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The Political Machine

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Many moons ago, one of my favorite computer games was called President Elect. I believe this was made in the late 1980s. It was pre-Clinton is all I know for sure, because the game’s default election scenario had a Republican as the incumbent.

Anyway, the point of the game was to have your candidate beat the computer’s (or another player’s) candidate on Election Day. The graphics, other than the map of the United States, were almost non-existent. It was all about allocating ad revenue in specific states, and campaigning in certain states, and picking a VP candidate who was helpful to the cause.

It was a lot of fun for political junkies like me, even though it was pretty basic, owing to the technology of the day.

Now, I own a new, different game with the same premise. And it has quickly become one of my favorites! It’s called The Political Machine, and it was made specifically for the now-past 2004 election.

Like President Elect, the graphics are pretty weak other than the national map. But the gameplay is much more advanced.

You can choose from today’s major candidates, like George W. Bush, John F. Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Dick Cheney. Or you can choose past candidates like Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush. Or, you can even create your own candidate. (Me, being the self-absorbed prick that I am, created myself….)

Then you go on a 41-week journey to capture the White House. Each week is counted as a turn. During each turn, you can decide to raise money, travel to different states, run ads (newspaper, radio, or TV), make speeches (on a topic of your choice), or many other things (or some combination of the above).

A great feature is the ability to accrue “political capital” that can later be spent on winning endorsements from major national organizations. Or this capital can also be used to purchase the services of various political operatives, who can go from state to state helping you make your case to the voters.

There is also the opportunity to take a gamble and fly to a state that is temporarily displaying a question mark. This indicates a political opportunity. These can be either good or bad for you, but they are usually positive, so they are worth the chance.

Also, you are given the option from time to time to appear on national news shows, like Hardhitter and 50/50 and The O’Malley Scenario. There, you are asked tough questions and have an array of choices in how to respond.

All of the above play a crucial role in deciding who wins what states. An Electoral College victory is the ultimate goal, so battleground states will likely take up most of your limited resources.

Of course, this game is imperfect. There are no debates between the candidates. Third-party candidacies are not an option. And Bill Clinton, if he’s your opponent, is almost unbeatable!

But this game is still a lot of fun. Not only does it have a great replay value, but it’s practically addicting!

File this one under: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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About RJ

  • Pretty cool. I’d forgotten about this game.

    If only the campaign really was limited to 41 weeks.

  • RJ

    Dude, I just can’t beat Bill!

    I allocate scads of resources to PA, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, and even Texas, and I STILL lose most of those states, and the election!

    Does anyone here know how to beat the bastard?

    I’ve even done the West Coast thing and managed to pick off Oregon and Washington state, and I still lose!

  • bhw

    Great review, RJ.

  • Oregon voted for ya, RJ? Dang, now I gotta move to California after all.

    Just kidding, just kidding! Good luck beating Bill, dude.

  • sydney

    And as you progress through the game are you forced to make comprimises to corporate interests?

    Do you have a certain amount of capital set aside for buying votes?

    Is it stratigically important to rig elections as is the case currently in america?

  • This sounds pretty cool — man, I’d be lost for weeks (if not months) if this thing was ever put before me.

    Do the electoral college values change for states based upon the year? Or is it all done as the 2004 election and therefore uses the most recent values?

  • RJ


    The default Electoral College state-by-state numbers are pretty much what they were in the real 2004 election. (I say pretty much because for some odd reason, the District of Columbia does not exist in this game, yet you still need 270 EC votes to win. So there must have been some minor fiddling with the numbers, but I’m not sure exactly how.)

    However, you are also given the option of randomizing the distribution of EC votes between the states. So, conceivably, Rhode Island could wind up with 50 EC votes, and New York with 4. (You can also randomize certain other variables, such as party registration by state, for example. So you could end up with California being a solid Red state, and Georgia being deep Blue…)

  • I wonder who would want to randomize EC values?

    Also: I imagine poll numbers or some kind of rating tells you how you’re doing from turn-to-turn?

    It’s too bad that they don’t do debates — that could be a fun (if very complicated) element to the game.

  • RJ

    During each turn, if you click on a state, you are given that week’s most recently-updated poll numbers. (Of course, this feature is largely moot because the states on the map itself turn different shades of either Red or Blue each week depending upon the current polling data.)

    You can also see which issues rank highest in the voters’ minds. For instance, Gay Marriage and the Environment might rank in the top three in California, while Tax Cuts and the War In Iraq might be in the top three in Tennessee.

    So, while visiting a state, it is wise to tailor your message to the views of that state’s voters. So, give a speech in Arkansas about your solid support for the 2nd Amendment, but then run some radio ads in New York emphasizing your strong approval of legal abortion.

    (Or just send a bought-and-paid-for Spin Doctor to a battleground state, and hope he boosts your numbers just enough on Election Day…)

  • Again, this would make it vastly complicated, but it would be a lot of fun to be able to design or at least pick out your own television commercials.