As many of you will know, I am no fan of politicians. I can live with political systems but derive no real interest from them. Voting behaviour is slightly more appealing but I'd still rather be slapped about with a wet haddock. Election campaigns really get on my wick. All this said, it hasn't stopped Mr Apolitical here recently playing just about every election game that I have in my limited collection, so perhaps the enthusiasm is being mis-channeled.
As a subject, with structural similarities to race games, election scenarios generally make for exciting gameplay. As most feature a steady but hazardous build-up and a close finale in the shape of the totting up of seats, the format is ideal. They also tend toward a shorter gamelength, with some notable exceptions. Regardless of complexity or realism, most games can in fact carry you along purely on the unfolding events and associated political banter between the players, all of which makes election games very strong on experience gaming criteria. Less strong, for me, are those featuring the American political system as it is that much more difficult to identify with voter sentiment in South Dakota or, indeed, understand the system in the first place. Anyway, here are my thoughts on a few of the candidates:
I am reliably informed that this is not in fact called Election X, but you know the one I mean. As this featured strongly as one of the games I was ashamed to not have played, I thought it about time I got round to it. Thankfully, it has stood the test of time and the report is favourable. Election concentrates on the split of voters and their grouping into the classic social pigeonholes such as housewives, small businessmen, professionals and so on. Each player takes the role of a party and gets a stylised selection of counters representing that party's voter mix - for instance, Labour gets more manual workers than anyone else. Good stereotypical stuff then, and completely innocent of embourgeoisement theories I suspect. Throughout the game, players place counters into the various regional boxes in an effort to gain local and overall majorities. Things are spiced up by event cards, a variable time limit and floating voter counters that bluff the opposition into thinking you have more support than you do. The acid test (the end of game add-up) is enjoyable and full of suspense as the game tends to generate a close finish. One of the few games that clearly deserved the title of classic on release and I think still holding its own in the face of modern systems, the main trouble is definitely going to be finding a copy. If you can, it is well worth a couple of hours of your time and thirty quid of your money.
The best of the crop of new boys. At least as good as Election and very strong on atmosphere and the building suspense of an unknown result - we had cheers as the votes came in for Essex. The game revolves around share of the vote, opinion polls, policies and regional strengths of the main parties, all of which combine to produce an excellent feel for the subject. The game starts with the main parties on a fixed percentage vote which is adjusted up and down during the game by opinion poll performance. Policies are decided as a side issue which can swing the balance in your favour if you have a good match with the unpredictable views of the populace on voting day. From there on, a clever phased counter placing system shows the build up of support in the various regions, Labour tending to dominance in urban areas, Tories in the country, the Liberals popping up where they can (often in crucial marginal seats). There are neat systems for stuffing one's opponents, floating voters and regional overkill, which will be familiar to Labour campaigners. Each voting area can have up to five coloured markers indicating the split of support (this looks really good as the map takes shape) but the last marker is drawn at random from a Scrabble bag to see who has won, hence the excitement mentioned above. Statistically, the third party player is currently a bit strong, but that gives them something to do and detracts little from the game. A strength of the system is that it can be readily adapted to any election in the post-war period and possibly some before that. The Election has one of the most promising game systems I've seen this year. Availability: in playtest, gamekit possibly available in the future, hopefully before the next general election.
I think this game is out of print, though GDW were giving away freebies on request as recently as two years ago. I can see why. The game has a nice feel for the state-based voting system of American elections (the end results are quite reasonable) but this is spoiled by a campaigning mechanism that is driven almost entirely by dice. Essentially, you move your marker around 'campaigning' in the various states totting up points depending on the size of the cities you visit. When you feel you have enough in that state, you can fly or drive onto other areas and try to top the other player's campaign points in that state. Highest total of campaign points at the end of the game wins the state, and the highest total of state votes wins the game. The problem (and it is a large one) is that the dobber can only move by the exact number on the die so instead of stopping in Chicago as anyone sensible would do, you end up down the road in Normal, Illinois speaking to three game designers and a dog. The result is extremely daft, equating to an hour of watching a Brownian Motion experiment interspersed with flights and the odd event, culminating with an election where each state's decision is known in advance. Campaign Trail is a moulting, gobbling turkey of a game.
Oh dear, yet another game that was tough to find, which seemingly everyone rates and I thought average to say the least. The game (really two player only) is based around cards that build up your votes in the various states. The cards are filed into the sectionalised box in secret following campaigning in the relevant region. Although a card may offer its biggest vote in, say, New York, you may find it more useful to use it for less votes in Texas if the other guy has been campaigning heavily in the Big Apple. That is really the only decision making in the game and it ends up in a lengthy totting-up procedure that shows an overall winner based on state votes in the usual way. The ending is okay, but a bit of an anticlimax after all the effort. Slightly better overall than Campaign Trail, though a merger of the two systems could have some merit. All things considered, it is distinctly overrated and already sold.
Reviewed in Sumo 6 by William Whyte and currently commanding market prices over £300 if you can find an original for sale, we are now more than fortunate to have a DIY gamekit in the rules bank supplied by Stuart Dagger. This consists of six pages of rules and a further three listing all the components that you'll need to make. Being as all this arrived less than a fortnight after Sumo 7 went out with the request, I have to offer a big thankyou to Stuart for his efforts. The game looks fascinating if a little intricate in places and I am sorely tempted to make up a set. The sole drawback to an otherwise excellent piece of work is that the rules have been slightly 'improved' by Derek 'The Enhancer' Carver so we are deprived of the original version, on which I for one would have liked to make up my own mind. As it is, we have Derek and Stuart to thank for translating and typing it all up and making it available, albeit in DIY format. Yours for an SAE and several hours with the Prittstick and scissors.
Once the reference point for much of what was considered good about the German games that came to save us, this one seems to have sunk almost without trace. Always a headache to play and up (down?) at the complex end of gaming, I gave up on the mechanical, weighty (Teutonic!) play a couple of years ago. A fresh look into the box and the rules had me reminiscing over the clever systems and the pieces, but half a dozen plays at four hours plus was enough for this old Burger. This is not to say the game isn't good value, I simply got tired of it. I believe it still has some merit, and likely to please at least initially, but now needs to be closer to Extrablatt than Civilisation in time allocation. Availability: On sale in usual UK outlets and Germany. Useful for wooden bits for other games.
A full Stuart Dagger review on this recent one next time along with his views on the even newer Road to the Whitehouse from Mayfair (on which I have heard mixed reports). I have both games, have played Candidate twice and have looked very depressed while pawing over the piles of forms in the Mayfair offering - it looks unnecessarily complex as well as being expensive. Candidate almost got 'filed' because we initially tried it with two players, as it says you can on the box. Someone slipped up here as you can't use one of the main elements in the two player game and play is, umm, not exactly riveting. Cajoled into playing with three however, I just kept saying 'what an excellent game', 'wow' and other exclamations of praise. This complete transformation was a) remarkable and b) now offers a game with a lot of tough decision making and an engaging level of cardplay. It would be even better with four, but five or six players may feed the cards through too quickly I suspect. There is a lot in common with March Madness from the same designer (in that it uses all its strengths) but there is also a distinct post-game feeling of the skill level possibly being illusory and, worst of all, a very iffy end-game (allowing a player who has lead all game to lose at the finish). Candidate also suffers from rather dubious rationalisation, contributing nothing to my confusion over primaries and the forthcoming November elections. Anyway, to my mind this is still a buy, but Stuart will let you have his comments in Sumo 9.
On to Whither Sportsgaming? or back to the review of Grand Prix Manager.
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