Dante – The Political Machine

“Texas is lost, move our forces to Florida, we must defend it at all costs”

No, I’m not playing Defcon, or World in Conflict, but an entirely different kind of strategy game, if it can even be classified as such, this is the Political Machine 2008 and I’m taking Barack Obama to the White House.

GalCiv creators Stardock first released The Political Machine in 2004, to coincide with that year’s election, so it’s to the surprise of roughly no-one that they’ve re-released it, with snazzy new features and cute as hell bobblehead graphics, for this year’s epic match up.

Rather than going for a straight up review, I’m going to chart my 21 week campaign from beginning to end, explaining features as they pop up. First off the basics, each week is one turn, during which a candidate can perform a number of actions (depending on his or her stamina and money) the crucial thing is that you have to be in the right state to do something, so you’ll find yourself jetting frenetically around the country trying to keep everyone happy all the time.

Week 1: I start in Illinois, Barack’s backyard, making it safe as houses from the get go. I start with a campaign headquarters there, HQs are one of three buildings a candidate can build, building and upgrading them unlocks additional issues to campaign on for that state, raises funds and increases awareness. Awareness is one of the two things you’re going for in the political machine, people need to know about your message, as well as agreeing to it, you can increase it in a number of ways, although the best ones involve paying a personal visit. I don’t bother sticking around in Illinois, as it’s already in the bag, instead I head off to Texas, one of the more populous states around, here I find Democrats are outnumbered two to one, so instead I run over to California and Florida, two other important battlegrounds, and whack down ne HQs.

Week 2: A new HQ goes down in Ohio, the last of the populous swing states, states have different numbers of votes in the US system, depending on population, so pleasing Florida,, California, Texas and Ohio is vital to any election strategy. I then pay a quick visit to New York, a populous democrat stronghold, and slap down a consulting office, another type of building that does little to raise your appeal directly, but generates the funds to buy various operatives who can help you out, more on them when they show up. I then head to Pensylvania in order to set up for the next turn. Mccain inexplicably goes to New Hampshire electoral votes four, but then attempts to take back Florida.

Week 3: Mccain foolishly attempts to take New York, I hear they shoot republicans on sight there. I plonk down a lvl 2 outreach centre in Pennsylvania, outreach centres increase your pr influence, which you can use to gain endorsements from various special interests groups, increasing your standings on their issues. Following that I run back to Florida to play defence, and put up an newspaper ad (the cheapest of three kinds of ad, impacting only the state it’s first placed in) about how John Mcain is against the economy.

Week 4: McCain jets around the deep south currying favour, I ignore him, I doubt missisipi is going to vote Obama either way, and head back to Florida and New York for some upgrades, totally draining my initial cash pool. As a result I head to sunny California, rich and left leaning, for a spot of fundraising. Fundraising essentially trades stamina for money, but is more effective in a rich state, so I wholeheartedly suggest milking California for every penny they’ve got.

Week 5: Mcain gets endorsed by the christian federation, I have no idea how he’s getting so much political capital so fast, I’m nowhere near even a single endorsement. A spot more fund raising sets me up to upgrade the outreach centre in Pennsylvania before I spot a TV interview opportunity. TV interviews offer you national coverage at next to no cost, but pick your issues correctly or you’ll get egg on your face on a national scale. This interview is with 60 seconds, who are in Hawaii for some reason I tell them I’m against farm subsidies and for unions, it goes down a storm.

Every five weeks you get a little media roundup of the race so far, right now I’m well behind in the polls, but that’s because I’ve been focusing on rolling out headquarters with that Florida newspaper ad my only real bit of active campaigning. This will start to change soon though, and I’m sure I’ll be catching soon.

Week Six: Upgrades and fundraising all round, laying the groundwork, I also spot an activist and grab him. Activists are one of two types of staff, these are picked up for free by spotting the yellow question mark in a state. They represent enthusiastic voters and can be both good or bad for your campaign, depending on the type. This one is a political operative, who slowly raises my awareness in a state. Fittingly I deploy him in Washington, leaving him to grab the middle value state by himself, reducing Barack’s workload.

Week 7: McCain spends this week inexplicably campaigning in tiny montana and west virginia. I take some more money from the Californians, then head to Florida for the final upgrade, pushing a HQ to the max takes a lot of money, but is well worth it in a battleground like Florida. Along the way I get enough Political Clout to hire my first operative. Hired staff are generally more effective than activists, but less free, this one lowers my opponents awareness in a state by drawing mustaches on all his campaign posters, he’ll be key to taking and holding any traditionally right leaning states, negating McCain’s own campaigning.

Week 8: McCain picks up an activist of his own, a jaded consultant, who can seriously damage my ratings in a state, I employ a ‘fixer’ who eliminates other operatives, I really don’t want to speculate on how, to take care of him, but disaster! It seems jaded consultants are the wrong kind of operative and he can’t do anything, leaving me high and dry. Thankfully McCain sets the guy up in Illinois, where they’re unlikely to turn against me any time soon. Meanwhile our florida HQ is expanded to max, I trash McCain on the environment and win my first endorsement, from the environmentalists club the environment seems inexplicably popular as a topic right now, so this should really help.

Week 9: McCain shores up Georgia, yet another state unlikely to vote for Mr Obama and runs off to vital Ohio. Rather than pursuing I send him a spin doctor who slants issues ratings my way, meanwhile I head to West Virgina, low on cash I opt for a speech, which costs next to no money but lots of stamina. I poach it with my pro economy stance and head to LA to take more money from hollywood.

Week 10 -Joe Biden enters the fray this week, running mates can’t make speeches, ads or buildings like a candidate, but they have almost as much impact when they position themselves in a state. I go on ‘Barry King’ and opportunistically pop down a headquarters in Alamaba of all places, realising that a large proportion of independant voters makes it a possible target. Then I head to California for more of their lovely money. Mcain is there too but he won’t be winning it any time soon, I pick up a Civil Liberties endorsement while I’m there. McCain also speaks in ohio about the need for big government, which amuses me somewhat.

I’m leveling with McCain in the polls now, my HQs have kicked into gear and my operatives are all over the place, allowing me to attack on multiple fronts. I’m holding several key big states and am now making a play for the medium sized ones.

Week 11: initial positive responses urge me to flood Alabama with operatives, D-Day style. McCain races back to try and defend is as Barack gets on the podium trashing McCain’s (non existent) endorsement of higher gas prices. Is Alabama ready to vote for America’s first black president?

Week 12: Yes they are! Alabama is secured, as is Ohio with some neat defensive work by Biden blocking McCain’s sneak attack. Michigan too succumbs to the Obama juggernaut, with a pro job speech and an attack ad about McCain’s economic policies. Meanwhile, in Alaska, Sarah Palin has yet to move.

Week 13: I move east from Michigan with a play for Wisconsin and Minnesota, McCain tries to steal Florida, from me, but with a 95% awareness rating, it’s going to be an uphill struggle.

Week 14: It’s a low key week for the Obama campaign, devoted mostly to fund raising and a short Barry King appearance, my stance on amnesty for illegal immigrants is unpopular though, and I only have middling results. However late on I realise my play for Alabama has had a knock on effect in the deep south, pushing me up the polls in Georgia, so I end the week there in order for a big ad blitz next time.

Week 15: A little while back I hired a speechwriter (who looks suspiciously like Toby from the West Wing) and a fashion consultant, together they’ve increased Obama’s charisma and attractiveness to ungodly levels. He literally walked into Georgia and it swayed to his side, I didn’t even have to campaign. Even the previously unattainable seems within my grasp now. Time to assault Texas.

Obama’s surprise scalps in the deep south have given him a firm lead, now the question, my assault on Texas is a gamble however, if it comes off I’ll run the table, if not I could drop other states while I’m busy there, putting McCain back in the lead.

Week 16: Obama stations himself in Texas for a media blitz, pounding McCain with attack ads in order to put Republican voters back into play. His operatives meanwhile, lead by Joe Biden move into position to secure clean sweep of the southern states.

Week 17: Team Biden smashes through the deep south as McCain tries to turn thing around by hitting the undefended north. I catch up a lot in Texas, while Biden and his men move into position to take the last republican bastion in the south, Mississippi.

Week 18: Texas is finally mine! A constant media barrage and a top HQ were the decisive factors. Biden and his men are making inroads into the staunchly conservative Mississipi, while more agents are dispatched to defend the North.

Week 19: McCain makes a desperate assault on Florida, but he won’t take it anytime soon Obama makes a pit stop in Colorado before heading back to sweet, sweet Texas.

Week 20: McCain surprises me and actually makes inroads into Florida, but Obama comes back for a radio ad and a speech before leaving Biden to finish him off. He also nips to Colorado with a couple of operatives to bag that too.

Week 21: It’s all over, and it’s a landslide, Mcain takes middle america, but there’s no votes there. While Obama takes the North and both coasts, totally destroying him. not to mention getting the deep south to vote a black man into the highest office in the land.

The political machine is a fairly simple game, but a fun one, and it does lead to lovely moments. Longevity is a problem, as once I realised the effect my simple economic/environmental message was having there was really no need to try any other strategy. Multiplayer might well extend that as might the full game’s promise of randomised issues and multiple possible candidates. All in all it won’t keep you occupied for a long time, but at a mere £10, it’s superb value for money.

As for this piece, if anyone out there wants more ‘game diary’ style stuff, let us know. This was a fun little tester, but we’re thinking of trying something longer.

Dante opposes the economy.


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