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Sam Smith
United States
Tennessee
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This post can also be found on the board game design forum:

Perfect Union is a game in which players play as members of the US House of Representatives debating and voting on laws over the course of a legislative session. You win by accumulating the most points. Points come from living up to your promises and improving the nation, goals which can sometimes be at odds.

I hope. Without playtesters I am somewhat lost--I cannot maintain the negotiating foibles of five or six players! Frankly, I don't have any idea if the system works, but I feel like it would. My dream for the game would be to use it as a teaching tool in North Carolina public schools with middle or high school students getting a glimpse of the challenges facing their representatives and learning the intricacies of legislative history.

The game can be found in its entirety at perfectuniongame.wordpress.com. The first scenario covers the 111th Session of Congress, which passed the stimulus package, Obamacare, and the Shark Conservation Act, among others. Please let me know if you would like to help playtest it! I would be thrilled to playtest or otherwise help with one of your projects in return.

All the best,
Sam
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Scott B
United States
Escondido
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I'll take a look at your game later today. Do you want feedback here, or as a geek mail, or what would you prefer?
 
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Bill Eldard
United States
Burke
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It appears the game plays itself; in other words, the players don't make any real decisions. For example, there's no reason for the Democratic policymakers to compromise or deal with the Republcans, and vice versa. Cards are drawn, votes are taken, one of the three Dem policymakers rolls a die for a random result.

I do have questions.

1) Why are the colors on the track green and red, which carry positive/negative connotations with them?

2) Each policymaker will vote for his/her policies and against the others. The 2 Democrats (Pelosi, Hoyer, Clyburn) naturally align agains the 3 Republicans, and they will always have the initiative for winning votes while the Republicans can never gain the initiative for winning votes. How would this vary?

3) What age group is this aimed at?

4) What lesson(s) do the players take away from the experience?
 
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Sean M
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Downloaded the materials. I'll give it a whirl probably this weekend. This is the sort of subject area games *can* excel at teaching.

Just checking beforehand, though --- do you want this evaluated from a US public school teacher's perspective, or from the perspective of middle/high school game players? I've got a team of the latter, and their opinion often clashes pretty badly with the former.
 
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James Fung
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Let me start by saying this game will most likely give students a good idea of the major bills and House of Representative players during whichever session it's setup to recreate.

Comments on the game:
- It is ambiguous what Initiative is supposed to simulate. If I remember my civics classes, the Speaker of the House and committee chairs have a good deal of control over when and how bills come up for voting. That aspect seems to be missing and instead replaced by the Initiative mechanism. I also don't like the initiative mechanism because 1) players are told to recalculate who has initiative before every bill and 2) the person with initiative does nothing except decide when voting takes places and the order people vote in. In short, it's an extra housekeeping task with not much to show for it. My suggestion would be replace it with a mechanism that more closely resembles the Speaker of the House / the influence of the whichever party is in control of the house. For example, the Leader has 2 bills in front of him/her and chooses one to be voted on. This opens up one more thing for people to negotiate over (see below). If you want to be fair, you can have the Leader role rotate around the group, which is quicker than figuring out who now has Initiative.

- Because there's a fixed victory point gain/loss for each player when a bill passes, some players may refuse to vote for a bill that will hurt them. Then it no longer becomes a game because players aren't making choices or negotiating; they're just following the VP track. I'm not really sure how to address this because that's sort of what happened in real life (though the actual reasons for congressional obstructionism are much deeper). Perhaps, after one game where students accomplish little, give them a hint that it may be in their best interest to trade voting for something that hurts them a little in return for someone else voting for something that helps them a lot.

- Victory is purely based on victory points, not the National Status Board. That means the country can rot as long as politicians don't get what they want. Actually, that also is fairly realistic. However, I would like to see a change to the victory conditions along the lines of, "If X Issues are in the red, all players lose." Basically, congressional approval rating tanks because they failed to accomplish anything. Yet most incumbents still keep their jobs...

- I would color code the Issues to make it easier to identify which is which. Also, I was initially confused because I thought the upper policy (e.g. Perservation) was associated with Green and the lower one (e.g. Development) was associated with Red. I would reorient that text so neither is closer to either color.

Now, the touchy politics side of the game:
- I object to Society being split into Progressivism and Values, as it implies progressives have no or bad values. Progressives have values, family and otherwise, they just happen to be different from people who claimed the term "family values." I would suggest Progressive vs. Traditional.

- People may argue over the impact of various bills. Unfortunately, I don't know the bills well enough to go through them closely, but I question whether repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell really was a Pacifism +2 move.
 
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Travis Worthington
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California
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2010 Releases ........................................ The Resistance, Haggis & Triumvirate ..................................... Now accepting submissions for 2011 releases ........................................ www.IndieBoardsandCards.com
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Eldard wrote:
For example, there's no reason for the Democratic policymakers to compromise or deal with the Republcans, and vice versa. Cards are drawn, votes are taken, one of the three Dem policymakers rolls a die for a random result.


That sounds like it almost perfectly represents what happens in congress!
 
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Sam Smith
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Wow! Thank you all for the very thoughtful points. I'll give my two cents here:

Scott--

There is a post on the Perfect Union site http://perfectuniongame.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/round-table... where I am hoping to centralize discussion. Thanks for your interest!

Bill--

1) The colors on the National Status Board do have connotations. Whether an Issue is green or red indicates that it is generally good or generally bad (quite an abstraction, I know!) and depends on the quality of the bills being passed. The quality of a bill and its impact on the National Status is weighed apolitically--either policy in a pair that make up an Issue will affect the National Status equally.

2)The policymakers are designed so that they are judged only by their (arguably) most treasured policy promises. This gives them a little bit more latitude than they assert in today's partisan lockstep. With most bills that come up the majority of policymakers do not have a direct Victory Point stake in the passage of a bill, although the higher probability of party colleagues sharing common ground and the chance of a bill changing the National Status Board will hopefully mean that every player will have to make a textured decision before they vote. Also, the chance of a bill changing the National Status Board might induce more bipartisan efforts.

3)I hope the age range of the game is 11+

4)A game of Perfect Union will make players more familiar with the legislation being covered and the power dynamics and players that were involved in the session.

Sean--

I would love to hear all input. The game is meant as a teaching aid, but it should be a fun game, too.

James--

The Initiative system could certainly use some work. Showing more bills at once could give the title more heft as well as wrinkling negotiations (I will vote with you on this bill if you vote with me on this bill we see coming down the line).

There is a fixed Victory Point value to bills being passed, but ultimately more Victory Points will come from bills that change the National Status. I'm banking on that possibility drawing players more into the open when negotiating.

I definitely understand your skepticism over some of the labeling. The rankings obviously reflect my subjective understanding of the issues, but I try to be as balanced as possible. Sometimes the labels subscribe to the general tone of political discourse (like Progressivism/Values or Engineering/Darwinism) even though that discourse is inaccurate on face. Militarism/Pacifism could probably be better expressed as Military Establishment/Military Reform. I also think that debates over the labels is a sort of good in itself. By the way, quality rankings reflect the scope of a bill as well as expressing a judgement of its historical functionality.

Travis--

Yes, it was difficult to design a game that didn't feel too much like today's legislative drudgery!

Again, many thanks for all of the valuable feedback.

--Sam

 
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Bill Eldard
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T Worthington wrote:
Eldard wrote:
For example, there's no reason for the Democratic policymakers to compromise or deal with the Republcans, and vice versa. Cards are drawn, votes are taken, one of the three Dem policymakers rolls a die for a random result.


That sounds like it almost perfectly represents what happens in congress!


That's a fair statement.

I think that there's a trap in using real politicians as the policymakers, because the the issues tend to align more along pparty lines. I would make fictitious policymakers, and mix up the issues of each so that there is no obvious alignment.

If that's done, then there's no need for a National Status Track. Politicians merely score victories; most victories wins.

I might even have sets of Docket cards for each policymaker, presenting bills they want to introduce. Let him/her introduce bills from a fixed hand, and get an extra victory point for getting the bill passed. Let the bill-sponsorship rotate clockwise like many card games do. This would eliminate the randomness of the Docket deck.

The Docket deck also needs some adjusting. Right now, I see a bias toward the Green side of the National Status Track.

ALL RED ISSUE CARDS = 4

ALL GREEN ISSUE CARDS = 20

SPLIT RED/GREEN ISSUE CARDS = 7

The mix puts the policymakers with mostly Red issues at a distinct disadvantage.

Of course, if the game is intended to have a political message, that mix works.
 
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Bret Clifton
United States
Spokane Valley
Washington
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This looks like a great idea. As a former teacher of Government, I'm all for this! I will take a look later when I have time. Best of luck!
 
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