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Subject: After One Play: Not As Bad As I Was Expecting rss

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David Giles
United States
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(Note: This review is mostly about the gaming experience. Please check out my other review for a detail of components and rules.)

I played this game for the first time last night, and I was pleasantly surprised. Although not the next Power Grid or Dungeon Lords, The White House Game was more fun than I was expecting (which isn't hard; I wasn't expecting much).

My roommate and I played. He was Independent, I was Republican. He ended up winning. I didn't check the clock, but it felt like it lasted about an hour.

The game is composed of two phases: In Phase One, players allocate cash and bonuses to states by placing cards face-down on their own personal player board. In Phase Two, players select states to resolve and start rolling gobs of dice, according to the amount of cash allocated in Phase One. Whoever has the highest roll (plus bonuses) takes the state and wins its votes. The winning player records their score, then places one of their cards on the corresponding state flag on the larger, central board, to help keep track of who won which state.

Gameplay was simple enough. I was able to review the rules and teach them within about five minutes.

Strategy, however, was somewhat difficult. Y'see, you're given about sixty little tiny cards, and told to start putting them somewhere. I, for one, had no idea what I was doing--I understood the rules, but I didn't understand what would be an effective strategy. After putting high-value cards on high-value states and vice-versa, I just started randomly throwing cards wherever. I'll probably get better at strategy after a few plays.

The pacing in Phase Two fluctuated quite a bit, depending on what you were doing at the moment. Slogging through the lower value states got old ("OK, let's do Wyoming now. We both paid $5,000,000 [the smallest denomination, worth one die]? OK, I got a five. You got a six? OK, you win."), but the higher-value states, especially when we had allocated similar amounts, were much more interesting.

Along with all the other cards, each player receives three "Wild Cards," used to add to your score after rolling. The idea is that these cards allow you to modify the result of a state if it's close, like a tie or one point difference. I didn't use mine the entire game. The lower-value states, where most of the ties occurred, didn't seem with it, while the rolls for the higher-value states were too different for them to be any help.

I was very disappointed in the quality of the components, though. The individual player boards ("Campaign Strategy Boards") didn't lay flat, requiring us to balance a few of our cards on the center fold. In addition, most of the components use the same shades of red and blue. Although very thematic, this caused problems; my (blue-backed) Republican cards blended in with the color of some of the board graphics and about half the state flags, making it difficult to tell at a glance who was winning. The (red-backed) Democrat cards would probably have the same problem, but we didn't use them. The cards are made of thin cardboard, and are rather small; this makes them difficult to handle and easy to accidentally rearrange. Every few turns, we had to stop and rearrange someone's cards, either on the large board or the smaller ones ("CRAP! We just knocked the cards around! Who won Kansas? I did? OK so this blue card goes on Kansas...who won South Dakota?..."). Finally, I didn't like the color stated above, the Republican cards are blue, while the Democrat cards are red--the exact opposite of what they should be!

The central board has a large, empty space, apparently meant for rolling dice. I thought this was a nice touch; There's lots of dice rolling going on here, and it was good to have a designated, component-free spot. Compare that to, say, Risk, where everywhere you look there's a little plastic dude you can knock around, and you get the idea.

I had fun. It's probably not going to hit the table anytime soon (not when I have Power Grid or Aye, Dark Overlord! The Red Box), but it was a good way to kill some time.
Although I and my roommate had fun, this might be a good game for kids; it's simple to play and could help them learn the state names and flags. They might need some help with the strategy and/or math, though.
Also, I think this game would be better with three players. It would help keep the tension a little higher, a little more consistently, if two (or possibly three) players all had a fighting chance to win a state more often.

Overall, I think I'll give this game a 6. Not the worst game I've ever played, but not my favorite.
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