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[Review] Campaign Secrets

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Joined: 03/23/2011

At the time of my writing this review, the United States 2004 election is in full swing and is pervading many aspects of life - popping up in conversations, strangling threads on the internet, and generally being a nuisance. One of the few good things that has come of this has been a renewed interest in political board games. There are several games that deal with the American political scene, but few of them are good. Campaign Secrets (The Game Crafter, 2004 - JT Smith) is one of the latest games to come out about this subject, so I thought it was a fitting time to play it.

I must sadly report that I don’t believe that there’s really not much of a game here, neither is there anything else very interesting. The only thing I can say about the game that is good is that there are some interesting quotes on the cards. I can get those quotes in a book; thank you very much. The game consists of few decisions - basically you play good cards on yourself and bad cards on others. Now, I’ve excused games in the past for this simplicity when they were full of humor and were fun to play; this game is neither fun nor funny.

A pile of cards is placed to the side of the board, representing percentages of the vote. They basically act as currency and are in denominations of 1%, 3%, and 5%. Each player is given 10%, as well as five cards dealt from a deck of ninety-eight cards. Before shuffling the remainder of the cards, the Election Day card is removed from the deck, and the Primaries card is shuffled into it. One player is chosen to go first with play proceeding clockwise around the table.

On a turn, a player may play one card from their hand. They may play either a red (secrets) card, or a blue (campaign) card. Secrets cards are placed face down in front of any player, even including the player who played the card. Each secret has a cost and a benefit. If the secret is revealed during the game, the player must pay the cost immediately to the “undecided vote” (the bank). Otherwise, the player may receive the benefit from the card at the end of the game. Examples of secrets cards are:
- Pharmaceutical Companies - Cost: 3%, Benefit: 2%
- Under the Carpet - Cost: When this secret is revealed all other secrets are removed from the game without cost, Benefit: None
- Treason - Cost: 100%, and draw one less card per turn, Benefit: None
- Cult Member - Cost: 5%, Benefit: None

Campaign cards allow players to increase their voting percentages by either taking percentage cards from the undecided vote or from other players. They also allow players to reveal secrets and do a few other things. Examples of campaign cards are:
- Celebrity Endorsement - Take 1% from any player of the undecided vote.
- Socialist Party Nomination - Take 5% from any combination of players or the undecided vote.
- Democratic Party Nomination - Take 20% from any combination of players or the undecided vote; no more than 5% per player.
- Campaign Push - Play three cards next turn.
- Black Sheep - Reveal any secret. The holder of that secret must pay its cost.
- Smear Campaign - Reveal any secret. The holder of that secret may choose one of your secrets to reveal. Each must pay their respective costs.
After playing a card, the player draws new cards until their hand is back to five cards. This continues until one player draws the Primaries card. At this point, all players shuffle their hands back into the deck, along with the Election Day card. Each player is dealt five new cards, and play continues. When one player draws the Election Day card, each player reveals one secret at a time and claims the benefit from the undecided vote. When all secrets are revealed, or when the undecided vote runs out, the game is over; and the player with the highest percentage wins the game!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The cards are thick and should be able to take a lot of wear. (I wouldn’t know; I’m not going to play the game enough to find out.) The pictures on the cards are cartoonish in nature and are probably the highlight of the game. There are also quotes on the cards, which may provide some interest to a few folk. Everything fits in a typical card game box, which has caricatures of many of the last Presidents all over it, indicating a humor not found in the game. The vote cards are nice, as I always prefer cards over paper for currency - if a little bland (they simply have “1% of the vote” in a black font on a white background). For a small game company, the components are fairly nice.

2.) Rules: The rules for the game come on one side of one card and are frankly not enough to properly play the game. One can go to the website and read the confusing rules there (written in a Constitutional format - ha ha) but one SHOULDN’T have to do that - ever. Not providing the complete rules to a game is negligent and should warn people off from the game immediately. Once one figures out the rules of the game; however, it is simple to teach and learn. I can’t see anybody having a problem understanding how to play.

3.) Problem #1: No accuracy. I’m glad that the game doesn’t try to play any politics (the Republican and Democratic cards are exactly the same), but some stupidity is rampant. Do they really expect us to believe that the Republican nomination is worth only 20% of the vote, but that the Communist nomination is worth 5%? And why would a Party Scandal only cost 1% of the vote, while Media Moguls costs 7%. It almost seems that they picked the numbers at random. It’s also silly when one player has the Communist, Constitutional Party, Republican, and Green Party nominations - as if that would ever happen. But I can accept these inaccuracies, if humor is involved. But...

4.) Problem #2: No humor. This is a game begging for either accuracy and strategic fun, or humor. It has neither. Yes, there are funny pictures, but that’s it. We laughed during the game - maybe once. The rest of the time, we looked eagerly for the Primaries card.

5.) Problem #3: Shuffling. What kind of game has the halfway point card and the ending point card shuffled randomly into the deck? Seriously, the game could conceivably end in two turns! That’s a ridiculous oversight that could have easily been avoided by playtesting.

6.) Problem #4: Unbalanced. The cards in the game are ridiculously imbalanced, to the point of people wanting to quit after only one hand. How is a game fun that has a card that gives a player 1% of the vote, while another 20%? Or a secret that has a cost of 1%, and another that is 100%? This is stupefying, and I can’t believe that anyone would find such a thing fun.

7.) Problem #5: Unworkable Mechanics. The secrets are really silly. Most of them don’t hurt a player too much (except the massively broken Treason card), and the benefits are nonexistent. Unless the game ends in a few turns (please, oh please!), all the undecided votes are taken by players; and therefore, they aren’t available to players at the end of the game.

8.) Strategy: Play good cards on me, bad cards on others. That’s it.

9.) Fun Factor: None. (Except a small cheer when the game is over).

As you can see, I don’t care for the game at all. Normally, I like to give a lot of leeway to new companies, as they don’t have as much money, and are prone to making beginner’s errors when producing new games. But Campaign Secrets is obviously trying to milk the cash cow of the current US Election and gives nothing in return. The game is horrible, the rules are atrocious, and the fun and humor factors are nonexistent. As I pack up the game after reviewing it here, I don’t think it will ever see the light of day again. Bleach!

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games. Just not this one.”

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