As many of you have read in my most recent monthly customer updates, I’ve been back working on the new version of Mr. President weekly, and sometimes daily, over the past couple of months. The updated, streamlined design is falling into place, and we’re a little over a month away from handing the game off to Mike Bertucelli for final development and testing. In this article and those that follow, I want to give you a sense of how it feels to play the current version of Mr. President. With the able assistance of my son Luke and daughter Rachel, whose most recent plays of the game have netted two auto-losses, we’ll take you along with us as we begin a new administration. I hope you enjoy the article! – Gene
So why three Presidents? Well, we’ve found over the past month of testing the new version of Mr. President, that it’s really fun to play this game together. It eases the workload of lookups and die rolls, and shares all the fun! So, for purposes of this article, for the first time in history, the US has elected a Presidential Team! (Well, it works for us, anyway….)
In Part 1 of this ongoing article, we’ll take you through the setup of Mr. President and give you a look at the various aspects of the game that you select and consider as you prepare for play.
Note: All of the images of the game herein are of my playtest version. These are not final graphics.
Meet the Cabinet and Key Advisors
As we settle into our three chairs in the Oval Office (aka Gene’s MP design room), we’ll introduce our Vice President and key cabinet members and Advisors:
- Our VP is Kim Richards, skilled in both domestic affairs (left number) and diplomacy (middle number – and giving us an extra action each round, due to her skill and efficiency).
- Our Secretary of State is Bo Hamilton. That “1” Diplomacy rating will give us a -1 drm on our diplomatic actions (Rachel picked us a Sec State with a “0” Diplomacy in a previous game, which led to all kinds of trouble around the world. Lesson learned.)
- Filling the Secretary of Defense slot is John Long, an efficient (+1 Action) and skilled (+1 Military rating) cabinet member.
- Our last key advisor is our Chief of Staff. For this slot we chose Andy Lewis from the list of random candidates. Andy has long been the worst advisor in the game, but a couple months ago I decided to be fairer to Andy and give him two counters – one that’s still the worst in the game, and a new one that’s really awesome (I tell myself that this is the “theoretical version” of Andy 🙂 ). So we drew the new one. I protested that we couldn’t have Andy Lewis in our White House or disaster would certainly ensue, but Luke and Rachel stood up for him, so here we are. Andy Lewis is Chief of Staff, and gets to organize my schedule and tell me what to do. This is going to be a LONG four years! Something is definitely wrong with this game….)
The remainder of the Domestic Cabinet is represented by the Cabinet Effectiveness Table, which starts at “4” in the second box from the left. This goes up and down throughout the game as you gain more experience or as cabinet members leave, and gives you extra Presidential Action Points (APs) each turn.
Now for the final piece to our Cabinet. In each game, you get to randomly select (from a group of 5) one Exceptional White House Resource. This is one of your advisors or staff members or a team of people that is flat out amazing – a perfect fit for their job. For this game, we have drawn the “Outstanding Homeland Security Chief” resource. This will help us keep our Homeland Security Track high during the game and also allow us to re-roll one failed Homeland Security Check each turn (the way we roll, this should come in handy).
POTUS Attributes and Extra Actions
As you can see in the pic with the key cabinet advisors, we start the game with two POTUS Attributes (out of a mix of 12 counters). It’s possible to get more during the game, up to a max of four. For this game, our joint President has these two attributes:
- Military. This will help us develop our military Strategic Capabilities more quickly.
- An Ally’s Best Friend. This allows us to automatically improve one Ally relationship each turn.
These are pretty good, but we’re all a bit worried that we don’t have any domestic attributes, and the auto-loss two games ago was due to Rachel and Luke (I take no responsibility for that one!) allowing the Lingering Domestic Issues to get so out of control that the game public rioted and “threw the bums out!” So, we’re hoping we’ve learned from that and will keep an eye on the domestic side of things, but our initial Attributes won’t provide us any help on the domestic front.
On the flip side of that, we chose the best Presidential card in the game (we don’t want to auto-lose again!) , and we’ll receive one extra Domestic, Diplomatic, and Military Action each turn. That’ll definitely come in handy as we face whatever trials this game and its evil designer throw at us.
First, the game tracks the status of a President’s Relations with Congress (RWC). This is a 3-8 track (starts at 5) that you occasionally have to make d10 RWC checks against to determine whether a particular course succeeds or fails, or whether a certain event happens.
Now let’s look at our relationships in Congress. This, by the way, is an area of the game that has been completely redesigned since you guys saw it last. I realized, in trying to streamline things, that in the old version you were way too involved in getting a bill through Congress. That’s really outside the scope of the President’s job, and functionally the old version was a lot better at teaching you how a bill becomes a law than it was in adding enjoyment to the game. So the new version focuses on your relationships with key Congressional Leaders, and specifically the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader, to determine how quickly (or even IF) you can get your bills through Congress. It plays quickly, but gives you what I think is an appropriate feel for what’s necessary to efficiently promote your legislative agenda in Congress. I’ll explain more details about how this works as we get into the game, but for now, let’s take a peek at our Congressional relationships.
The good news here, is that our Party holds a slight majority in each house of Congress. That means both the Senate Majority Leader (Tom Isao) and the Speaker of the House (Juliet James) are inclined to like us or at least share some of our agenda.
We also have two Friends and two Opponents in Congress at game start. Clearly, we’d have a lot more than that in real life, but for game purposes, these represent the strongest of your supporters and the most vehement of your opponents. In this case, our Friends aren’t real strong (a 2 and 1 rating) and our Opponents are skilled (a 2 and 3). But our trump (pardon the expression) is that both the SML and the Speaker of the House have great ratings and Tom Isao is a dream with the Media, so we have high hopes that we’ll get a lot of support out of Congress and that they’ll help us get our message out to the people, at least early in our administration.
It’s important, too, to note the status of our relationships with the SML and the Speaker. In fact, this may be THE most important factor affecting our ability to get legislation passed in the game. Our relationship can be in one of three boxes. When the Leadership is in the opposing party, these boxes are three flavors of bad. When they’re from your Party, they are at worst Neutral, but they start in the middle box – “Friendly or Aligned.” Those numbers at the top (2/0, the 1/1 you can’t see above the middle box, and the 0*/1) tell you how many spaces you get to move your legislation (left of the slash) and your Opponent’s legislation (right of the slash) during each Legislative segment (there are four of these during each six-month round). For our current game, then, as long as we keep our worst of the two relationships better than Neutral, we’ll be able to move legislation along by at least one box during every Legislative segment. You can imagine, too, looking at the bottom half of the Relationship box, that if the Opposing party controlled both houses, you’d have to work to get your relationships to the left-most (Neutral) box to have any chance at all of moving your legislation along. Most of the legislation in that case would be introduced and eventually passed as “Opponents’ Legislation.”
The Domestic Situation and Domestic Relationships
You track the domestic situation in Mr. President through a variety of tracks and methods:
- The Public Approval Track. This track moves in 2% boxes and tends to swing pretty wildly over the course of a game, as the American public can be demanding, and at times, unforgiving. For our game, it starts at 40%.
- The Media Relations Track. Like the RWC Track, this is a 3-8 track (starts at 5) representing not only your relations with the Media, but also how well you use the media to promote your message.
- The State of the Economy Track. A 3-7 track (starts at 6) that doesn’t swing nearly as much as the other tracks, but has, among other things, an ongoing impact on Public Approval.
- The Homeland Security Track. A 3-8 track (starts at 6). Most of the HS Checks against this track determine whether a particular terrorist event will succeed or fail, or perhaps regulate the severity of the attack. A low HS rating invites attack, but a too high rating tends to hurt Public Approval a bit.
- The Public Legislative Priorities Track. This keeps you apprised of the issues the public cares about. You draw them randomly from a possible group of 13 at the start of each game. These priorities change often during the game, as the public’s attention span can sometimes be short. For our game, the public priorities we’ve drawn (a clue to what we should care about in the White House) are: Health Care Reform, Social Security, Welfare Reform, Cyber Security, and Infrastructure Upgrades.
- The Domestic Crisis Track. (Starts at 1) This track increases as new domestic crises and issues arrive and decreases as you and your cabinet address them, or sometimes when you pass legislation that addresses them. If the track ever reaches past the two box, you have a Major Domestic Failure, which is every bit as bad as it sounds. One of the impacts is that it automatically increases the Lingering Domestic Issues (LDI) track. See below.
- The Lingering Domestic Issues (LDI) Track. This is a 0-6 track that memorializes your long-term domestic failures as well as unresolved major social and domestic issues in America. In each game, the LDI starts at 1 (though you could easily craft “nightmare scenarios” where it started much higher). If it ever gets to the 6 box, that’s an auto-loss for the player.
Building a Greater Society and Choosing Administration Legislative Priorities
Now that we understand more about our domestic situation, we get to choose which of the game’s six Greater Society initiatives we want our administration to pursue and what we want our legislative priorities to be.
- We decide on Science & Technological Innovation for our Greater Society Initiative. We’ll explain this in more detail once we get into the game, but for now, this is a big way that you earn Legacy Points (the game’s version of VPs). Advances along your Greater Society track also give you a variety of game benefits during play.
- Legislative Priorities. We get to choose three. We consider two key things here: 1) The Public’s Legislative Priorities, because we want to line up with them wherever possible, and 2) legislation that helps us with our Greater Society initiative. In this case, we decide to mirror the top two Public Priorities – Health Care Reform and Social Security, and make our third priority STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) Funding, to assist us with our Greater Society initiative. We place the three Administrative priority markers in their spots on the play mat.
I’m not going to spend much time talking about the world, for the sake of space. This part of the game is very similar to the versions you saw last year (read previous InsideGMT articles on Mr. President if you’d like more detail). There are eight world regions, and you track Alignment, Stability, and Regional Crises for each one. Each can be home to Allies and Rogue States, Terror Groups, Unstable States, and Civil Wars, as well as Military units and Russia and China Influence. These regions are where all the “world simulator” game action takes place. As President, we will work to promote peace and stability wherever possible (too much world instability can cause an auto-loss), and bring US military power to a region when we believe that is necessary.
Cascading Events at Start
No President takes office in a vacuum; there is always a world context POTUS steps into. In Mr. President, we represent that by how we choose to set up the game (how much terror, what the ratings are in each regions, etc). We also seed the game engine with several Cascading Events.
Cascading Events are a new type of event that I’ve added to MP this year. I noticed that in the previous version a lot of events happened, but there didn’t tend to be lingering effects over the entire game from that event. I thought this was really important in terms of real-world fidelity, so I came up with a mechanic to make it happen. There are now 20+ cards in the game that are Cascading Event cards. These cards have different results depending on when you draw them. The first time you draw them from the game’s Crisis Deck, you follow the instructions in the”From Crisis Deck” section of the card. Once you finish with that, instead of placing the card in the Discard pile, it goes into the “2 Pile.” The game will occasionally have you draw a card from that 2 Pile – and it’s always a Cascading Event, as those are the only cards that discard to the 2 Pile. When you draw a card from there, you follow the instructions in the “From 2 Pile” section. And these are always worse than the “From the Crisis Deck” section, showing that the crisis is deepening. When you finish with a card drawn from the 2 Pile, you discard it to the 3 Pile, which works the same way, except that the “From the 3 Pile” results tend to be conditional. If you’ve done a lot of work in the game to avoid that card’s crisis worsening, you might get a lesser result or avoid any bad result altogether. If not, though, and you’re unprepared, the “From the 3 Pile” results can rock you. The cards that sit in the 2 and 3 piles are face up so you can look through them at any time, but when you’re called to draw from pile, you turn them over and shuffle them (there are usually 3-6 cards in there at a time) before drawing one randomly. So you always know what Cascading events are possible, just not which one you’ll draw. We will see how those play out shortly, but for now, that’s the 4-1-1 on Cascading Events.
One of the last things we do before game start is to seed the game with Cascading events – two go into the 2 pile and one into the 3 pile. But we’ll also RESOLVE those events, just as if they’d already happened in the game. This helps us get immediately into the game’s story, and also further randomizes the way each game of Mr. President begins.
So we draw our first Cascading Event card, one that will go into the 2 Pile after we resolve the event. We draw this card:
So terror is on the move in Europe. Following the text in the “From Crisis Deck” section, we place a new lvl 2 Terror Group in the Eurozone region and increase the Regional Crises marker by one box, from 0 to 1. We’re redacting the rest of the card for now, just to keep you in suspense. We place the card in the 2 Pile. The next time it’s drawn, the effects will likely be worse.
Looks like maybe we cut some corners during the election. Now we have a choice to make. Do we appoint an independent investigator, take a hit to our Relations with Congress, and have a 50/50 chance of getting out of the mess, or do we deny everything, take a Public Approval hit, add a Domestic Crisis, and hope we can delay and deflect the investigation long-term? We decide to take the high road and appoint the investigator. We decrease RWC by one box and increase Public Approval by one (they liked our approach). Now we make a Cabinet Drama Table roll, and roll a 4. The result reads “Influence scandal at Treasury causes market flash crash. Place a Worsening Economy marker on the US State of Economy Track. -2 Public Approval.” Yikes. People are losing confidence in the economy and they’re blaming us. We’re not off to a great start.
Now we check to see if that’s the end of the fundraising crisis, or if we’re stuck with it for a while. We roll a d10 and get a 7. Rats! So the investigation will continue. We place the card in the 2 Pile.
Finally, we draw a Cascading event to place in the 3 Pile. Here’s what we draw:
Ouch. This one is going to hurt a little. Russia is on the move in Eastern Ukraine. So because we’re seeding the 3 Pile this time, we’re going to apply both events, in order. First we add one Tensions to Russia and NATO, then we add two more Tensions to each and place a Russia Influence marker in Eastern Europe (that makes 2 Russia Influence markers there now, as they start the game with one in Eastern Europe). Finally, we increase the Russia/Ukraine Conflict Track by one box, from 3 to 4 (5 means invasion and War). This one’s going to require our attention soon, or we’re going to have big problems in Eastern Europe.
That’s the end of the Setup Phase. We’re going to take you a few steps into the Turn Sequence, as there are a few “start of turn” processes that happen before we begin Activation Rounds.
Starting the Turn
Set Presidential Action Points. You get 2 x Presidential Prestige each turn. Pres. Prestige is currently 6, so we place the Presidential APs marker at 12. We’ll need these at various times during the turn as POTUS intervenes in world and domestic affairs. They may also be subsidized by cabinet effectiveness and congressional support.
Apply Benefits/Effects of Presidential Attributes and Cabinet Effectiveness.
- First, we apply the benefits our our POTUS Attributes. We can improve one ally relationship by one level. Currently, we have a “Very Close” (the best level) relationship with all game allies except for India and the Gulf States/Saudi Arabia, which are both “Close” (the next best level). We decide to improve the GS/SA relationship to Very Close, because we need lots of help in the Middle East.Functionally, the relationship level affects the number of combined actions you can perform with that Ally when it acts during the turn. An “Estranged” relationship yields no combined actions, a “Close” relationship gives you one combined action, and a “Very Close” relationship gets you two combined actions. Combined actions are very important for battling crises and terror, and projecting an Ally’s influence in a region.
Our 2nd POTUS Attribute allows us to increase one Strategic Capability. Strategic Capabilities represent our relative abilities vis-a-vis Russia and China in seven key strategic areas. These capabilities aren’t all that easy to increase in the game, so this attribute that lets us improve one for free in each of the game’s four turns is an outstanding benefit. We consult the Strategic Cababilities player aidcard and see that we are currently trailing both Russia and China in Cyber Warfare Capabilities. We choose to increase this one, so we move our marker on the Cyber Warfare track from 4 to 5.
- Assessing Cabinet Effectiveness is quick and easy. Our starting CE is in the 4 box, which yields an additional two Presidential Action Points. We move the Presidential APs marker from 12 to 14.
Set Focus Regions for National Intelligence Collection. We get one Focused National Intelligence marker at start (it’s possible to get two during the game if we have superior Strategic Capabilities to China and Russia in both Strategic Recon/Intel and Cyber Warfare, but we’re tied in Cyber at present so only get one marker). Surveying the 8 regions on the game map, it’s clear that the Middle East is our area of greatest need, not only because there are a lot of terror markers there, but also because we are at war with a lvl 2 Rogue State there, and we want to focus our national intelligence means in a way that will help us with that. So we place the Focused National Intel marker in the Middle East.
Place Economic Assistance Markers. This is our last step before we start the 1st Round (6 months) of our administration. Economic Assistance is tied to the US State of the Economy (SoE) Track. Currently, the track is at “6”, so we get four Economic Assistance markers. These markers can be placed on:
- The SoE Tracks for the Eurozone, Russia, or China: to attempt through trade and trade agreements to improve our linked world economies.
- An Ally: to removed Tensions and attempt to improve the Ally relationship.
- The Regional Alignment Track in any region, once per region: to attempt to increase that region’s Alignment rating (how friendly they are with the US).
So we take a long look at the world section of the game map, and decide to spend all four of our Econ. Assistance markers to influence Regional Alignment is these four regions: Africa, Middle East, South America, Central/South Asia. We make the roll for each marker. We succeed in only South America and Central/South Asia.
Note that Alignment Tracks (and SoE tracks) move more slowly that the other game tracks. Instead of moving by a box at a time, you place “Trending Pro-US” or “Trending Anti-US” markers as half-steps on the Alignment tracks. In this case, the Regional Alignment pre-roll in South America was 5, and now it’s still 5, but has a “Trending Pro-US” marker on the track. Another “Trending Pro-US” marker will increase the Alignment to 6. In C/S Asia, the pre-roll Alignment was “5,” with a “Trending Anti-US” marker on it. Our success with Economic Assistance removes the Trending Anti-US marker. Here’s a peek at the C/S Asia post-economic assistance (it’s still pretty messy).
The Calm Before the Storm
We hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the pre-game action in Mr. President. We will be back with you soon to head into Round 1. Thanks, as always, for your amazing P500 support, and for your ideas and encouragement as we finish this design. – Gene