I have been cooking this review for a while, waiting to get more plays and to explore more of this game's strategy, and finally after a total of 10 plays I feel confident enough to proceed.
I'll start with a detailed overview of the game and its rules, and then I will proceed with my analysis.· Overview - (Feel free to skip this part if you know how to play)
Divided Republic recreates the 1860 US Presidential campaign.
The candidates vie for control of the States that were part of the US. In the real election the States were 33, but in the game it is possible for Kansas and/or Nevada to be admitted to the Union during the campaign.
Map and cube placement at the beginning of the game.
The four candidates are Abraham Lincoln (Republicans)
, Stephen Douglas (Northern Democrats)
, John Cabell Breckinridge (Southern Democrats)
and John Bell (Constitutional Unionists)
A state's colour denotes its region
: Northeast (NE)
, Mid-Atlantic (MA)
, Middle West (MW)
, Upper South (US)
, Lower South (LS)
and Pacific West (PW)
. Nevada enters the Union as part of PW, Kansas as part of MW.
Cubes represent the political influence a candidate holds on a state. Small cubes are worth 1, and big cubes are worth 5.
Each state grants a number of electors (in brackets after the state's name; they depend on the state's population), and has a number denoting the minimum amount of cubes needed to control the state (and receive its electors at the end of the game).
are represented on the map by a coloured eagle's head. The stronghold's owner will win the state if he has at least the minimum amount of cubes needed for control.
Tennessee has 12 electors and requires a minimum of 4 cubes for control; it is Bell's stronghold (green eagle head); the Republicans were absent from the ballots of states with an asterisk, so they cannot add cubes here
The campaign lasts 6 turns, every turn consisting of 5 action phases, during which each candidate (their order mirroring the Momentum Table) plays one of their cards.
The candidates start with 7 cards in hand, and draw to replenish their hands (to 6 cards) at the beginning of each subsequent turn. The player first in Momentum draws one more.
The CardsCards can be played for their value or for the event they describe
. Asterisks denote events that can be used only once.
Example: this card grants 4 influence, or the one-time (note the asterisk) Nevada Statehood event. If the candidate decides to use the event, Nevada enters the Union and this card is removed from the deck.
Adding cubes to uncontrolled states or states that you control costs 1 influence. You have to pay 1 more influence for every cube played in a state another candidate controls, and the same is true for placing cubes in states of different regions.
For example, let's see how many cubes Lincoln
could add by playing Nevada Statehood for 4 influence.
He could place 4 cubes in Ohio, as the state is uncontrolled (no party has reached the minimum).
He could place 4 cubes in Illinois (which is controlled by him, so cubes still cost 1 influence each).
He could place 2 cubes in Iowa, as Bell
controls the state, so cubes cost 2 influence each for Lincoln.
He could place 3 cubes in Indiana, as the first costs 2 (Douglas
controlled the state), and subsequent cubes cost 1, as Douglas isn't in control anymore.
Or he could place 1 cube in Illinois and 1 in Kentucky, as adding cubes to Kentucky now costs Lincoln 3 influence (+1 because Breckinridge
controls Kentucky, and +1 because he changed region, for a total of 3).
A platform speech
allows a candidate to add or remove influence to any party within a region. Once add/remove, target party and region have been chosen, the candidate rolls a die and adds it to the speech's regional modifier (between +0 and +2, depending on the relevance of the speech's topic in that region). The result is the amount of influence that can be added or removed. The target party decides which cubes to remove in the given region.
Example: Lincoln plays the "Tariffs" speech to increase his party's influence in the Northeast. He rolls a 3, so he can place a total of 5 (3 + 2) influence in the region.
A regional polling
evaluates the situation in each state of the polled region.
If no one controls it, nothing happens.
If a candidate controls it by having at least the minimum amount of cubes and more than any other, he receives that state's card.
If a candidate controls it and has at least twice as many cubes as needed for control, that state is locked and will vote for him during the presidential election.
Example: by playing regional polling in Mid-Atlantic, Douglas locks Pennsylvania and gains 27 electoral votes.
The publisher posted the game's cards here
(there are a few duplicates).
draws one more card each turn.Douglas
can decide which cubes to remove when he plays a speech.Breckinridge
doesn't pay extra costs when placing cubes in multiple regions.Bell
wins ties in MA, US and PW, provided he has at least one cube in the state (but strongholds trump his power).
Candidates (with the exception of Lincoln) have one personal appearance
. It can be used to cancel an opponent's action, double a card's value, or re-roll any dice.
***· Production qualityThe board is thick
, but lacks finishing on the sides, so you are advised to avoid exposing it to high humidity.The map is a very nice piece of artwork
, which is good as you stare at it for long amounts of time. Its only drawback is that while the central-west US are rather empty (plenty of territories who had yet to become states) the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are a bit cramped
and states like Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland are too small to hold their cubes, which means we usually play them on the states' labels (which works).The play aids are very well done
, and successfully explain most of the rules in a single page. The back side contains more information on the parties' and candidates' history.
The state reference cards are a nice and useful addition.
The cards seem to come from two different prints with slightly different colours, but you barely notice. As the difference is slight and as this affects half the deck, you cannot gain any knowledge about what is in your opponent's hand.
I found the cubes to be enough for both 3 and 4 players. If you're going to play this with 2 players, I'd suggest to adjust the value of the big cubes to 4 (instead of 5), as otherwise you may end up a bit short.
I wish there was a little more space on the tray, to allow for sleeved cards to stay inside, but apart from this the design is fine and everything fits well.
This hasn't been a big problem for us, but the manual isn't always perfectly clear
and sometimes events' consequences don't explain special cases, which means players will have to agree on how to proceed or search on the rules forums
how to resolve some issues (which is why there are a lot of rules questions here on BGG).
***· Theme and Feel
In 1860 Lincoln obtained an easy victory, especially after the split among the democrats that killed their already low chances. Of course (thankfully) the game makes the election a much more balanced affair.
You can feel the election theme, which is conveyed well by cards and events.
The game seems to be a bit more restrained in bringing out the climate of the time. There is the threat of secession looming on the players and there are a few events that recall a bit the situation (Abolitionist Intrigues
, Secessionist Intrigues
, Damned Yankees!
, Bleeding Kansas
, John Brown's Body
), but this part of the theme could probably have been pushed a little bit more aggressively.
But this is just a little remark, and I like the game for what it is.
The rules (11.1) state that in case of an Electoral Tie (no party has the majority of electoral votes available), if there isn't a party controlling most states, everyone loses. This is a bad idea. Fortunately, the designer has already proposed a tiebreaker variant here
. My suggestion is to ignore the rules and use this variant instead. Games that end in a random defeat for everyone are more likely to leave a sour mouth.
Instead, South Carolina's secession (everyone loses) feels sound as a mechanic, as it can be avoided and helps grounding the game in the period.
Bell seems to be a little bit underpowered, he starts first in momentum but with less cubes (and more badly positioned ones), and his special power is the one that got used less in my games (a grand total of 0 times in 8 4p games). He does have one exceptional event in his favour (The Union Above All Else
), but so does Douglas (The Little Giant
). Allowing him to place 4 more cubes during the set up of the game might help balance things better.
Some cards' values should be readjusted. One example to make it clear: John Brown's Body
(blocks for this turn adding cubes to a region among NE, MW, US, LS) is currently worth 2, while Abolitionists Rally Around Gerrit Smith
(blocks for this turn adding cubes to a single state in NE) is worth 3. It is clear that the first event is more flexible and powerful, so I'd suggest to exchange their cards' values.
The various Senator's Endorsement
(one for each region) and most of the one-use endorsements by historical figures (Jefferson Davies, James Buchanan, ...) are usually among the first events played; Endorsement: James Buchanan
stays strong for more, as it helps tip the balance in contested slave states; finally, the two Governor's Endorsement
are treasured towards the end, especially in the last turn, after you lock someone out of his region (or something similar).
If someone is adding cubes to undisputed states they control in a single region, they might be sitting on that region's regional polling card (or they have one of the events that move the polling to a different region) and preparing to lock their states. If you aren't under attack elsewhere, it might be a good idea to add cubes to the states you control in that same region to be able to lock them.
Your personal appearance is very powerful and should be used sparingly; in general, it is most effective in the last turn, when it's harder for your opponents to counterbalance it. The card Speaking Tour
allows you to get one more (or one, if you're Lincoln); if you get it, I strongly advise you to use it.
Locking someone to a single region (Coal Shortage
) or out of half of the country (Uncle Tom's Cabin Reprinted
, Underground Railroad
) for a turn can be beneficial and may help forming alliances against runaway leaders (as everyone is free to pick on them with a minimal chance of retaliation).The Accursed Three.
For each of Virginia, Ohio and Indiana there is an event that takes away half of the controller's influence (rounded up) and gives it to who played the event. Those are, respectively, Coal Miners Demand Better Treatment
, Radicals in Cincinnati
and Railroad Strike
. This means that usually these states are among the last to be taken (unless someone has the event in hand), and that the controller tries to keep an even number of cubes there, to minimize damage.Californian Gambit.
If you have the Pacific West regional polling card in the first turn, it's good to get California and lock it, as that will probably make you first in Momentum; your lead will also be a small one, so it shouldn't be hard to slide back to one of the last positions, which are better for the last turn.Southern Sweep.
A good strategy for Breckinridge (sometimes in collaboration with Bell) is to quickly lock the Lower South; there are 7 lockable states there, and they take only 38 cubes (Breckinridge can already have 11 cubes in LS at the beginning of the game); this has the side effect of making South Carolina harder to hold (speeches in LS will only target that state, if the others are all locked), but allows you to concentrate elsewhere for the rest of the game.
***· Comparison with 19601960: The Making of the President
is another area control card-driven US presidential election boardgame. How do they compare with each other?
Work on Divided Republic started before the release of 1960, so while similar, the games didn't influence each other. And indeed, they are two very different beasts.
To me, 1960 is a well engineered machine that lets you play once more the script of 1960's historical election. The events must repeat and shape the game every time.
Divided Republic is much more freeform and sandboxy: anything can happen. And anything will happen if you just let it. In addition, Divided Republic is mostly a 4 player game, so its dynamics are different, allowing unstable alliances, broken promises, and a layer of metagame.
I haven't yet played this 2p, but it seems to be best with 4p
: there are much more interplay and diplomacy between the players. It takes around 2 and a half hours with new players, but you'll soon be able to play it in 2 hours
The whole group liked the game a lot, and it has been our first choice for the last two months. Even after a few plays it feels still fresh and interesting. There are many choices and many possibilities for interactions between cards, so for us the game has a good replay value
, and it will keep hitting the table.
The game is not perfect, but it is a very good debut for designer Alex Bagosy. An advanced deck is being prepared, and it might be a very good chance to fix some small problems and make this an even more worthy game.
I'm very happy to have supported this on Kickstarter, and I'd like to thank Numbskull
for publishing the game. Also, I'm interested in what Alex will do next, both regarding this game and his other projects.