Learn about the electoral process with The Presidential Game (review)
As you know, we’re board game fans around here. These last few weeks, we’ve been playing The Presidential Game. Designed to help players understand the electoral process in the United States, it’s an interesting sort of game that would make a great addition to a politics or government class, in an election year, or really, at any time.
What Pieces Are Included In The Presidential Game?
Packed inside a sturdy game box with a plastic organizer insert are:
- the rules
- 20″ x 30″ playing board
- six dice (three red, three blue)
- 80 printed politics cards, plus 40 more blanks, to create your own
- 150 red mini chips, 150 blue mini chips, called “votes”
- scorepad with 40 color pages
- two small squares with “Vote Democrat” and “Vote Republican” – very helpful for remembering which side you’re playing!
- access code for the (optional) online “Electoral WebMap” calculator
Is There Anything Else You Need To Play The Presidential Game?
A writing utensil (and patience) are needed if using the score pad; we highly recommend the alternative of having tablet or computer access to the online WebMap may be used.
How Many People Can Play The Presidential Game At Once?
A minimum of two players, one to each side. Any amount of players divided into two teams is possible, though consideration should probably be given to how well those teams will communicate and cooperate among themselves; agreement on gameplay will be a necessity.
What Age Range Is The Presidential Game Appropriate For?
The publisher states that The Presidential Game is for ages 11 and up; really, it’s usable by anyone who can read reasonably fluently, and even that’s negotiable. (Reading ability is needed for the politics cards and the names of the states.) My youngest is 11 these days, but she would have easily understood the gameplay concepts at least as early as 7 or 8, just needing some help with reading any words that she didn’t know.)
An even younger child might also provide input as part of a team with older players. Regardless of the youngest age of the players, I’d recommend at least one older person that is comfortable with a tablet or computer to use the WebMap. (Your mileage may vary if using the scorepad; we’ll discuss that in a moment.)
How Do You Set Up The Presidential Game?
At the start of the game, the politics cards are shuffled and placed face down on their location on the game board. Each player or team is given their vote tokens, the matching colored dice, plus a little cardboard square to help remind them which side they’re playing. (I am the one who forgets the most! Really, though, we talk about the colors the majority of the game; the only time Republican or Democrat comes into play is when a Politics card is drawn that awards votes to one or the other.
If using the WebMap, log in with the provided access code and make sure you read the help online so that you understand how it works. (It’s easy, and you might well figure it out yourself, but the instructions are a pretty quick and simple read.)
Each player should roll a die; the rules state that the highest die goes first. (We’ve switched to allowing the highest die to choose whether they go first or second, since the kids feel that the second player has an advantage.)
Also before beginning, decide for how many “weeks” you would like to play. (A week in the Presidential Game is equivalent to a round, with each player playing once.) The WebMap and scorepad are set up for 30 weeks. 30 weeks will give each side 30 turns, and take approximately hour – or so says the publisher. In our experience, turns tend to take longer than a minute each – but then, my kids tend to talk and discuss and dawdle and yes, argue, while they play.
What Is A Typical Turn Like In The Presidential Game?
At the start of a turn, the player (or team, but I’ll just use player for simplicity’s sake) decides whether they wish to go Campaigning or Fundraising.
When Campaigning, a player states that they are campaigning, and then states the three states that he/she will campaign in. Then they roll all three of their dice. Each dice is then attributed to a state they named (their choice of which goes where), with each pip counting as one vote toward that state. If the state has no votes on it, or their own votes, the player will add the number of votes that show on the die. If the opposing team has votes on that state, the votes must first cancel out their votes, then add (if any) to the state.
For example, say there are two red votes on Georgia, but the blue player rolled a six – they will remove the two red votes, and place four of their own blue votes on the state. On the other hand, if the blue player had rolled only a one, they would just remove one red vote. Once each of the votes has been added, and the WebMap or score sheet updated, the player’s turn is over.
When Fundraising, the player declares that they are fundraising, and which of four states they will be fundraising in: California, Texas, Florida, or New York. The player then rolls all their dice. The total number of pips showing on all dice are added together; at least half those pips must be applied to the named state. The other votes may be distributed to any state they like, whether the same or different.
Once the votes from the fundraising have been distributed, the player draws a Politics card. These can only be obtained during a fundraising turn, and may have either positive or negative consequences to the player. If the card states that it must be used immediately, then the player must do so; otherwise, the player may choose to play it then, or save it for a later turn. Only one fundraising card may be used per turn, regardless of how many a player has collected.
After the card has been used or saved, the turn is over, and play passes to the next player.
How Does The Presidential Game end?
The game ends after the predetermined amount of weeks has been played. We found it’s pretty easy for us to lose track of which week we’re on while using the WebMap, so we put an extra amount of effort into trying to remember to change weeks.
As soon as the weeks are over, players each roll one die for each state that has no votes; the highest gets the votes for that state.
Electoral votes per state (not the tokens, but the electoral votes earned through those tokens) are added up, and the winner is the one with the most electoral votes.
What Did We Think Of The Presidential Game As The Rules Stand?
Though it might not appear so just on a read through the rules, the two different types of turns are unbalanced. A player that chooses primarily fundraising is almost guaranteed to come out the winner over a person who primarily chooses campaigning. We discovered rather quickly (during the first game, in fact) that a campaign turn just doesn’t have the vote “buying” power that fundraising does.
We’ve even tested it out by having one person play as they normally would (by choosing just fundraising) and the other choose just campaigning; by less than halfway through the games it’s very obvious that there’s no way the campaign person can keep up. (I’ve been the primary guinea pig for this; whenever the kids have tried just campaigning, they resort to fundraising within just a few turns. It’s just too much of a bummer to get further and further behind on every turn.
We think this is caused by two things – the flexibility of the fundraising votes, plus the addition of the Politics cards on those turns. As a result, if we play according to the rules, the games are all about fundraising and the luck of the die.
What Kind Of “House Rules” Are We Using For The Presidential Game?
We’re still experimenting with various adaptions and so far haven’t come to a consensus about what is the most fair and works the best. We’ve tried a “you can’t fundraise in the same state twice in a row” tactic, which had some effect, mostly of getting us to vary our plays instead of fighting over just one or two states over and over again. That doesn’t help the unused campaign option.
We’ve also tried limiting fundraising to every other turn; that led, quite obviously, to more use of campaign, but we have a hard enough time remember what we we’re on after Chris sidetracks us – remembering which type of turn to play is just that much more difficult.
What Did We Learn While Playing The Presidential Game?
We’re speculating that this imbalance may be exactly what the Presidential Game is trying to teach – that the current electoral process is incredibly unbalanced, and puts far more emphasis on the four states names as fundraising states: California, New York, Texas, and Florida. While it makes for a great object lesson, after the players have played enough to realize that, the Presidential Game is likely to be relegated to a shelf or passed on unless an alternative set of rules is used. It really puts a damper on the replay value.
What Do We Like The Best About The Presidential Game?
It’s a great concept, and actually a lot of fun to play; we’ve liked the challenge, and the votes being dependent on both where we choose and the luck of the roll bring a level of interest in.
What Would We Improve About The Presidential Game?
Two things: an alternative rule set, as already discussed, and the scorepad.
Including an alternative rule set would increase the replay value “built into” the game, encouraging players to hang on to it and recommend it, and well, enjoy it. It does get a bit tiresome when the game defaults to both players fundraising on California for 25 turns… so much so, that when I’m playing, I’ve taken to randomly doing other things just to break the monotony and make the kids wonder what I’m up to!
We could NOT make heads or tails of that scorepad, and it was turning every turn into a ten-minute discussion as we tried to figure out how to use it. Either much better directions are needed, or a complete change of design. An insert showing exactly how you’re supposed to use the score pad, with a sample with several turns filled out, would be a huge help.
In the meantime, use the WebMap. It’s quick, simple, visual, and totally intuitive. Or, we realized late – it’s totally possible to play the game with out scoring as you go, and just total up the electoral votes at the end. There just won’t be the advantage of a running total to know where each player currently stands.
Do we recommend the Presidential Game?
If you’re willing to use the WebMap, and understand that at some point, you may have to adapt some rules to encourage further gameplay, The Presidential Game is quite playable, a quzlity game for $35.