[Review] Election USA
- 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
"Real men play board games."