Sunday, 29 June 2014

revisiting Die Macher

My one-long-game-a-month project is going well. For June I picked Die Macher, the 4-hour game of German elections. This is a classic game, first released in 1986. It is very different from games of its era, because it is much more complex and also plays much longer. The game is best with five, so I rounded up five players about a month beforehand, and also persuaded Jeff of Boardgamecafe.net to open earlier that day, at 8pm instead of the usual 9pm, so that we could start playing earlier. Unfortunately he was ill that day and couldn't make it himself, so we went ahead with just the four of us. Not perfect, but we still had a great time.

My fellow political leaders Dith, Allen and Ivan.

Die Macher is played over 6 rounds, with one state election happening at the end of every round, except for the final round where two elections will take place one after the other. During a round players (representing political parties) take actions to influence the election in the current round as well as three other upcoming elections. The two main ways to gain votes are (1) by making sure your policies coincide with what the voters want, and (2) by being likeable (seriously). You also need to organise meetings to convert the above to votes. Votes will get converted to points, and points from state elections are a big chunk of your final score. When a state election is completed, the winning party may move media influence markers to the national board, representing gaining influence at the national level. The winning party also gets to move public opinion cards from the state to the national board, representing influencing the national opinion. Both of these affect scoring at game end. How much your party policies coincide with the national public opinion also affects how much your party membership grows, which in turn affects your income and also your score at game end. The game has many interlocking mechanisms, and gives you many levers too. It is quite a complex piece of machinery to tweak.

Here are the four election boards that form the main play area. At this point we had concluded the first election. The second election is on the board on the right, the state with 26 seats. Subsequent elections go in clockwise order, so the board at the bottom is the third, the board on the left is the fourth, and the board at the top is the fifth. When the second election concludes, that state board will be reset and used for the sixth election.

At each state board, the big square tile near the centre of the play area is the state tile, specifying how many seats the state has. The seat concept is abstracted. In practical terms it only means the max VP a player can score from the state election. It doesn't really mean there are a fixed number of seats for players to fight over. Next, the section with five colours are for indicating the popularity rating of each party. Every party is represented by one colour. Pink is not used since we didn't have a fifth player. Further outwards, the track with 1 to 50 is for keeping count of votes gained. This game features early voting and postal votes. If you look at the board on the left, which is the fourth state election and is still two rounds away, the yellow and black parties already have some votes. The four cards on each state board are the public opinions of the people in each state. The icons represent the issues in question. A white background means the people support the issue while a dark red background means the people reject it. The microphone icons on the state boards mean media control, and the large cubes on them mean some parties have influence over the media. Whoever has the most influence in a state can change one public opinion card there, which can be to help himself or to hurt other, and of course, ideally both.

When we set up the game, the first state turned out to be the biggest state in the game, with 60 seats. The game comes with 16 states of different sizes, and in any game only 7 states will come into play. Which states appear and the order of appearance affect how a game will play out. Getting the largest state in the first round means if you can win many votes, you'll earn a lot of money in the early game, and life will be much easier. As part of player set up, I secretly committed many resources to this first state. Allen and Dith had the same idea, and all three of us did quite well in the first election, making a lot of money. Unfortunately for Ivan, his party platform did not jive well with the public opinion in the first state. There was not enough time to adjust his own party platform or to try to influence the public opinion in the state, so he did not do well, and had much less money in the early game compared to the rest of us.

Allen maintained a large member base throughout the game, and also did very well in all four of the first four elections. That meant he was very rich. We all called him BN (largest political coalition in Malaysia).

Due to the abundance of money (especially Allen's), our bidding for the opinion polls went quite high. Opinion polls are the only random element in the game. Some people think it's a flaw. I think it's fine. It's good for some excitement and surprises. Every opinion poll card specifies for each party whether its popularity will go up or down, and by how much. If you win the card, you may apply the effects for one or two parties. The tricky part is when players bid for the card, it is still face-down. So you are basically gambling. If you win a card and find that it doesn't help you or hinder your opponent, there is still a consolation. You can roll dice to increase your party membership in lieu of applying any effect on the card. In some of the bidding wars we spent quite large amounts on cards which turned out to be not what we had hoped for. We could only use them for a small increase in membership. These new members had better be hardworking - we spent so much to entice them to join! I try to think of opinion polls as always useful in a way. Even if you win one that doesn't help you, you can think of it as preventing another player from hurting you or preventing another player from helping himself. That's surely worth something. There was one which I lost and regretted not having fought harder for. It turned out to be one that hurt my party's popularity, and I gained much fewer votes because of it.

Coalitions is one interesting mechanism. Every party can gain at most 50 votes in a state election, but if you form a coalition in that state, your combined votes can go as high as 100. Hitting 50 is not uncommon, so sometimes coalitions are the key to victory. Forming coalitions is not easy. You need to have played a specific shadow cabinet card in the state in question, and also the party platforms of the coalition partners must be similar enough - at least two exact matches. In our game we didn't really plan very far ahead to form coalitions, because of the many considerations involved. We mostly started discussing it only when the actual election came around. However coalitions still turned out to have affected the results of quite a few elections.

Ivan made good use of coalitions, which helped him move media markers to the national board. Only winners get to move media markers to the national board. By game end, four of his five media markers were on the national board! There was one election where Allen planned to form a coalition with me so that we could both win. However when it came to my decision whether to partner with him, I turned down his offer because I thought my chances would be better with Dith. Dith was the last player that round, and in case of ties, tiebreaker was reverse player order. So Allen partnered Ivan instead. Then when I was about to form the coalition with Dith, I suddenly realised I couldn't do so! I had just adjusted my party platform earlier that round, and now our platforms were too dissimilar to be able to form a coalition. Oops... I wished I could have crawled back to Allen to beg for forgiveness. Allen and Ivan went on to win that state election.

The board on the left is the national board. The section at the top is for media markers. State election winners may move their media markers from the state board here. Every media marker here is worth points, the earlier it is placed, the higher the value. The section in the middle is the party membership. This was still the early game, and Dith (red) had the most members at this point. The section at the bottom is the national public opinion. Such cards are moved here by state election winners. They affect party membership growth every round, and also game-end scoring.

The board on the right is just for organising game components. Those cards at the bottom are the swap pool for changing public opinions in states. In the basic rules there will only ever be 6 cards in the pool, but we used some variants which introduce more cards and thus give more flexibility.

The final scores. Our final positions: me, Ivan, Allen, Dith. The left side is for points from the seven state elections. I lost Dith's sheet so I don't have the breakdown. The scoring columns from left to right are for Allen, Ivan, Dith and I. The first, fourth and fifth states were the large states, with 60, 54 and 48 seats. The second and third states were medium states. The sixth and seventh states were small ones. From the state election scores you can see that Allen (1st column) did well in the first four states, and moderately well in the fifth and sixth. Ivan (2nd column) did well in the second, fourth and fifth. I (4th column) did will in the first, third and fifth. I was the only one to score in the last state election. The others did get votes, but they had too few votes, not enough to be converted to points.

The right side is for end game scoring. The first row is just the sum of the scores from the state elections. The second row is for media markers. Ivan made a killing. I did moderately well, not because I had many markers, but because I had some early markers, which were worth more points. The third row is for party membership. I was surprised that I had the most members. I only caught up and overtook the others in the last two elections, both of which I won. My party platforms matched the national board well, and I think that was what gave me a big boost. The fourth row is the bonus points for having the most members. The fifth row is for having party policies that match the national opinions. It was my turn to make a killing here - all five of my policies matched the national opinions. The last row is the bonuses for matching national opinions which are secured opinions, i.e. the voters are very adamant and it is hard to change their minds.

Our scores were actually quite close, except for Dith who had a tougher time because his policies tended to deviate from the others, so he was against the mainstream. Also there were a few opinion polls that hurt his party quite badly.

I was surprised our game of Die Macher took only 3.5 hours (excluding rules explanation). It was the first time for Dith and Ivan, and Allen had only played half a game before. I had expected to need 4 - 4.5 hours. It was a very fulfilling experience. Die Macher doesn't feel like a 1986 game at all.

1 comment:

V Barrett said...

sounds a very interesting game great report too