Friday, 30 July 2010

Campaign Manager 2008

Campaign Manager 2008 is a 2-player card game I have been interested to try for some time, because the designer also designed Twilight Struggle, a game I quite enjoy. I managed to convince Chong Sean to buy a copy so that I could try it.

The Game

The game is about the US presidential elections in 2008. You are the campaign manager for one of the candidates, and you try to get your candidate elected to the White House. There are 20 battleground states in the game, which vary in the number of electoral votes they give. Your objective is win enough states to reach 270 votes. At any one time, four states are in play. You play cards to gain support in the states - to place a disc of your colour onto the state card. Each state has a defense issue side and an economy issue side. One of these issues is the majority issue, and the other is the minority issue. This can be switched by the player's card play. If all the supporters on the majority issue side are your supporters, you win the state immediately.

The state of West Virginia. The two rows of round spaces represent supporters - red for McCain, blue for Obama, white for undecided voters. The track on the right shows which issue, economy or defense, is the majority issue. You win a state when all supporters on the majority issue side are your supporters. On the left you can see the key demographic (currently Clinton Democrats).

There are some other aspects. A breaking news card is drawn every time another state comes into play, usually impacting that card. Some (usually more powerful) cards force you to a die and potentially give some benefit to your opponent. Every card has two possible voter key demographics, which, like the majority / minority issues, can be affected by card play. Some cards give a very powerful effect if the key demographic in the targeted state matches them.

The scoring track on the right is quite unique. Whenever you win a state, you add a bar representing the number of electoral votes to your part of the scoring track. Quite clever, and saves a lot of effort with the calculator. In the middle is the Breaking News cards, events cards that are drawn whenever a new state comes into play. They usually impact that new state, but not always. The reference sheet at the bottom is for some Going Negative cards. If you use the card, you roll a die and your opponent may gain some benefit.

Some McCain cards. Most of the card is flavour text. Most important is the effect description at the bottom.

On your turn you either draw a card, or play a card. Hand limit is 5. The cards have various powers, and all are related to the various aspects described above. You win once you reach or exceed 270 votes.

That's the gameplay. Pretty straight-forward. However there is one important aspect that happens before you start playing the game - the card drafting. During a game you will have only 15 cards in your deck. However for each side in the game there are 45 cards. Before you start a game, you create your deck of 15 cards by (doing 15 times) drawing three cards then selecting one. So sometimes you have to make difficult decisions about what cards to keep, and you use this drafting to formulate a strategy. When the game starts you won't know what kind of cards your opponent has, but after you play through your decks once, you'll know and you'll be able to plan your moves better. In my opinion this aspect is the most interesting part of the game.

The Play

Chong Sean and I played the introductory game first, where you use a preset deck. He applied a simple strategy that I didn't see until it was too late. He only focused on the big states, and he let me win the smaller ones. In hindsight it was an obvious strategy. The only excuse I can come up with is I didn't know there were so few big states. Chong Sean, playing Obama, won by a big margin.

After that first game, my reaction was: that's all? It seemed there wasn't much meat to the game. It's just drawing a card or playing a card. Sometimes you put a disc onto the state, sometimes you shift the majority issue, sometimes you change the key demographic. I was a little disappointed I must admit.

Chong Sean contemplating his cards. At any time there are four states being contested over.

Then a few days later we played a normal game, i.e. with the drafting. We switched sides, this time I played Obama while he played McCain. Well, technically we played the candidates' campaign managers. As we did the drafting, I tried to pick cards that allowed me to draw another card(s), so that it would save me a turn. I only picked two cards which allowed me to convert neutral voters to my supporters if the key demographic matched the cards. Little did I know that these cards could be so powerful. After the game started, both Chong Sean and I used these cards well. They played an important part when picking a new state. If we had one of these cards in hand, we would try to pick a state with the matching key demographic.

This second game was much closer. The big and medium states came out early. Chong Sean won Florida, the biggest state. I won a number of other medium and medium-large states. It came down to the last three states. Eventually I won the game after winning the 3rd last state.

This was our second game, and it was a much closer game.

Down to the last three states.

The Thoughts

After the second game, I like Campaign Manager 2008 much more. It definitely should be played with drafting. I'd say if you are a regular game player, skip the intro game. Just skim through the card deck, and then start a normal game. Learning how your opponent has built his deck, and then adjusting play to counter his strategy, is a big part of the game, and I'd say that's completely lost in the intro game. Will he have a lot of those key demographic cards? How many media cards will he have? (these cards stay in play until discarded by another media card, so if you don't have a single media card but your opponent does, you are in trouble) Will he intentionally pick more cards for the issue that you are strong in? In our second game, playing McCain, Chong Sean intentionally picked more economy cards which Obama is strong in. Unfortunately (for him) I had decided to focus a lot on economy, so I had more economy cards than him.

Looking at the individual aspects of the game, nothing really stands out. However when everything is put together, it is a quick and interesting game with a fair bit of planning, bluffing and hand management. There are quite a number of interesting decisions, and you need to manage the pace. Spend too much effort on winning one state, and you may suddenly lose the next few states to your opponent. You will find yourself often torn between defending one state and trying to go for the win in another. Sometimes even the choice of playing a card or drawing a card can be a tough one. There is quite a bit of brinkmanship in the game.

1 comment:

荒凉。儒 said...

sounds like a good game to me, especially themed with politics.