The Political Machine 2012 is a turn-based strategy and campaign management PC game. However, don’t let its whimsical graphics fool you…underneath is a fully-featured political simulation that is both fun and challenging to play.

As a self-described political wonk, I had already played the previous 2004 and 2008 incarnations…therefore you can already surmise that the game will likely lose its appeal once the energy, passion and debates of the 2012 election have come and gone. However – until then – at a price tag of only $9.99, the game is well worth the fun that comes with putting your political mettle and campaign management skills to the test against both computer and human opponents.

Let the Campaign Begin!

The game’s single-player options are pretty straightforward, including selection of the kind of campaign that you want to manage. If you are a political novice, fear not, as you can always start off in the Cakewalk, Easy or Normal setting (there is also a tutorial) and gradually work your way up as your skills and strategies improve. For hardened veterans (*raises hand*) you will likely be looking for a challenge…and rest assured, anything from Challenging up to the Masochistic setting will be more than enough to abate (and frustrate) your competitive spirit.

If you really want to up the ante, jump into multiplayer against a human opponent. The game will automatically match you up with someone from around the world who is looking to manage a campaign from the opposite side of the isle of your chosen party.

Select from options that include campaign length, starting funds and difficulty level

And the Nominee is…

Next you will move on to character selection and – in the beginning – can choose from an assortment of past & present candidates from the last few election cycles or even create your own. Whether you feel that Herman Cain, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum or Jon Huntsman should have received the GOP nod…or you want to run as President Obama, Al Gore, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry or Michelle Obama…you can manage the dream campaign of your choosing. Perhaps YOU have Presidential dreams of grandeur…well, now is your chance to create your own character and see how you would fare against the competition on a national stage. 🙂

Additionally, as you win campaigns, you will unlock some of your party’s best and brightest throughout history. Ever wonder how Abraham Lincoln would do against John F. Kennedy? Maybe you want to run Ronald Reagan against FDR…that opportunity is also available to you as you progress through the game and rack up wins.

Most candidates come with preset attributes that will assist them on the campaign trail; including stamina, charisma, experience, fund-raising ability or intelligence…however you can adjust the ‘points’ as you see fit for the campaign and candidate that you wish to run.

Once you have your candidate selected / created, it’s time to hit the campaign trail!

Bachmann’s crazy eyes will haunt your dreams at night…*shiver*

Hitting the Stump

Once the game begins, it is up to you to develop, implement and execute a strategy for electoral victory. What battleground states are in play and how will you get to 270 electoral votes? Which states are dependably red / blue and don’t require as much attention? Do you want to run a negative or a positive campaign? How will you manage your money and where will you travel to and give speeches, run ads or employ political operatives to assist you on your road to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave? What is your opponent doing and are you playing political offense or defense? What endorsements do you need to lock in your base, while also attracting Independents?

These are all questions that you will need to ask, answer and act upon if you want to be competitive. But don’t assume that your answers and strategy are formulaic and predictable. For instance, in my first campaign, I (running the reelection for Obama) was able to win the entire Deep South, took away my opponent’s “home” state(s) and barely lost Texas. One of the genius aspects of the game is that it updates itself automatically to incorporate the most current debates and hotly contested issues of the day, drawing from the news and constantly updating issue relevance within the game. Therefore, your support for gay marriage may play well in California…but could mean squat (and actually hurt you) in states like Michigan and Ohio, where concerns over unemployment is king. You may win the endorsement of the NRA, Environmental Coalition, the Labor Unions and the Christian Coalition, but one or more of those is going to alienate your base, while having the benefit of attracting Independents.

Choose your endorsements wisely.
What gains you Independents, may hurt you with the base…or vise versa.

Being a turn-based game, you only have a certain amount of moves that you (and your opponent) can make each turn before you have to move on to the next week…and closer to election day. Therefore, how you spend your time and money is of the utmost importance, especially if you are playing competitively on a harder setting.

Along the way you can build and upgrade Campaign Headquarters (for cash), Consulting Offices (to earn political capital) or Outreach Centers (to increase clout) in particular states…the output of each can be spent on endorsements, political operatives to deploy in the field or awareness of your candidate in that state on a particular issue. How you spend each is also important and effective use of all can be the difference between victory or defeat, not to mention the buildings and upgrades to them can put quite a dent in your war chest.

You also have the ability to hold fund-raisers in states; but be careful about using this too much in the same states (the bigger the state, the higher the fundraising output), as each time you hold your hand out, you will experience the unfortunate rule of diminishing returns!

You can also give speeches, the topic of which will be determined by that state’s most pressing concerns and their importance to its residents. You can even decide if your speech is about what you or your opponent are for or against (i.e. In Florida, “My opponent is against saving Social Security!”), which will have an effect on the perception of both of you in that state.

Another tool at your disposal in ‘The Political Machine 2012’ are operatives. These come about by spending political capital that you have earned, and can include a Smear Merchant, Fixer, Spin Doctor, Consultant, Web Master and a number of other useful people with skills that carry a bonus attribute…like reducing the cost of running ads in the state that they are deployed…or removing one of the operatives of your opponent. (*evil grin*)

Speech! Speech! It’s time to tell voters what you (and your opponent) are for or against.

All the while, you are managing your campaign and keeping close tabs on your opponent (“They just went to a state that I thought I had locked in and are now gaining traction!“), you must also keep an eye out for mystery bonuses…because whoever gets there first will reap the benefits…or consequences!

You can also appear on TV interviews to help increase your National awareness. These will be with caricatures of current talking heads likes Bill O’Reilly (“The O’Malley Factor” in-game) and a Stephen Colbert look-alike, who will ask you questions on the day’s issues and you will have a set amount of time to answer them selecting from pre-set responses…of which, the answer you give may hurt or help your campaign.

And lastly, about halfway through, you are also able to pick your VP and deploy them to states on your behalf. They cannot give speeches or raise funds, but they do provide an area bonus to the state that you send them to, in addition to an awareness bump in surrounding / adjacent states.

Election Day

You’ve given the speeches. You’ve kissed the babies. You’ve sold your soul. Now it’s time for election night! This is where you find out if you had what it took to play in the Big Leagues.

Thankfully, you should have a pretty good idea of how the night is going to go, thanks to the other helpful features in the game like polls, demographics, breakdowns of where you and your opponent are perceived to stand on the issues and more. The Political Machine 2012 also provides you with an ongoing estimate throughout the game of how much of the electoral college you are expected to win, should the election be held on any given day…therefore, heading into election night shouldn’t be a stressful experience.

However, if you are playing a human opponent online or on a harder setting, you might be biting your nails…because it’s going to be a close one! Did you get that battleground state that you and your opponent were battling over in the final moments of the campaign before the polls opened? Did your message resonate? Now it’s time for the results!

My first campaign…there shall be no mercy, including the hostile takeover of my opponent’s home state.

The game and campaign finally concludes with an attractive animation of each state and which way it went (red or blue)…culminating in a final electoral map and popular vote. You can also see breakdowns of how much you spent in juxtaposition to what your opponent spent, in addition to seeing the exit polls and where you stood on the issues in people’s minds as they headed into the voting booth.

My first campaign was a blow-out, with an Obama win of 469 electoral votes to Romney’s 69, and an over 20 million popular vote advantage (come to think of it, that’s not too far off from what Obama did to McCain in 2008.) I was also a little disappointed, as I should have gotten Texas in the final moments and wanted to deliver an even bigger ass-whopping…similar to the one Reagan handed to Mondale (who only won one state) in 1984. 😉

Democracy in action!

When the Dust Settles

If you are into politics and enjoy employing a little strategy, I would recommend downloading this game at its current low price of $9.99. For the money, you are getting hours of fun and get to play campaign manager in the middle of an election year…what could be more fun?!

As I mentioned earlier, I have bought and played the ’04 and ’08 editions (in fact, little has changed since the ’08 version), and the ’12 edition carries on that tradition of fun, challenge and enjoyment.

The game is whimsical in its delivery, but has a lot of features under the hood. If you are brave enough to play on the hardest setting or against a human opponent, be prepared to work HARD and FRANTICALLY…because nobody said winning the Presidency would be easy. 🙂


Game Requirements: Windows 8 / 7 SP1 / Vista SP2. The free Steam application is required to install and play The Political Machine 2012.

Additional Game Recommendation: If you’d like to take your political ‘strategery’ mobile, I also recommend ‘Campaign Manager’ for Android and iOS, developed by Kevin Bradford.