Although I doubt that there are a lot of gamers who enjoy monitoring modern-day politics, I am pretty sure everybody likes to play Napoleon, any given Emperor or the President of the United States. In this regard, Stardock has taken one more step towards the title of “King of turn-based strategies” with Political Machine 2008, where the player has the chance of becoming, after a suspiciously clean battle, the president of the greatest country in the world, land of the free and home of the brave.
The American presidential election system has a few interesting particularities. Each federal state has a number of colleges, a generic type of votes, allocated to it according to its population and wealth. California, a rich and populated state has some 55 such votes, while Montana has only 6; to claim victory a candidate needs to gather a minimum of 270 votes. Voters can decide which candidate takes all the votes from their state, as they are not divided by election percentages but rather the winners takes it all. This system was meant to simplify the democratic election procedure, but it can also create some interesting situations. One such bizarre occurrence took place in 2000, when George W. Bush was invested President with a majority of college votes despite the fact that Al Gore had 500.000 more popular votes. It all came down to the Supreme Court’s decision, but the question remains: how legal is to have a president that was not elected by the majority? Aside from this dilemma, the game offers a classic electoral battle, with bread, circus, speeches and advertisements, all in a cartoonish style that has become more and more popular these days.
This graphic style promised a lot of humor, from the oversized figures that jump up and down with glee, up to press reviews and talk-shows where moderators try to act funny, but I wasn’t exactly rolling on the floor laughing, because aside from a few jokes and some funny noises there isn’t much to smile at. The manual was the funniest, however, but well organized and easy to read as well.
The graphic part is completed with lots of customization option, with faces which can be deformed at every angle, moustaches, glasses and hundreds of accessories which can be unlocked during the campaign, which is, in fact, pretty much the only reason to play the single-player, as the game is an endless showdown between the player and usually some historical figure, such as Nixon or Washington.
Aside from the physical aspect of the candidate, the player can also select his political views, firstly by choosing one of the two parties, Republican or Democrat. The position of the candidate toward certain issues can also be selected, such as the war in Iraq, gas prices and universal health care, but I fail to see why there is a points system here, which need to be spread among all these topics (and they run out quite fast) as if the candidate has no opinion at all regarding certain subjects.
There’s one drop of RPG as well, in the form of some attributes all candidates have, such as Charisma and Stamina. While Stamina is drained for every action (travel to another state, holding a speech, etc) Charisma is used to impress the auditorium, but it’s hard to understand how these attributes ever improve, aside from daily use, and they are all passive skills.
Once the character has been created (although famous figures can be selected, such as Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan) you have 41 weeks (turns) at your disposal to impress the voters and win the White House. A number of things can be done during a turn, such as building a campaign headquarters, holding a speech or holding a fundraiser. This can prove vital, as all actions cost money, even travelling to another state, not to mention the commercials which can get quite expensive. The value of the collected funds depends on how wealthy the state is and how much it’s citizens like or dislike the candidate in question, although the donations can decrease if a certain cow is milked too often, which goes to show that the tax payer’s patience does have a limit.