Campaign Game

Cynical View of Presidential Politics in an Abstract Strategy Game

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Campaign is ostensibly a game of the 2008 US presidential elections; at start, you're given a choice of three Republican and three Democratic candidates (sorry, George). However, your "candidate" is like your king in Chess; they're all the same. 120 hit points, the same list of potential attacks, and so on. It's one of the pieces you move across the board.

The game is played on a square-gridded version of the continental US (guess Alaska and Hawaii don't count), divided into seven regions. In addition to your candidate, you start with three other units -- the possibilities include Hatchetmen, Spinmeisters, Fundraisers, and Operatives; you get to choose what combination you want.

Many attacks require money; you gain money from the regions you control. To control a region, you must gain control of all the squares within it; when a unit lands on a square, it gains control of that square and some around it (units vary by the number of squares they capture).

To win, you need some money, at least (though having the largest treasure chest is not critical), so control of some regions is necessary. However, units can attack both each other and regions, which, like units, have hit points; if reduced to zero, a region becomes completely neutral (though it is then susceptible to one type of attack, available only to candidates and quite costly in monetary terms, which seizes the whole region in a single turn.)

In other words, there's a fairly interesting balance going on in this game, if you look at it in terms of abstract strategy: You need to seize and retain territory to provide funding, but ultimate victory is gained not by money but by attacking the opposing player's units--ultimately killing their king, I mean, candidate. There's a trade-off between going for territory, and going for the opposition, and finding the right balance is non-trivial.

The cynicism comes in the nature of the units' attacks; they're various forms of mud-slinging. In other words, to the degree that this is a simulation of modern American politics (and it isn't, really), it's a simulation of fund-raising for the purpose of "Swift-Boating" the opposition. Actual political positions, goals, platforms, opinions, and voter demography are wholly irrelevant.

As a simulation of the political process, Campaign is, well, silly; in the image above, I won as Barak Obama controlling the Mountain states and Dixie, with the Republicans in firm control of the Northeast and the West Coast. Not bloody likely, right? But if you ignore the political dressing, and simply view it as an abstract strategy game with, like Chess, differentiated pieces with different powers, and (unlike Chess) a system whereby control of territories gives you the resources to engage in more powerful attacks, well, it's rather interesting.

Or to put it another way, as with most Eurogames, the contextual dressing, the frame for the game, has virtually nothing to do with the actual gameplay, and the actual gameplay itself holds some interest.

Campaign has both a single player version (two levels of difficulty--the lower doesn't present much challenge once you understand the basics of the system), as well as a two-player version. When I tried to play multi-player, no one else was available to play against--but if you came in at the same time as a friend, I imagine you might have fun with them. No in-game chat, but what are IM clients for?

(Just to give you some background, both of my parents were delegates to the Democratic National Convention in 1956, as supporters of Adlai Stevenson. But I try to ignore politics as much as I can, both because I find it unutterably depressing, and because I'm basically some kind of anarchist. My favorite presidential candidate so far is George Phillies -- the LP is a joke, but he's an old school wargamer, and at least I can be reasonably assured he's not going to be in favor of censoring games.

(But because politics was important to my family, and games were important to me, I've played a lot of political games over the years. In fact, I have a copy of "The Game of the Kennedys" on my shelf, which is probably some kind of collectors' item by now.)


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You probably already know

You probably already know about it, Greg, but you should check out 1960: The Making Of A President (maybe it can make a Tuesday review sometime?)


Heh... Already in progress.


Thanks for the write up on our game.

The political aspect is definitely somewhat of a goofy "skin" on the game, but it also drove a lot of the game design decisions (the balance versus money/territory and "combat"). We weren't aiming at a political simulation, obviously. We also intentionally ratcheted back on the direct individual satire, for better or worse, because we wanted people to play for the candidates they liked.

FYI, the multiplayer does have ingame chat, it just doesn't kick in until the game starts. We should be getting the game hosted somewhere with actual traffic soonish and there might actually be some other people to play against ;).