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Campaign Manager 2008

Reviewed by Ben Baldanza

(Z-Man Games, 2 players, ages 13 and up, 45 minutes; $29.99)

 

campaignmanagerCampaign Manager 2008, designed by Christian Leonhard and Jason Matthews, is set in the post George W. Bush era US Presidential race that pitted the tired and somewhat confrontational war veteran John McCain against Barack Obama, a young and vibrant orator who was long on vision but short on management experience. Much of the country was formulaically bound to vote for one of the two of these candidates, and the game recognizes this by reducing the election to 20 key battle ground states. It takes 270 electoral votes to become President of the US; in this game McCain starts with 155 and Obama with 157. The players represent the managers for the campaigns of McCain and Obama, and each try to get their candidate elected. They do this by winning the battleground states one at a time.

The 20 states that determine the winner are each represented on a stiff and oversized card. This card shows the state’s name, number of votes at stake, and three things that vary with the game play and define the outcome of the card. The first of these is the leading issue for the state: each state has two possible leading issues and a four-place trend marker that shows which of the two is the major issue at the time and how many moves it will take to get this to switch. The second feature of the card shows the starting sentiment of the state’s populace by showing four circles for each of the two possible leading issues. Each of these four circles begin by being red (for McCain), blue (for Obama), or white (neutral). Through the game play, players can change these circles by placing markers over them, and you win the state by having all four circles in your candidate’s color for the current majority issue. The third factor on each state card is a location showing two key demographic groups. At any given time, a block is placed in one of these two showing that it is the current key demographic in play to sway the neutral voters. This block can switch to the other group through the game play . Four states are in play at any time, and as soon as a state is won it is replaced with a new one until someone wins.

As with 1960 and Matthew’s earlier Twilight Struggle, the engine of this game is a card deck for each player. On a turn, players use a 15-card deck and either play a card from their hand or draw a card as long as they don’t yet hold five cards. The cards create most of the opportunity to modify the results on the state cards. As cards are played, markers are either placed or removed from the voter circle tracks on a state card to show the changing views of the voters. Also as cards are played, the trend marker showing the state’s current leading issue can move, as can the leading demographic marker. Having the key demographic align with your party wins voters with certain cards, meaning that this marker can be helpful or harmful in switching the voter circles to your color. As stated above, each card has two four-space color tracks, one for each of the two possible leading issues. A player must get all four voter circles in their color at the same time that scale aligns with the current key issue in order to win the state. With only 15 cards for each player, each card is significant and a lot can change each play.

campaignman2The variety of the cards and the interplay among them would alone make this a strong and enjoyable game. But Leonhard and Matthews have added several nice features that compliment the game play nicely without adding a lot of time or needless complexity. These include the “breaking news” deck, which is another set of cards. One of these cards, each from news bureau “ZNN”, is drawn whenever a new state comes into play. These cards mostly affect the state being brought into play, although a special card from the players’ decks can modify this. The other nice idea is one that was common through the actual election. This is the idea of potential backlash against a candidate that uses too much negative campaigning (“my opponent is a fool” rather than “I’m great”). This is modeled with a “going negative” die that must be rolled whenever certain negative campaign tactic cards are played. The result of the roll helps the player not playing the card, to varying degrees.

The cards in the game are richly illustrated and nicely historically relevant. Each shows a real photo from the race, a little context factoid that is fun to read but has no game effect, and of course the event text that makes the game move. Example cards are (for Obama) “Hillary Clinton” which swings all neutral voters to blue in states where “Clinton Democrats” are the key demographic and (for McCain) “A Lifetime of Service”, gaining McCain one support (one colored circle) in any state plus a card draw. Unlike 1960 or Twilight Struggle, Campaign Manager uses a deck-building idea, giving each player 45 cards but only 15 are used each game (should we call this the “Dominion Effect?”) The game begins by each player building their deck, choosing three cards at a time from their master 45-card deck and selecting one of the three for the current game. Fifteen cards are specially marked to create a balanced game for the first one or two plays. This is a nice feature and works well.

Points are tallied by placing vote markers for each of the 20 in-play states on a continually increasing “thermometer” for each candidate. This removes the need to add anything as each state has its own scoring chit sized proportionate to its vote. As a state is won, its vote chit is added to the winning candidate’s track, and flipped to the blue or red side as appropriate. This is an example of an outstanding production by Z-Man. In addition to the exceptional cards, the state cards are easy to read and colorful, all the card stock is heavy, the candidate cards have a nice “spiral notebook” effect, and the rulebook is logically organized and uses plenty of diagrams to show the major effects.

The designers dedicated this game to Franz Benno Delonge, as they based the state card ideas on a earlier design of his. I am fortunate to be one of the lucky few that own a copy of this earlier game, called 1975. In that game, two sides of the Cold War are battling to win the support of nations and several ideas in Campaign Manager are found in that game. But this game is significantly better developed, with a much richer set of cards and details and my view is that Benno would be very happy to see this game in print and would greatly enjoy playing it.

While a bit early to make such a characterization, the design duo of Jason Matthews and Christian Leonhard is becoming the standard for political games. Last year’s 1960 was a super game and worthy of the accolades it received, now we have this faster-playing card game, and soon we’ll see Founding Fathers. Based on these first two and some knowledge of the third, let’s hope they keep at it as their games are becoming a staple on the game table.

 


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