Don't dismiss The Political Machine as a boring game about politics. Even if the very though of politics makes you feel like taking a nap, you're certain to have a whole new appreciation for the profession after playing this game. It offers an insider's look into the machinations of the secret, cunning, underhanded and sometimes comical world of political strategy. It's part documentary, part board game, but totally fun.

The Political Machine puts you in the role of a campaign manager for the 2004 presidential elections. You can choose from a Democrat or a Republican at which time you will take on the campaign of Bush or Kerry. In a nutshell you have to parade your presidential hopeful around the country appearing on TV shows, giving speeches, answering questions and generally making him popular with the voters.

Played out like a board game, you have 41 weeks to do your job. Each turn equals one week. Your opponent then makes his or her move and so the game goes until you win or lose the election. Each game is relatively short but there's plenty to do. A map of the States will show how you're doing in each region in terms of popularity and other stats such as employees and headquarters. You will field questions and have your client speak on issues that range from Social Security to their stand on cloning Elvis. Primary public concerns revolve around the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism and the occasional question of aliens visiting our planet.

Aligning yourself with the proper organizations and paying for endorsements will give your client a wider appeal. Woman's Rights, the church, and colored people should be appeased to make it look like your presidential hopeful cares about everyone. Don't forget to promise better paying jobs in the blue-collar regions of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Spin doctors can be hired to increase your popularity by 15-per-cent. At the same time you can undermine your opponent by hiring a smear doctor to decrease his popularity by 15-per-cent. You can even hire thugs to intimidate your opponent's voters from going to the poles. While this may seem like the easy solution, you only have so much money available and hiring these professionals can be very expensive. You have to use your money for lot of other things such as endorsements, travelling expenses and advertising.

Along with money, your client has a limited amount of stamina. He can't be everywhere all the time. Overwork him and you'll run out of steam, crippling your campaign and allowing your competition to get ahead.

In a way, The Political Machine is kind of like Monopoly in that it's got some depth and strategy to it with just the right amount of luck. Unfortunately the AI won't be able to keep up with you once you get the hang of the basic strategy. It follows a fairly straightforward and obvious course which is excellent for beginners but not challenging enough for experts.

Fortunately you can play online courtesy of the Stardock server. You may be hard pressed to find an opponent since it looks pretty empty out there but if you know of someone who has a copy or you can find a player in a forum thread get their email and schedule some games with them.

When the map gets covered with stats and icons it can be a little difficult to discern. However, the regular interfaces are easy to read and use. All of the characters are represented by cartoon caricatures which make them almost look cute. You can unlock more presidential hopefuls including Hillary Clinton and Ulysses S. Grant but the campaign will always take place in 2004.

You don't have to be a political scientist to play this game. You don't even have to like politics or know anything about it. Knowing nothing could actually work to your benefit, as it's certainly worked for many successful politicians.

Click For Media
System: PC
Dev: Stardock
Pub: Ubi Soft
Release: Aug 2004
Players: 1 - 2
Review by Cole