Campaign Manager 2008 Review

In the series of political games by Christian Leonhard and Jason Matthews (all of which I've played and enjoyed), the lightest weight one seems to be Campaign Manager 2008.

I feel like I shouldn't have to tell you the point of the game, but for my readers that aren't in the US, I will anyway - the object of the game is to become president.  Specifically, it is to become president in 2008 (and, no - a time travel machine is not provided; and so this is much more difficult than you would think).  Specifically, one player takes on the role of John McCain, and the other takes on the role of Barack Obama, as you fight over the swing states from the 2008 election.  At any given time, you will have four states that you are fighting over.  Each state has an issue that they currently care about - Defense or the Economy and a Demographic that you can pander to.  On each turn, you have the option of either playing a card or drawing a card.  When playing a card, you will often be able to place influence for your candidate on a certain issue.  If placing this influence allows you to capture all of the influence on a state's currently "hot" issue, then you win the state, select a new state, have an event occur, and re-convene the campaigning.  Once one player wins enough electoral votes to win the election, he is declared the new president-elect of the United States!

So, the first thing that I like about Campaign Manager is that it has an element called "going negative."  Why?  Because it's a game about politics, and politics haven't been about issues at any point during my life.  After all, why bring up issues, when you can say mean things about your opponent?  (Wait, wait - I'm tripping over a soap box, here.  I was talking about a game, if I remember correctly.)  In the game, there are several cards that are incredibly powerful.  They represent saying mean things about your candidate like that he enjoys punching elderly people, or something equally despicable.  However, there's a slight chance that this negative campaigning could come back and haunt you.  (After all, what if they can prove that they didn't really take away popsicles from little children during the heat of summer?)  This backlash is represented by rolling a die and, depending on what you roll, giving your opponent a bonus.  For example, you may be able to gain two influence in a single state with a single card - but, this may allow your opponent to draw two extra cards.  I like this element in the game, and I think that it does a good job of allowing you to have powerful cards, while maintaining a gameplay balance.

At least someone campaigned in Montana.
The next thing I like about the game is that I think that it fits the theme well.  Specifically, I imagine that you have to make some decisions in the game that are similar to what candidates actually make during the campaigning season (obviously with far less on the line).  For example, when you start losing horribly in a state without many electoral votes, you have to decide - is this state worth fighting for, or would I be better off using my cards to gain an advantage in more populous states.  But, spending too much effort in a larger state and then having it taken away from you can be quite devastating, as you may have spent so many resources on the lost state that you're not positioned well in any of the others.  By the way, I need to take a moment to address Montana.  Montana, I'm sorry.  I've never bothered to campaign in your state.  You have three electoral votes.  It's not that I think that Ohio is prettier, it's just that she has so many more votes.  I know you have land; but much of that land is apparently empty.  I hope that you accept my apology.

My third pro for Campaign Manager is the drafting element.  What drafting element, you may be asking?  Well, the drafting element that I didn't tell you about.  To start each game (assuming you're not playing the intro game), you draft the deck that you will draw from.  Specifically, there are 45 cards available for each side in the game, and each time you play, you will only use 15 of them.  So, to set up your deck, you go through the cards drawing three of them and selecting one to keep until you have exhausted your entire pile.  This element of the game allows you to focus your strategy and remove a lot of cards that do not factor into that strategy.  For example, if you choose to focus completely on the economy, you can draft those cards and throw out the others.  If you decide to focus on demographic groups, you can keep the cards that work with that strategy.  And, if you decide to run a slander campaign, you can keep all of the going negative cards.  I really enjoyed this mechanic, and it really adds a bit of a game-within-the-game as you attempt to draft cards that both work well for your strategy and give you the edge when attempting to thwart your opponent's strategy.

Rude things to say about your opponent.
However, with this drafting element, there are some cards that are just flat out better than others.  Every card available can be very useful at the right time, but some cards are useful at all times, whereas others are useful occasionally.  A lot of the game (possibly too much) is determined in this initial draft - if I draft very poorly, then I may lose before we even start placing influence.  And, drafting well can be a factor of strategy, but can also be a factor of luck.  There are three cards that I can think of that I would want in the Obama deck every time that I play, because they are that good.  If I draw them all at the same time and only get to pick one, then my deck will be greatly weakened.  At the same time, if I draw three cards that all do similar things, and that thing doesn't fit well into my strategy, then I will have a junk card cluttering up my deck. 

The other con that I found for Campaign Manager 2008 was that the game is fairly repetitive.  Your deck only consists of 15 cards, and so you will see them over and over.  In addition, some of these cards do the same thing.  Not similar things - the exact same thing.  So, your deck may only have 12 different cards in it.  And, the strategy isn't overly complex - win states when you can, capitalize on advantages, get bigger states if the opportunity presents itself.  Oh, and don't let your opponent have the big states.  Whereas I enjoy the game, this con will keep me from playing many times in succession - it's a game that I will need to spread out in order to continue enjoying it.

Overall, I do enjoy Campaign Manager 2008 and give it an 8.0/10.  I would recommend it to someone that's looking for a lightweight political game, or that just loves drafting elements.  I anticipate playing it more, but I will keep some time in between plays, to keep the game fresh.

If you like political games, you should also check out 1960: The Making of the President, 1989: Dawn of Freedom, and Ideology.

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