The Political Machine 2008

Games Reviews
The Political Machine 2008

Platform: Windows XP and Vista

I will stop at nothing when electioneering

I’ve cast a ballot in two presidential elections so far, and both times, my guy lost. Surely, I’m not the only luckless voter who’s spent the past eight years bemoaning democracy’s lack of a do-over option. Fortunately, fantasy trumps reality once again, thanks to The Political Machine 2008, a turn-based strategy game that puts players on the campaign trail in a quest for electoral dominance.

Players can choose to run as any of the primary candidates from this year’s election (the Ron Paul revolution lives!), or unlock notable historical and even fictional figures for some anachronistic electioneering. Politicians are represented on the U.S. map as gleaming bobbleheads, traipsing from state to state to give speeches, raise funds, and install scheming political operatives. The presentation is whimsical through and through, even subjecting your candidate to the questioning of fictionalized versions of Larry King and Bill O’Reilly.

Underneath this yuk-yuk exterior, though, is a rigorous simulation of the American electoral system, with all its quirks intact. As in real-life politics, cash rules the political process, and job one for any candidate is to raise funds. Candidates can set up grassroots organizations across the states or hold big-ticket fundraisers. Depending on their party affiliation, they may also come in contact with shadowy, deep-pocketed donors. Campaigning costs money, too, and besides battling your opponent on the issues, the trickiest part is remaining solvent throughout the election cycle.

The Political Machine observes the whole affair without editorializing in favor of one party or another. When it does tweak the election’s unsavory aspects, it’s with a “pox on both your houses” attitude. All candidates can hire PR gurus, smear merchants and thugs to disrupt polling on election day. Winning is all that matters. Despite all this—or because of it—elections often come down to one or two key battleground states. Watching the returns come in on election day is almost as nerve-wracking as the real thing.

With its depth, and the sophistication of its resource management system, The Political Machine is not so different from other games by Stardock, a company better known for far-out science-fiction epics like Galactic Civilizations and Sins of a Solar Empire. Stardock’s metier is fantasy, but The Political Machine shows that little is more fantastical than the American political system.

Not to mention that if you don’t like the results, you can always reset the game and try again. Talk about fantasy!

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