All around the world, and especially as their northern neighbours, the circus that is the United States Presidential Election is a process watched with amazement and bewilderment. What other countries do in a matter of weeks, the good ol’ USA manages to stretch into an ordeal that lasts over a year, and culminates in one night of cable news drama. Canadians are more glued to our television screens on American election nights than our own! Despite the apparent flaws of the electoral college, it’s a fascinating system that lends itself well to tabletop games.
Today we’ll be looking at three election games that capture various elements of the American political spirit through theme, mechanics, and components. If you’re looking to play some tabletop games while keeping tabs on Election Night 2020, perhaps one of these options will be a good fit for you!
Every American election summons the individual voter to weigh the past against the future.Theodore H. White
Before Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy were legendary and/or infamous in their own unfortunate ways, they competed in 1960 for the Presidency of the United States. The 2-player game focusing on this election originally released in 2007, with a design from Jason Matthews and Christian Leonhard. A card-driven area control game, 1960: The Making of the President offers most of the newsworthy events from this campaign, from the grand (international tensions between America and Soviet Russia), to the petty (Nixon’s “lazy shave” debate performance). Every event is translated into a relevant mechanical abstraction, as the players participate in a tug-of-war over each State’s electoral votes.
The turns are simple – players drop a card for its event, or use its printed campaign points. Primarily, campaign points are spent to add their candidate’s cubes (or remove the opponent’s cubes) to targeted states. Whichever player has cubes on a state at the end of the game, earns that state’s electoral votes. The twist comes from the debate mini game, where a strong performance from one candidate can completely shift the momentum of the game.
First published by Z-Man Games and now in the hands of GMT, 1960 offers an excellent experience with historical photographs integrated into the graphic design, further accentuating a brilliant system. Seemingly, it could easily be adapted to cover many of the dramatically entertaining elections throughout America’s history. If your election night activities involve just two players, there is likely not a more immersive game to play than 1960: The Making of the President.
The job facing American voters… in the days and years to come is to determine which hearts, minds and souls command those qualities best suited to unify a country rather than further divide it.Aberjhani
Zooming away from the federal stage, with a close eye on the municipality of New York, Tammany Hall allows players to experience four election cycles, as players attempt to win the Mayorship and wield its accompanying power. Immigrant populations are manipulated and shuffled about the board, allowing players to build influence with those communities, which can be spent to boost their electoral fortunes and spread whispered gossip about their foes.
To quote my own previous article on the game:
In my opinion, Tammany Hall is on par with the greatest area control games of all time. It has the elegant simplicity of El Grande, the tension of Hansa Teutonica, all wrapped in a narrative that can rise up from the table and grab hold of its players. At higher player counts, the potential for temporary alliances emerges, and the players knocking at your most critical ward will suddenly start to talk less, smile more. The game leaves players feeling complicit in a system of dirty politics, with a shadowy grime that is injected into the artwork and overall graphic design.
The newest edition of Tammany Hall from Pandasaurus Games is truly excellent, with many positive tweaks to the artwork, graphic design, and components, without tinkering with the core mechanical experience of the game. If your Tuesday gathering involves 3 to 5 players who don’t mind some messy mud-slinging, Tammany Hall is a perfect choice for a small election party.
We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.Thomas Jefferson
First published by Cosmic Wombat Games, and having just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign via Grey Fox Games, Campaign Trail swims broadly into the entire electoral process, perhaps more than just about any election themed game that has come before. Fundraising, advertising, even registering voters are integrated into this card-driven game, all on top of the actual campaigning that players take on in this tabletop election experience.
On the surface, the most significant difference with this game is the option to play as the Libertarian party – or with the new expansion, the Green party. Despite these parties offering Presidential candidates for decades, the United States is considered a two-party system, and it’s refreshing to have a game that allows players to embrace two wildly differing philosophies.
Player counts from 1 to 6 can enjoy Campaign Trail, and up to 8 with the latest expansion from the crowdfunding campaign. While this isn’t a game you’ll likely be able to track down before election night, it’s definitely one to put on your radar for the future.
By voting, we add our voice to the chorus that forms opinions and the basis for actions.Jens Stoltenberg
Before leaving you to your election night plans, we’d like to present one final game as an honourable mention:
Just a few days ago, our own David W covered Campaign Manager 2008 for the DWP. Featuring the same design team as 1960: The Making of the President, this follow-up game narrows the electoral focus to twenty key swing states, quickening the overall experience without losing any tension. David describes the game as “right up there with 7 Wonders Duel as the best two-player game out there”. Be sure to check out this great article, and then play the game on Yucata!
We at the DWP wish our American neighbours and safe and peaceful election day, and regardless of the outcome, at the very least get some quality gaming out of what is destined to be a long evening!