Hawaii is often worth putting a cube into to prepare for the event 50 Stars. That being said, California is the only state Kennedy should even consider fighting big-time for in a normal game (though clearly there are sometimes special circumstances). The West will provide Nixon with a decent number of points, however.

Of the three remaining regions, then, it seems reasonable that Kennedy has to "win" (i.e. be voted for by a majority of the states, especially the big ones) in two of them. The South is tilted a bit toward Kennedy. Aside from the fact that most of the states there have a blue border, Kennedy has a couple cards that specifically affect the South (Lyndon Johnson and East Harlem Pledge) and some that are powerful anywhere (more on those later). A well-timed Gathering Momentum (South) can be huge. That being said, Nixon has two cards--Southern Strategy and Southern Revolt--that can influence the South (one of which is only playable when Kennedy leads Civil Rights), so watch out for those.

The Midwest can definitely go either way, but Kennedy has the potential to do quite well in it, and he often dominates it when he wins. Both sides have a couple cards that affect it (Industrial Midwest and Heartland of America for Nixon and Eleanor Roosevelt's Speaking Tour and Late Returns from Cook County for Kennedy). Kennedy has the edge in a decent number of the states but not in an overwhelming majority like in the South. In the Midwest, Kennedy does have the edge in two of the states with 20 or more votes (more on those later as well), though Nixon has one. A Midwest endorsement is often the second-best and sometimes even best because some of the states can be rather close. Ultimately, Kennedy can't afford to be swept in the Midwest, but he definitely needs to win the Midwest or the South if he wants to have a shot. Getting cubes into some of the smaller states can be crucial because, for those with a blue border, Nixon will have to spend two ops to effectively flip them (barring any Nixon endorsements, of course). The Midwest is likely to be a bloody battleground. As Kennedy, take advantage of Nixon's need to focus on the East and make him pay for travel if he really wants to campaign in the Midwest. The back-and-forth nature of the Midwest (it often doesn't get more than one or two cubes per state except for the big ones--maybe) makes Nixon's time campaigning in the Midwest a perfect opportunity to create threats elsewhere. Gathering Momentum can be especially important for the Midwest. Essentially, the biggest thing in the Midwest is getting cubes on the board. Sometimes a big state in the Midwest will be worth dominating (e.g. Ohio or Illinois if Cook County isn't played), but flipping a bunch of medium-sized states can be expensive. An especially good time to campaign in the Midwest can be when Nixon goes to the East in the beginning to deal with Kennedy's initial advantage there.

Speaking of the East, the board and the starting position make perfectly clear that the East is Kennedy's home turf. Kennedy has the edge in all but the smallest states in the region and begins the game with a decent number of cubes in the East. Unsurprisingly, any Kennedy victory needs to have a very strong showing in the East. The East's huge states--esp. NY and PA--are especially important (more on those later). On the East in general, the smaller states can be easy points for Kennedy, since it's nigh impossible for Nixon to find the ops to go campaigning in RI and DE or even MD and WV. As Kennedy, it's often not worthwhile to challenge Nixon in the far north unless it's necessary for Gathering Momentum. Gathering Momentum (East) is especially important for Kennedy because it can get a lot of cubes on the board, and an early Gathering in the East can set the tone for much of the early running (no pun intended). Most of the action in the East will revolve around the four biggest states in the region: NY, PA, MA, and NJ. Of those, the two biggest, NY and PA, which happen to be the most valuable states on the board (ignoring CA, which is equal to PA), are going to be big battlegrounds. MA and NJ often see side action while the candidates happen to be in the East. As Kennedy, make sure to get a solid foundation in the East before leaving to campaign elsewhere. You start with the location and cube advantage in the East; make sure to profit from it. Nixon starts a full two travel ops away (barring an early draw of Republican TV Spots, Swing State, or Compact of 5th Avenue, which move him to the East for free), and he'll often want to get some cubes in California before leaving the West. This means, in effect, that you'll get one or more turns without Nixon around undoing everything you lay down. Once Nixon arrives, you may choose to go campaign elsewhere, but it depends on the position. The Mid-Atlantic and New England cards are also worth mentioning. They give Kennedy some helpful cubes in the East and can be thorns in Nixon's side. They're usually worth playing for the event.



Big States

For the purposes of this analysis, I'll define a "big" state as one that is worth 20 or more votes. By that classification, seven states fit the bill (in order from west to east): CA, TX, IL, MI, OH, PA, and NY. Five of the seven have a blue border (the only ones with a red border are CA and OH). Winning big states is key to victory for either player, but since Nixon usually wins many of the smaller states (and rather historically wins more states even if he loses the election), Kennedy really needs to nail a majority of the bigger states. TX is pretty often blue; Kennedy has some nice cards in the South, as previously mentioned, and it can be expensive for Nixon to make the trip to the Deep South to counteract Kennedy's advantage there. CA is more often red but can go either way; since the West is inconvenient to get to, it's a viable strategy for Kennedy to whittle away Nixon's cubes there with influence that may be placed anywhere and maybe even move there to make the final stab if circumstances permit (Early Returns from Connecticut can also help in CA). When Late Returns from Cook County comes out, Kennedy often won't have much competition in IL, but in games without it, it's worth investing heavily in, though perhaps not stocking with a full four cubes. MI and OH have a similar story, but they don't have cards that specifically affect them (except Suburban Voters, which will be touched on later). Kennedy might want to put an extra cube or two in OH because Nixon has the edge there. PA and NY are well worth carrying; if Nixon wants to go after them, make him pay early and often. As mentioned earlier, Kennedy starts in the East, and carrying those two states from the beginning isn't a bad idea (thought not obligatory either). Aim to win at least four of the big states and be especially vigilant about NY, since Nixon will obviously want it. Nixon might play an aggressive East strategy or try to pick up big states in the West and Midwest, so be ready to respond the his strategy but also to score from the weak spots in his campaigning.



Important Cards

There are a few Kennedy cards that stick out as extremely powerful, and it's worth specifically mentioning some of them. Catholic Support is potentially the most powerful and certainly the most versatile card in the game (its only competition in Recount). I can't think of a situation where Catholic Support isn't worth playing for the event, but it will practically never be played by Nixon, so Kennedy has to draw it for it to have an effect. Greater Houston Ministerial Association is a nice one and is almost always worth playing for the event, especially if it comes out early. Canceling three good Nixon events is better than it at first seems, and influence to be placed anywhere is always helpful. Lyndon Johnson completes the trinity of the what are probably the three best Kennedy cards. Like Henry Cabot Lodge, its Nixonian parallel, LBJ lets Kennedy flip his Candidate Card, but it also helps Kennedy quite a bit in the South. The importance of the boost in the South varies based on when the card is played and how the game is turning out, but it's something to note. Lazy Shave can be huge if it comes out before the debates. It really enhances Kennedy's debate chances and creates tough decisions for Nixon. Suburban Voters can be huge in the big states, and it's useful in almost any situation to either shore up support or mount a coup.

As far as neutral cards go, Swing State and Whistle Stop are the biggest, though Prime-Time Television can be helpful. Swing State is always in style as it single-handedly shifts a region that's not carried (and moves the candidate there, which can be quite nice). Whistle Stop is especially helpful within one or two regions (to minimize travel costs), but it's generally powerful because it allows more influence to be placed over a broader area.

There are also a few Nixon cards that Kennedy absolutely must watch out for. The biggest Nixon card is Recount. It's undoubtedly one of the one or two best Nixon cards, and some say it's the most powerful in the game. Kennedy should never play this for Nixon if he can help it. It's much better than it might initially seem, and I've seen it win the game for Nixon multiple times. Dwight Eisenhower is a less powerful version of Catholic Support (since Ike can only add one support per state), but it's almost never worth letting Nixon activate.



Endorsements

Fighting for the issues has its time, but beware the trap of spending too much on issues and not enough on actually hitting the road and stumping. How much to spend on issues is an entirely different topic, to be honest, so I'll just discuss where Kennedy's endorsements should go right now. In general, Nixon will really want an endorsement in the East (since Kennedy has the tiebreaker in all the important states there). It's often a good idea, therefore, for Kennedy to get an endorsement in the East to prevent Nixon from getting an endorsement there. Note that one Kennedy endorsement forces Nixon to effectively get two to have the edge there. The Midwest is also a nice place to have an endorsement, since there are some mid-range and even on big state there where Nixon has the edge. A South endorsement is relatively unimportant for Kennedy, though it can be slightly annoying if Nixon has an endorsement there, depending on how things go. A West endorsement is rarely helpful for Kennedy, unless Gathering Momentum (West) never comes out.



Wrapping It All Up

I'll end my discussion of Kennedy Strategy by commenting on the historical outcome and how it affects the game. Here's an electoral map from the 1960 election:


As can be seen from the map, Kennedy won the electoral vote 303-219 (although the popular vote was much closer). For anybody who may not be aware, the edge in a state is based on who historically won the state. Kennedy won eight of the 10 biggest states. As an illustration of just how important the big states are, however, if Nixon had won NY, he would've had more electoral votes, and while he wouldn't have garnered the 270 necessary to win a US election outright, he would've had enough to win a game of 1960. Big states must be protected and medium states (10-20 votes) should be given secondary consideration but cannot be ignored. As Kennedy, try to come out swinging in the South and Midwest, but don't sweat it if Nixon takes some states in those regions; a strong performance in the East can make up for some Nixonian victories elsewhere. Above all, make life hard for Nixon: use your natural advantage in certain locations and don't allow Nixon to build up a huge advantage in areas you need to win. Have a plan to get to 270 and make sure it's flexible, because nothing is certain in this game.
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Max DuBoff
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By the way, for anyone who could use a card manifest while reading the article, here's a link to a good one.
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Following the (obvious) point that California is the only state in the West that Kennedy should compete with Nixon to win it from him, I will note that on election day, Kennedy actually was leading in California by a small margin. After the ballots were finally counted and certified, it was Nixon who carried his home state. The Kennedy campaign did not dispute the total because they were already ahead in electoral votes and didn't think they could win in California, but who knows?

In game terms, this would be like Kennedy leading in California, only to lose it on the Election Day turn by having Nixon remove all cubes there by playing a card with 'CA' for its state (one of the 4 that each candidate sets aside for this turn) and then win CA by default due to the 'red' line that breaks ties.

(I found this out when I bought an old copy of Theodore White's 'The Making of the President: 1960' and inside was an article from the San Francisco Examiner on the day after the election (the Wednesday) that showed Kennedy leading in California by the aforementioned small margin of 1.5%.)

Edit: forgot some text.
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I was rereading this, and I should point out one last, devastating card that will hurt Kennedy: "Unpledged Electors" will take up to 3 states away from him where he might otherwise carry them (Mississipi, Alabama & Louisiana). It forces him to spend enough cubes to have 4 in each of these states, and Nixon can merely take 1 blue cube off of them to deny them to his opponent. Alternatively, if this card is played by Nixon (or activated by him using a momentum token) and Kennedy choses to not compete there and spend his campaign points elsewhere, Nixon could actually make an attempt to remove the remaining blue cubes and place red cubes there. (If Kennedy draws this, he can decide to save this card for the debates - and take a smaller hit there on one of the Issues - or spend 2 momentum tokens and prevent its play. But there is a 50% chance that Nixon will draw - and play - this crippling card, and the Kennedy player must plan for this accordingly.)

The 3 states are not 'big' electoral states like NY, IL, CA, PA, etc. but at 8-11 electoral votes, they together are 29 votes. After both candidates decide which large states they want to compete in, gaining and holding these 'medium' EV states are a crucial part of both candidates' strategy, and these AL, MS and LA are a significant part of the medium states group where the candidates will compete.

-

The event cards are overall well-balanced, with 1/3 being pro-Kennedy, 1/3 pro-Nixon and 1/3 favoring the candidate either candidate (the one who draws and plays them). This gives the game a fine balance and enhances replayability while still offering enough uncertainty and (mis-)fortune that each player can use to their advantage.

But I can't think of any card that similarly handicaps Nixon the way this does Kennedy. Perhaps the other pro-Kennedy debate events help balance this, but still, this one's a bruiser for the Blues.

Edit: grammar & spelling.
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Max DuBoff
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Yes, you're quite right, Unpledged Electors is a powerful card. The reason I didn't include it (and you're free to say this is a lame reason) is that it just takes away a few minor (yet together, not insignificant) states from Kennedy and doesn't give any per se to Nixon. Still, thanks for pointing it out. It's definitely something to watch out for.
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Sick with hatred, sick with pain, / Strangling -- When shall we be slain? // When shall I be dead and rid / Of the wrong my father did? / How long, how long, till spade and hearse / Puts to sleep my mother's curse?
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MD1616 wrote:
Yes, you're quite right, Unpledged Electors is a powerful card. The reason I didn't include it (and you're free to say this is a lame reason) is that it just takes away a few minor (yet together, not insignificant) states from Kennedy and doesn't give any per se to Nixon. Still, thanks for pointing it out. It's definitely something to watch out for.


Well, each alone may not be significant, but together they are worth a 29 EV point loss, and they usually fall away as a group in the games I've played - it's just too difficult to keep at least 4 cubes in each state to keep them for Kennedy on Election Day, especially when cubes placed here could be used elsewhere to win other states in close contests there.

Thanks again for the original post, it's sound strategy and worth following!
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Max DuBoff
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David Ells wrote:
Well, each alone may not be significant, but together they are worth a 29 EV point loss, and they usually fall away as a group in the games I've played - it's just too difficult to keep at least 4 cubes in each state to keep them for Kennedy on Election Day, especially when cubes placed here could be used elsewhere to win other states in close contests there.


Yeah, exactly. And I have also seen Nixon sometimes swoop in there after Kennedy's given up in those states.

David Ells wrote:
Thanks again for the original post, it's sound strategy and worth following!


Happy to help! It pains me that many are turned off on 1960 because they think there's not enough strategy, because the game, though definitely a different brand from TS and Jason's other games, has its own merits.
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Kevin Bertram
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I prefer to use the CP from Unpledged Electors when playing as Nixon because my preferred Nixon strategy is to compete for states in the South - which can negate the value of Unpledged Electors.
 
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Max DuBoff
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keviny wrote:
I prefer to use the CP from Unpledged Electors when playing as Nixon because my preferred Nixon strategy is to compete for states in the South - which can negate the value of Unpledged Electors.


Hmmm, interesting. If you're already doing well in the South, then sure, Unpledged Electors can be a waste, but be careful not to try to play a strategy because you like it if your cards don't support it.
 
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Ralph T
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Note Hawaii's edge is for Nixon in the game, this appears to be a design oversight.
 
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Max DuBoff
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ralpher wrote:
Note Hawaii's edge is for Nixon in the game, this appears to be a design oversight.


I forgot to note it in the article, but I have noticed it before, and I figured it was a balancing change.
 
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Thanks for the article. One of my 10-rated games, despite never having a clear-cut strategy during play. It's a glorious game.
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