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[Review] Election USA

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tomvasel
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Joined: 03/23/2011

When one mentions Martin Wallace’s name, the games Age of Steam, Princes of the Renaissance, or even the new game, Struggle of Empires come to mind. So it was with great surprise that I saw on the internet that a new game by Wallace had been published. I was surprised for a couple of reasons: that the game had received very little press, and that it was on an odd topic for Wallace, a parody of the Republican primary. Still, I was interested in the game, Election USA (Mongoose Publishing, 2004 - Martin Wallace), on the strength of the designer’s name alone and was extremely interested in playing it.

After playings, I’m a little conflicted by the game. The game feels nothing like anything else Wallace has done and is indeed inferior to his other works. That being said, it’s probably the best lightweight election game I’ve played; it’s simple, yet allows some strategic maneuvering. The theme is funny, but I’m not really sure who the game is marketed towards, but we had many a good chuckle regardless.

The theme of the game is that of Republican presidential candidates attempting to win the Republican primary. Each player takes six pawns of one color, putting the rest into a pool near the board. The board is a map of the USA, split into six sections (Eastern Seaboard, Deep South, Southern States, Great Lakes, Midwest, and the West Coast.) Money tokens form a “bank” near the board, with each player taking $15 million. Each player places a marker of their color on the “12” space on a Sincerity Track (goes from 0 to 15). A deck of “Skeleton” cards is shuffled and placed near the board, as well as a deck of Action cards. These action cards are shuffled, and ten are placed face up around the board. The most right-winged player goes first, and play proceeds clockwise around the table.

On a player’s turn, they can either choose a card on the table, following its instructions, or attempt to raise their Sincerity. If they choose a card, the results depend on what type of card it is.
- Policy cards: These cards state some inane policy (“Declare war on France”, “Make the unemployed pay for soup at soup kitchens”, etc.), and also show some tokens (two to four). Starting with the player who chose the card, each person bids an amount of Sincerity points, with the active player retaining the last bid. The winner of this auction moves their token on the Sincerity track back the amount they bid and takes the number or pawns shown on the card from the pool, adding them to those in front of them. The policy card remains face-up in front of the winning player.
- Fund Raising cards: The player choosing the card takes the first amount on the card from the bank ($1 to $3 million). All other players receive the second amount on the card (if any).
- Advertising Cards: The card shows one of the six regions, along with two numbers. All players bid secretly and simultaneously with their money with all money bid going to the bank (win or lose). The player who bids the highest (at least $3 million but no more than $7 million) can relocate the first number of pawns from in front of them to the region depicted on the card. The player who bids the second highest amount (or the highest bidder, if they bid less than $3 million) places the second number worth of pawns on the region. Ties are broken by player order, starting with the active player.
The player who picks the card then replaces it with the top one from the deck. A player can choose to raise sincerity instead of choosing a card. If they do so, the top card from the deck is turned over, and the player advances their token 0 - 3 spaces on the number track, according to the number in a gray circle on the card.

If a player turns up a Blackmail or Journalist card when replacing their card or after gaining points from raising sincerity, the card is dealt with immediately. Blackmail cards demand that players pay money or draw a skeleton card, while Journalist cards demand Sincerity points. Each player, starting with the active player, must pay up or take a card; but once one player takes a Skeleton card, the rest of the players don’t have to do anything. Skeleton cards have some kind of immediate action (“Your brother-in-law is revealed to be Russian. Remove one of your pawns from the map.” Or “College record reveals you were caught DUI 32 times in one year. This gains you street cred with the younger generation. Place 1 pawn in any area.”), and the cards remain in front of the player for the remainder of the game.

Whenever any player has placed their last pawn on the map (there are 15 per player), or when one player has four skeleton cards, or when the action card deck is depleted, the game ends. Each player counts victory points according to the six regions on the board. Before scoring occurs, however, all regions with an equal number of pawns from two or more players lose all those pawns. The remainder is looked at with first place in each region gaining the first of three numbers in that region as victory points, etc. If a player has four skeleton cards, they lose 8 victory points. Points are tallied, and the player with the highest sum is the winner (with ties broken by the player with the most issues cards).

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The bits inside the game are fairly typical for those in an independent game of this type. The money is basically Tiddly-winks in two different sizes and colors for different denominations. The rules had the smaller coin act as a “3” and the larger as a “1”, but we found that annoying and quickly reversed the values. The pawns are plastic - well, typical pawns. There’s a lot of plastic in this game! The cards are thick, glossy, with beautiful backings, but more plain looking - lack of illustrated fronts. The card fronts are in different colors according to what type of card it is - something that helped game play. I wouldn’t have minded a few illustrations, though; it would have helped the game thematically. The board is nice with American background graphics, yet it has a clean board and is one that is going to be quickly cluttered with pawns. Everything fits inside the box easily (I had to bag everything; it got kind of annoying to have it rattle around in the box), that is very Republican decorated.

2.) Rules: The rules are simply printed in full color on both sides of a single sheet of paper. I thought that perhaps they were too skimpy; things could have been explained more, but the game wasn’t that difficult to understand. The game was easy to teach and learn, and strategies were fairly obvious. I do think the rules could have used one more going over in the last paragraphs; some components were mentioned that weren’t in the game, causing me to think that the components had changed during production (cubes to pawns, etc.)

3.) Who?: I really don’t know who the target audience is for the game, and I don’t even know the political views of those who designed the game. The policy cards are extreme parodies of traditional Republican views (“Serial killers to be executed twice”), but I can’t see even the most liberal Democrat believing that most Republicans actually believe them. Thus, the humor is funny to folks from both parties, I assume. But are Democrats going to want a game on their shelves that is about the Republican primaries, or are the Republicans going to want a game that pokes humor at them? I don’t think it’s a big deal, I just think the theme may turn away some potential buyers.

4.) Humor: Regardless of your political views, I guess most folk will find the humor in the game pretty funny. (“Legalize small nuclear weapons for home defense.”) Some of it is dated, however; and the game could easily cause some questions if played in four or so years from now. The skeleton cards are interesting, but the themes and ideas they present (“strip joint”, “sex change operation”, etc.) keep me from really bringing this out to the younger crowd.

5.) Strategy: It’s important to keep a tight reign on both Sincerity and money, since they are the two forms of currency in the game. At first, it seems as if there are too many policy cards; but as they are the tiebreaker, it never hurts to win more, even if you’ve already taken all of your pawns from the pool. Taking money cards is good, but it helps everyone else as well. Knowing when to take a skeleton card is also important (there are a very few good ones, but they usually hurt), as is making sure that you save up enough money and Sincerity to handle the evil cards. Now, this stuff is pretty obvious and doesn’t come close to the complexity of Wallace’s usual games, but still makes the game worth playing.

6.) Luck: Getting a whole bunch of Journalist/Blackmail cards in a row can hurt one; but other than that, there’s not a whole lot of luck in the game. Of course, some folks consider blind-bidding luck, but I believe that just adds a whole level of strategy to the game.

7.) Fun Factor: If you like the humor and blind-bidding, this game can be a lot of fun. We laughed at the insane policies that we enacted as candidates and made a lot of jokes as we played the game. Unlike other current political games; however, this one had some strategy to go along with the fun.

If you are buying this game on Wallace’s name alone, I think you’ll be severely disappointed, as it isn’t anything like his other games. If you’re buying it for the political humor, it will be an enjoyable romp but may only last a few years before becoming outdated. If, however, you are picking it up, knowing that it’s a light game with some political funniness thrown in for good measure, you’ll probably enjoy it. The components are certainly functional for a game of this type, and the game looks bright and colorful on the table. All of this adds to a short, light, fun game that is not Wallace worthy but certainly fun worthy.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

Joe_Huber
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Joined: 12/31/1969
[Review] Election USA

FWIW, I found this to be easily the worst game I've played this year - some of the humor was OK, while other humor fell completely flat, and the game underneath reached a boring state very quickly. The only redeeming fact about the game was that it was short. We then played Landslide, a short, light election game, and had a far better time.

And, tying back to BGDF, it cost (or at least delayed) a sale for Mr. Huzzey - I had been planning to purchase Presidential Election, but after Election USA I couldn't bring myself to buy another presidential election game designed by a Brit. I'd still like to try Presidential Election, but am not sure when I'll have the chance.

Joe

Anonymous
[Review] Election USA

Thanks for the mention Joe! I'm afraid mine's humourless, despite the cartoony (!?) artwork on the front.

As I have probably already whinged on here, my research grant's contract forbade me to take a "foreign holiday" during term. I therefore didn't make it to Essen, but will look forward to sampling some Ice Cream soon.

Apologies to everyone for being so absent. I hope to come back, at least to repay my debts to the GDF, ASAP.

Best wishes,

Joe_Huber
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
[Review] Election USA

Well, much to my surprise, I had the chance to try Presidential Election this weekend - much less to my surprise, I enjoyed it. While Election USA has more theme to it, Presidential Election is clearly the more interesting game IMHO. I just wish JKLM games weren't so pricey here in the US...

Joe

Anonymous
[Review] Election USA

Joe_Huber wrote:
Well, much to my surprise, I had the chance to try Presidential Election this weekend - much less to my surprise, I enjoyed it. While Election USA has more theme to it, Presidential Election is clearly the more interesting game IMHO. I just wish JKLM games weren't so pricey here in the US...
Joe

Yes, it's a problem for us with the postage.

A little more theme should arrive when I get the extra Candidate cards posted on the web. Hopefully I'll finish them this weekend!

Cheers,

Richard.

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