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Subject: SiP Reviews: Campaign Manager 2008 rss

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Johnpatrick Marr
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Swords Into Ploughshares is a Wednesday night game group based in and around Baltimore, MD. I started this group in July of '09 and we've managed to meet on a weekly basis since. During this time I've learned that there's a difference between a "good," game and a game that works at a weeknight boardgame club. Early on, I made some uninformed purchases: games that for one reason or another never made it to the table. SiP is in many ways the "average," group; we meet for about 3-4 hours on a weeknight and our members run the gamut from hardcore enthusiast to the less enthused initiate. I hope that other group organizers will find these specially tailored reviews helpful. I'll also be occasionally soliciting input from fellow organizers and players.

http://www.meetup.com/Swords-Into-Ploughshares/

Campaign Manager 2008 is the latest game to feature the design work of Jason Matthews. The other games in the same family tree are 1960: Making of a President and Twilight Struggle. They are related by the primary mechanic of playing cards to gain influence in territories. Campaign Manager is the first in this "series" to be remotely appropriate for a weeknight game group. Campaign Manager's older brothers are barred from this category due to their steep learning curves and long play times. They are, however, excellent games and personal favorites. Let's see how the new addition stacks up:

Theme/Components: A
This is a great looking game. The cards are an incredibly thick stock (we're talking GMT thick) and seemlessly integrate flavor text and pertinent gameplay information. The states are chunky slabs of cardboard that have a great physical heft. The wooden markers are perfectly adequate and don't distract. The only component that is likely to divide people is the scoring track. In what could be perceived as a choice of theme over function, the scoring track is designed to resemble a cable news infographic bar chart. There are individual pieces of cardboard of varying lengths that one lays on the chart to represent the current number of electoral votes won. This can be fiddly and somewhat inaccurate, even though it is visually striking and roughly informative.

The theme is very well integrated, and it is quite satisfying to throw down cards like "Oprah-Palooza," the "The Governator," to win over battleground states. The events depicted in this game are still fresh in people's minds, and much of the fun is recalling these media moments. The only aspect of the game that could take you out of the experience is the draft. It is unclear what part of the campaign process this represents, although it adds to the fun and is over quickly.

Teachability: A

This game is a delight to teach. I've played with gamers on both ends of the experience spectrum and it took roughly the same amount of time to explain, which is not very much at all. The starter decks, which replace the drafting mechanism, streamline the teaching process and give people an introduction to deckbuilding. You should be able to play this game with a new player five minutes after opening the box. Players will learn as they go along, and what few question will arise are easily answered. After one teaching game, they'll want to play with the drafting. After a couple plays I found absolutely no use for the rulebook, which is a pity, because it's colorful and attractive.

Gameplay: A
The decision-making process in this game is never overwhelming, but often excruciating: the hallmark of a quality game experience. The entire ordeal is very focused compared to other Matthews joints. This keeps less experienced players from being overwhelmed and falling prey to the resulting paralysis. To me, this is the perfect example of a game that can be enjoyed by experienced gamers and inexperienced gamers alike. The simplicity of the cards, and the fact that the same fifteen cards are cycled over and over again make the tactical aspect of the game very accessible without being dull or pre-programmed. There's enough randomness to affect the outcome of the game, in the form of card-draws and event cards and rolling the dice for "going negative," but players are unlikely to feel their odds of victory were ruined by chance.

Scaling: I
I have to give this game an Incomplete for scaling. It is a two-player game, which is not ideal for a gaming group. There are usual not enough tables around for lots of people to be pairing off. If there is one strike against adding this game to your collection, it's the lack of multiplayer functionality. That being said, if you're looking for two-player filler for early or late arrivals, this game will perform well.

Actual Play Time: 30-45 minutes
This game should not exceed 45 minutes, even if every state is used and the game is being taught for the first time.

Replayability: B
There is plenty of replayability built right into this game. For each game you will only be using 15 out of 45 possible cards. Each player also chooses two starting states for a large number of potential starting setups. There are different strategies that can be pursued during the deck-building phase, although your strategy is frozen during the card-playing portion (with the exception of the "Game-Changer," card). It is rewarding to try out different strategies, but there are plenty of cards in the deck with the exact same or similar in-game effects, and the range of potential strategies is fairly narrow. The pacing and rhythm of the game can fall into familiar patterns over repeated plays, although you should get many hours of enjoyment out of the game before this gets old. I played this game a dozen times in the past weekend, and still want to have another go.

Appeal: A
This is a euro-style game I could get someone who likes Magic: The Gathering to play. This is a game that my significant other enjoys playing. Even more than Dominion, this is a gateway game, that even after you've moved on to meatier titles you'll want to keep taking off the shelf. I've seen people scoff at the seem, in one person's words, "Too soon!" But they've still wanted to sit down and learn. Near universal appeal.

Value:A+
When weighing purchases I generally go by the $5/hr. standard. I accept the fact that I'm willing to pay $10 for two hours of entertainment in the form of a movie and expect everything else I own to meet this minimum standard. Campaign Manager 2008 exceeds this even more than most boardgames. This is a relatively cheap game, at the time of this writing going for between $21 at online stores and $30 MSRP. I got the game for 22.50 at my FLGS. Given the number of plays you'll get out of it, and the quality of components, this category receives highest possible marks.

Overrall: A w/ an Incomplete
It's my opinion that everyone needs to try this game. It's currently threatening Lost Cities' status as my ultimate Significant Other game. While being limited to two players means it's not going to find a place in everyone's game group, it's fast enough that you might not be missed before you're done. I'll be surprised if this doesn't make some top-ten lists at the end of 2010
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P@xt0n $chw@rz
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I couldn't agree more with your assessment of the game. I still prefer 1960, but because of the length this one will hit the table far more. Although my first game went a little over an hour I suspect that is most likely because there was a good deal of back and forth fighting over the first couple states before we started grasping deeper strategies.

Thanks for the review! I hope this great little game gets the attention it deserves!
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Jason Matthews
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John,

Thank you so very much for the kind review. My only quibble is to note that I am merely the co-designer, and equal praise and blame (especially blame) should be applied to Christian Leonhard.

Hey, and we are practically neighbors (me being in Alexandria)! Though given the weather, I can't visit my ACTUAL neighbors without snow shoes, Baltimore would practically require an Iditarod.

Jason
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Joshua Gardner
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Excellent review that sums up the game brilliantly. One sticking point for me though:

niftykracker wrote:
This game should not exceed 45 minutes, even if every state is used and the game is being taught for the first time.


Obviously this will vary on the type of player, but our first game with the preset decks went through all of the states, cycled through our decks six times, and took 1.5 hours. It raised a concern for me introducing it to my lunch group at work, but it was all due to tit for tat. Once the drafting is introduced, the game goes much quicker.

I only mention it because it's been raised in a few threads already.
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Alex G

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bullseyetm wrote:
Excellent review that sums up the game brilliantly. One sticking point for me though:

niftykracker wrote:
This game should not exceed 45 minutes, even if every state is used and the game is being taught for the first time.


Obviously this will vary on the type of player, but our first game with the preset decks went through all of the states, cycled through our decks six times, and took 1.5 hours. It raised a concern for me introducing it to my lunch group at work, but it was all due to tit for tat. Once the drafting is introduced, the game goes much quicker.

I only mention it because it's been raised in a few threads already.


I fear that smart drafting will make card-advantage decks that swing back towards 1.5 hour tit-for-tat. You get Florida? Fine, I'll take Manhatt.. er, Ohio.
 
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Michael Edwards
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I'll also chime in that my first play took a little over an hour. Looking forward to subsequent plays.

I do feel 1960 is more meaty. My only major disagreement with the review is I wouldn't rate it quite so highly on the theme, perhaps an A-, or even down to a B. I'm not sure why, but the theme just feels more pasted on to me. The cards, showing events, certainly are very thematic - but this is spoiled somewhat for me by their effects being less unique. Many of the cards, despite having a fun picture or headline, have the same game function. This sticks out to me in this game, where it didn't in 1960 (and most cards seemed to have more unique effects).

Also, I find in TS/1960, the biggest struggle is deciding between using an event (or denying it's use to the opponent), and using it's OPs value - that's a deliciously painful decision. In Campaign Manager 2008, there are some interesting choices, but I didn't feel a similar struggle most of the time - but, I only have the one play under my belt.

This is not to say I didn't enjoy the game - I most certainly do. I also think it's a great investment both in $$, and in time to play vs. enjoyment. But, I won't be replacing 1960 or TS with it, that's for sure.
 
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P@xt0n $chw@rz
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Chanfan wrote:
Also, I find in TS/1960, the biggest struggle is deciding between using an event (or denying it's use to the opponent), and using it's OPs value - that's a deliciously painful decision. In Campaign Manager 2008, there are some interesting choices, but I didn't feel a similar struggle most of the time - but, I only have the one play under my belt.


Although I feel that mechanic from TS/1960 is mirrored by the CM cards which allow you to discard cards for a more powerful effect.

I find myself agonizing about which cards I can do without, in a similar way that I agonize about how to use each card in 1960.
 
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Rob White
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First play takes a while, but play time comes down dramatically after a couple plays as you learn cards. My son and I started flying through the drafting process, in particular, since the fastest drafter gets to be start player.
 
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