(In this issue, Ben Baldanza eyes Election USA, an English take on the US Presidential election. In our series of Game Classics, we've highlighted some great games that have brought the race for president to the gaming table. As the 2004 election approaches, it seems appropriate to "flashback" to TWO election games from that series: The Game of Politics and Mr. President. This is how we remembered Mr. President in the Summer 1992 issue of Gamers Alliance Report - with a few additional comments thrown in!)

MR. PRESIDENT (3M Games, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1971 editions; out of print)

   Conventional wisdom states that election games only sell during election years. That accounts for the plethora of election games that appear (and disappear) on a quadrennial basis. But the truth of the matter is that a quality game is a quality game no matter what the year. To illustrate the point, we offer, in the fourth installment of our Classic Games Series, a quality election game of the past, Mr. President.

   Mr. President was a 3M bookshelf game that evolved through the years. It appeared in four different editions - 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1971. The first edition was a highly stylized election game followed by a mild revision in 1966 but then underwent a radical improvement in 1967 which was then fine-tuned in the 1971 edition (my own favorite and the one featured here).

   Mr. President contains two Tally Boards, two decks of Candidate Cards, two sets of President and Vice-President Ballot Decks, Campaign Headquarters Cards, a Ballet Box lid (when, when placed over the plastic game try, becomes the Ballot Box), a pair of dice and two grease pencils. For two to four players, a game takes less than an hour to play.

   Players are either Democrats or Republicans. The Democrats get the red-backed Candidate Cards; the Republicans receive the blue-backed ones. Candidate Cards represent the politicians available to represent your party. Each Candidate is rated for various abilities such as Campaign Ability, Financial Support, Press Support, Fund Raising and Advertising. Each Candidate's home state and the issues he is identified with are also found on the cards.

   Both sides also get their color-coded President and Vice-President Ballot Card Decks. These card are used to cast votes in the various states. Each card is valid for one state in each of four United States regions (Eastern, Southern, Midwestern and Western) and carry a number symbolizing hundreds of thousands of votes. Although good in any of the four states listed, the card can only be used in one. With the decks shuffled, three cards from each deck are randomly removed. Those 12 cards are mixed together and stacked on the side to become the Undecided Voter stack. The Campaign Headquarters Cards are mixed and placed, face down, near the playing area. With each side armed with a Tally Board and grease pencil, play begins.

   On each turn, players check the cards in their hands. The Candidate's Campaign Ability determines the size of his hand (ranging from 6 to 10). Based on the strength of their hands, players must decide where they want to cast ballots. In turn, a player announces the region he will campaign in and rolls the dice.

   The number rolled indicates which specific states are available for campaigning. For example, if you campaign in the East and roll a 3 and 5, you would be able to cast votes in state # 3 (Massachusetts), state # 5 (Pennsylvania) and state # 8 (Rhode Island). The names and numbers of the states are listed on the Tally Board and the Ballot Box. Played Ballot Cards are placed in the Ballot Box, face down. When doing so, you state whether a President or a Vice-President Ballot Card is being played. This information is duly noted on the Tally Board. (This is significant information as President Cards usually have more votes than Vice-President Cards). You must cast at least one (and may cast more than one) Ballot Card per turn. After casting your Ballots, you replenish your hand. If you are unable to play a card, you have "blundered".

   Blundering forces you to place your top card from your Ballot deck into the Undecided Voter Stack. You are also required to go to Campaign Headquarters (You may voluntarily go to Campaign Headquarters instead of campaigning if you roll a 7, 11 or doubles). Campaign Headquarters may or may not be a good place to go. since Campaign Headquarters is located in your "home state" (indicated on your Candidate Card), you may freely deposit any or all Ballot cards for that state right away. You must also pick a Campaign Headquarters Card. These cards can force you to lose a turn and possibly lose card from your hand (which end up in the Undecided Voter stack). But they can also result in a Press Endorsement which turns Undecided Votes in your favor! Or a card can force your opponent to campaign in a key state or risk losing that state to "ugly rumors".

   The end of the Campaign occurs when a player has finishing casting all of his Ballot Cards. At that point, all other players take one last turn. Any cards remaining in their hands after that are placed in the Undecided Stack. (Any remaining cards in the deck that have not been put into play are simply placed aside.) The Undecided Voter cards are now called Absentee Ballots and they are distributed to the players. The party that campaigned in the most states receives additional cards. (For example, if the Republicans campaign in 37 states and the Democrats campaign in 32 states, the Republicans would get 5 bonus Absentee Voter cards.) Remaining cards are distributed equally (starting with the party that campaigned the most). These cards may then be placed in any region.

   Each region's votes are then tallied separately. The party with the most votes in a state receives all of that state's electoral votes. If no votes are cast in a particular state or if there is a tie vote total, the build-in edge in the Tally Board (indicative of past state voting records) acts as a tie-breaker. The side with 270 or more electoral votes wins!

   Optional rules include debates and even an "edge" for an incumbent seeking reelection. But the best additional rules concern raising money and advertising. Based on their Financial Support, Fund Raising and Advertising Ratings, candidates can utilize their campaign funds and raise additional money to try to swing Undecided Votes.

   Mr. President is a game that brilliantly captured the feel of campaigning and forced you to make the kinds of decisions real candidates had to make. Which regions are most critical to you?  The voting cards were good for only one state in only one of FOUR regions! Do you throw it into California or New York? Both states are worth lots of electoral votes but where will it do YOU the most good? Or should you fire it into a smaller state and steal a few electoral votes from the opposition?  You keep track with how many cards are placed in each state by your opposition with the Tally Boards but you don't know how many votes have been placed! This "limited intelligence" adds to the excitement and uncertainty. Generally speaking, each state has a limit on how many cards may be cast there so every card, with big votes or small votes, counts. With votes tallied only at game's end and Undecided Votes capable of swinging critical states, victory is never assured until the very end of the game.

   Mr. President remains a super campaign game which should never have been allowed to vanish from the scene.- - - - - - - Herb Levy

copyright 1992, 2004, all rights reserved.