Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review: Claustrophobia

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. Also, I do enjoy Space Hulk and have often wondered what that game would be like in a setting where people can hear you scream.


The Overview:


The box cover art. The box size is a little longer, but not quite as deep as the Space Hulk box. 



Contents of the box. 



Claustrophobiais an adventure game using miniatures and built on a modular board set in a fantasy world where humans are battling back a growing army of demons coming up from the underground. Each game is set up and played according to a short scenario. The scenarios tell an overall story of the growing horrors that roam beneath the city of New Jerusalem.

The game is for two players and plays in about 45 minutes. Games can run a little shorter or longer depending on experience of the players as well as the scenario chosen, but 45 minutes seems to be the base time to figure this out. One player controls the human forces, controlling usually four human characters. The other player controls the demon forces, who have a finite number of figures, but can bring in slain units again, giving them a finite number of units on the board at any time, but ultimately infinite numbers. The victory conditions of each scenario do differ, however, most of the victory conditions for the human player involved keeping their figures alive long enough to complete a task.



The character card and die well that determines their current stats. 


The human characters each have their own statistics and abilities. The characters are set up in an interesting and innovative way, with each one set in a stand, similar to that found in Formula D. In each stand is a die well that fits a six-sided die. Depending on what the facing of the die is, determines the stats for that character that turn. For example, the Condemned Blade For Hire has a Movement of 1, Combat of 3 and Defense of 3 if the die is on the 1-facing, but on a 4-facing, his Movement is 2, Combat is 1 and Defense is 3, and on a 6-facing, his Movement is 1, Combat is 1, but his Defense is 5. So, as you see, the number on the die placed in the character's die well determines his stats and abilities for that turn. Furthermore, if a character is injured, the player chooses a damage token to place on one of the six rows of stats. If he places it on the "1" row, then the character cannot use the stats on that row. Once all six rows have a damage token on them, the character is killed. If a character is forced to place the die on a row that is damaged, then he is exhausted and has a 0 Movement, 0 Combat and 3 Defense rating and is pretty much a sitting duck. Each character also has his own set of talents that give them their own special abilities .

The Demon player's main forces are Troglodytes, which have set statistics and 1 Health each. They are not particularly powerful in combat, but when you get a number of them attacking and swarming him, you are much more effective. Depending on the scenario, the Demon player also controls a Demon. The scenario dictates which demon he has access to and its statistics for that scenario.

The game begins with the scenario set-up. Most scenarios involve building the modular board as you go, but there may be some set up for how to prepare the stack of tiles to draw from. Each scenario may list any extras a player may have, including bonus start cards and special rules. And each also outlines the win conditions for each player.

Each turn has four Phases to it.

The Initiative Phase is where the human player rolls a number of dice equal to the number of active characters he has. He then assigns one die to each character, putting it in his die well and setting their stats for that turn. As characters get more wounded, the human player may find it more difficult to set out and perform the actions he wanted by virtue of some of the lines being blocked from damage and having to assign dice among characters to see that none of his warriors are exhausted instead of what is possibly the most tactical setting for an individual character. Because of this, it makes damage very important and its effects are felt throughout the game by its limitations it has on the whole of the human's characters.

The Human Player's Action Phase is next. Here the player chooses his characters one at a time and can take actions with his characters. He can attack and move. Attacking and combat is simple; a character rolls the number of 6-sided dice equal to his Combat Rating. For every roll that is equal to or higher than the target's defense, scores a hit and causes a damage. Troglodytes only have one health each, so two hits will kill two Troglodytes on the same tile as the warrior.

A character can also move as many tiles as his current Movement Rating. This can be moving from one explored tile to the next explored tile. Or, if a passage continues, but has not been explored, the character can spend a movement point to take the next tile on the stack. The Demon player orients the tile to his liking, but the character moves onto that tile and it is explored. If there is an icon on the tile, there may be special effects that need to be resolved. Further, there are a few movement restrictions to take into account, however. A Tunnel cannot contain more than 3 warriors from either side on it (3 human characters and 3 Troglodytes or 2 Troglodytes and 1 Demon). There is also a Blocking rule, where you cannot leave a tile that has enemy figures on it unless you have at least as many figures from your side on the tile. This creates some strategic blocking on both sides.

Next is the Threat Phase, where the Demon player rolls 3 6-sided dice and lays them on the Board of Destiny. Depending on the rolls, the player can break down what actions or bonuses he wishes to take. For example, you can spend a die with a facing of 3 or more to draw an event card. You can place as many dice as you want to gain 2 Threat Points (TP) per die to bring in more creatures, but you can only place either all odd or all even numbered dice on it. There are a number of options for the Demon player and a lot of ways to break up the dice, but you are not guaranteed to get the most useful options on any round.

The Demon Player then brings his figures onto the board. Troglodytes are brought in at 1 TP each and a Demon can be brought in for 5 P. The Demon Player's figures can only be brought in on tiles that have at least one unexplored opening and is empty of Human figures. This often means that the Human Player will want to spread out his figures to try to "block" all unexplored passage openings to limit the places the Demon can place his figures. However, spread out warriors are in a lot more danger than those who stay together, so there is a strategic trade-off regardless of which way you choose.

Finally, the Demon Player's Action Phase is next. The Demon Player can move and attack with all of his figures exactly as the Human Player could in his Action Phase. However, Demons cannot explore new tiles and are limited to traveling and moving only on the tiles already flipped.

Play continues like this each round until the scenario's win conditions are met by one side.



The Theme:

Claustrophobia is a highly thematic game. The components are beautiful and well produced and help to bring you into the theme. There seems to be an interesting world described in the rulebook and scenarios that is only barely touched on for the depth and back story that seems to really be behind it. The scenarios outline an ongoing storyline as well, and playing them as a campaign helps to tell the full story. Truly this is a large world that is only touched on by the events in the game and it does a wonderful job of telling a small part of this tale.

However, there are a few decisions that were made in the design and presentation that stand out in how much they seem to take you out of the story and theme whereas so much else was built to bring you into it.

First of all, the human characters are not named. Really, even Space Hulk for its hoard of Space Marines all equipped exactly the same still have individual names. There are only a total of 5 characters in Claustrophobia. There is the Redeemer, 2 Condemned Brutes and 2 Condemned Blades for Hire. The fact that they are not named is further complicated and more baffling in that you may have a scenario where you have 2 Blades for Hire and one of them begins with a Blunderbuss. This makes it a little awkward to remember who has what. The two miniatures have small variations, such as one is blond and one is brunette. So we usually resort to just giving the gun to "Blondie". You have the same problem with the two Brutes (which also has one blond). So in scenarios where you have both Brutes and both Blades for Hire, you have to even differentiate when you are referring to "Blondie" and have to say "Blondie Brute" or "Blondie Blade".

Honestly, this game is crying for names and back story to these characters. The fact that these characters are just given generic titles instead of attempting to personify them is perhaps the largest disservice to the game and it does stick out like a sore thumb to every other way that the theme pulls you into the story of the scenario and game.



Learning the Game:

This is not a difficult game to learn or understand. The rulebook is only 24 pages long and 8 of the pages are the scenarios and the first 6 pages are back story flavor text and a listing of components. After one play, you will probably not need to refer to the rulebook other than to look at the tile icons. The rules are well-written and there are a lot of examples throughout the book, however, there are a couple of small problems I have with the rules that hinder learning the game.

First of all, there are a few errors in this printing of the rules. That's understandable, but there is at least one error that is very significant and changes game play entirely. The rulebook states that abilities on the Board of Destiny printed in red can only be used once per game. However, in the errata, it is actually supposed to read that the abilities are only usable once per TURN. That is a huge difference.

Secondly, the book may be too illustrated with examples and pictures. While it does make for a beautiful book, they way it is broken down actually makes it difficult to look up the actual rules, as you may have a page that only has 2 paragraphs of text rules, but they are hidden among the large diagrams and examples spread over and under them. Also, there is a small (third-page) Glossary on the back cover. However, it isn't in alphabetical order for some reason. Its small enough that you can still find everything with ease, but it is still just odd and a little inconvenient.

But the rules are simple enough that these are really just small quibbles in the large picture. With a print out of the 1 page Errata and FAQ sheet and the intuitive play making it unlikely you'll need to look up rules, these problems really end up being small and merely inconvenient.



The Components:


The Condemned Brute miniature. These are beautiful minis and come pre-painted. 


The Demon mini. 



A sampling of the artwork that is on some of the cards. 



A game in progress. You can see the tiles laid out as the underground tunnels are explored. 



The miniatures are beautiful out of the box. Some painting fanatics may feel a little cheated that they cannot paint their own, but honestly, I think that they are of fair enough quality that there is little need to worry about repainting them. The artwork is beautiful and consistent throughout the cards and character cards and the character cards and the well system works so very well and is truly a great idea and an innovative design.

The tiles are well designed on thick enough cardboard and also are beautiful and work to bring you into the feel of being in underground tunnels worrying about the onset of a demon hoard. If I have a problem with the components, it would only be that the tiles do not need to be as large as they are. Depending on how the tunnels build out, the game becomes a huge table hog. Our table is big enough for Arkham Horror and a big box expansion or two, but I still find myself sometimes either exploring tunnels as the Human or placing tiles as the Demon not based on the best strategic positioning, but rather just so that they do not wander off the table. Again, it is a minor inconvenience on beautiful and functional components, but be warned that this game often becomes a beast to fit on the table.


Playing the Game:

Gameplay really is fluid and intuitive. Usually movement range and combat options are rather limited for the Human Player, so there isn't too much long-term thinking to be made. Positioning your figures and blocking the enemy are important to consider, but I don't find it quite as intensive or frantic as playing the Space Marines in Space Hulk. However, playing the Demons gives you a range of options with the Board of Destiny as well as the options presented by drawing and playing cards, that I find the Demons to be a much richer and more strategic and deeper game than playing the Genestealers in Space Hulk.

The game is really easy to learn and play, and there is a lot of replayability due to the randomized modular set up of the exploration process. This is good, since there are only six scenarios presented in the book. The good news is, however, that more scenarios have been designed and released on the Claustrophobia website and also posted on BGG.

There are also rules for experienced players to go through the scenarios to auction down the number of points to build their Human teams as. This adds variety as well as giving extra challenge to the players.


Scalability:

It is not scalable. It is a two player game. However, there are sufficient rules and the build-system mentioned above that lets you scale the difficulty for an experienced player playing with a new player.


Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group and my most frequent game partner. We are also constantly looking for short two-player games that aren't too heavy to play together after work since we don't watch much teevee. Also, she and I are both long-time Dungeons and Dragons players and the setting and theme fit really well. While this isn't her favorite game, the easy of play and quick time frame keeps it on our radar when we are looking to play something. Also, while we both played our fair share of Space Hulk my wife much prefers the fantasy setting of this game to the sci-fi/space theme of the other.

While in a very similar vein to Space Hulk, I personally feel that they have their own merits and weaknesses. While I miss the tenseness of the Space Marines while playing the Humans in this game, I am much happier playing the versatile and variable Demons in this game than the sometimes dull and repetitive Genestealers in the other. My wife does not care for the tension of the Marines, but will happily play the Humans in this game. She enjoys the Genestealers in the Hulk, but was intimidated by the options for the Demons in this game, but after finally playing them, she learned it wasn't that taxing, but did give a lot of options. Ultimately, however, for her the game comes down to setting. She much prefers the theme and setting of Claustrophobia. I can see that and I do prefer the fantasy theme as well, but I think the two give just enough of a different feel to whet, but not fully satisfy a desire to play the other.


The Pros:

*Beautiful game components with complete and pre-painted, free-standing miniatures that do not require a sacrifice dollars for paint or in blood to cut out of their sprues.
*Innovative Character health system with die-wells really makes interesting decisions and shows how damage effects not just the character, but the entire group as you may need to weaken one character to ensure your wounded character can move.
*Easy, intuitive rules that are a quick learn.
*Modular tile exploration mechanism allows more replayability of the scenarios.
*Immersive game world and lots of theme.
*Short play time of each scenario is well timed for the depth of play.
*Great support as far as new scenarios being released on the web.
*One of the few games that has a good out-of-the-box bid and build system for experienced players.


The Cons:

*A table hog, which could have been limited a bit with smaller tiles.
*A few rulebooks complaints as printed.
*Not scalable past two-players.
*Huge missed opportunity to build more theme by leaving characters with generic titles and no names.
*Some Space Hulk die-hards may see the randomness of the board by tile draws to be a negative.


Overall:

Claustrophobia seems to be a direct descendant of Space Hulk, but has enough differences to still make it feel like its own game. It is a truly thematic and interesting world that is only flawed by a few missed opportunities to bring it even deeper and fuller of an experience. There are some interesting innovations in the game and it does build some tension through the systems built. Both sides have variety and decisions to be made, which separates it from his predecessor. For those who enjoy a Space Hulk type game, but wants to explore different settings, this is an obvious choice. It is also a choice for those who want to whet their appetites with a game that has the feel of D&D, but only have a couple players and limited time. If you want a good fantasy adventure combat game that isn't going to take a long time, this is an obvious choice. And despite the obvious comparisons to Space Hulk, Claustrophobia stands on its own as its own game and a good, fun choice.


8/10

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Review: Campaign Manager 2008

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. I'm also a bit of a political wonk in my downtime and my core gaming group consists of people who are also very much into politics. Also, I was very interested in and aware of the 2008 US Presidential election, but I'm not too partisan when it comes to this game. I'm a registered member of the Green Party.


The Overview:


The box cover is not overly flashy, but perfectly elegant for the theme of the game (even if the counties didn't go in the directions shown on the cover here).



Contents of the box: 110 cards, 32 wooden bits, and a bunch of cardboard tiles. 



Campaign Manager 2008 is a political themed game where one player plays the Obama campaign and the other plays the McCain campaign, and each player is using their deck of cards to try to carry enough states to win the election. The game begins with each player creating a deck of 15 cards from their candidate's deck of 45 cards. After that, each player takes turns going through the current states in play to try to win them over with enough states based on each state's issues and demographics.

The game is for 2 players and plays in about 30-45 minutes. Most games will probably play closer to 30 minutes, but if both players happened to build decks that happen to directly oppose the other's strategy, play can carry on a bit longer, even with experienced players. Each player builds their deck then starts play. There are only 4 states in play at any time. To win a state, however, each player needs to focus on that state's demographics (two are listed on each) and each state begins with a focus on either Defense or Economics (known as the state's majority issue; though this can change). Whoever gets all of the voters to support them on the current majority issue wins the state and adds the electoral votes of that state to their total. The first to reach 270 electoral votes wins the election and the game.

The game begins with each player building their campaign decks. Obama has a deck of 45 cards and McCain has a deck of 45 cards. This is where the rest of your game strategy will be defined. Each player goes through their deck three cards at a time. They choose one card and discard the other two. They do this until they've gone through the entire deck and have chosen 15 card which will represent the campaign deck that the player will use throughout the game. Yes, there are only 15 cards in a player's deck. This means you will go through the cards often and not be able to use the excuse of poor card draws for your loss. A lot of the game will come down to who has built the better deck when it comes to opposing the other player's deck. There are many different kinds of deck building strategies and some are stronger or weaker depending on how your opponent has built their deck. I'll comment on that a little more later.

After each player gets their campaign deck of 15 chosen cards (or uses the 15 card preconstructed deck for each candidate), they each choose two states to start with. Each candidate has 10 states (for a total of 20 in play states) to start from (states that tend to favor that particular candidate, but not so much as the candidate has that state "locked" up). The four states chosen will be the starting states.

Whenever a state comes out, it has a marker to signify which is the Majority Issue (Defense or Economy) and how far along the track they support it (the track has four steps, two towards Defense and two towards Economy). Each state also has two demographics which represent important voting blocks in play in each state. However, only one demographic is the "key demographic" in each state at one time. For example, Florida begins with "Jewish Conservatives" as the key demographic. However, "Latinos" is another important demographic and can become the key demographic with card play that changes it. The current key demographic is important in a state because each candidate that has cards that can sway undecided voters based on their demographic. For example, Obama's player has a card that makes all undecided voters in states where Latinos are a key demographic vote Blue (Democratic). Florida begins with "Jewish Conservatives" as the key demographic. Obama's player would have to try to try to switch the key demographic to Latinos before he could effectively play that card.

Once the starting states are chosen, play begins with each player drawing three cards. On a player's turn, they can either play a card from their hand or draw a card from their deck. If you already have 5 or more cards in your hand, you cannot draw a card and must instead play a card. That's it. That's all you do on your turn. However, playing the cards is a very strategic thing.

To win a state, you need to have all of the Voters on the Majority Issue of a state supporting your candidate. How does that happen? Let's use Florida as an example again:



Florida is worth 27 electoral votes. Jewish Conservatives are the key demographic, but Latinos can replace them. Defense starts as the Majority Issue, but it is only one step away from Economy becoming the Majority Issue. The top row of 5 circles shows the starting voter commitment for Defense, while the bottom row of 5 circles shows the starting voter commitment if Economy becomes the Majority Issue. 


If McCain plays a card that gives him one Support in Defense, he can replace one of Obama's Blue counters with one of his red counters on the top row (Defense). He will still need to win over the two white undecided voters, however. If all of the decided voters (one with either color on them) are already supporting McCain, then playing that card will let him cover a white voter with his marker. If McCain plays a card trumpeting Joe Lieberman's support to win over all Undecided Voters in states where Jewish Conservatives are the key demographic, then McCain can cover the two white undecided voters with his red markers. If all of the support markers are of one color on the row which coincides with the Majority Issue, then that candidate wins the state and it's electoral votes. However, if Obama can change the Majority Issue to Economy in Florida, then it does not matter if McCain has all five of the support in Defense. McCain will either have to try to win enough support for Economy to win the state, or change the Majority Issue back to Defense in order to win the state.

Once a state is won, a new state is brought into play, chosen by the victor of the last state. Then, a "Breaking News" event card is drawn and the instructions on the card are followed. Usually, the Breaking News card will just effect the new state that just came into play and will do something such as change that's state's current demographic or it may shift the Majority Issue in one direction or the other. There are also other cards which can effect each player's campaigns and other effects, but they are in the minority.

Some cards can allow a player to "Go Negative". These cards are usually very strong and are best suited to use it to quickly win a state. However, after the card is played, the player then rolls a six-sided die and consults a chart to see what the repercussions of going negative are. There is a small chance that nothing will happen, but generally, there is a backlash to going negative and your opponent gains a bit of aid such as gaining support in an issue in one state or drawing more cards into their hand.

Once a player reached 270 electoral votes, they win. Now, there are only 20 battleground states in play. The other 30 states and Washington D.C.'s electoral votes are already distributed, as they are considered to be "locked up" for either candidate. McCain begins with 155 Electoral Votes locked up and Obama begins with 157 Electoral Votes locked up. So, technically, Obama begins needing two less votes than McCain to win, but this is balanced by McCain beginning with stronger battleground states from the beginning).


The Theme:

Campaign Manager 2008 is a light, but thematic game. The theme isn't really in the game play itself, since it is basically a deck building and card management game and it doesn't really catch the nuances and diversity of a real election. However, the cards themselves do a sufficient job of bringing the theme to the forefront of the experience. Each card relates to something from the actual campaign, so there is a historical flavor to the cards and I enjoy the little flavor text "notes" on each card written as if a note from the managers of each campaign.

Ultimately a game that is meant to be light and played in a half-hour isn't going to cover the topic in depth and at times it can feel a little bit like you are simply playing cards to win area control sections of an abstract map. However, given the constraints of the system and time, the theme is built in fairly well.

A lot of the theme actually comes from the deck-building portion of the game. Here you decide how your campaign will play. Will you focus solely on the Economy? Will you try to be diverse and confront both issues? Will you try to focus your play on manipulating the demographics of the states and win over undecided voters by appealing to their specific interests rather than focusing on the issues alone? And will you keep a couple dirty tricks up your sleeve, or will you play a completely clean campaign?

The other issue that hurts the theme a bit is the abstract nature of the election in the game play. The real U.S. election takes place simultaneously (well, except for time zone differences) and in the game, only four states are in play at a time. However, the abstract of this is easily forgotten by considering that this is played during the course of the campaign where a candidate visits a state and makes speeches, essentially sewing up a state before actual election day. However, if this is the case, it would still be nice to have a mechanic where a state that was won over could then be brought back in play by future events or campaign strategies. Still, I understand why this isn't the case for the game play mechanics. It would be too powerful to bring back already won states, especially with such tight decks.

The largest problem that I have with the theme overall is that the game card choices are a too symmetrical. Ultimately it depends on what 15 cards are chosen, so strategies still may vary greatly, but the card selection is a little to symmetrical. The biggest difference between the decks is that McCain can influence Defense more while Obama can influence Economy more. Other than that, the cards work out to essentially have their equivalent in each deck which is kind of disappointing.


Learning the Game:

The game is easy to learn. The rules are explained on an eight-page 8.5" x 5.5" booklet that is full of pictures (and in fact, the first two pages are just flavor introduction and component lists). Deck building is where the game gets a little tricky. With my first game, my wife and I built our decks without really realizing a lot of subtlety of the process. We stopped our first game half-way through and decided to start again and build our decks once more since we got to know what we were doing. So, I would suggest that for the first play, each player should use the pregenerated decks for each campaign. After one play, you will get enough of an idea of how the game works to build your decks afterwards.

After a few plays, the subtleties of deck building and the different strategies will be much more important and interesting. Since the decks you play with are only 15 cards, card selection is very important. This is probably the only real learning curve in the game. A good deck builder will have an advantage over someone who has not played as much and isn't as good at building efficient decks. However, it is difficult to specifically build decks to shut down your opponents strategy since you are building them at the same time and you do not know exactly what your opponent will take.


The Components:


Some of McCain's cards.



Some of Obama's cards.




A few of the Breaking News Event cards.




The front and back of the campaign strategy cards. 



The cards are all well designed and very beautiful. The cards are of a good stock that should hold up well to wear. They are really beautifully designed and I am very impressed with the artistic quality of the production. They are very clear, informative and still provide a good amount of flavor in the text and pictures (especially if you followed the election and know the events that each card are referring to). The only negative thing that has been commented on the cards has been from my wife. The back of the cards show a campaign binder and there is a crease along the left corner. However, the artwork is so realistic that my wife thinks the crease gives the card too much depth and she constantly thinks that there is another card beneath her top one offset just a little to the left. That's been the closest to a complaint I've found: my wife thinks they look too real.



Michigan battleground state card. Depending on the population of the state, each has between 3 and 5 voter support spots. 


The battleground states are a heavy cardboard stock and very functional and again, artistically beautiful. The breakdown of counties on the card show the way each county went in the election (unlike the box cover, which does not show the real breakdown). The breakdown even shows Iowa County on the Iowa State Card as purple which was virtually tied at the time of election. The only thing missing from the cards is a breakdown of what the actual votes were for the state. I think it would be interesting to see, but I understand the reason why they were left off: The game may cause a state to go in another direction. Still, the wonk in me would have found it interesting.



The electoral votes are tallied by placing a state's scoring tile onto the scoring track to see who gets to 270 first. 


The only component that is a disappointment is the scoring track. When I first saw it I thought it was ingenious. When you win a state, you lay it down on the vote track. Each state's tile is the correct size to fill a number of electoral votes equal to what the state is worth. When your row of won states reaches the 270 point, you've won. Again, ingenious... in theory. In practice, it does not work so well. You need to trim the little flash edges off of the cardboard markers, otherwise you may end up with an extra point or two. And in real close races, you have to go through and manually count everything anyhow. This was a really clever idea, but in practice, it just does not work well enough and you will probably have to count votes by hand or record them on a sheet of paper to figure out where you stand if the race is at all close.


Playing the Game:

Game play is quick and intuitive. Since the decks consist of only 15 cards, it focuses on how important deck building is in the game. You cannot claim poor card draws as a reason for losing the game, since you will cycle through your deck quickly and often.

There is a lot of subtlety in the play and strategy here and there are a lot of different ways to play and win. Being able to switch the Majority Issue can be quite strong to stop your opponent from taking a state and switching it to an Issue that you are more prepared for. Strong decks can be built with the idea of focusing on changing and dominating Key Demographics since it can get you a lot of undecided voters quickly. There are also media support cards that stay out in front of a player until someone plays a new one. The ongoing effects of them can be very strong and you may want to include one or two of them in your deck if for no reason than to bump your opponent's media support card out of position.

Basically, it comes down to the fact that there are strong methods of deck building, but not one that will dominate. This is especially true since you do not know what your opponent is building. If you both build decks to manipulate Key Demographics, it is a race to see who wins them over first. If both candidates build strong Defense decks, expect long, drawn out battles.

Ultimately, it is this deck-building mechanic that will make the games tight and offer a variety to the game and replay value. I cannot even go with a standard deck build since the building is randomized. If I want to play with both "Crank and Bank" and "Online Fundraising" in my deck as Obama and draw both at the same time when drawing my three cards , I can only keep one of them and will have to discard the other. This means that your deck building will have to be done on the fly as well and may have to change and adapt depending on how and with what each card becomes available.


Scalability:

Um... It isn't scalable. It's for two players only. Me and my homemade Green Party deck are shut out from this game just like we are in most elections. I can't even step in as a third player to try to win one state away or drain support from a candidate's base just to increase recognition and media play to get my third party deck into a future expansion. So, I guess in that respect, the game keeps to realism.


Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group and my most frequent game partner. We are also constantly looking for short two-player games that aren't too heavy to play together after work since we don't watch much teevee. This fits the bill very well. My wife happens to despise Sarah Palin, so that means that I will be forever playing the McCain deck against her, but that's fine. As I stated before, the decks are pretty much the same, so I'm not missing out on any real difference in deck-building strategies.

Still, my wife enjoys it and it fits the bill as an enjoyable, light two-player game. I've gotten her to play Twilight Struggle and she isn't too keen on it. She's more of a fan of 1960: Making of the President, which is a little less deep. I think that this is probably her favorite of the three. She's not the political wonk that I am though.

I would suggest this game with my wife and have a good time, however, for my deeper and more wonky friends, I would still reach for Twilight Struggle first. If I were to go lighter, I would probably choose this over 1960, simply because the depth of choices in 1960 do not correspond well enough to the time invested in playing. For Campaign Manager 2008 the amount of depth to time ratio is good and it works.


The Pros:

*Excellent cards and art that is functional and pretty.
*Great deck-building mechanic built into the game, that is surprisingly deep and builds interesting choices.
*Perfect play time compared to the depth of the game.
*Balanced game (though the fact that this feels forced is a bit of a negative).
*Light political game that still carries enough decision making to build interest through the game play.
*Surprising variety of game strategies afforded by deck building options.
*Deck building sets theme and also is tight enough that every decision matters and limits luck of the draw.


The Cons:

*Scoring track is a good idea, but is not functional.
*Decks are too symmetrical and it seems forced to make the game play balanced (As an example, both Palin and Biden's gaffes have an equal penalty to them).
*A bit simplistic if you are really looking for a political game.


Overall:

Campaign Manager 2008 is a beautiful little game that really does not have a lot of flaws for what it is. I tend to enjoy deeper, more complex games, especially if they are political in nature. However, finding people to commit to six to eight hours to play Road to the White House or even four hours for Die Macher isn't always going to happen. This doesn't quench that thirst for the depth of those political games, but it is still a nice cool mist of water on me to sustain me in my marathon to get those games to the table again. This is a light game whose simplicity belies the strategic decisions and importance of most every move that you make in a tight game. The game may be a little on the light end for my preference and I would still choose Twilight Struggle's depth and involvement over this game, but this is a fine short game that keeps a perfect ratio of depth to game length.


6.5/10