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[Review] Election USA

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  • Tom Vasel
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 3, 2004
      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."
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