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Jonathan Degann
United States
Tarzana
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It's so hard to play this game. It takes 4+ hours, requires a ton of record keeping, and the rules are just long enough to discourage people. But I highly admire the system and its work at simulating many of the details of an interesting contest. In other words, it's an American style game of the sort that is becoming outdated. So I use the availability of a con, the fact that it's an election year, and the willingness of my friend Tim Oates, who likes the game, to find the excuse to put it on the table.

I kinda wish I hadn't.

The essence of the game is that you are moving from one to four pawns around the country, landing in cities, and scoring "votes" in the appropriate state which are proportional to the size of the city. Each turn, you move and add votes to the states you land in. But there are twenty freaking turns and potentially fifty states to visit. You soon see why KH Schmiel only included 7 regions per game in Die Macher (still, a solid four hours), sacrificing realism for SOME playability.

There are many complications - all tastily simulated, but all hurting playability. You can sit out a turn and collect money. With money, you can buy "organization" in a state, acting as a multiplier to all subsequent votes you get in that state. You can buy "advertising" - most useful in buying votes in piddly states that you're too busy to visit. You can buy "surrogates" which are additional pawns who may travel, garnering votes, just like your candidate. You can buy "special flights" that help you get to places without the luck of the dice. We didn't even play with "dirty tricks".

The most characteristic part of the game comes in the "issues". Each player picks a politician with his own profile on how he stands on various issues. Then either through choice or chance cards, issues become "active". As long as the issue is active, politicians with a relevant stand will have bonuses or penalties when he visits certain states. (IMPORTANT NOTE: Anyone playing this game MUST photocopy the summary effects included in the special book, and give each player a card showing his own effects summary. Cross referencing the states listed on the issue card with the candidate's position is incredibly unwieldy.) Additional effects - lots of fun - of an issue being raised can bring a candidate a s*load of money, additional votes, or a free surrogate. I was ironically proud that my mildly racist candidate (there are much worse ones in the deck) was able to win a KKK surrogate in the south when the "Civil Rights" issue came up. One nice thing about this game - it strongly encourages role playing, but watch your mouth when other people at the convention, not in the game, might hear you shout "Elect me, and I promise to send every wetback in California packing his bags."

The climax of the game comes at the end, as you go down each state to see who has the most votes, thereby winning that state's delegates. There is a smart balloting system, in which the lowest scoring player drops out, giving his states' votes to the next strongest in each state. This continues, with players dropping out in each successive ballot until a winner is chosen.

Our winner, a convention pickup named Steve, made aggressive use of fundraising, frequently keeping his candidate back to raise money, and then using that money to build organization multipliers, typically in mid-sized states. I had the incredible misfortune of frequently missing several important states such as Texas and New Jersey by a single vote or two, and ended up being the first to drop out.

The game took us five hours and even then we had agreed to halt the game after four out of the five weeks. I was getting very ornery. The game just doesn't warrant the time, and there was too much downtime between turns, with people leaving the table. Still, I can't help but think that greater familiarity with the game, and better between-turn planning would have made this a manageable three hours. Steve, an otherwise smart and nice guy, had the absolutely infuriating habit of waiting until his turn, and then asking to check something in the rules! For cryin' out loud, what were you waiting for?

I just love the theming and the basic concept, but this game drags. So close, yet so far. I'd really like to see a more Germanic approach to the subject, but I also think that an American election game which doesn't involve all fifty states is missing the mark. Possibly, a simpler system could be created which focuses on the larger states, and handles the ones with less than ten delegates in a more abstract manner.

Rating: 4.
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