Presidential Politics Made Fun

Political Machine 2012
Reviewed On
Available For

There are a lot of people trying to buy the presidential election on both sides this year, but they are probably going to spend more than $9.95 to do it, with no guarantee of success. You on the other hand, could plunk down your $10 and see if you can take your chosen candidate all the way to victory.

We’ve actually reviewed The Political Machine series of games before. They straddle the line between educational and entertainment, and make the excitement and fun of a political campaign a lot of fun, with the 2012 version following that pattern. Kids who are trying to understand things like the electoral college, or adults who want to know what the important issues are state by state can certainly do so here. Heck, it can even predict the election for you if you follow your candidate’s general strategy.

You have the option when you start the game of using real polling data and issues that are important to each state. So bailouts for the auto industry might be a hot button issue in Michigan, where as Florida is more concerned with Social Security. Texas voters worry about gun control laws, while Californians are focused on environmental issues. All issues will have an effect nationwide, but they play a lot better in some states.

You can also totally randomize the United States data if you want, though this turns The Political Machine more into a pure strategy title divorced from reality. You might end up with Alabama being a deep blue state while New York is a bastion of Republican red. As such, in all of my plays I started with the real world data and went from there.

You also have your choice of all the real political candidates in the mix this year. Of course that means that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are represented, but so too are all the minor figures like Ron Paul and Al Gore. Each candidate has a series of stats from creditability to charisma, minority appeal to attractiveness, political clout to intelligence. I did kind of scratch my head at some of the rankings, like Sarah Palin being given a high credibility rating, but since I never actually used her in a game, I didn’t care all that much.

You can also create your own candidate from scratch, though this again pulls the game away from reality, though not as much as scrambling the actual polling and issue data. I’m pretty sure that most people who play this game now are going to be interested in the contest between Obama and Romney.

You win the election like the real guys do, by winning over states and collecting enough electoral votes to get over the magic 270 number. You do this by building one of three types of campaign headquarters, making speeches, raising money, running ads and visiting states.

The three headquarters to build are expensive and do different things. They can also be upgraded to better perform their core function, though this again costs money. One actually earns you money over time, and should probably be built early-on. One generates political capital which can be used to hire operatives and one earns points that can be used to gain national endorsements from groups like the National Rifle Association or the National Organization of Women. All three are important, but I mostly tried to concentrate on operatives who can slowly increase your popularity in a state over time, warn you about important issues, or even hurt your opponent. My opposition seemed to always go for the big national group endorsements, which would increase their overall popularity, but I kept focused on winning battleground states, and this almost always was the winning strategy.

There are also random events that pop up around the country, and players should always go after them. They will either earn you a free operative or let you go onto a news program where you can answer questions in multiple choice format and increase your overall popularity with those all-important independents. Of course knowing the national mood and studying the poll numbers are important because it tells you how you should answer to get the best reaction, though having a charismatic candidate also helps quite a bit.

The game is not too difficult for anyone who has even a modest knowledge of politics. Playing as Obama, I shored up my money needs early with campaign headquarters in deep blue rich states like California, New York and Illinois, with minor HQs in safe blue states like Maryland and Oregon. Then I recruited operatives in all the battleground states with lots of electoral votes like Florida, Virginia and Ohio. While the operatives worked in those areas, I visited other traditionally blue areas like Michigan and Wisconsin to make speeches and keep my base energized. Then it was back to the battlegrounds to take advantage of the fertile ground my operatives had created to turn them from purple (the undecided color that shows both candidates are gunning for them) to at least light blue, taking out newspaper and radio ads to hold onto gains made there. And of course I took every opportunity to go on TV interview programs, even comedy ones like a Colbert-like show to take advantage of Obama’s charisma. You only have so many moves you can make in a week-long turn, based on your stamina score and to some extent how much money you have to work with, so you have to pick and choose your battles.

My opponent, Mitt Romney, mostly went for the big national endorsements, locking up The NRA and The Christian Coalition very early on. The neat thing is that depending on your political affiliation, endorsements are harder or easier to get. It took almost no work for me as Obama to wrap up the Union vote, but if I had tried for a conservative group it might have taken up all my points in that area.

I was doing so well near the end of the run that I could touch down in a couple battleground states with lesser electoral college votes like New Mexico and lock them up while poor Mitt was spending all his time trying to make up a five point deficit in Florida.

In the end, Obama came out victorious. Although there were some disappointments like investing in North Carolina and losing there, I still won with a comfortable 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206. And I beat him in the popular vote by over 10 million. It was not exactly a landslide, but probably a bit better than Obama will do in real life. I sort of felt like sports columnist Todd Hargosh predicting the Superbowl. Will my prediction based on the game hold true? I suppose time will tell, but I don’t know, it seems likely.

A game like The Political Machine 2012 is a lot of fun, and more than worth the $10 you will pay to get it. It probably will prove a lot less popular after November, but even then would be a good teaching tool for kids wondering what all this election stuff is all about. Political junkies will want to pick this one up at all costs, and those who enjoy a good strategy title should have fun as well.

The Political Machine 2012 earns 4 GiN Gems from us, the equivalent of a landslide electoral vote count.

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