Return with me, won’t you gentle readers, to a more innocent time. A time when “social media” meant eTalk Daily. A time when Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana breaking out of her chrysalis by posing clad only in a sheet for Vanity Fair. A time when we thought Stephen Harper was the biggest threat to democracy in North America. Oh yes, and there was an election going on in the United States that year.
I’m talking about 2008. Sigh. Good times.
The US Presidential election of 2008 was a turning point in many ways–some I’m sure yet to be determined. It sure had its cast of characters, from war hero Senator John McCain from Arizona and his unexpected choice for VP, “maverick”
Tiny Fey Sara Palin, to the professorial yet eloquent Senator from Illinois Barack Obama and his running-mate, political veteran and hug-meister Joseph Biden.
In the aftermath of the election, Christian Leonhard and Jason Matthews decided that the 2008 campaign would make an excellent subject for a slimmed-down and streamlined version of their 2007 game 1960: The Making of the President, which in turn was a simplified take on Matthews epochal card-driven Cold War simulation Twilight Struggle. The game they ended up with was Campaign Manager 2008 (CM2008 hereinafter), and although the political climate has certainly changed since its release, it remains one of the best games about (relatively) contemporary politics around.
Gameplay is certainly very straightforward. Each player has a unique deck of 15 cards, each of which references an actual person or event from the campaign, and draws a hand of three cards. Players take turns either playing a card from hand and doing as it says or drawing one from their deck, to a maximum of five.
Matthews and Leonhard simplified the political calculus by concentrating on only 20 of the 50 states–the “swing” states that modern campaigns focus their energies on. Only four swing states are in play at any time. Each state goes to the candidate who consolidates control of the state via their position on either the economy or national security. Which of these two issues voters care more about is influenced directly via events and actions by the players. Undecided voters can be swayed by playing cards targeting one of the two key demographic groups in that state.
Once a state has been locked down, its electoral votes are banked by the winning player, who also then chooses which of the still-undecided states comes into play. This is also when “Breaking News” happens–ie, the top card of the event deck is drawn and its instructions are followed. The moment a player’s candidate has 270 votes, the game ends. The whole shebang takes less than an hour–plenty of time to switch sides and play again if you want.
All of which sounds kind of basic–and it is, in a good way. There are plenty of interesting decisions, but it feels like a simplified but real campaign. Too lightweight, you say? Well, I haven’t told you about the custom deckbuilding part yet.
You see, each player’s Strategy Deck actually consists of 45 cards, 15 of which are starred as the recommended starter decks. A real game of CM2008 starts with a pre-game draft, with both players drawing cards three at a time from their Strategy Decks, choosing one to keep, and discarding the other two (never to be seen again). It takes 15 draws to work through the 45-card decks, and while of course M:tG players will find this old hat, players unfamiliar with this kind of drafting will find their first few attempts deliciously painful–especially the initial draws when you’re desperately trying to assemble some kind of coherent strategy for your final deck. But with only 15 choices to make the pre-game draft doesn’t outstay its welcome.
As far as I’m concerned CM2008 is right up there with 7 Wonders Duel as the best two-player game out there–as long as you like the political theme of course. And it’s available to play for free on yucata.com! And the graphic designer was Toronto’s own Josh Cappel!
How better to gingerly approach the end of the current US election campaign than breaking out this excellent example of modern Tabletop design, and savour the nostalgia from what now seems an impossibly faraway era. Stay safe out there, all.