Friday, 7 March 2008

playing die macher

On Sat 1 Mar 2008, I finally played a complete game of Die Macher. Not a standard, full, 7 election game, but the short version, consisting of 5 elections. This time, I started to feel I was playing the game and not just learning it. We played a 3-player game, Han, Michelle and I. It was Michelle's first time playing, so I had to spend about 40 minutes teaching her the rules. Michelle is the impatient type when learning new games, her favourite line being, "Can we just start playing now and learn along the way?". While teaching her the game rules, she asked me at least three times, "There are more?" (还有啊?). And the first time was just after teaching her the scoring methods, the formula for counting votes, and the first two steps of a round (12 steps in total per round). I decided to teach it the other way round - the objectives, the vote calculation, which is the core formula in the game, and only then the actual step-by-step rules. Thankfully Michelle did manage to sit though the whole rules explanation without going crazy.

And we played.

And after the game Michelle said to me, "This is not that difficult afterall". And that was my sentiment too. Although Die Macher is quite complex, and there are many rules, and many different actions to do every round, in the end it just comes down to votes. The votes are the main factor in affecting your victory points. Although there are multiple ways of earning victory points, you must remember that everything you do, think of how it'll impact your votes. There are lots of things going on in the game, but when you have the votes as your reference point, then they will start to make sense. I'm oversimplifying, but this perspective does help to digest the game. You can then start to see the big picture, which states your party is weak in (the people don't agree with your party's policies) and you may want to give up on, which states that your party is strong in that you may want to invest more effort, where the opportunities are that you can form coalitions with others, and also very importantly, what will your opponents likely do?

Michelle and Han, after Round 2 (i.e. 3 state elections remaining).

Some of the state markers. The number indicate the maximum number of seats that can be won. This is a little abstracted in this game. There is no fixed number of seats that the players fight over. The number of seats that a player wins is determined by the number of votes won. Not realistic, but I guess it helps to eliminate complex calculations.

The fourth and biggest state. I had already converted votes previously. See my green vote marker on 48 votes. I had media control (3 big green cubes). I made one of the issues a key issue (the No. 2 tile). Needless to say, I won big time in this state. All three parties had coalition markers (the telephones). Michelle won the bid for turn order in this round and forced a coalition upon me (because we had 3 matching policies). I had thought she would a coalition with Han in order to jointly beat me in this state.

Having played a complete game, here are some of my thoughts. Firstly, it is probably not ideal to play with only 3 players. Most people agree that it is best with 5 players, and I have a feeling that is true. It will be a challenge, because more players mean a longer play time. I think we did OK in our game in terms of speed. We did some things simultaneously when they didn't impact the decisions of other players, to speed things up. We finished the game in about 2 hours. For a short version game (4 rounds and 5 elections, as opposed to 6 rounds and 7 elections), that means half an hour per round. The first round was the slowest and once things were smoother we played quicker. In our game, all 3 parties ended up with very similar party platforms. We tended to gravitate towards the same policies. I am not sure whether this is normal. We tended to mostly influence the public opinions in the states, and also to adjust our party platforms, towards similar combinations. I don't know whether it just so happened that our party policies were similar in the first place, or whether the states' public opinions were similar from the start, resulting in this experience. Or maybe it just so happened that we were using similar strategies. I think with more players, there will be more differences in the party platforms, and thus there may be more situations of parties changing to be more different from others, and more fighting (not literally - we are all civil and suave politicians) to influence the public opinions in different directions. In our game we were a bit too harmonious and agreeable.

For the same reason, I also think playing the full, standard game (6 rounds and 7 elections) will be a better experience. There will probably be more variety in public opinions, and less luck in terms of the party platform you get. You likely won't get a party platform that matches the public opinions in all states. In our game, I felt that this luck element contributed a lot to my win. In the initial setup, I had a very good party platform that matched the first state very well, and also matched the other states well enough (at least from those known public opinions at that point). And because in our game the ideologies of our parties tended to converge, Han and Michelle could not overcome my initial advantage. When the party platforms are similar, the parties will tend to do equally well in the elections.

A longer (well, standard) game also means sending your media control marker to the national board in the early game is a much more painful thing to do. A longer game means more long term planning, and a trickier balance between short and long term objectives, i.e. winning seats in the state elections, and doing well at the national level.

I quite like the game. I think it is quite thematic. All those actions and steps are relevent to politics and elections. I felt that party platforms and public opinions were more dynamic that I had expected. Although you can only change one of your party policies once in a round, there are multiple ways to manipulate the public opinions in the states - by media control, by having more votes than everyone else added up. And the most important thing is you can actually manipulate the public opinions in advance, before you reach election time. Before I played the game I didn't realise that this aspect of the game can be quite dynamic, and I think it is a good thing. You feel you can do something and you are not at the mercy of luck.

One unusual thing in our game is both the state with the most seats (80), and the one with the least (15) appeared in the game. We had quite a few big states.

Final score: me 392, Han 306, Michelle 299. The victory points split was roughly half from the seats won in the state elections, and half from the national board (party members, media control, matching national opinions). I thought this was a very clever and fine balance that the designer, Karl-Heinz Schmiel, had achieved. Michelle did better than Han in the state elections, but Han did better in the national arena and beat her by just 7 points.

I like the game a lot. I just wonder whether I will ever have a chance to play the full 7 election game with 5 non-first-time players. One can always wish, I guess.


Aik Yong said...

great writeup!

3 player seems to be quite friendly, as you put it.

i always find the way the game allocates the seats for each state a little unrealistic. but as you say, the alternative will be quite complicated.

so far the game itself felt like an 'experience' for me rather than a strategic euro where i can plan my strategies. i suspect more plays will be required to find out but a game of this length is difficult to being out more often.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

I don't quite see Die Macher as an "experience" game though, at least not in the sense of History of the World or Britannia, where you get a sense of watching a story unfold during the game. Reliving that story / history is as much an enjoyment as trying to win.

In Die Macher there is quite a lot that you can do and plan for and you really need to strategise, think through, and respond to your opponents' actions. Unfortunately it is quite challenging to learn, and also very very difficult to bring to the table to play in its best configuration - 5 players, 7 elections. By the time you have a chance to play it again, it's probably a long time since you last played, and you probably have to learn the strategies (and the rules!) again.

Aik Yong said...

I guess you have a point there. By experience, i mean the usage of the shadow cabinet cards, the election contribution... I don't seem to get the hang of it in the one game i'd played and their usage to me is more of flavor than a strategy towards a cohesive goal. It's more like just do something as it comes one state election at a time.