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LOBstercon Nov 2012 Blog Post 4 of 5

Alec Chapman
United Kingdom
Lincolnshire
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Day 3: I may be the junior partner in this coalition, but at least I'm in government

By Day Three, Saturday, I think our hostess finally realised that Chris and I, rather than sharing a twin room out of mutual attraction, had instead taken what could best be described as "an extreme economical step" and booked a room together out of cheapness.

She seemed a bit less interested in us and what we were doing after that.

So, as I said in my last blog post, we had signed up for the monstrous eurogame of eurogames - Die Macher.

Now, if you aren't aware of Die Macher I can hardly blame you - it sounds pretty dry being about the way German political parties are elected and the importance of coalitions to that process; it lasts five hours; there are no explosions.

Because Die Macher is a serious game, I wore my reading glasses. Seriously. For two days of gaming I hadn't even put them on once until now.

All these negative and sterile sounding things that should be tempered by a simple statement: the game is awesome. Just freaking awesome.

Now, a few caveats.

First, the group should all get along and be good humoured. Holy cow I'd hate to play this game for five hours of passive aggressive sniping.

Second, the group should play at a reasonable speed and take breaks at the same time. This way a long game doesn't become an endurance exercise. I am pretty sure that in my previous game I jumped up a couple of spaces at the end (finishing, I think, third?) purely because the relevant opponents were close to expiring from mental exhaustion.

Third, don't get drunk. You will lose.

In this particular play only Soren and I had played before, and several years before at that so the loooooooooong rules explanation had to be gotten out of the way first.

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One of the friendliest aspects of Die Macher and therefore the easiest to get your head around is that it is essentially a series of contests over area control, albeit with a multiplier in the case of voting. This is also its weakness of course - you are essentially doing the same 12 step(?) process six times.

The thing I like most about it is that you can affect the future - so if you have a low chance of winning in the current election you can easily gain yourself an improved position on the next. BUT! you don't know the whole future, there being some hidden information right up until the end - it can be a risky business, betting on a future election!

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So in what ways can you gain points in Die Macher? It's important to keep these in mind because I didn't really follow the rule of scoring points in my first game, getting bogged down in enjoying the process and not really achieving any of the game conditions.

So... the ways you score points in this game are as follows:

1. Winning seats in elections
2. The number of party members you have (plus bonus points for the first and second highest count of these)
3. Sending media control markers from elections you won onto the main board
4. Matching National Issue Positions at the end of the game

So how can you actually achieve these? Well, I'll take them in turn.

1. To win seats you need votes.
You can gain votes through multiplying the number of party meeting cubes you paid to assign to the election by your current popularity in the region. (Popularity = Opinion score + matching issue positions - different issue positions)
You can also gain votes by sending one of your shadow cabinet members to get them - these are basically an identical deck for each party made up of powerful cards you can also use to get media control of an area, make an issue a "key" issue (doubling its value) etc. The more options on the card, the more expensive it is.

2. Party members are obtained by sacrificing an opinion poll or a potential party donor. There are also extra members available to those parties whose issue tableau matches the national board after each election. I hardly ever did this, hence why I had so few party members for much of the game.

3. You can move a media marker from an election you win (either alone or in coalition) onto the "national board". The early election wins get you more points on here - presumably because this story is out there for longer or something equally exciting. shake Neglect this aspect at your peril and also realise that in order to do this you have to have a media marker in the region to start with! Whoops cry

4. Throughout the game you will be trying to pander to local populations by switching your position on key issues at recent presidential candidate speed (bit of satire!). However, while this is all well and good, you will get a bonus number of party members (and at the end of the game, points) for keeping the national issues board in mind. To clarify what the hell an issue is - it's just a red or white card signifying whether you agree or disagree with particular policies such as GM crops (represented by the classic cuboid tomato) or defence (represented by a ridiculously unhelpful set of mini pictures) etc. You have a tableau in front of you with five of these (there are seven different ones in total so two of them are considered neutral) - representing your party platform. It is important that you balance the needs of building party members against the need to win local elections. This is central to the way the game works.

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If this sounds like a lot of moving parts, you will probably not enjoy the fact that all of these interact and all of them are affected by other aspects.

An example interaction: as well as giving you the ability to score points for victory in elections, numerical superiority in the media cubes additionally give you the ability to change one of the issues in the region - either to a contradictory one or perhaps to one that was not present in either white or red form before this change.

An example of an additional part: Opinion Polls - your popularity in a region can benefit or suffer at the hands of opinion polls. You bid for control of these and then decide to publish or not. If you publish you can move the popularity of a rival down, or assist a coalition partner or even, if you're like me - only bid for ones where you come out smelling of roses.

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I don't want to go into much more detail than this. You should be able to tell whether you would enjoy the game from these little details. It should be noted that like many modern games, the turns are multi stage and each player gets to do one stage before you move to the next, so there is very little downtime.

This is probably what is so exhausting about Die Macher. You are playing for five hours. Not playing for one hour and the others for the other four. Because of the way the parts interact most things you do will affect somebody's decisions - even if just that they give up on one election and move to the next.

We did not explore the coalitions aspect until half way through. There simply had not been any cards played that would make one happen.

This changed in election 6. Soren and I realised a mutual benefit of working together. Die Linken and Die Grunen (played by the two people at the table named Chris) had a coalition that looked unbeatable. I was sitting in dead last and Soren was probably in second. While I had played the elections reasonably, my national positioning had been poor and my party was quite small. In trying to regain some lost ground I had paid the price for a large external donation - a lot of my very few members had quit the party in disgust. It was pretty clear I was languishing in last place and something had to be done.

It made the most sense for Soren and I to combine our efforts, steal the election victory in number 6, get the media markers and favourable issues positions onto the national board. As it turned out, we annihilated them in the end, both of us getting the maximum number of votes before I realised I had not bought media in that area (ARGH!) which cost me several points though these would, in the end, prove to be moot.

We stormed the election in such style that we both gained 48 points and with a victory in the next election, Soren assured himself of a hefty victory. Did I kingmake? No. Because in the joint effort and due to our control of the issues board I secured myself a very creditable second place from dead last.

Sympathy has to go to the CDU/CSU who got everything blown off the issues board and replaced with contradictory positions just before the end, which cost him goodness knows how many points (I think around 80) - but politics is a cut throat game.

Final Scores:
Soren (SPD) - 351
Alec (FDP) - 288
Chris M.1 (Die Grunen) - 273
Chris M.2 (Die Linken) - 262
Richard (CDU/CSU) - 208

I wholeheartedly recommend this game to anyone going into it with open eyes and an open mind about the time and mental investment. It was perfect for the LOBStercon format and I reckon I'll try t again at the next one.

If you made it through all this I was going to include the rest of the day's gaming in this post but have reconsidered. Look out for post 4.5!
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