I played this game for the first time about a year and a half ago, and I really liked it. I think I tried really hard to trade for it in the 2011 Gen Con math trade after playing it, and then I did get it through a local con math trade this year. Since we mostly play together, we are always looking for great two player games. This is one of the best I had played, but I did have some concerns that my wife would like it. Over the summer, we played the some what similar Divided Republic and she did rate that game highly. This game me high hopes that this game had a great chance to become one of our favorite games. So is it?
In this game one player plays the Nixon campaign and the other plays the Kennedy campaign as they seek to get their candidate elected. This game is played over 9 turns, but two of them are special and different, so effectively there are 7 turns in this game. On each turn players will play five cards from their hand of six or seven.
When a card is played it can be used in one of two ways. First it can be used as the event printed on the card. These events will help or hurt a player in a variety of ways. Some events are persistent, which means they are saved until either the debate or election round.
The second way cards can be used is as CP (campaign Points). CP can be used to place cubes in three different ways. It can be used to place cubes in states. If a player has a majority of cubes in a state they are winning. If an opponent has cubes in that state then the act of placing one, removes and opponents cube. The board is divided in to regions, so if a player wants to place cubes in a region different than their current location they have to pay 1 CP to travel. If the opponent caries a state by having four or more cubes in it, then in order to place cubes a special check is made that involves pulling cubes out of a bag that gets seeded each turn.
CP can also be used to influence the issues. A player who is leading on one of three issues gets a bonus at the end of the round. These bonuses are momentum or endorsements. Momentum is powerful because it can be used to cancel opponent events or if an opponent plays a card for the CP value, a momentum marker can be used to play the event.
Finally, CP can be used on advertising. When cubes are spent on advertising, they protect the player in that region from having to make a supply check when challenging a state that the opponent is carrying.
After all players have taken their five actions, momentum that is lost (half of it anyway), then the issues are scored to see if momentum is gained. All of the rest cubes that players accumulated from cards played that round are seeded in the bag, new cards are dealt and a new round begins.
For the first four rounds the players will save their extra card for the debate. The debate is a separate mini-game that I will not go into much detail on. Players will play their saved cards to attempt to win the issues. When a player wins an issues they get extra influence cubes to put on the board.
In the final two rounds player get seven cards, and save two. These saved cards are used on election day to attempt to influence selected states. After the election round, the electoral college votes are added up and the player with 269 or more votes is the winner.
The Game We Played
I played as Kennedy and my wife played as Nixon. I began by placing cubes in the East region, making sure that I carried New York. My wife places at least one cube in all Western states before moving to the midwest. After placing cubes in the South and getting four cubes in Texas, I moved up to challenge my wife in the Midwest.
I wrestled control away of Illinois from her, and then had a great round where cards allowed me to get both Ohio and Michigan from her. While I was doing this, my wife attempted to disrupt my support in the South before moving to the East. This of course left to a lot of fighting over New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.
We got to the debates, and I emerged victorious winning on all three issues. At this point, my wife was getting extremely frustrated and I began to play some what sub optimally. Any particularly harmful event cards against her, I used for CP instead of the event. I also gave up the fight for the Eastern States, and moved to the West. on the last turn I used several high CP cards to remove her single cubes in many states. My last action was then playing a card that let me put a cube in each empty Western state. This gave me a lot of small states, but I gave up New York.
On the election round, I was able to get control of Delaware from my wife and she managed to get Texas from me with the cards and cube draws held back. We tallied up the electoral college votes. We had an extremely close game, and I ended up winning because I managed to get control of Alaska. Kennedy had 270 electoral votes to Nixon's 267.
My Rating: 4.5 (like it)
My Thoughts: I really like this game. Every single card play is an interesting and tense decision. There are so many ways a card can be used and each option has its own sets of pros and cons. I also like the back and forth interaction between the players. Both players have to pursue their own strategy, while always keeping an eye out for their opponent, and be ready to react to their events. Finally, I love the game's theme and just how well the historical context is implemented into the game.
Her Rating: 3.5 (It's OK)
Her Thoughts: This is a good, well designed game. Everything comes together really well, it is deep without being super complicated, and the game is engaging. However, I never want to play this game again. It is just to frustrating. I can not stand when someone messes with my stuff. I hate when I work so hard to get control of a state, just to have a single event card undo what I just did. When stuff like that happens it makes me want to scream and "flip the table" angry. This is a good game, but it is not a game for me.
Combined Rating: 8
I was a little afraid that my wife would have that kind of reaction to this game, especially after liking Divided Republic. I think the big difference is that in Divided Republic it is possible to lock a state down, so that it can not be messed with at all. I really like this game, but since it is a two player game that my wife will not play with me I will not get to play it much. The people that I will be most likely to play this game with in the future, already own it so it seems the smartest thing might be to trade it away.