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1960: The Making of the President» Forums » Sessions

Subject: Prototype rss

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(ron lee)
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baton rouge
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During dinner, Vonda noted that she was willing to try the game, and I very hastily volunteered my way into playing with her. Bumblebees have been buzzing, and though I'm not the type to read tabloids, there's some dirty part of me that wants to dig deeper when I hear good gossip. When we returned home, full of pork (them) and grease (me), we got the prototype set up and after a long, long trek through the rules (Jason was distracted with kid kare, so we had to figure out most for ourselves), we took the time warp. The not-particularly hirsute Vonda picked up the Nixon figurine, while I took dapper Kennedy.

The game is composed of five rounds of campaigning, a little debate, two more rounds of campaigning, and then the final election. The beginning of each turn, each player is given about five cards to spend for the round. Each campaign round consists of players taking turns spending their cards one by one until they are depleted. After some between-round housekeeping, 5 new cards are handed out and the action repeats. Vonda and I spent our first two rounds just playing with the options available to us. Each card played may be played in four or so different ways. You can play a card to send your president stumping across the nation, winning votes one handshake at a time. Or you can play a card as some newsworthy event that has an impact on the campaign (for example, "Nixon breaks leg", which puts Nixon out of service for a little while). If you've played Twilight Struggle before (I haven't), this probably sounds pretty familiar. You can also use a card to pound home a message on issues such as the economy or civil rights. Leading in the issues gives you slightly less tangible rewards: the ability to trigger events that your opponent didn't want triggered, and the ability to pick up swing voters when it comes to the clutch. Finally, you can use a card to advertise in some section of the US, which gives you more ability to erode your opponent's supposedly secure bases. On top of all this, one of your five or so cards gets set aside representing preparation for the debate (or after the debate, preparing for election day secret plans). So each card has many potential uses, and the trick is to get the most value from them.

It's clear that the big thinking in the game comes from properly ordering your 5 cards. By moving around the furniture in the tiny room in just the right way, hopefully you end up with a big payoff at the very end, or, with a less fortunate draw, preventing your opponent from taking too much advantage of your cards. It's a tactical problem that I was surprised to find was pretty consistently interesting, no matter which 5 cards I happened to draw.

In some ways, the feelings of each round were pretty consistent. When you get your cards, you say, "Hey, this is great! How can I make the most of this?" or "Nononono, what am I going to do to keep from losing badly?" Right from the outset, you know if you're about to go up or down in the polls, and you just try to make the best of the situation. As you play the cards, nothing goes exactly as you expect, so you have to keep re-evaluating. There's also a little psychological aspect to this--if your opponent is doing something a little strange, you can bet there's some event that your opponent has in mind for future play.

Early in the game, I had the fortune of drawing cards that would allow me to gain a lot of control in the midwest and south if I managed to get a couple conditions right. Since we both had zero prior knowledge of the cards, it was easy enough to make the proper maneuver without hinderance, and just like that I gained the lead in 95% of the powerful midwest, including states like ohio and michigan, and I had a good chunk of the south as well. The round after, Vonda began investing heavily in the issues. It seemed very strange to me, since she had never done so before and she was shifting around uneasily. Not knowing the cards, it was clear she was up to something! Not caring one whit about the economy or civil rights, I countered for the rest of the round, watching her wiggle and wince. Apparently I did the right thing.

In mid-game I made some terrible mistakes. Vonda had managed in to keep advertising influence through most of the states, and I had ignored it. So she eroded my support in big states, while I was helpless to attack any of hers. The cards available in the penultimate round helped me free myself of the advertising monopoly, but in hindsight, it was too late. I should have done more earlier.

By the time the debates rolled around, Vonda had done a terrific job of eroding my base, gaining solid leads in big states like Ohio and Texas while retaining all of the Western US, including California. The debates ended up being pretty much a tie, and we continued trudging through the campaign.

In the final two rounds, we were pretty crazy on the stump, going for big-game states that should have been more securely mine if I had been better with advertising! Points swung back and forth wildly. Finally election day rolled around. Vonda had 259 if I'm remembering right. Being lazy, we asked Jason if that was a winning score. He announced that 260 was needed to win! I had repeated history! That is, until Vonda pointed out a card that had been placed on the table long ago, nullifying about 30 of my electoral points!! I left, I cried, I lost.

Tactically, there are a lot of interesting things going on here. Because each card represents so many possibilities, you have to run through a lot of combinations in your head, particularly at the beginning of each round. It's almost like a logistical pick-up-and-deliver problem when you order the cards.

I'm not the kind of person who likes a lot of detail in my games, so the game loses points with me for having too many cards that do too many crazy, asymmetrical things. However, given what the designers are going for, I concede it's an elegant design, a good cross between evoking the theme and being simple to understand (which is what I hear of Twilight Struggle all the time). Advertising, in particular, is handled very well, I think. It's a very interesting power that has subtle ramifications.

If I describe the game in very abstract terms, it's because I'm very unfamiliar with this particular election, so the events don't mean very much to me. Jason tells me that "flavor text" will be added to the cards by publication time to explain what every event is, so by the time it's available for general consumption, it may turn out to be quite evocative. But still, it's probably easier to be haunted by the Mushroom Clouds of the Twilight Struggle than it is to be haunted by the Unpledged Democratic Electors of Virginia.

Strategically, I'm a little blind right now. I don't see the strategy because each round is a new set of 5 cards. As such, each round has nearly the same flavor, and the opening game feels very much like the endgame. However, this may just be inexperience on my part. It's clear in hindsight that advertising is worth investing in early, that certain events in the debates and the final election should be anticipated, and that there can be method in the way you lock up states. I will need to play more to see if it really is more purely a tactical game or if strategy has a place.

Timewise, Jason assures me this can be played in 90 minutes with experience. From our delayed rules explanation to the final recount took us at least 3 1/2 hours!! But Jason is an honorable man, I assume he knows what he's talking about. If this really can be played in 90 minutes, it may pack a powerful punch.

Overall, I'm afraid I can't give a firm opinion. It's a game that requires a little experience with the cards and the system, clearly. I'm curious enough to have another go.
 
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Steve
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ronlee wrote:

Strategically, I'm a little blind right now. I don't see the strategy because each round is a new set of 5 cards. As such, each round has nearly the same flavor, and the opening game feels very much like the endgame. However, this may just be inexperience on my part. It's clear in hindsight that advertising is worth investing in early, that certain events in the debates and the final election should be anticipated, and that there can be method in the way you lock up states. I will need to play more to see if it really is more purely a tactical game or if strategy has a place.


This is definitely a general CDG thing--PoG, Twilight Struggle, etc. With all the good CDG games you have to play multiple times and get a good feel for the cards and the potential shapes of the game. As such CDGs are not a good genre for people who collect games but don't play them very often IMHO--if they don't play it more than a few times the strategy will never reveal itself... It's a characteristic of the genre that some people think is weak, but I'm not sure I agree. I don't feel that it's too much to ask to play a game multiple times for the strategies to reveal themselves.
 
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Kenneth Sheffield
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Your biggest problem is that you played Vonda kiss. Vonda is EVIL!! devilsauron Next time challenge Liza or Owen, the game will go alot smoother.
 
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