With the 2008 US Presidential campaign getting into full swing, Stardock polishes up their take on the race to the White House. The Political Machine 2008, like its 2004 predecessor, is a lightweight, turn-based strategy game focusing on the General Election and the rogues gallery of Presidential hopefuls. In fact, but for some cosmetic changes and a few tweaks to the gameplay, there’s very little difference between the two titles. Not that that’s a bad thing, since there’s quite a bit of enjoyment to be had from this sequel.
The premise is quite simple. Players pick (or create) a candidate, choose a political party, and begin the 41-turn race to grab the majority of Electoral votes. Each candidate has a variety of stats, detailing their likeability, intelligence, endurance, and money-raising prowess. Players then choose a political opponent (no grueling Primary races here), and the contest begins. Each turn consists of players spending money, endurance, and political capitol (now split into two different resource types for 2008) in their endeavor to raise awareness and polls in each of the states. Candidates must take a reading on the issues important to each state, and tailor their strategies accordingly. Various media advertisements and public speeches allow hopefuls to let each state know exactly how much their candidate cares for them. Or how much their horrible, baby-eating opponent wants to drive this country into the ground. Players can take the political high road or come out of the gate slinging mud, or do a little bit of both.
Of course, candidates also have to take valuable time out of their campaigns to refill their political war chests, both with money and with political clout. Fund raisers can draw the cash, but players must take care not to over-tax a particular state, even one that greatly favors them. The voting public is only willing to open their wallets so wide, and then they tire of seeing that outstretched hand. In addition, candidates must build special campaign buildings in crucial states, using them to generate the needed funds, awareness, and political capitol. In addition, some of the buildings increase the candidates’ understanding of the issues that really matter to the state, allowing them to more carefully tailor their ads and speeches.
As the campaign rolls along, random events pop up, allowing the candidates chances to appear on various talk shows with some not-quite-familiar-looking faces. A few questions are asked during the interviews, and while intelligent and charismatic candidates have several answer choices to select from, candidates lacking in those areas might find themselves with an embarrassingly small selection of responses. In addition to interviews, random events markers may also reward or curse the first candidate to tag them with various outcomes.
As the race progresses, candidates can spend some of their assets hiring various helpers, from spin doctors to smear merchants. These guys act independently of the candidate, and can generate some bonuses (or give opponents some penalties) in whatever state they’re assigned. And about halfway through the campaign, each candidate chooses a VP running mate, sending them wherever most needed.
It all wraps up on election night, where each state tallies its polls awards its Electoral Votes, bringing forth a winner. Games can consist of a single election, or players may choose to run a campaign of campaigns, taking on a series of past, present-day, and even future candidates. And if the current US election gets dull, The Political Machine 2008 adds a few additional scenarios, including an historical election of 1860, a fanciful Election of Europe through the mind’s eye of an ill-informed high school student, and even an election on a far away planet that I would have never thought would even consider the Electoral College. There’s also a multiplayer option for those who want to take on a bit more challenging human opponent.
The Political Machine 2008 received a graphical overhaul, going 3D and changing to some rather disturbing-looking bobble-head candidates. I do like the new look, which is a bit sharper and more colorful than its predecessor. The interface is generally the same, and I found it quite easy to fall back into the familiar election strategies. Overall, the gameplay is little changed from four years ago. I found the original Political Machine to be a pleasant little diversion, a simple but somewhat deep strategy game that kept my attention until something shinier came along. I feel much the same about the 2008 outing—there’s a fun little game here, and while it won’t hold a coveted place on my hard drive, I’ll certainly give this a few more goes while the real general election is grinding on. For the bargain price, political aficionados and strategy gamers alike will find a little something to like here.