In politics, absurdity is not a handicap. Those words from Napoleon Bonaparte are as true today as the day they were spoken and aptly describe the new political strategy game, The Political Machine 2008. Hiring intimidators to scare away pollsters? Enlisting the aid of smear merchants to write damaging jokes about the opposition? Absurd. And in the Political Machine, it's all part of the game.
We got our hands on this turn-based strategy game from Stardock and answered the question you all have on your lips: Who will be the next president of the United States? The answer: Barack Obama (at least on the easy difficulty setting).
We jumped into the brightly polished shoes of the junior senator from Illinois and challenged Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, to a 41-week campaign in the Political Machine's Quickplay mode. Obama is ranked highly in charisma and stamina, while wily McCain has earned credibility with his many years of experience. There are a number of other candidates to choose from, including Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton, as well as such historical candidates as George Washington. But we went with Obama and McCain because it seemed like the most likely matchup come November. As you would expect, this turned out to be one of the closest elections in American history.
In the Political Machine, one turn breaks down to one week. The amount of stamina your candidate has limits the number of actions you can perform for each turn. Early on, the country is one giant mass of undecided voters, and it's your goal as campaign manager to sway them with lofty campaign promises...as well as blatant negative campaigning. You'll have a number of weapons at your disposal. Newspaper, radio, and television advertisements get your message to the masses but at an increasing cost. For each issue, which includes the war on terror, social security, and outsourcing jobs, you can choose to pledge your support or your opposition.
You can also give speeches on these same issues, although your candidate will take a big stamina hit in the process. With each visit to a state, you can choose to construct key buildings, such as campaign headquarters, outreach centers, and consulting offices. HQs will open up more key issues to talk about, outreach centers will increase your clout, and consulting offices will increase your political capital. These serve as currency on the special interests tab. Capital can be spent on some savvy political operatives, such as speech writers, fashion consultants, and spin doctors. Clout can be used to purchase valuable endorsements from the Christian Confederation (boost in traditional values) to the National Gun Owners Association (decrease in gun control rating). You get a party discount if the endorsement is within traditional party values--it costs less for dems to win the vote of the Environmentalists Club, for example. You can steal some of your opponent's thunder and win some undecided voters by winning the endorsement of a group that traditionally sides with your party's opposition, though this could hurt you within your party. Obama may sway some republican voters with the gun owners' endorsement, but he won't make many democrats happy.
Of course, no election is complete without fundraising. Each action in the game, even flying from one state to another, will drain your campaign budget. If you have enough stamina, it helps to hit the fundraiser button, especially in wealthy states loyal to your party. Obama cleaned up in California and New York, routinely bringing in more than $200,000 per fundraiser, but he floundered in South Dakota where he raised only $6,000.
And so the campaign season goes. You continually balance your budget, head to key states with plenty of undecided voters, wage advertising or smear campaigns, and touch on the hot-button issues in each state. We won Florida by preaching our support for social security and Ohio by promising to improve the economy. Even just visiting states and saying hello will give you a popularity boost. The only major milestone in the campaign is selecting a running mate--a surprisingly difficult choice. Although Bill and Hillary were available, we instead chose Al Gore, hoping to capitalize on his credibility earned as a champion of the environment in recent years. The weeks passed, and Election Day was finally upon us.
It's a surprisingly tense few minutes as the states slowly turn blue and red. From the east coast to the west, the votes roll in to decide the next president of the United States. McCain scored big in the South and Midwest, while Obama took most coastal states and the North. In the end, it came down to California. McCain won the popular vote, but the electoral votes from the Golden State put Obama in the lead for good as he narrowly edged McCain for the presidency.
The Political Machine 2008 is not the most complicated strategy game out there, but it's a fun, lighthearted look at American politics. Although heavily based in satire--you can choose to appear on such late-night TV shows as the Coldcut Repertoire, an unlicensed Colbert Report--it's uncanny that the 2004 edition managed to predict 48 of the 50 states in the general election, as well as Bush to defeat Kerry. Who will win in 2008? Look for the Political Machine 2008 to hit stores on June 17 to find out.