I finally got a chance to play this beast. Although I really enjoyed it, I don't think I understand well enough the intricate interactions of the mechanics to give it a fair review. Nor do I have the energy or the memory to give our game a fair session report. So I will simply discuss it.
Our game had 3 first-timers and 1 second-timer. It took us about 7 hours. We had all either read the rules and/or watched Scott Nicholson's excellent Die Macher video. It really is not a complex game to play; it simply has a lot of steps and a lot of depth.
To give you an idea of the game, I'll describe it "inside-out". There are 7 rounds. Each round represents an election in a single region. For now, let's just consider what happens in a single region, then I'll give you the big picture afterwards. You do the following things:
Modify your party platform - Change up to 1 card of your 5 platform cards. The number of matches and mismatches with a given region affects the number of votes you get.Now, once you have digested all of that, let's place those actions into context. At any given time, there is a "window" of 4 regions. The current region is where the election will occur, but all the steps above occur is all 4 regions every round. So, for example, you could play Shadow Cabinet cards on future regions in anticipation of your need there. You can convert meetings to votes early if you think your popularity or your coincidence will likely fall later on.
Shadow Cabinet - Pay off a government official to give you some favor. These include: giving you the option for form a coalition, gaining votes, taking over another party's media influence, making your party more popular, making an opponent's party less popular, making an issue into a key issue, or making a key issue no longer a key issue.
Form Coalitions - If 2 parties, each with 30 votes, join together, they can win an election against a party with 50 votes. You can only do this if each party is allowed to form a coalition (based Shadow Cabinet cards) and if both parties have at least 2 matching issues in their platform.
Buy Media Markers - Spend money to gain influence over the media in the region. There are only 5 spaces, and if they are full, you can't buy any more influence. If a player has a plurality of media control, they can change one issue in the region's opinion, and they are immune to any negative effects of Opinion Polls there.
Organize Meetings - Buy up to 4 meeting markers. These will become votes.
Opinion Polls - Auction a public opinion poll. No one knows the results, but everyone wants to be able to use it to their benefit, or bury it if it hurts them.
Gain Votes - You can choose to convert meetings to votes if you have at least 5 meetings. If this region is holding its election this round, then all meetings are converted. The formula is Votes = (Popularity + Coincidence) * Meetings. If a player has a current majority of votes (more than all other players combined), they can change one issue in the region's opinion.
Popularity is -3/-2/0/+2/+3 and is affected by Shadow Cabinet and Opinion Poll.
Coincidence is the number of matching issues minus the number of opposite issues.
Score Region - Votes translate to VP and to money, win or lose. The winner can place a media marker on the National Board (more VP), and move 1 or 2 of the region's opinion cards up to the national board (coincidence with the National Board is worth VP at the end).
At all times, you are managing the coincidence between your party platform and the 4 regions plus the national board. Every time you change one of your issues, it affects all 5 coincidence values. Since you can only change one each round, you have to make changes appropriately for what is coming up. You might even lower your coincidence in the current region in order to better match the next region (perhaps worth more VP). At the same time, regional opinion can change, as well as the national board. Your coincidence with the national board each turn also affects your increase in party membership, which affects your money and your VP. The country is a moving target.
The other thing that is difficult to manage is money. Elections are expensive. You start the game with 25,000. After each election, you get 1,000 per seat won. After elections 1, 3, and 5, you get 1,000 per party member. At the end of each turn, you can accept or decline a contribution from 10,000 to 50,000. Accepting it gives you cash, but costs you members. Declining it gains you members.
The Die Macher design is very cynical about elections, and probably rightly so. Votes come from money, media control, who you know in the government, and how much a show you put on. You can convince the people to change their opinions. You can force the people to change their opinions. You can change your own party platform just to get more votes.
Ideally, an election is about parties running based on their respective values, and people voting based on their values. Die Macher is almost humorous in the way it openly flaunts the reality.
The Physical Design
Let me start by saying I am very happy Valley Games decided to take the risk to offer Die Macher. Surely, many gamers talked about it, but how many would really buy it? How many could really devote the time to play it?
Valley Games basically copied the layout of the original games and added their own graphics and styles. I can't fault them for the former; I don't think it would have sold as many copies if they hadn't kept the familiar windmill layout. But I can fault them for their graphics. Seriously. I am no artist, but I could have done a better job in a week. The color choices, the contrast, the lack of clear edges, faded icons, a different style for each graphical element, ridiculous icons, using Comic Sans everywhere. This game fails High School Intro to Art.
Now about the layout (all versions). It is silly. It is clearly a gimmick. From the perspective of analyzing the state of the game at a glance (which is what board design should be about), the 6 boards do not do their jobs. The physical design of the boards was intended to make people say, "What the f$%^ is this?" And it works perfectly for that. Once you get beyond that, it's a joke.
The proper design for Die Macher would be a single board with the 4 regions laid out as a table. Popularity, meetings, and votes would be horizontal, making it easy to compare players, and to compare players across all the regions. If you wanted to go even further into usability, instead of using cards to represent platforms and opinions, you could have 7 spaces. Place a green cylinder on a space for a yes/increase stance and a red cylinder on a space for a no/decrease stance. Then it's really easy to compare your platform with any region or the nation's. You don't need to be able to see any silly icons. You don't care if the order is mixed up.
Die Macher is a very fun game. It's even good enough that I can overlook the serious physical design flaws, but I will never buy it. It's not a game that you can whip out on a whim on game night. It's a game that you have to plan for a specific time, and for specific people. I could probably play this once a month if circumstances allowed.
Die Macher image by marioaguila