Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Presidential Game (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

The adage goes, "There are three things you should never talk about: religion, politics, and this," with this being whatever awkward subject is at hand. I'm not sure about religion (frankly, I think we should talk more about it - at least try to understand each other better), politics isn't always bad to discuss, and this -- the Presidential Game is a great political discussion.

The premise of the game is to be the winner of "electoral college" votes.  Two teams - the Democrats and Republicans - take turns either campaigning or fundraising for a 30 week (30 round) mock election.  At the end, the side with the most votes wins the right to be called Mr. (or Madam) President.  Sounds simple, right?  Ah, but this is politics, my friend.  Nothing is simple.

This game is available online for $35 and intended for ages 11+, however Celia (age 9) enjoyed the game.  I got to be part moderator and score keeper (channeling my inner Tim Russert and whiteboard) and part Republican (because Celia needed some help strategizing).  From the start, it was obvious this was a political game - right down to the bickering of teams over who would be on which team and then which team would go first, followed by the within-the-party arguments over what the next move should be.  Although the arguments aren't a whole lot different than any other board game night (you should hear them play Monopoly!), they added another element of humor for me.

Well, mostly humor. This is a LONG game.  It took almost 3 hours to play (accounting for the random snack run, too!).  A lot of the time is taken up in counting and stacking chips.  In order to speed things along, I stepped out of my "helping Celia" spot and into my "moderator" role.  The other side would start before the first team was really "done."  The counting team would place dice on the states they were claiming, so the other team could roll and strategize while the first counted out the chips.  Moderator watched to ensure no cheating.  On one hand, all the chip stacking is good fine motor activity (which is something all of my kids - even the big ones - struggle with), but after a while it got hard to keep things neatly stacked.  We probably didn't follow the rules to a T, but if we didn't, the game would never end.  (For example, when on a fundraising campaign, the rules say you can allot half to the fundraiser state and the rest among three states - we decided that fundraising was half there/half to one other state, or "all in."  Otherwise, the debate over where to split four votes just went on for too long.)   As it was, since we played after dinner, it wound up being Luke and I would would finish up the games as the other two drifted off to bed.  This would be a good game for a rainy afternoon, or a multi-day game if you could leave the board set up overnight.  (Not a good idea in this house with little brothers and curious kitties.) At first, I thought I might loan it to Matthew's teacher for their upcoming unit on elections, but with it taking so long to play out, I think I won't bother.  I'm not opposed to sharing, but I don't see it being practical for a classroom setting where there are time constraints.   I think in the future we will play timed games (it took us about an hour to play 11 rounds), rather than "by the round count."

the presidental game - having fun with electoral college

 I found scoring confusing.  The adding/subtracting keeping track got confusing, especially if you had players who would rather take their chances with the "winner takes all" round at the end, if it meant you could keep knocking the other team out of a state.  There is an online tracker available that works with both computers and iPads- we may give that a try in the future and see if that helps.  (By the time we usually played, electronics were put away for the evening/on their chargers.)

This is definitely a fantastic cross-curricular game.  Yes, the base is learning the electoral college - and the difference between "split" states and the all-or-nothing lightning final round - but there is math (adding, dividing, counting), reading (I made them read the political cards aloud to ensure honesty), geography (finding the states), and strategy.  At first each one looked at the huge pot offered by the Fundraiser states (California, Texas, Florida, and New York) and saw "I want the big one!!" In the end, the boys lost because they left the majority of the board up to the final round, rather than at least staking a small claim to a bunch of smaller ones. After the campaign, the unclaimed states are divided among the teams by a die toss.  In the end, yes, the boys' team (Democrats) had Texas, but lost New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, and Minnesota - comparatively smaller in allotment, but they start adding up quickly.  (As we claimed states in that round, we would mark them with a single red/blue chip so we knew we had already accounted for those votes.)  While the girls (Republicans) were barely ahead at the end, the girls easily won once the little states started adding up. 

There were a few things I would like to see different about the game:

1. Make the directions clearer.  At first we weren't sure how to add things up, especially since there is so much back-and-forth in the game.  Plus, if you campaign and mark down how many votes you get rolling your dice, and then get more, you have to re-calculate.  Plus, if you had already taken your turn, your score could change if the other team stole votes.  We found it was better to  wait until the round was over, and not try to tally as we went along.  For some reason, we also struggled with the chips on the board, especially as one team tried to steal a state from the other.  As I said, though we found good parameters for us, I'm not sure we played by the "Official" rules.

2.  The bags for dice/chips can only be opened by tearing, which means that when it is time to clean up and put things away, there is no way to keep them from falling around. We grabbed a couple zip-top bags from the drawer, but it would be nice if they came in recloseable bags.   To play the game, we actually dumped the chips into open containers to make it easy to fish out the ones we wanted. 
3. I'd love to see some kind of "History and Mechanics of the Electoral College" sheet included (or a link to an obvious online resource) that is geared to the middle school reader.  Yes, we were able to look up things online, but some of the explanations sailed right over Matthew and Celia's heads. 

Matthew desperate for votes...not getting any quarter from the other side!

On the whole, we enjoyed The Presidential Game.   While it's a good learning tool, it is also a fun addition to a game night library.  I have a feeling this is going to remain a popular game in this house.

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  1. This looks great! Just shared it on my Facebook page.

  2. Thanks for the great party. Would love it if you'd come by my blog hops page and add your party. I have them separated by days and "weekend".


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