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Subject: Die Macher - The Original German "Party" Game rss

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TC Petty III
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I've played Die Macher three times now in my life and I feel that I've accomplished something with this feat. The game is heavy, long, German, and the rules are rough to navigate and filled with Comic Sans font. But, somewhere beyond the steep learning curve and slightly outdated feel of gameplay is a game that I concede to be a classic. It was certainly miles ahead of it's time and stands with Acquire and Settlers of Catan as one of the most influential board games to modern game design. It's also the BEST strategic, semi-co-op, post-war Germany, pseudo-democratic, political posturing game EVER. Which also makes it one of the toughest games to EVER get to the table.

I own Die Macher and it took me an entire year before I was able to convince others in my gaming groups to play it.

Here are some easy tips for getting Die Macher to the table:
1. Don't show the players the box, the art, or say the name of the game. Don't describe it; don't let them watch you set it up, have everything ready when they arrive, offer them snacks or beer, and then when you finally reveal the game, laugh maniacally and lock all the doors. Have a pack of wolves circle the house if possible.
(OR)
2. Go to a game convention.

Before I become entrenched in the intricacies of the game, please keep this in mind; this game should be on your bucket list. A gamer should play this game at least one time before they die. And it is a required part of the curriculum for fledgeling game designers.

...And now onto the meat.

The basic premise of Die Macher is that each player represents a different political party in Germany attempting to gain political prominence over the course of an election season. This is not the oppressive, post-nazi state that evolved after World War II, but a democratic republic with multiple parties all vying for public attention. Players are trying to gain influence within Germany during a series of county elections by winning parliament seats and swaying the masses to their cause. Yes, there are multiple paths to victory. Yes, factions are allowed to team up during elections. Yes, the game is approximately 6 hours long on the first play. But, through a combination of gained seats, popular opinion, securing key party platforms, controlling the media, and the winning of elections over the course of 7 rounds (the last being a mini-round), players total up their victory points (hundreds of them) to see which faction has won.

If this sounds complicated, or somewhat convoluted, then you would be correct. Die Macher is not a "light" or "medium-weight" game. It is the definition of a "heavy" euro-game. Each round of the game, with the exception of the final shortened seventh round, consists of 15 phases. 15! Luckily, this is simply a scary misrepresentation as the last seven phases are all resolution, payment, and set-up for the next round. But, even after playing the game three times, and teaching the game twice, there is no way I would be able to play without the player aid included on the back of the rule-book.

Basic Gameplay


I will not dive in and explain every one of the fifteen phases each round, but I will provide a general overview of what to expect.

The game includes a bit of scratch paper for each player to record their secret bids and their final point scores at game-end. This is extremely helpful, but also is required to start each round. One of the unique elements of Die Macher is that players secretly bid for turn order each round, and when a player wins the bid they may choose who is the start player. This is key, because in Die Macher it is almost always best to go last and react to what all other players do each turn. And since player turns move clockwise around the table afterwards, it's good to realize when the player to your right might have his/her eyes set on going last. If he/she wins the bid, you're almost guaranteed to go first. Which sucks.

Navigating a set of simplistic choices with complex repercussions is the essence of Die Macher. The game thrives on a player's ability to make small choices that affect both the short-term and the long-term and it does this extremely well. After start player is determined, seven phases occur where players make decisions one-by-one, in turn order. What's excellent about these decisions is that they are all based around one specific aspect of the campaign and table-talk is encouraged. In one phase, you have the opportunity to change what issues your party cares about most, trying to match them up with the current region's important issues or with one of the three upcoming elections that are always visible. In another phase, you buy and place media markers in order to try and change the popular issues in the media.

So, every step of this process is in an effort to improve your faction's standing in the current election or the three upcoming elections. Each of your party markers assigned to a county in Germany is multiplied by the number of issues that the county shares in common with your party and the amount of popularity your party has in the region. This determines how many seats you win (which translates into victory points through a chart) and whoever has the most seats in a certain region wins the election and some extra bonuses for the long-term. Hooray for math! What's awesome is that two players can team up and form a coalition and those players share in all the seats won and split the extra bonus.

Repeat this round process five more times, and have a final "instant" election for the seventh round and the game ends. And since each county offers a different amount of victory points per seat won, the game is always variable and being competitive in BIG elections is crazy important.

The Verdict


In order to truly understand the various interweaving strategies and be able to anticipate and plot your own course three rounds in advance, more than three plays are required. I certainly haven't been able to achieve that level of understanding, which is probably good, because each session then puts all players on an even footing. But, it does signify that this game is not a stroll through a dandelion meadow. I would compare playing Die Macher to eating a delicious lobster dinner with seven courses, with the caveat that the service is so atrocious that it takes 5 hours to eat the meal and by the time the creme brulee is burnt, you're hoping they'll just bring the check. It has a tendency to overstay it's welcome. Patience is required.

I'll repeat for effect; patience is required. Each action in the game is designed to artificially lengthen gameplay. Earlier, I described the excellent balance between short-term victories and long-term strategy. However, despite the virtual sandbox this creates, be prepared for severe bouts of analysis paralysis. In most board games, a player is given a set of options for the current phase and these are relatively limited in scope. In Die Macher, every phase affects the next, and every phase has options that affect both the current round and three rounds in the future and every phase in the current turn. And many times, you are not limited to one action at a time, but could potentially make several or zero moves in a phase. Even though the actions are simple, there is nothing to do between some turns and the wait can be agonizing. To survive, take these moments to plot and socialize. Because, after the dust settles from all the cube pushing, Die Macher is a negotiation game as well.

The game may be heavy, but it is surprisingly open for discussion and extremely interactive. The repetitive nature of the turn structure allows players to pick up the game and begin to form a basic strategy within a round or two. And the team-up aspect of the game is totally great. Sometimes a coalition can be forced by certain actions, most times arranged well in advance, but having two separate teams of two players both trying to win an important election can be epic! It also helps shield players from those wicked public opinion polls that can seriously damage a campaign. Yes, Die Macher has a phase where you can directly sabotage other factions and it is a Bidding phase. But, knowing full-well that it was your choice not to pay to be in control of that poll makes the hurt all that more real.

I would also argue that this game is extremely thematic unlike most Euro-games. To a fault. While this may be Valley Games' rule-book that needlessly complicates gameplay, the game is still very complex and saturated with "accurate" but confusing names for all the phases and markers. This is the ultimate political simulation with all it's boring number-crunching, statistical analysis, scheming, waiting, planning, pushing cubes, and dryness. It's also why I say it is required playing for almost all gamers of any type. It's an anomaly that exists outside of time.

So, is Die Macher "fun?" The answer is YES. Not just "tolerable;" the game can be exciting and dynamic! Is it long and involved and fiddly? Most definitely, yes. Will your gaming group hate it? I'd actually be surprised if everyone didn't come away from that first game saying, "that was long, but good." And for a heavy game of abstracted German politics, with relatively uninspired art design, that is pretty damn good. It also has the distinction of being possibly the ONLY game in my entire collection that I play so rarely that if someone even jokingly suggests it, I am always ready to play. Midnight Macher? I'm in!

But, no matter what the outcome of your first play (and possibly last play), this game experience will stick with you for a long time. A classic for a reason. And that is something worth playing.



~Valley Games Edition reviewed
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Paolo Ciardulli
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Nice review. Thank you!
 
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Chris Mitchell
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An interesting moment came halfway through a game of Die Macher I got to play with involving two friends from Germany. To paraphrase him... "I didn't move to Canada to be reminded of the shi**y politics I left" The other German friend only nodded in agreement, not really into the game either.

And much laughing was had that night.

Not only did my friend who noted the true to reality game play hate the game and vow to never play again, he won.

An experience I wont ever forget.

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TC Petty III
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spacemanc wrote:
An interesting moment came halfway through a game of Die Macher I got to play with involving two friends from Germany. To paraphrase him... "I didn't move to Canada to be reminded of the shi**y politics I left" The other German friend only nodded in agreement, not really into the game either.

And much laughing was had that night.

Not only did my friend who noted the true to reality game play hate the game and vow to never play again, he won.

An experience I wont ever forget.


Ha, I knew it! Die Macher is uncomfortably thematic.
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Fraser
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TheCrippledWerewolf wrote:

Here are some easy tips for getting Die Macher to the table:
1. Don't show the players the box, the art, or say the name of the game. Don't describe it; don't let them watch you set it up, have everything ready when they arrive, offer them snacks or beer, and then when you finally reveal the game, laugh maniacally and lock all the doors. Have a pack of wolves circle the house if possible.
(OR)
2. Go to a game convention.

3. Play a non Valley Games edition, you can use their rules if you want.

Edit: Removed the image I accidentally included
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Laurentiu Cristofor
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Great review! Got this game when it was reprinted and went through the rulebook, but I have yet to play a full game.
 
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