Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Game Night - 26 November 2005 - The First Campaign

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So Die Macher was on the table, set up and ready to go. Chester had thoughtfully shipped everything he had in terms of documentation with the game. I had also printed off every player aid the Geek had available. In the end I chose to use the colored "note blocks" Mark Coomey had recently uploaded, and Mark Blanco's phase-by-phase guide. I gave my usual theme overview, and this led into a side discussion on the recent German election which resulted in Merkel becoming Chancellor. We also had a discussion on the theoretical relationships of the game mechanisms, and what the paths to victory looked like. There was some discussion on the seven issues, and what would be relevant today as opposed to 1985. And there was a discussion on what other stuff Karl-Heinz Schmiel had done (the only one I really remember was Extrablatt, a game I also want to eventually play and own). This all took around an hour.

Just to prove we're a tight gaming group, we all invested a significant part of our setup resources into the third region, which had 80 seats up for grabs. (In hindsight I think it was a mistake.) The first couple of regions went fairly slow as we got a feel for the mechanisms, especially the regional opinion manipulation and the Tauschpool. Business picked up, and I decided to powder out of the running for winning the 80 seats, and focus on winning a couple of the smaller (20+ seat) regions. I ended up winning the second region, and in a winning coalition for the 80 seats anyway. Unfortunately I had not place a media presence there so I missed out on the points.

Initial thoughts on the opinion polls - strong, but you can protect yourself either by incrementally buying votes beforehand if you think your trend in a region is vulnerable. Or you can control the media, making you immune. Or you can win the poll yourself. Either way, it didn't bother me all that much.

We were slow to pick up on how useful holding an absolute majority in a region was - this was a trick of timing and resource investment. If no one else invests in a region when you do (usually way in advance) then you can make a change a turn, and when that region becomes current you'll have decent synergy with the regional opinion. The seats may not be great, but placing media and opinion on the national board is a reward in and of itself. My national membership kept ticking up because I tried to keep matching the big board, and altering what regions I controlled to match as well.

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The whole deal took six hours, including frequent side discussions on game mechanisms, paths to victory and game design analysis. I won, mostly because I took three little (20+ seat) regions that the other folks didn't invest much in, while keeping a finger in the bigger pies (80, 60, 50). I enjoyed myself immensely.

Favorable comparisons from my gaming buddies to PR and PoF, from both a mechanism and stylistic standpoint. I have a better one. Macher's nature and rhythm, among all the games I've played, is closest to Kramer & Kiesling's Maharaja. You're planning and executing 4 elections simultaneously, and trying your darndest to insulate yourself from the inherent chaos of the game system while keeping your timing and resources as straight as possible. You're trying to make sure that you get close to your desired result in every region that matters, whether or not someone whacks you with a bad opinion poll when that region becomes current. (Or outright insulating yourself with media control, which is expensive to set up, but even more expensive for your opponents to undo when they choose to.) I would equate this to being able to do what you plan to do in Maharaja regardless of what hijinks people pull with your character card and the governor track. What Macher has over Maharaja is many, many more paths to victory at the cost of a significantly higher fiddle factor. However, given the theme the whole thing works, and in a surprisingly elegant manner despite all the moving parts.

In short, I (or should I say we) like it a lot, and I can see us polishing off a full game in 3-4 hours once we have the whole thing down and can take turns rapidly a-la Goa at full throttle. Clearly an "only game of the night" situation, but that was how it was when we first started playing 5P PR years ago (we were averaging 3.5 hours a game early on, and we still take 2.5 hours today).

The only trouble we had rules-wise was with the exchange pool. Playing it with Schmeil's "flood the pool" rules was rather counterintuitive, but in the end I guess it follows theme-wise since issues do get more muddled as elections get close to climax.


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