Down the Ballot

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Political Game Review: Road to the White House

This game is perhaps one of my all time favorite political games. Produced by Mayfair games in 1992 it was designed by Jim Musser and follows the presidential nominating process from start to finish. It is best played with 4 or more people. The most I have ever played with is 8 ( a long game, but exciting). Depending on how many people are in your party, it can take anywhere between an hour and a half to three hours to play an entire game. Note, I say an entire game. This includes both the nomination campaign and the general election.

Photo from BoardGameGeek.com


Basic game play involves rolling dice, moving your character (candidate) across a map of the United States. Players visit various cities to collect votes and the objective of the first round is to win the nomination. A typical turn involves spending campaign funds, collecting votes, and responding to event cards.

Event cards can be good and bad. One card could be, "AFL-CIO Endorses candidate" and you could lead to money or a surrogate. The card could also be "Drought hits Nation" and causes candidates with a Farms issue rating to lose votes.

There are over a dozen different candidates for a player to choose from (and if you don't like any of the ones that come with the game they allow you to make your own as well). Some are direct parodies of real personalities, like Donald Grump, Fred Ferner, Governor Billy Joe Saltine, and Rollie South. There are a handful of issue centered candidates like Congressman Tre Hugger. Here is an example of a candidate.
Photo from BoardGameGeek.com
On the back of each candidate card is a list of special abilities and issues that the candidate can utilize during the campaign to get move votes. Pick your candidate carefully. There is nothing worse than picking a candidate that has huge negatives in delegate rich states.

Perhaps the greatest strength of this game is the customization of the rules. The group I play with enjoys streamlining the rules to fit our playing style. We don't really engage in 'Dirty Tricks' so we have eliminated that option. Others may want to refine the vote counting process or fundraising

For all the great aspects this game lets players experience of a presidential nominating contest and general election, the time involved can be intense. Rarely do I sit down and play both campaigns at the same time. There just isn't enough time in the day. In college I found myself leaving the board out like a long drawn out game of Risk, until all the players could play again.

Another potential downside for this game is players need to at least tolerate politics enough to realize that this game pokes fun at politicians just as much as it tries to genuinely reflect a national campaign. Political junkies and board game lovers should be into this game, but your less politically inclined friends may need some reassurances before starting play.

An interesting side note for political collectors. During the '92 conventions, Mayfair heavily publicized this game. They gave out free 2 1/4" inch celluloid pins of the various candidates in the game. So if you find a pin that looks a little like this

It is from the promotional campaign of the game. All in all, this is a great political game. It is about 20 years old, so it is showing its age in a few respects. Still, this game is well worth the $5-25 dollars you may have to spend to get it.

Here is the info page on boardgamegeek. Amazon also has sevearl copies for a good price.

***Update 1/14/2012***

I decided I might share with you a few candidates I have created over the years to show you what the potential of your character creation.

Lester AuCoin: Shady Montana Mining Billionaire. Pro-Business all the way. (This character is good nature ribbing of my friend Les AuCoin who moved to Montana not too long ago)

Senator Wayne Salmon: Ardent liberal senior Senator from Oregon. (I bet you can guess who this was fashioned after)

Christopher Marks: Talk Show Pundit and Former political staffer. (Again, taken directly from pop culture)

Beth Lansing: Pro-Life advocate, stay at home mom blogger, turned political activist.

Former President Robert Graham: Former one term president from the 1970s who has dedicated his post presidential life to making the world a better place. (This is sorta my Jimmy Carter, Gearld Ford candidate, I have always wondered if one of our modern day former presidents pulled a Millard Fillmore and ran for president again after they had been out of office for some time)


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