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Subject: One of the better election games I've played rss

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Steve Barker
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I believe GOP Nominee (created for the 2016 Solitare Print & Play Contest) is somewhat of a hidden gem that more people should experience. I know a number of people have expressed distaste for the theme either due to their own political inclinations or due to news fatigue after the seemingly never-ending election of 2016, but this game is a remarkable piece of work.

The game is freely available here as a print & play so I won't laboriously go through all the rules. What you need to know is that this is a clever, tightly designed and thematic solo experience that really surprised me.

The event cards (all fashioned after moments from the Republican primary season) generate a strong narrative, as the order they play out in is different every time. While there is a limit to the range of effects those cards can have (mostly adding or removing support for the various candidates), each makes sense in terms of its effect being tied to the historical event in question which is all you can ask for.

There is just enough variety in moving parts in this game to make it an interesting intellectual exercise every turn as you decide how to use just two actions and which card to commit to the brokered convention deck. You can execute events to try and tilt the balance in your candidate's favour, improve your position with regard to three different campaign issues, or sling mud at the opposition.

That "mud" mechanic is well executed in some ways and also one of my main gripes. Mud cubes cancel out support cubes to some extent but mud slowly drips away turn by turn so slinging mud is a delicate short-term decision: do you invest in smearing an opponent when you know that mud won't stick to them forever? It requires an assessment of the current situation in terms of support and how many delegates are available this round in order to decide when to use mud. I really enjoy this factor as it's about judging the probability of one or two mud swinging the vote in your favour this turn only, with no real idea of what next turn will bring; it forces you (particularly with the "weaker" candidates) to pick and choose your battles and switch targets as the game evolves.

My problem with the mud mechanic is in how the player candidate generally gains mud: prior to drawing your hand of 3 cards, 3 cards are drawn from the same deck and those with your candidate's activation icon on them result in your candidate being smeared with 2 mud. This isn't that big a deal and adds to the complexity of your decision making...that is, until you draw a series of your activation icons in a row and begin drowning in mud which it is hard to recover from at all. This is less of an issue if you're playing Trump (who can remove more mud every turn than the other candidates) but for the others it can be devastating. Rubio seems particularly vulnerable as he has an automatic loss condition if he can't win enough delegates in the early game.

In my view, this mud mechanic needs more development. Right now, it's just about bearable as long as you don't get hugely unlucky (which you might liken to the Pandemic problem where the way the deck has been shuffled in that game can make it essentially impossible to win and you just don't know it yet) but something about the balance of the amount of mud gained (2 per card with your symbol) and the rate at which it reduces support (not 1:1, but on a staggered, sliding scale) seems imbalanced to me. Maybe there could be a staggered amount of mud gained (2 for the first event card, 1 for each subsequent for a maximum of 4 per turn, rather than a potential maximum of 6) or maybe it should be 1 mud per card but the penalty should be 1:1 rather than on a staggered scale. I'm sure the designer worked on this as the current set up is too complex to be arbitrary and has presumably changed during play testing but, in my view, it's not quite right yet.

While we're talking gripes, my other main problem with the game is that Trump (the game's "easy mode" candidate) is simply too easy to win with. His automatic win condition is a nice threat when playing another, weak candidate, but when he's your candidate it's far too easy to steamroll to victory. I appreciate the need for a training wheels scenario to learn the game but winning with Trump is so easy you don't have the time to learn much (you might very well make a satirical comment here, but I couldn't possibly comment!)

My favourite feature of the game is the brokered convention, if no candidate has won the requisite number of delegates before then. For this reason, I tend to prefer playing as Rubio or especially Kasich; while they are the "weak"/hard mode candidates, they tend to produce the most exciting finish to the game. Once you get to the brokered convention, the extra cards you've been discarding to the convention deck each turn come into play: a card with your candidate's name printed at the bottom is a vote for you. The tricky part there is that those are the cards that are strongest for you during the campaign so, as Kasich for example, you have a hard choice between playing better events for yourself and putting them in the convention deck and hoping to survive long enough for them to pay off. Cycling through this deck and adding delegates (with bonuses for leading in issues and penalties for mud you're still carrying) is the most fun way for the game to end and has produced a few genuine nail-biters for me.

I hope the designer develops this concept further, perhaps with a set of fictional or anachronistic "party hero" candidates to make the theme less of a sour taste for some potential players. At time of writing, I've played 17 times and it's definitely a keeper to add to my large collection of election themed games. If you enjoy a challenging, thematic solo experience and aren't put off by the theme, give this game a try.
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Frederic Heath-Renn
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TheBFG wrote:
While we're talking gripes, my other main problem with the game is that Trump (the game's "easy mode" candidate) is simply too easy to win with. His automatic win condition is a nice threat when playing another, weak candidate, but when he's your candidate it's far too easy to steamroll to victory. I appreciate the need for a training wheels scenario to learn the game but winning with Trump is so easy you don't have the time to learn much (you might very well make a satirical comment here, but I couldn't possibly comment!)


You're going to win so much you'll get sick and tired of winning

Thanks for the detailed review, sounds interesting. I like your emphasis on what you liked about the brokered convention.
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Purple TripleCrown
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I haven't played this game, and I enjoyed reading your review (I wanted to see what this game is all about), but games that are designed around a current event, the ramifications of which are is still transpiring, are a tough sell for me. When companies put these games out, I feel they are just trying to cash in on the emotions of the moment, and not trying to make a game with replay value.

Very few of the events that our news networks are currently covering 24/7 are likely to be looked back upon as historically significant. I think the designers should have waited at least 4 or 8 years to decide whether the 2016 GOP race was significant enough for further study through the mechanism of a game.
 
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Frederic Heath-Renn
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Purpletriplecrown wrote:
I haven't played this game, and I enjoyed reading your review (I wanted to see what this game is all about), but games that are designed around a current event, the ramifications of which are is still transpiring, are a tough sell for me. When companies put these games out, I feel they are just trying to cash in on the emotions of the moment, and not trying to make a game with replay value.

Very few of the events that our news networks are currently covering 24/7 are likely to be looked back upon as historically significant. I think the designers should have waited at least 4 or 8 years to decide whether the 2016 GOP race was significant enough for further study through the mechanism of a game.


That's an interesting viewpoint*. I can certainly see that there's room for suspicion of motives, and I can certainly imagine that some warehouse somewhere is currently printing Trumpopoly, Trump Fluxx, Trumplight Imperium for a quick dirty buck. And I'd also agree that a timely theme is not enough to make a subpar game worthwhile.

But I do also find something kind of admirable in the idea of game-making as spontaneous response; perhaps it's because of my love of pop music, where sometimes the discs that are written and recorded and issued in a day as a direct response to some news event are as heartfelt and beautiful as the more considered elegiacs. There's obvious differences between mercurial, beautiful pop and the more crafted and long-lasting and unemotional field of board game design, but there is something I like about putting out a game design as a bulletin, a way of responding to the news as it currently is, that makes me less wary of its appropriateness than you.

*I do actually mean interesting, I'm not using it to mean stupid
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Steve Barker
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Purpletriplecrown wrote:
I haven't played this game, and I enjoyed reading your review (I wanted to see what this game is all about), but games that are designed around a current event, the ramifications of which are is still transpiring, are a tough sell for me. When companies put these games out, I feel they are just trying to cash in on the emotions of the moment, and not trying to make a game with replay value.

Very few of the events that our news networks are currently covering 24/7 are likely to be looked back upon as historically significant. I think the designers should have waited at least 4 or 8 years to decide whether the 2016 GOP race was significant enough for further study through the mechanism of a game.


To be fair, it isn't a "company" putting this out, it's one amateur designer who did it as part of a print & play contest. I agree with the spirit of what you're saying but this isn't a "cash in", it's a free game and the outcome of someone looking at recent events to see if he could make a game out of it. This is part of the reason why I talk about hoping to see the designer develop the game further, perhaps with fictional candidates to make it "timeless" or an anachronistic collection of party heroes (during development he was looking at making plug-in candidates out of Reagan, Lincoln and others, for example).
 
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Michael Bevilacqua
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Thanks Steve for your thorough, thoughtful, and well written review. I would have killed to have this kind of outside thought while designing the game. Understandably, I realize that many people, myself included, don't want to waste time and ink on games that might be a complete brain fart.

TheBFG wrote:
In my view, this mud mechanic needs more development. Right now, it's just about bearable as long as you don't get hugely unlucky (which you might liken to the Pandemic problem where the way the deck has been shuffled in that game can make it essentially impossible to win and you just don't know it yet) but something about the balance of the amount of mud gained (2 per card with your symbol) and the rate at which it reduces support (not 1:1, but on a staggered, sliding scale) seems imbalanced to me. Maybe there could be a staggered amount of mud gained (2 for the first event card, 1 for each subsequent for a maximum of 4 per turn, rather than a potential maximum of 6) or maybe it should be 1 mud per card but the penalty should be 1:1 rather than on a staggered scale. I'm sure the designer worked on this as the current set up is too complex to be arbitrary and has presumably changed during play testing but, in my view, it's not quite right yet.


While I appreciate your criticisms, luck does play a significant role in this game and it was always my intention for luck to do so. There is luck in the card draw, luck in the cube draw, and luck in the starting cards in the brokered convention deck. I think it is important in a solitaire game that luck takes the role that an actual opponent would have in a typical multiplayer game; otherwise, I feel the game would be a puzzle and solvable. Your concern is also somewhat mitigated by the fact that the easier 2 candidates have more cards in the deck than the harder 2 candidates so that if you play the harder candidates, you are less likely to get stung by the 2 mud cubes multiple times.

You are, of course, welcome to house rule the 2,1,1 mud rule.

TheBFG wrote:
While we're talking gripes, my other main problem with the game is that Trump (the game's "easy mode" candidate) is simply too easy to win with. His automatic win condition is a nice threat when playing another, weak candidate, but when he's your candidate it's far too easy to steamroll to victory. I appreciate the need for a training wheels scenario to learn the game but winning with Trump is so easy you don't have the time to learn much (you might very well make a satirical comment here, but I couldn't possibly comment!)


Full Disclosure: I didn't vote for Trump. He's the easiest to win with because throughout the whole primary season, he was winning. I tried to create a simulation of the events and, in a sense, was designing in real time. That being said, I have loss as Trump multiple times.

TheBFG wrote:
I hope the designer develops this concept further, perhaps with a set of fictional or anachronistic "party hero" candidates to make the theme less of a sour taste for some potential players.


While I currently have no plans to work on GOP Nominee further, never say never. If you would prefer not to look at Trump or Cruz's faces, I have made 2 expansion candidates that can be used as subtitutes: Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, respectively. A link to those downloads can be found on the initial post of the WIP thread here: GOP Nominee WIP

Edited: Typos
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Michael Bevilacqua
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Purpletriplecrown wrote:
I haven't played this game, and I enjoyed reading your review (I wanted to see what this game is all about), but games that are designed around a current event, the ramifications of which are is still transpiring, are a tough sell for me. When companies put these games out, I feel they are just trying to cash in on the emotions of the moment, and not trying to make a game with replay value.

Very few of the events that our news networks are currently covering 24/7 are likely to be looked back upon as historically significant. I think the designers should have waited at least 4 or 8 years to decide whether the 2016 GOP race was significant enough for further study through the mechanism of a game.


As Steve pointed out, this was for a contest that offered no real money nor do I have any intention of making the game for profit in the future. I made a game about a topic that I was very interested in at the time. I guarantee that I would not have made this game even 1 year after it happened because I would be more interested in something else and it would be considerably harder for me to get all the topics that make the cards relevant. It was more a case of art imitating life than any sort of political statement. Play it or pass, just have fun either way.
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Steve Barker
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GamerMike wrote:
Thanks Steve for your thorough, thoughtful, and well written review. I would have killed to have this kind of outside thought while designing the game. Understandably, I realize that many people, myself included, don't want to waste time and ink on games that might be a complete brain fart.


I had always intended to play it (I was the guy guessing the candidate silhouettes in the WIP thread!) but just didn't get to it until recently, unfortunately. Nothing to do with fearing it would be a brain fart, just me being disorganised.

As far as luck being a big part of the game, I'm fine with that. It just seems too easy to get completely crippled which (in a solo experience) isn't fun because that simulated "actual opponent" isn't getting anything out of it either. I found Cruz was the most likely to get swamped in mud (probably because Trump can shed so much of it so easily) but it happens a lot with Rubio and Kasich as well.

I agree that Trump should indeed be the easiest, I just feel he's too easy because I end up on Super Tuesday thinking "Welp, he's going to win automatically again" and being tempted to play badly just to extend the narrative. Personal preference, perhaps.

Anyway, thanks for the comments, I genuinely enjoy this game and just thought somebody needed to get a review on the site to help others see what it's all about.
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John Echeverria
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Thanks for the review, Steve. Your review put this game on my radar. Played three games last night on TTS, and I had a blast. I will say, though, that I had a similar experience with mud. In both of my games playing as Kasich, he got absolutely buried in mud due to events. It was especially painful to draw the Kasich event that removes all mud during the events phase... instead of removing it all, I had to add two more! I'm going to continue playing as is, but your 2-1-1 suggestion sounds promising.

There are a lot of clever elements in this design. The brokered convention is an especially great mechanic. Adds tension to the end of game and feels thematic, just like a roll call. Anyone who enjoys election games (e.g. 1960) should try this one. Great game, Michael!
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