Die Macher, by Karl-Heinz Schmiel, is game in which 3-5 players each struggle to bring a 1980’s German political party to national dominance through a series of local elections, party growth, media manipulation, shaping public opinion, financial management, and other standard political machinations. If that theme doesn’t set your world on fire than nothing will! Right? In all seriousness, the theme actually does become fairly engrossing, because hidden within an ocean of little wooden cubes to push about, is a fantastic game that truly captures the feeling of running a political campaign.
In the most recent session of the IGS (Indy Game Series), Die Macher was on the menu, and although I was aware of its excellent reputation as a heavy strategy game, I must concede that even I was skeptical about the theme and how much I would enjoy the game. Did I mention that the cards representing political issues and party members were all printed in German? No worries, with a brief preview of the rules on-line and an excellent teaching job by Steve Jones (High Chancellor of the IGS) I felt fairly confident that I understood approximately 75-80 percent of the rules when we started the game.
A brief overview of Die Macher is as follows:
Each player takes control of a German political party. The real world platforms of these parties are irrelevant and for the purposes of the game there is no difference between them.
Each player receives the same amount of seed money to run their campaigns.
Each player receives a deck of shadow cabinet members who will be used to affect the conditions on the ground in the various state elections.
Each player receives a limited supply of media markers and party meeting markers. The management of these resources is crucial to one’s success.
Each player receives their starting positions on the issues of the day and a stack of three cards which may be used to adjust their party’s positions as the game progresses.
The first for states holding elections are determined, with fewer of the local stances on issues being visible in the later elections and all of them being visible in the first.
Lastly, each player selects their starting position in the states from a few options in secret and then play begins.
The game takes place over seven sequential local elections, the outcomes of which will largely determine the victor at the national level. These are won by having the most votes in the region at the time of the election. To gain these votes, party meeting counters are sacrificed and multiplied by a factor which is determined according to the net number of issues the local public has in common with the party’s platform and the party’s current popularity within that state. As such, controlling public opinion about one’s party and agreement on issues is of the highest importance! The number of national seats gained through votes varies from state to state and players must consider how much to invest in money and effort in each state election. Players may score points: by accumulating seats based on their performance in the local elections, growing the membership of their party by refusing special interest money and having a platform aligned with the national public opinion, gaining control of national media by having media interest in states where they are victorious in the local election, and lastly some end game points are scored by having the party’s agenda match the public’s national stances on issues. After the sixth election, the seventh is immediately resolved and then final scoring at the national level is performed with the highest point total being declared the winner.
Quick Play Report
The players attending this IGS session of Die Macher were: Myself, Steve, Daris, and Nate. Neither Nate nor I had ever played before, and Daris had only played once before several years ago. Steve, with his four or five plays, was far and away the most experienced player at the table.
Given the relative inexperience of the group, I planned to try coming out strong and hope that my lead would become unassailable by the time the other players figured out what I was up to. I thought that this could only be accomplished by having tons of money to assert my control over the game. As such, my initial set up choices reflected a heavy commitment to winning the first election and growing my party membership. I knew and early election win of many seats would give me a lot of cash and by adding to my party membership I could afford to take special interest money even if it resulted in losing some of those party members. I would then go full on corruption and try to dominate the early game with a massive financial advantage. That was the plan at least.
The other three players opted to spread their media influence for free during the set up. Honestly, I think in a group of more experienced players this would be a much better strategy than my rabbit plan, but the die was cast.
Nate: Nate was struggling mightily in the early game. Some of this could be attributed to setting on my left. My plan required going last most of the time and with my money advantage I forced Nate to play first so that I could play last. As a result he was only able to muster 70 seats during the first four elections.
Daris: He focused heavily on media in the 2nd and 3rd states and did quite well in both. He and I united in a coalition in the 2nd state to keep Nate from placing a media marker at the national level. During the first four elections Daris managed to gain 129 seats in the first four states and was off to a solid start.
Steve: I was not exactly sure what Steve’s strategy was at the start. He seemed to be building his infrastructure in the future states while being quite efficient with his resources. Given his edge in experience, I was keeping a close eye on him with the hope of discovering his plan and/or possibly picking up some clues to how to play better. After the first four rounds he had gained only 117 seats, but appeared to be well positioned in his agenda and media for the end game.
Chris: I was hyper aggressive right out of the gate. I dominated the first three elections and took all of the special interest money that I could. My victories were allowing me to set the national agenda. By keeping my party’s platform in-line with the national agenda (that I was setting) it allowed me to recoup some of the losses to party membership that my rampant corruption was causing. After the first four states I had accumulated 144 seats and despite my corruption, I still maintained the largest party as well. At this point I was cautiously optimistic that I had the game well under control. I was about to learn a painful Die Macher rookie lesson.
Nate: His resurgence in the late game was nothing short of amazing. His utter dominance of late game media, particularly in the fifth province was unbelievable. I had aligned my platform perfectly to take the fifth province two rounds out, but by the time we got there he had used media control and having a clear majority in votes to utterly destroy my position. What had looked like a slam dunk election win, or at least a max seat gain, turned into a ten seat debacle. This shook my confidence to the core and Nate began to flex his late game power. He acquired 107 seats in the final three states.
Daris: He was kind of the quiet man during the entire game. Never really drew any attention to himself, but quietly amassed a large number of seats in every election. His only struggle was with getting his party’s platform to align with the national sentiment and the size of his party. Were it not for these two struggles, he could have very easily flown under the radar to a victory. He managed to add 55 seats to his total in the last three elections.
Steve: I believe that Steve probably played the best all around game of any of us, but the beginner tactics that Nate and I employed sabotaged his plans greatly. My early dominance stifled some of his efforts, and Nate crushed both Steve and I with his late game media onslaught. More than anything, it was probably Nate’s actions that destroyed Steve. Having sacrificed some early points for late game position only to have it thwarted by Nate had to be a lot to overcome. Steve only managed to add 51 seats to his total in the final three states.
Chris: I found myself in a similar situation to Steve, as our platforms were quite similar, but I had the advantage of my early aggression and the lead I had gained. I could only hope that it would be enough to hang on as my best laid plans were utterly derailed by Nate. In the last three elections I only managed to add a paltry 54 seats.
Final Scoring: Steve Daris Chris Nate
Seats: 168 199 199 177
Media Bonus: 20 35 45 27
Party: 46 37 41 39
Party Bonus: 10 — 6 —
Coincidence: (Platform) 52 5 45 60
Coincidence Bonus: 5 — 10 10
Final Score: 301 286 346 313
Victory!!! I was thrilled to pull off the win! The dogs were nipping hard at my heels and I was very glad there was not an eighth election as I had completely run out of steam. However, my edge on Nate and Steve in seats, primarily gained in the early elections was enough to hang on for the win. It was a very close game and we kept wavering on who we thought would be the victor even as we were adding up the scores!
It is difficult to review a game as heavy as Die Macher after just one play and as such, I will use more of a quick list bullet points to describe my first impressions.
– Despite being a cube pushing monstrosity, I truly feel that it captures the theme of running a political party with the elements of money management, media manipulation, local and national level concerns, opinion polls, shadow cabinet, and the benefits and negatives for engaging in corruption.
– I absolutely love the pregame set up options. The strategic fallout from making slightly different choices during this phase can be truly massive. I found it to be a wonderful way to allow for strategic decision-making at the beginning of a game that rewards tactical opportunism throughout its remainder.
– The auctions for starting player and the opinion polls are an interesting challenge. Sometimes being in control of the turn order is absolutely crucial as is determining whether or not a poll will be published. There are times when, due to your position, you simply can not afford the risk of allowing someone else to publish a potentially damaging poll to your public opinion within a region. Unfortunately, these polls are purchased in the dark, and so one must weigh the cost of buying insurance to protect your position versus the very real possibility of wasting a fortune on a poll that may not have harmed you at all.
– The tension! As they game drew to a close, we knew that the score was going to be tight. This sense that victory might slip away or be gained until the very end made for a very exciting game.
– Different paths to victory. I went hyper corruption and money control. Nate played the media game. Daris flew under the radar and quietly racked up a solid score. Steve played a well-rounded long game that might have won if not for Nate’s late game media shenanigans. When it was all said and done only 60 points separated first from last for about a 17% margin. Pretty tight!
– The massive number of decisions to be made, and the feeling that all of them matter. I felt as though the game was made up of countless tiny battles and maneuvers that added up to determine the final winner of the war.
– The random nature of the polls and when they come out. Yes you can do the odds. Yes you can play it safe. However, when push comes to shove, you may be forced to expend massive resources in an attempt to control an unknown. If the right or wrong poll comes up at exactly the right or wrong time, it can absolutely ruin your situation in that state and by extension it might ruin your entire game. As a noob, it is possible that I am over estimating the potential impact of this randomness, but it seems like the effect could be huge.
– Getting others to play. I am as hardcore of a gamer as one is likely to encounter, and even I confess that the theme had me questioning whether or not I wanted to play. I can only imagine the nightmare of convincing less willing gamers to play, and of those intrepid souls who are willing to give it a try may still struggle to “get into” the game. No dragon riding zombie robots in this one. You have to want it!
– Steep learning curve. While some of our players had played before, it was either very little or some time ago. If a new player sat down and tried to compete with veterans it would be a massacre! I don’t necessarily consider this a negative aspect to a game because I enjoy the challenge of getting better with each play, but some people feel very strongly about games being this way and so I included it.
– Lots of math! Current math, future possible math, probability math, money math, and min maxing votes for seats math. Lots of math. For the most part it is basic math, but there are a lot of computations. If you hate doing lots of math you will likely hate Die Macher.
I loved this game! I enjoy a heavy strategic slugfest and Die Macher fit that description to a tee! This is the sort of mind frying game that makes you feel like you have really won something if you emerge victorious. Having to allocate limited resources, anticipate future events, engage fellow players in diplomacy, manage risk, and cope with adversity when things go awry are exactly the sort of challenges that I look for in games.
My first impression of Die Macher is to rate it 9.0 out of a possible 10. This could change over time as I get a better feel for the game, but I honestly could see it going even higher. It is no wonder this game is still highly regarded after more than 25 years since its release. I am eager to play again, and have been mulling around different strategies that I plan to try in my next game. Any game that has you thinking about your next play is a winner in my book! Die Macher has my vote as an outstanding game that has stood the test of time, provides a unique gaming experience, and is a brain melting good time!