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1960: THE MAKING OF THE PRESIDENT

Reviewed by Herb Levy

1960: THE MAKING OF THE PRESIDENT (GMT Games, 2 players, ages 14 and up, 90 minutes; $85)

 

Conventional “wisdom” among game companies is that presidential election games are only worth publishing in presidential election years. As with many of these so-called truisms, they are not necessarily true. A good game is a good game. If the game happens to deal with an intense and pivotal election for President of the United States – and does it well, then anytime is a good time for it. Evidently, the people at GMT Games agree as they have republished (with a few tweaks) the Christian Leonhard and Jason Matthews design on one of the closest elections of the last century, when Senator John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated former Vice-President Richard Nixon, in the year that gives the game its name: 1960: The Making of the President.

This is a two player game where players choose the role of either John F. Kennedy (blue) or Richard M. Nixon (red). Each player gets all the cubes in his color as well as their matching Candidate card and two Momentum Markers. Players compete over a board of the United States (electoral vote values specified as they were back in 1960) with state seals for each of the 50 states placed on their respective states (with some states starting with a cube or two of red or blue to indicate that state’s “leaning” towards a particular candidate). Rounding out the package are more Momentum Markers, a debate board, 16 endorsement cards, endorsement markers, a “Political Capital Bag”, two candidate tokens and a deck of  campaign cards which are the heart of the game. (Jason Matthews. co-designer of Twilight Struggle  – featured in the Spring 2006 GA REPORT), draws on the card driven mechanics of his previous creation and applies them here.)

After each player places 12 of his cubes in the Political Capital Bag, they are dealt a hand of campaign cards, six cards for turns 1 through 5, seven cards for turns 7 and 8. (The game is played in 9 turns; turns 6 and 9 follow a different procedure so let’s focus on the “normal” turns first.) Now, cubes are drawn from the Political Capital Bag in what is called an “Initiative Check”. Once two cubes of the same color have been drawn, that side has initiative and may choose the player to go first this turn. On a turn, a player will usually play one of his campaign cards.

Campaign cards contain lots of information, well organized, and offer a multiplicity of options. All cards indicate a certain amount of “rest cubes”, from 0 to 4. No matter how the card is played, the player receives those cubes and places them in his “rest area” on the board. The card also indicates a Campaign Points (CP) value and an event. A player may activate either the CPs for campaigning OR the event.

Campaigning comes in three flavors: state campaigning, regional advertising and issue positioning. If doing state campaigning, 1 CP translates into adding one cube in a state in the region where the candidate’s token currently resides. (CPs may also be used to move the candidate token from one region to another at a cost of 1 CP per regional border traversed.) If the opposing player’s candidate token is in the same state or if the opposing candidate is “carrying” that state (that is, has at least four of his cubes there), a “Support Check” is required. A Support Check is similar to an Initiative Check. Again cubes are drawn from the bag, one per each CP spent. Drawn cubes of the player’s color are placed in the state (or they will remove the opposing player’s cubes on a one for one basis; only one color may appear in a state) while cubes of the other player are returned to his stock.

Regional advertising is done by making Support Checks equal to the number of CPs expended. Successful checks give you cubes that you may place in ANY of the four regions. (Media support in a region exempts you from Support Checks when campaigning in states being carried by an opponent there; it also pays dividends during the Momentum phase of play. More on that later.) Finally, players may use their CPs on the issues.

Three issues appear in the game: Defense, Economy and Civil Rights. CPs may be used to place cubes on any (or all) of these issues. The first cube on an issue costs 1 CP; additional cubes on the same issue will cost 2 CPs. (Players may forego playing a standard card and use their Candidate card instead. These cards provide 5 CPs for the player that turn that may be used for any type of campaigning. Once done, the card is flipped to its “exhausted” side and may not be used again UNLESS a future event causes them to be re-activated.) And, as mentioned, a player may choose to activate the event on the card.

Events are specific happenings benefiting one or the other player; sometimes, they are potentially beneficial to both! Some events are resolved immediately. Events having an effect on states where the opponent token is physically there or is leading must pass a Support Check, just as with campaigning (another change from the original game). Others events have long ranged effects and may be categorized as “prevention events” (preventing other events from being played) or Debate events (resolved during the turn 6 Debates) or  Election Day events (resolved on the final turn, turn 9). After an event is activated, that card is discarded. However, should a player use a card for CPs and NOT activate the event, the OPPOSING player MAY activate the event instead by spending one of his Momentum Markers. A bit of gamesmanship is involved here too. The player using the card may spend TWO of his own Momentum Markers to preempt the event, thereby preventing his opponent from activating the card and reaping any benefits that particular event might bestow. So how do we get these important Momentum Markers? That’s where the issues come in. 

After both players have played all of their cards for the round, the Momentum Phase rewards players for their stands on the issues. Leading on an issue means you have at least one cube of your color on it. The candidate currently leading on the third place issue is rewarded with 1 Momentum Marker. The candidate ahead on the second place issue receives his choice of 1 Momentum Marker OR 1 Endorsement card. The candidate winning the first place issue receives 1 Momentum Marker AND 1 Endorsement card. (Endorsements can be for a region in which case, an endorsement marker is placed in the specified area OR a major endorsement which allows the player to place his endorsement in ANY for the four regions.) The player with the most media support on the board can shift the position of two adjacent issues BEFORE these rewards are given out (a change from the earlier edition where this shift was done AFTER rewards were collected.) Finally, one cube is then removed from all the issues.

With the standard turn completed, half of the unused Momentum Markers are returned to supply, all rest cubes accumulated this turn are added to the Political Capital Bag and players transfer their unplayed card(s) face down to their Campaign Strategy Card Stack on the respective sides of the board.  These Campaign Strategy cards come into play during Turn 6: The Debates.

On Turn 6, the Debate board is used and an Initiative Check made. The winner of this check WINS all ties this turn. Now, simultaneously, each player reveals one of his cards. These cards get placed on the side of the Debate Board matching the candidate icon shown on the card. (If the care displays both icons, the player may choose which side of the board to place it.) As soon as TWO cards are played to a side on one issue, that issue is resolved with the side with the most CPs on it winning the issue. The first issue resolved earns the winner two cubes in one or more states of that player’s choice. Winning the second issue results in three cubes while winning the final issue awards the winning player four cubes. Play now continues for turns 7 and 8 with the only difference being that players are now dealt a hand of seven cards instead of six and will have two cards added each turn to their Campaign Strategy stack.

Turn 9 is Election Day and the final surge to victory happens. Players now add to the Political Capital Bag a number of cubes equal to the media cubes they already have on the board. (A bonus that is new to this edition.) Any media cubes on the board – and cubes on the issues –  are also added to the Political Capital Bag. Any remaining Momentum Markers are cashed in to the tune of two cubes each with these cubes added to the Bag as well. The last Initiative Check is made to see who has the initiative for the final turn and chooses who will go first. The four cards remaining on the Campaign Strategy stack allow the players to make three Support Checks for each state listed on the bottom of the card. At this point, all states without cubes go to the player with an endorsement marker in that state’s region. If no endorsement marker is in play, then the player with the matching color to that state’s edge (on the board) gets that state’s electoral votes. Players collect the state seals of the states they have won and tally the electoral votes. The player who has accumulated 269 or more electoral votes wins the Presidency of the United States!

The first time we saw the application of multiple use cards in a US presidential election game was in the classic 3M game Mr. President originally issued in the 1960s (and featured in our Game Classics series back in the Summer 1992 issue and reprinted, online, in the Fall 2004 issue). In 1960: The Making of the President, the application rises in sophistication.

While campaigning in states is the meat and potatoes of the game, you cannot discount the tasty side dishes of media support, endorsements and winning campaign issues with their more subtle but critical effects. Momentum Markers are valuable and vital; knowing when to pull the trigger on their use can make or break a campaign and their use must be weighed carefully particularly if you happen to be dealt a hand of cards featuring events helpful to your opponent. A little finesse can go a long way. If you can’t kill an event by spending your own Momentum Markers, you may be able to entice your opponent to use his momentum on a card of lesser value. Then, you can safely get away with playing a more powerful card for your opposition and one more damaging to your prospects because your opponent has spent his momentum reserve. Accurately gauging when to nullify an event BEFORE your opponent declares his intentions brings another facet of play to the game. The historical flavor of the game is enhanced by the cards which not only include pertinent gameplay information in an easy to read format but make good use of contemporary photos that are truly snapshots of the campaign. On the other hand, the dynamic quality of the cards is not matched by the rather lackluster artwork of the box which fails to convey the electricity of the election itself and doesn’t entice you as one would hope to take this game off the game store shelf. 

Traditionally, one of the problems with a presidential election game has been fitting the game to the number of players. 1960 completely sidesteps the issue by doing the obvious: the game is strictly for two players. The biggest knock on the game has been the endgame when players draw from the bag to determine last minute votes, votes that could possibly decide who wins big and/or pivotal states at the last minute. The change in adding additional media cubes into the bag in the final moments is a change that serves to increase that “last minute” effect. This may be a change brought about to reflect the power of media, for good or ill, in shaping the final outcome in elections. But in this edition, as in the last, careful play and planning will allow players to shape the outcome by affecting the amount of cubes that go into the bag and tilt the odds in their favor. The game makes great use of multiple functions, that is, the cards have different uses and you, calling the shots, have to decide how best to use these multiple functions. The election is not decided on a chaotic pull from a drawstring bag. Rather, shrewd card play mitigates pure luck. In essence, you make your own luck! This game simulates the last minute shifts in votes brilliantly! (The rulebook neatly lists the rules changes in this edition so if you don’t like the changes, you can easily eliminate them.)

The 1960 presidential election was unusual in several ways. We had two candidates, neither of which had been President, but both of whom would become President before that decade ended! It was the election that had the first televised debates. The election was extremely close with the results not determined until well into the next day. Although the box art doesn’t convey the electricity of the election, the game itself does in a completely engrossing, historically satisfying way. There have been many, many games attempting to simulate the tension and excitement of a presidential political campaign. Only a few succeed and still fewer succeed to the high degree that 1960: The Making of the President does. Highly recommended! – – – – – Herb Levy


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