Monday, June 25, 2007

Review: Die Macher

What follows is a review I posted on BoardGameGeek some time ago. Enjoy.

Die Macher - BoardGameGeek game I.D. #1. I'll admit that I had eagerly been anticipating the reprinting of this game simply to see if this longstanding member of the top ten and pioneering entry on BGG was really as good as its ratings indicate. I have played the game a number of times since acquiring a copy of the new Valley Games reprint. Here are my conclusions.

Overall Impression
Various adjectives that communicate a lot of information very quickly can be ascribed to games . I've heard the term "elegant" applied to games with as few rules as possible yet books and books can be written about their strategy. The game "Go" would fall into this classification. One might say that "clunky" could be applied to a game that has lots and lots and lots of rules such that the game really resists being played in a variety of ways and can only be approached in a few reasonable ways. The term "chaotic" might be applied to a game with lots of dice rolling, blind draws, random cards, and unexpected turns of events created out of some unknown element(s) in the game.

Though Die Macher is not an "elegant" game in the sense of the word I previously described, it is not "clunky" in spite of the many rules in the game and, even though there are lots of random elements in the game, I wouldn't necessarily classify it as truly "chaotic". Perhaps the best term to describe the game is "majestic" in that the game's rules all serve to reinforce the theme and the chaos of the game makes sense within the political theme presented. Each round is composed of a series of mini-games that all come together to create a truly majestic whole. Bottom line, this game lives up to its mystique.

The "Time" Factor
About 4 hours at least is required on a first time run through with new players. When you play the game for the first time, don't be fooled by the length of the first round. The time goes by extremely quickly after getting through that first round as the rules become reinforced by their repitition in each subsequent round. The first round took about 1 1/2 hours to get through. Round 2 took about 45 minutes. Round 3 took about 30 minutes, etc. etc. Not only does the time intensity decrease but the absorbtion of the rules allows for the intrigue of the decisions offered by the rules to increase. In spite of the initial awkwardness that comes from a first time play of the game, everyone I've introduced Die Macher to has responded positively to it and has stated that they would like to play it again - the time intensity notwithstanding. In fact, as one begins to grasp the rules and begins to see the mixing of the game's "gears" the time moves quickly such that, after you are finished, you might ask yourself "was it really four hours I just spent?"

I would however strongly suggest that, if you want to make Die Macher run smoothly, you will have to invest some prep time in making player aides or downloading some off of BoardGameGeek simply to help the players keep track of where they are in the round and to help people have a vision of all of the elements going on in the game. Simply copying the summaries provided by the rule book is, in my opinion, insufficient.

The components are "okay" at best. I had some problems with the boards bowing up on me on my second run through of the game and the cards also tend to suffer from a bowing problem (i.e. the material the cards are made of is pretty stiff and tends to stay bent after shuffling). However, the tiles and cubes are okay. I had to make some clarifications out of the rule book on the second time through the game with further new players as some of the graphic designs in this edition are really lacking. The theme of the game is that each player represents a political party and, in keeping with that theme, each party has a certain number of "issues" that they take a stand on (determined by cards that you are dealt initially and that you acquire during the course of the game). In designing graphics for these various "issue" cards there are two issues ("Nuclear Power Development" and "Economic Redevelopment") that are both symbolized with a picture of a building and a crane. The crane, in fact, is the same picture. It's just been copyed and pasted and the buildings themselves look very similar. The game its self takes up a lot of table space and, with that in mind, looking at an issue card from across a larger table magnifies the problem of two issues having extremely similar graphics. After the first playing of the game, which was with a pretty "game savy" group of people I might add, I had to take a permanent marker and make distinctions on all of the cards of one of the issues (I chose "Nuclear Power Development") simply because the players were consistently confusing the two issues for each other.

Game Play
Without going into a tremendous amount of detail about the rules, here is a list of the elements that go into the game:
-You take stances on certain political issues.
-You can change your stances on political issues but only one at a time per round.
-There are seven rounds (six of which involvs a series of decisions and the seventh is purely a scoring round). Each round represents an election that is held within a particular state in Germany.
-Elections are won by the player with the most number of "votes". Votes are acquired by paying to hold party meetings within the state, having a platform that matches up with the public dispositions within that state, and by how popular your party is in that state (the people in the state may disagree with you on issues but they may like you and vice versa).
-Elections also offer a certain number of "seats" based on your total number of votes. In other words, it's not a "winner take all" type of election. Even if you don't win, you still can get a certain number of seats in a state. However, winning the election allows you to obtain certain benefits in the form of end game victory points and leverage in affecting the opinions of the nation as a whole.
-There are opinion polls that are auctioned that can impact your popularity in a state or your party membership overall.
-Players can purchase a media presence or multiple media presences in a state to help them stay immune from bad opinion polls and to help that player persuade the people in that state to change their viewpoints about certain issues.
-Players may accept monetary contributions to their party from outside sources and run the risk of losing party members in the process or they may reject contributions and gain party members as a result.
-You have a personal group of henchmen who are referred to as the "Shadow Cabinet". There are essentially your own personal secret service and they can be dispatched to a state to get things going in your favor (for a price of course).
-There are auctions for opinion polls, blind bids for the right to choose who the starting player is in a round, territory control issues with media markers (there can only be so many markers in a state), competition over majority of votes in a state, competition over affecting the national opinion through winning elections, opportunities for your henchmen in certain states to make deals and create coalitions between parties in a state, in essence - there is a lot to the game.

Victory points are a culmination of the seats you win in the elections, bonus points in the form of national media presences you may receive for winning elections outright in some of the states, your total party membership, and how much your party platform squares up with the viewpoint of the nation overall at the end of the game.

This game is a heavy game that takes up lots of table space and takes a long time to play but the investment is worth the reward and the time you spend won't feel as long as it really was once you're done. I strongly advise making player aides to help the game move more smoothly (I created several necessary score sheets that were larger and easier to understand than the disposable sheets that come with the game and laminated them so the players could use dry erase markers instead of pencils). I recommend that you have a calculator on hand for the final point tabulation to speed it up.

The theme of the game works really well and has appeal in that many of the elements in the theme can be applied to a variety of political systems - not just the German one. In other words, you don't have to have lived in or be from Germany to appreciate the theme.

Bottom line, this is a game that will tend to have great appeal for gamers but will more than likely not appeal to casual gamers and will probably not work at all for non-gamer (i.e. primarily party gamer) types of people. I personally have enjoyed playing the game and I look forward to playing it again.

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