Friday, July 20, 2007

The "War and Peace" of Eurogames (Die Macher) 8098

Die Macher has a certain notoriety at BoardGameGeek for a few reasons. It's the first game entered in the database, 20 years after it's release it's still in the top 10 highest rated games and it's one of the longest and most complicated eurogames ever. Despite it's high praise and legendary status, I was never under the impression I would actually PLAY it...

Well, Valley Games recently reprinted this classic as a very nice language independent version and Bharmer decided he wanted it. There you go.

Die Macher

The Idea

Each player represents a german political party trying to win a series of local elections in an effort to win the national one.

How it works

The game consists of 7 local elections played more or less sequentially. Each election consists of several short phases, where players engage in various activities meant to further their campaign. They will modify their party's platform to more closely match local opinion, purchase media support, plan local parties to drum up support, use special members of the party (termed the "shadow cabinet") to lock votes, create/ sway key issues, improve public opinion for their party or damage the reputation of others, etc, etc. Finally, Opinion Polls are commissioned and the results are manipulated by the commissioning party in order to achieve the desired effect (to boost their party or hurt others), or they simply do not publish the results if they can't be salvaged. When all is said and done, votes are tallied and a winner of the local election is declared. Players then move on to the next regional election, and the cycle begins again.

This being a game about politics, it only makes sense that the central concern revolves around opinions. Each player's party has a position on five issues (such as being "pro nuclear energy"). Each region, similarly, has a position on four issues. As the elections progress, the national opinion is slowly formed and/or changed. Parties with platforms which closely match the position of the region get more votes. Parties with platforms which closely match the national position gain party membership as the game progresses, and gain victory points at the endgame.

I said earlier that the elections are played more or less sequentially. In fact, while players are competing in the current local election, the next 3 are also visible and can be influenced by all the tools at the party's disposal in advance of those elections actually occuring. Certainly, a player who has layed the foundation for a successful election ahead of time stands to get greater rewards with less work. On the other hand, nothing is etched in stone, and effort/ money/ resources played too early can easily be reversed before that election starts.

In typical german game fashion, all this theme is represented rather dryly by hordes of wooden cubes being manipulated on a large abstract board (in this case, the board looks like a giant illustration of a circle divided into many little rings). Luckily (and also in typical german game fashion), the mechanics are quite interesting and work well together to make a very challenging and clever game with little or no downtime, despite it's length.


I actually didn't feel that Die Macher was the monster it's made out to be. Maybe it's because we've played lots of games, or maybe it's because I also play wargames on occasion (or maybe it's because I took the time to watch the introductory video by "Boardgames with Scott"). It's certainly the heaviest pure german game I've played, but despite the long playtime, many phases in the game and myriad interlocking mechanics, the end result did not feel overwhelming or overlong. In fact, our first game, including rules explanation, took only 4.5 hours! I suspect our next game would be roughly 3.5 hours. Die Macher remained engrossing throughout and was quite fun. My only (minor) gripe with the game as a system would be that no matter how cleverly the game mechanics represent real life politics the experience feels alot more like pushing cubes around for victory points that blazing the campaign trail. The theme is so strongly embodied in the rules that it's a bit of a shame that it comes off as abstracted as it does. From a components point of view, most things are quite functional and of high quality, but a few unfortunate icon choices has led to difficulty differentiating between certain political stances. It's really unfortunate, too, because you find yourself doing that quite commonly over the course of a game. Also, there is a mechanic for forming coalitions which doesn't seem to work that well. While coalitions are an integral part of german politics (I'm told), their impact on the game is a little underwhelming considering how many stars need to align to make it happen (congruent stances on at least 2 issues + the play of certain shadow cabinet cards in the current election). I won't pretend to have a good understanding of how all the scoring opportunities come together, though, so that comment might be very premature.

Kozure mentioned that he liked the fact that this was a german game which managed to combine passive-agressive play with aggressive-aggressive play successfully, a rare feat (most shy away from direct conflict). I agree with him. Off the top of my head, the only other one I can think of which tries to do the same is Kramer's Wildlife.

Session Report

This has been long enough, so I'll keep it short.

I came out strong at the beginning, locking a few high scoring media cubes and winning many votes in the local elections. Problem was, I pushed my shadow cabinet to hard at the beginning and was left without their support in the last few regions. The fact that the local and national position on most issues went from positive to negative over the course of the game without a similar shift in my party's ideals led me to a score of 0 in the final three regions!

I'll have to be more careful about that in the future.

The game was characterized by enormous bids for opinion polls (I beleive $26 000 was pegged as a "ridiculously high" price for those cards, but commonly surpassed none-the-less). In the first few rounds, I overbid drastically for turn order (though aside from the wasted money I think the turn order advantage was worth it). We were all quite aggressive on the media front, typically filling the 5 cube limit well in advance of any local elections.

Anyway, Luch was the decisive winner, with Bharmer and Kozure nearly tied for the 2nd prize. As for me, the three 0s put me out of the running to win. I was too absorbed trying to make things go my way to really notice what Luch did to come out ahead, but he DID have the largest national party at the end along with a couple of high scoring media cubes.

Next time, I will crush him.

1 comment:

  1. A very intricate and elegant game which manages to be challenging, thematic and well-balanced at the same time.

    But... I wouldn't buy it.

    I think I need two or three more play throughs (I've played a 5 round and a 7 round game thus far) before I can put my finger on it, but something rubs me the wrong way about the game, and it isn't just Valley Games' lackluster production design.

    It's difficult - like trying to explain that you don't like something pretty classic, like the Godfather or Shakespeare or... I dunno... Chess.

    I was about to write about how I couldn't exactly explain my dislike for the game, but when I wrote "chess" above, I realized that's another classic game that I dislike, not because of its design, which is pretty much perfect, but because of the type of gameplay it requires: deep, strategic, long-term planning.

    I am, I think, a pretty decent tactician... above average in some respects. I think that's why I tend to do well in games that the group is being introduced to for the first time - I can quickly spot tactics and use them effectively.

    Where I fall down (and why I have never recovered my early dominance in El Grande) is my strategic thinking. I'm just not very good at strategy.

    That said, I need to get better at strategy, so games like Die Macher are ideal for that. I figure it's like sit-ups for the gaming brain - things I dislike doing but good for me nonetheless.

    Die Macher is well tuned and there's nothing in the design I can immediately point to in order to critique it. The graphics that Easy mention (especially Nuclear Power and Industry policies) are annoying but not deal-breakers.

    My opinion is still out on the random nature of the initial policy deal and the opinion poll cards, but for now I can see arguments for and against.

    I won't turn down a game, but this isn't one I'll clamour for in the future. Like El Grande, this is a well-themed, well-designed game which I can't really find fault with, but at the same time I can't make myself like it.