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Subject: Why I think Swing States 2012 is the next great solo experience rss

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Michael F
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I'm going to preface this review by saying that American politics fascinate me. Not necessarily the politicians themselves or what goes on behind closed doors, but the way the United States' political system is made up is interesting to me. This is why when I heard about Swing States 2012, I was immediately intrigued by it. Not only was this a solo game, but it allowed you to play as actual politicians in a presidential campaign simulator of sorts. I watched a couple of reviews on it, and that was enough to get me to order the game.

Component-wise, this game really isn't that outstanding. It really astounds me that Victory Point Games is still issuing games without boxes and without dice (Even though my copy came with 2 extremely small dice. They do the job, but they were quickly replaced). The 2 boards, if you can call them that, are almost paper-thin, and can be easily bent if you aren't careful with them. Everything else is of average cardboard quality, except for the actual cards in the game. They're of an awkward thickness that makes them durable, but somewhat difficult to shuffle. Still, aside from there not being a box with this game, I was mostly happy with the quality.

The game comes with rules for a regular game and a game where you're allowed to use actual politicians who were involved in the 2012 presidential election. I would recommend that unless it's your first game that you should play with a presidential and vice-presidential candidate. I found it interesting that there were far more Republican candidates than Democratic ones, outnumbering the Democrats 7 (Or was it 8?) to 3. Granted it wasn't as if the Democrats were challenging for the White House that year, but this game comes with variations to make that possible. More on that later.

Each candidate has skills that reflect their real life persona. For instance, Joe Biden is a vice-presidential candidate that has an easier time swaying voters, but can sometimes get you penalized for running his mouth too much. Another example is Rick Perry, a presidential candidate, who has a lot of financial backing, but tends to do very poorly in the debates ("Oops..."). Although the rulebook says that playing with the included candidates instead of just being a vanilla one with no positives and negatives may make the game unbalanced, I think it is imperative to play this way for thematic purposes. I've been able to win with every candidate I've tried (All but 2), so there definitely aren't any that feel under-powered. My only complaint with the candidates is that the vice-presidential options are printed on the back of the presidential ones (2 VP candidates are on the back of each presidential candidate card). This makes it so it's impossible to have certain combinations, like if you wanted to do a Mitt Romney/Jeb Bush campaign, because Bush is on the back of Romney's card.

If you're someone who enjoys games like Pandemic or Flash Point: Fire Rescue, you will enjoy this game for the mechanics, if nothing else. The country is divided up into 5 regions (North, South, West, East, Midwest, and Border states (Which is the Mid-Atlantic states, basically)). Each region has a tracker on it that will decide how influential you are in certain regions. If the marker falls below the bottom of the track, it will effect a neighboring region's influence. The same goes if you go higher than the track allows in a particular region; You will raise your influence in a neighboring region.

The game hits hard, fast, and repetitively. Every turn you will draw a card, and about 80% of the time it will be something bad. Occasionally you will draw a partisan card to your political party or a card that allows you a surrogate or super pac, but otherwise you'll be getting a card that may lower your influence in certain regions. Occasionally you will get debate cards as well, which can help in raising money for your campaign. In addition to all this, you've got your opponents campaigning in different regions (Thus making successful campaigning on your part that much harder) and scandals that will pop up occasionally. You can mitigate the luck of this game somewhat, however, by either investing in your war chest (future campaign funds), or by doing research on the opposition. The latter is kind of a gamble, because sometimes you won't find anything. Other times you may find a card that will require the candidate's token to move back to their headquarters to deal with a scandal of their own. You may even get certain cards on your opponent that will raise your influence in certain regions towards the end of the game (Deemed "October Surprises"). Through all this, you must handle your finances well so that you can maximize the effectiveness of your campaigning actions.

If your markers are ever all at their lowest level in each region, you lose...just like if they are all ever at their highest, you win. If there is no clear winner by election day, you go to the polls. There will be contested states that you will fight over, but otherwise you count up your electoral votes to see if you are the winner.


What I Enjoyed About This Game


1 I love the flavor of all the different candidates. Each one feels different from the rest, and, most importantly, their abilities all make sense.

2 I like that you can form your own "dream ticket" with different presidential and vice-presidential candidates. Did you ever want to see Obama run with Hillary Clinton as his VP? Now you can.

3 I like that you can really set the stage going into the election. You can decide if a Democrat or a Republican is currently in office (Or is just now leaving office). This affects the economy cards more than anything else. Depending on your position, bull and bear cards will affect you differently.

4 This is just a great solo presidential campaign game with a lot of depth and strategy. Replay value is high as well. This is a great game to pull out whenever you need to kill 30 minutes. I rank it among games like Onirim, Friday, and Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game as a great portable solo game.

5 The way this game is designed, a lot of the candidates could still be relevant in the next election. Even if they aren't, I could see this easily becoming a series of games that gets a new update with each presidential election that happens.

6 Lastly, I think it's awesome that this game came with a candidate generator. You can basically design your own presidential and vice presidential candidates to run as, giving this game even more mileage into future elections. While I haven't done this yet, I'm going to dabble into it soon, and I'm very excited about it. If you wanted to, you could set up the 2008 election with the Republicans having the White House, and create Sarah Palin and John McCain to run as. The possibilities of this game are incredibly vast.


What I Didn't Like About This Game


1 The theme is not going to appeal to everyone. That alone makes this game a difficult one to recommend.

2 The rulebook is probably the most difficult one I've ever had to read, just edging out Mage Knight Board Game in difficulty. In addition to that, there are a LOT of rules to remember in this game. Don't be surprised if it takes you a few plays before you remember every little nuance about the game. This game is really easy to run through once you have everything down, but don't let the "4 out of 10" in complexity that VP Games rates this fool you. If you play through the game and you found it to be too easy, you probably misunderstood a rule or two.

3 Component quality could be a lot better. I know Victory Point Games has a history of this, but with Kickstarter and everything coming out with so many amazing components, VP Games really needs to start stepping it up in this department. Games should always come a box and dice, if they're required to play.

4 I wish that more Democratic candidates came with the game to balance out the number of Republican candidates. Again, I realize that this is a product of the political climate in 2012, but I'm sure that there are more than 3 Democrats out there who have the credentials to be president at that time. This is more of a minor complaint than anything else, because I actually enjoy playing as the Republicans more, since they need more electoral votes to win, and are thus the more difficult party to play as.

5 This is more of a suggestion than a complaint, but I would like to see rules come out for a 2-player game. It just feels weird how the cards are always disrupting your influence, but never your opponent's. This is something I'd like to see if there is ever a Swing States 2016.

6 This game can sometimes feel like a borderline dice fest. You are constantly rolling dice for just about every action you take. In addition to this, sometimes the way things will play out will totally lock you out of a region, making gaining support there impossible for a turn or two. There are ways to mitigate the luck, but if you don't enjoy rolling dice, you probably won't enjoy this game.


In Conclusion


If you can't tell already, I really enjoy Swing States 2012. It has quickly become one of my favorite solitare games in my collection. It has solid mechanics, the replay value is immense, and it doesn't take long at all to play. Even if you don't enjoy the theme, this is the closest thing to being able to carry a portable version of Pandemic or Flash Point: Fire Rescue around with you, and that alone makes this game worth your time to check out. Swing States 2012 rates a solid 8 for me, and has been one of my favorite games I've played this year. If you enjoy political games or games where you are constantly on the defense of all the bad things that can happen to you, then I would highly recommend checking out Swing States 2012. I hope you enjoyed my review, and I hope that I was able to keep my political views from biasing what I said.
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Alan Emrich
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Still, aside from there not being a box with this game, I was mostly happy with the quality.

Games should always come a box and dice, if they're required to play.

--------

Clearly you ordered the less expensive, polybag packaged version of the game. The game has ALWAYS been available in a BOXED version, including full-size dice. See this site: http://victorypointgames.com/details.php?prodId=210

Regarding the candidate cards, a lot of republicans threw their hat in the ring, while there was little discussion of democrat contenders to the incumbent president. There's really not much more that we can do about that, short of give you the candidate design tools, which we did.

As for the difficulty, the designers are both pretty hard core wargame types, and there was only so much "massaging" during development that could be done to make is less complex. The depth of the simulation is born out of the complex interactions in the game's systems, yet once you learn the dance steps, the songs play easy. That's why the rules are brimming with examples (including an extended example of gameplay) and there are player aids on the components to help you. You should never have to reference the rules after a game or two.

This is a very creative challenge to develop, and I'm glad that you're happy with he result.

Alan Emrich
Developer, Swing States 2012

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Michael F
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Hi Alan,

Somehow I knew I would get a response from VP Games

Just wanted to make a couple of quick points on your feedback.


Alan Emrich wrote:

Clearly you ordered the less expensive, polybag packaged version of the game. The game has ALWAYS been available in a BOXED version, including full-size dice. See this site: http://victorypointgames.com/details.php?prodId=210



I realize that there are boxed and unboxed versions available, BUT I have received both of my VP Games from sites other than the VP site itself, and both did not come with boxes, nor did they give me the option of purchasing one. Yes, boxed versions have always been available, but not from what I've seen outside the VP Site. If you can direct me to a site that sells boxed versions of these games for a cheaper yet comparable price to VP Games' site, I would be happy to go there for my future games from this company.

The reason I point this out is because the difference in price between the boxed and unboxed versions is only a few dollars, and I don't see why, with that small margin, VP Games is still offering the two versions of their games. Other than maybe one or two other game companies out there, this seems like it should be a thing of the past. I don't claim to be an expert; This is just my observation as someone who has purchased some of VP Games' products. The price difference doesn't seem substantial enough to warrant both versions.


Alan Emrich wrote:

As for the difficulty, the designers are both pretty hard core wargame types, and there was only so much "massaging" during development that could be done to make is less complex. The depth of the simulation is born out of the complex interactions in the game's systems, yet once you learn the dance steps, the songs play easy. That's why the rules are brimming with examples (including an extended example of gameplay) and there are player aids on the components to help you. You should never have to reference the rules after a game or two.



This game flows very smoothly once you have the rules down. If I didn't state that in my review, I will state that now. If the game didn't play smoothly, I would not enjoy the game as much as I do.

I apologize for not discussing the examples found in the rule book. However, as someone who was learning the rules by way of reading the rule book by itself, the examples did nothing to clarify whatever points I had just read. It almost felt like I was reading another language. I ended up having to set up the game and play along to the rulebook as I did so. Even then I had a tough time getting every nuance down. Had the rule book been expanded on to where there could have been pictures to help illustrate the points and examples being made, I would have a better opinion of the rule book. Tom Vassel referenced this in his review as well, so I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Again, I really enjoyed the game once I got the rules down, but getting there seemed much more difficult than it needed to be.


Alan Emrich wrote:

This is a very creative challenge to develop, and I'm glad that you're happy with he result.



I am, and I thank you and the developers for making such a great game
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Alan Emrich
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"I realize that there are boxed and unboxed versions available, BUT I have received both of my VP Games from sites other than the VP site itself, and both did not come with boxes, nor did they give me the option of purchasing one."

Strange. We sell EXCLUSIVELY boxed games to our distributors. Only a few "grandfathered in" stores still carry our bagged games, such as Noble Knight, Cool Stuff and NWS Simulations...


"Yes, boxed versions have always been available, but not from what I've seen outside the VP Site. If you can direct me to a site that sells boxed versions of these games for a cheaper yet comparable price to VP Games' site, I would be happy to go there for my future games from this company."

You can try one of the above outlets; they SHOULD be able to offer you both boxed and bagged versions of our games. I know Naval Warfare Simulations does, for sure. Your Friendly Local Game Store will always have the BOXED versions of our games.


The reason I point this out is because the difference in price between the boxed and unboxed versions is only a few dollars, and I don't see why, with that small margin, VP Games is still offering the two versions of their games. Other than maybe one or two other game companies out there, this seems like it should be a thing of the past. I don't claim to be an expert; This is just my observation as someone who has purchased some of VP Games' products. The price difference doesn't seem substantial enough to warrant both versions.

Let me share the view from the "inside looking out," then.

We have built up a customer base who like polybagged games. That probably comes as no surprise as we've been in business over 5 years now. These customers like the portability of a bagged (backpack, briefcase, suitcase) and/or that they take up less space in their already crowded game shelves.

Also, many of our overseas customers like to order the bagged versions of our games, as they arrive in padded envelopes instead of boxes and, packaged thus, might sometimes evade a higher value added tax. That is, the chance of the postal inspector "missing" that there's a valuable game in there instead of some lower-taxed book or magazine, is worth a die roll to them...

In addition, much of our back-catalog is bagged games, and there is no marginal increase in costs for us to offer our current games in both versions and letting the customer decide.

Fair enough?

Finally, the dearth of illustrations among the myriad short examples relates, of course, to the fact that there is very little "movement" in this game. Placement, yes; position, yes; die rolls, plenty... but no real "sweep of movement" that demands illustration.

Alan Emrich
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Morten Monrad Pedersen
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Alan Emrich wrote:
they take up less space in their already crowded game shelves.


This one is important to me, but for some weird reason what is even more important to me is that I think that there's some extra old school charm in the polybag versions. To me they help set VPG games apart as something special and niche, where gameplay is more important than components ("The gameplay's the thing"). I know that this probably sounds weird, but that's how I feel .

From a monetary perspective the price difference for Swing States is $4 which becomes £4 when it hits Europe, where I live. If I buy a batch of lets say 5 VPG games then I'm paying £20 (roughly $30, or about the price of an extra polybag game) for 5 boxes that I think detracts from the value of the product .

And no, I don't think that it's a serious issue, and it doesn't stop me from buying VPG games, but I do pick the polybag version when my VPG pusher (boardgameguru.co.uk) has them.
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Daniel Drickman
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Alan, I think there was a small period of time when you first switched to gold banner where a store like CSI sold the polybag edition. I could be wrong though, that's just what I am remembering.
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Dave Daffin
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Good review.

As a Brit,the American election process remains unfathomable, but fascinating all the same.

I think this may be an interesting game to try and understand what actually happens. And any game that has a character called Mitt Romney has to be considered a must to play!

If only the game had some way of representing the unforgettable image of the campaigning Al Gore and his sweaty 'pits!

As for the issue of VPG bagged games, I don't mind them at all. I appreciate the portability, as I work away from home a lot and it's easier to transport the games in that format. It's all about the game and its playability at the end of the day. My only comment on the bagged games is that the bags are just a bit too small. I am always struggling to get my game rules and their card boards back into the bags without scuffing and damaging them. I have managed to purchase a few VPG game boxes to store some of my bagged games, which is a better way of storage.

So for that reason I really appreciate the introduction of the boxed versions of many VPG games, which provide durability and excellent production quality.
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Ed R
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Thanks for the review. This game has been on my radar for awhile now.
 
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Michael F
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Alan Emrich wrote:

Strange. We sell EXCLUSIVELY boxed games to our distributors. Only a few "grandfathered in" stores still carry our bagged games, such as Noble Knight, Cool Stuff and NWS Simulations...


I purchased Darkest Night (First edition) through Amazon, who sent me a bagged edition when there was no specification on whether the game would be bagged or not. I purchased this game through a small game store that was selling a copy here on BGG. I again received a bagged edition when there was no option for one or the other. I think that there are more than a few distributors that are carrying bagged editions of these games.

Alan Emrich wrote:

You can try one of the above outlets; they SHOULD be able to offer you both boxed and bagged versions of our games. I know Naval Warfare Simulations does, for sure. Your Friendly Local Game Store will always have the BOXED versions of our games.


I will keep that in mind. However, I have only seen games from VPG carried in one FLGS in my area, and they were all displayed in bagged editions. I'm sure I could have them order the boxed versions of these games, but I feel I must point this out because I have never seen boxed versions of any VPG games in any game store I have visited.


Alan Emrich wrote:

Let me share the view from the "inside looking out," then.

We have built up a customer base who like polybagged games. That probably comes as no surprise as we've been in business over 5 years now. These customers like the portability of a bagged (backpack, briefcase, suitcase) and/or that they take up less space in their already crowded game shelves.

Also, many of our overseas customers like to order the bagged versions of our games, as they arrive in padded envelopes instead of boxes and, packaged thus, might sometimes evade a higher value added tax. That is, the chance of the postal inspector "missing" that there's a valuable game in there instead of some lower-taxed book or magazine, is worth a die roll to them...

In addition, much of our back-catalog is bagged games, and there is no marginal increase in costs for us to offer our current games in both versions and letting the customer decide.

Fair enough?



After reading some of the other comments here, I'm surprised that there are those who prefer the bagged versions, even if they are all from overseas countries. I'm sure there are those who prefer them here in the states, because, as you said, some people enjoy the portability of these versions of the game. I would be very interested to know the statistics behind who buys the boxed versions versus the bagged versions here in the states...keeping in mind the fact that boxed versions aren't available everywhere.


Alan Emrich wrote:

Finally, the dearth of illustrations among the myriad short examples relates, of course, to the fact that there is very little "movement" in this game. Placement, yes; position, yes; die rolls, plenty... but no real "sweep of movement" that demands illustration.



How do you differentiate the placement and position of pieces without movement coming into play? I'm sorry, but that's poor reasoning. I'm not saying that examples "demand" illustration, but I think they certainly help with any game. Even if you don't think it needs it.

Look, I know that VPG representatives like to come on here and defend their games when users point out flaws in their reviews. Frankly, this makes me look at VPG with less respect. Why should I promote your games with a review if I'm just going to get critiqued by a VPG representative who obviously knows the game better than I do? Why aren't the positive things I say taken into account, too? I'm just curious, because every review I've seen done on a VPG game always has one of their employees chiming in about how their criticisms aren't entirely correct. I'm not trying to belittle you nor your game. I'm just trying to spread the word about it because I enjoy it so much.
 
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Morten Monrad Pedersen
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newkillerstar27 wrote:
Alan Emrich wrote:

Finally, the dearth of illustrations among the myriad short examples relates, of course, to the fact that there is very little "movement" in this game. Placement, yes; position, yes; die rolls, plenty... but no real "sweep of movement" that demands illustration.



How do you differentiate the placement and position of pieces without movement coming into play? I'm sorry, but that's poor reasoning. I'm not saying that examples "demand" illustration, but I think they certainly help with any game. Even if you don't think it needs it.

Look, I know that VPG representatives like to come on here and defend their games when users point out flaws in their reviews. Frankly, this makes me look at VPG with less respect. Why should I promote your games with a review if I'm just going to get critiqued by a VPG representative who obviously knows the game better than I do? Why aren't the positive things I say taken into account, too? I'm just curious, because every review I've seen done on a VPG game always has one of their employees chiming in about how their criticisms aren't entirely correct. I'm not trying to belittle you nor your game. I'm just trying to spread the word about it because I enjoy it so much.


I don't think that you should view this as you being critiqued. I see it as Alan explaining the reasoning behind VPG's decisions.

Personally I appreciate that, because I think it's interesting to hear the designer's/developer's/publisher's reasons for doing things and it can lead to interesting discussions.

With that said it's generally recommended not to engage reviews in discussions about their critique, because a lot of people sees that as attacks on the reviewer or a failure to be able to accept criticisms.

So personally when I do reviews or blog posts, I really appreciate responses like the one Alan made here, but as general business advice I would advice everyone to refrain from such posts.

Regarding your question: "Why aren't the positive things I say taken into account, too?" Then I don't think it's a matter of taking the positive and negative things you say into account. The response is not about you at all, as I said it's most likely an explanation of why VPG chose to do the things that can be considered negatives, so that we all might get a broader perspective on the matter, and for the positives, well there's probably not much point in going on about those, since you two probably agree about those, so Alan would just be repeating what you wrote and wouldn't be contributing anything new.
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Alan Emrich
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Without knowing the specific stores in your case, I really can't do much to figure how why bagged games are haunting you... I just know what we move out the shipping door to wholesalers, and it's all boxed games. Granted, we're not in every FLGS yet, but we're just now starting to reach more than ever before, so give us time with that.

"After reading some of the other comments here, I'm surprised that there are those who prefer the bagged versions,"

I wish I could remember the BGG thread I was just on yesterday where they were cheering our bagged games! Well, we offer both boxed and bagged games because people like them both, believe me.

> but no real "sweep of movement" that demands illustration.

"How do you differentiate the placement and position of pieces without movement coming into play? I'm sorry, but that's poor reasoning. I'm not saying that examples "demand" illustration, but I think they certainly help with any game. Even if you don't think it needs it."

Ah! I said "sweep of movement." My point is that players can visualize in text when a move a marker up or down a single box. An illustration doesn't add much to the discussion but does add to the rules weight in cases like that. "sweep of movement" is something moving several space that require visualization to trace, so thus an illustration is more likely "demanded."

"I know that VPG representatives like to come on here and defend their games when users point out flaws in their reviews. Frankly, this makes me look at VPG with less respect. Why should I promote your games with a review if I'm just going to get critiqued by a VPG representative who obviously knows the game better than I do? Why aren't the positive things I say taken into account, too? I'm just curious, because every review I've seen done on a VPG game always has one of their employees chiming in about how their criticisms aren't entirely correct. I'm not trying to belittle you nor your game. I'm just trying to spread the word about it because I enjoy it so much."

Um... I'm explaining our business and style guide policies, so that people can understand the WHY of the points you've raised. By the tenor of this post, it's clear you're taking this as a personal attack, which my replies were never meant to be.

I don't see reviews as "promoting games," but expressions of opinions about them. Reviewers are seldom promoters or cheerleaders.

And yours is a good review, but point-by-point kudos for accuracy are really a waste of time, don't you think? It is probably better for the discussion that I explain the points you raised where I can add something to the conversation.

I'm very sorry indeed to make you so defensive. These are certainly NOT meant as attacks on my part, as noted, above. So, I'll tell you what... I plan to just lurk now and leave you alone.

I wish to very humbly and deeply thank you for playing our games, and even more so for taking the considerable time and effort to review them. It means a lot to me and everyone here at The Little Game Company.

Alan Emrich
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Jan Salomonsson
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Alan Emrich wrote:

Also, many of our overseas customers like to order the bagged versions of our games, as they arrive in padded envelopes instead of boxes and, packaged thus, might sometimes evade a higher value added tax. That is, the chance of the postal inspector "missing" that there's a valuable game in there instead of some lower-taxed book or magazine, is worth a die roll to them...


This being dragged across the sky by reindeer, with bells on it,
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