Three Presidents For the Price of One: Inside Mr. President (Pt 3)

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In our last article, our Presidential Triumvirate walked you through our game’s 1st Activation Phase, representing about six weeks of real time. In this article, we will tackle the 2nd Activation Phase of our new administration.

Before we begin, here’s a peek at the 1st and 2nd Activation Phases side by side. You can see that they are slightly different. This is to allow a variety of alternating actions throughout at a pace that works with both the time scale and the game system. These “every two phases” events fit together with the chit pulls in the Red Activation Phase and friendly actions in the Blue Activation Phase to create the heart of the game’s activation engine. Now on with the game.

Red 2nd Activation Phase:

We begin with a red chit draw. We draw the “Make Good Times Roll+” chit. This is good (ha!) for us – a rare, favorable chit coming from the cup that generally presents only new challenges and problems. In this case, consulting the Good Times Table, we are taking cabinet members and key aides on a one-day team-building retreat. We get two game benefits from this: first, we increase our Cabinet Effectiveness by one box (now it’s 6). Additionally, we get to add the POTUS Attribute “Team Builder” to our POTUS card! We are improving on the job! Hooray! This attribute can help us keep our cabinet cohesive down the road.

Our first chit had a “+” on it, so we draw a 2nd. It says “Draw 2 Crisis Cards.” We will draw and resolve them one at a time. The first card is #40: “Boko Haram Terrorizes Neighbors.” We increase a Lvl 2 Terror group in Africa to Lvl 3 and increase Regional Crises in Africa by one box to 2. Note that this is a Cascading Event card, so we place it in the 2 Pile; we’ll need to work on knocking down the Terror Groups in Africa. If we don’t, this card could cause big problems if it comes up later.

Our 2nd card is #44: “European Cruise Liner seized in Indian Ocean.” This sends the Regional Crises in Africa from 2 to 3. Bad luck getting two Africa Terror-related events back-to back. We increase a Lvl 3 Terror group to Lvl 4 in Africa. This could be trouble – it makes our job of controlling Terror levels in Africa even harder (remember the Boko Haram card could return soon from the 2 Pile).

As an aside, the higher Terror group levels in Mr. President represent Terror networks that are increasing in organization, sophistication, expertise, experience, and mobility, not necessarily in size. So what we are seeing in this case is a Lvl 4 Terror group in Africa that is becoming, through experience, a serious threat, both regionally, and perhaps internationally. The next step up for a Lvl 4 Terror group – though it is more difficult and happens fairly rarely in the game, is to become a Lvl 1 Rogue State. This is a Terror Group with all of the above listed capabilities that also controls territory and holds at least some reins of government. OK, back to the action….

The Crisis Card gives us an option to attempt to launch an operation to retake the captured cruise liner. We have Special Operations forces and intel assets nearby in the region, so we decide to go for it, if we can get the European governments whose citizens are at risk to agree. We pass a Eurozone Alignment check and get their approval for the operation. The operation succeeds in retaking the ship and freeing the hostages, although there are moderate casualties. We reduce the Regional Crises in Africa from 3 back to 2, and, due to the casualties from the operations, reduce our Public Approval by one box to 40%.

The last chit we drew did not have a “+” on it, so we are finished with the red chit draws for now.

Now we get our reaction segment, allowing any mix of two Diplomatic or Military actions.

  1. That Lvl 4 Terror Group in Africa got our attention, so we are going to make an Intel attempt to begin to build files on these guys so we can eventually go after them. We pass our intel roll (helps to have an intel shop in the region), so we move the Lvl 4 Terror Group into the “Gathering Intel” box on the Intel Track in Africa. The Intel action gives us two separate Intel attempts, so we decide to make the other one in the Middle East, where a Lvl 2 group is already in the Gathering Intel box. We succeed again, so move the Lvl 2 group into the “Locating” box on the Middle East Intel Track. Two Intel successes – an excellent use of one action!
  2. We have two regions, Africa and the Middle East, with Regional Crises levels of 2. We want to knock these down while we can because getting past the 3 Crisis box is bad. We decide to Make a Crisis Relief attempt in the Middle East. We roll a 7, which, even with a -1 drm for our Secretary of State’s Diplomatic abilities, unfortunately fails to decrease the Crisis level.

That’s it for our Reaction Segment, so we finish up the Red Phase with one last segment: either Terror Acts or Chaos. Both are bad if there are high Terror Levels (and we have them) or Instability (and we have some of that) on the map. We roll a 9, so it’s Chaos this time.

  1. The first step in a Chaos Segment is always: “Increase a random conflict track by 1.” (This is just one of several mechanics we use, some chaotic, some directed by the countries involved, to keep conflicts simmering and then suddenly breaking out around the world.) We select a random track, and this time things are flaring up between Israel and Iran. We increase the Israel/Iran Conflict Track from 2 to 3.
  2. Now we make an International Chaos roll. We select a Random region. (Note that the random regions are weighted so that Africa and the Middle East have a greater chance of selection.) It’s the Middle East this time. We reduce Stability there from 6 to 5 (I’ve only rarely ever seen it at 6 in past playtests). The result also directs us to make a rogue action for Lvl 2 Rogue state in ME. The result (which could have been lots of flavors of terror acts or spawns) is focused on their military, because they are currently at war. Add 2 to their strength in the war they’re in with the US.
  3. The final Chaos action is Domestic Chaos. Increase Domestic Crisis by one box to 2. We get the worst result: “Nobody Loves Me; Everybody Hates Me….” We reduce our Relations with Congress, Media Relations, and Public Approval by one box to 3,4, and 38%, respectively. Those hurt, especially the Relations with Congress.

Wow, that was an ugly Chaos segment. From a design standpoint (remember, we are still testing and tweaking), I’m thinking that Chaos may be a bit overpowered, so I will definitely be taking a look at it as we continue to test.

Thankfully, our Blue Activation Phase is next, so we will do our best to fix the damage created and make some progress on our domestic agenda. Who knows? Maybe we can make a big push and finish the war with the Rogue State, as well.

Blue 2nd Activation Phase:

Ally/Rogue Group B Acts – UK, Japan, North Korea. 

I’ve included the current list of Possible Combined Actions to the left, so that you can get a sense of what you can attempt with an Ally. I’m not going to show you each country’s Unilateral Action Table. I want to save a few surprises for when you get the game.

Both Allies are Very Close, so we will get 2 Combined actions + 1 Unilateral action for each.

UK Actions:

  1. There’s a Lvl2 Terror Group in the Eurozone that we’d like to stifle. The UK gets a -1 drm on their Intel attempts, so we decide to take a shot.  Success! We place the Lvl 2 Terror Group in the Eurozone’s Gathering Intel box.
  2. There are two Russia Influence markers in Eastern Europe. We’d like to set ourselves up to be able to get rid of one or both of those a bit later in the turn. In order to Remove a Russia (or China) Influence, the region has to either have a 7 US Alignment, or a 6 US Alignment with no Regional Crises. Currently, the Alignment in E. Europe is 6 and Regional Crises are at 1. We decide to make a UN Humanitarian Aid attempt to decrease the Crises in Eastern Europe. We succeed, so we move the Reg. Crises in E. Europe to 0.
  3. Now for the UK’s Unilateral action. They have no Tensions at present, so they don’t have any drms to their roll (Tensions add + drms, and rolls above ten are increasingly more aggressive). The action is Stabilize. That’s a -1 to the Regional Crises in Eurozone or Eastern Europe. E. Europe is already at 0, so we decrease Eurozone from 1 to 0. Europe is looking good on the Crises front! 

Japan Actions:

  1. We make an Intel attempt on Lvl 2 Terror Group in Asia/Pacific, but fail.
  2. We make another intel attempt. This time we succeed, and move a Lvl 2 Terror group to the Gathering Intel box.
  3. For Japan’s Unilateral Action, they can send Humanitarian Aid to any one region. We have a Reg. Crises level of 2 right here in Asia/Pacific, so we keep their aid in the region this time. We move Regional Crises from 2 to 1 in Asia/Pacific.

North Korea Action:

Before we roll for North Korea, we need to determine their DRM. They currently have one Tensions marker. We flip it – it’s a +1. They also have a UN Sanctions marker, and those tend to be pretty good. This one is a -2 drm (tempering the NK aggression). They also get a +1 for the state of their Conflict Track with the ROK. So, netted out, there’s no drm this time. (Whew! NK Actions can be nasty.) They roll a “3” – Support Terror. We increase that Lvl 2 Terror Group in the Gathering Intel box to Lvl 3. 

Check Unstable States: The last thing we do during each Ally/Rogue Segment is check for Unstable States in the two zones listed on that group’s Player Aid Card to determine whether they stabilize with local regional help, remain unstable, or devolve into Civil War. In this case, there are no Unstable States in the Eurozone or E. Europe, so we are finished with this segment.

UN Acts: This is the first time in the game we’ve done a UN Acts segment, so first, here’s some information about how the UN works in Mr. President. Generally, the UN is the best way to handle regional problems in the game. It represents not so much the institution of the UN per se, but rather that multiple nations combining their resources and efforts to solve world problems is almost always more effective than one nation trying to solve them on its own. So it’s easier to succeed on actions in the UN that it is when you make unilateral actions. The drawback, though, is that the UN can’t do everything. There are more problems in the world than the UN can address. So in the game, as the US President, once you’re out of UN Actions, you have to try to address problem situations alone or in concert with your allies.

Each UN Segment begins with four UN Actions: 2 Humanitarian Aid attempts in world regions with the highest Reg. Crises levels; then one Infrastructure Aid attempt to the region with the lowest Stability; finally, if there are any Civil Wars on the map, one attempt to Broker Peace (if there’s more than one Civil War, they make the attempt in the lowest-Stability region).

After the four UN Actions (these represent the nations of the world and their priorities for assistance/intervention), the US may make up to two UN Actions, using either a US Goodwill marker or 2 Presidential APs for each.

Here’s how the UN segment plays out in our game:

  1. 2 Humanitarian Aid attempts. The Middle East and Central/South Asia have the highest Regional Crises Levels (3).  We make one roll for each: 1) Middle East. Success! Move Reg Crises to 2. 2) C/S Asia. Failure.
  2. 1 Infrastructure Aid attempt. Africa has the lowest Stability (4). Success! We increase Africa Stability to 5.
  3. Broker Peace. There are four Civil War markers on the map at present, but for one of them (in E. Europe), they have already agreed to a Ceasefire. That leaves three Civil Wars to choose from,  in C/S Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Africa has the lowest current Stability, so that’s where the UN focuses their efforts. The UN makes a Broker Peace attempt and succeeds! The UN is on a roll this time! We replace the Civil War marker in Africa with a CW/Ceasefire marker.
  4. Now we choose whether to make any UN Action requests for the US. We have no Goodwill markers now, so we’ll have to spend Presidential Action Points (APs) if we want any actions. Those Presidential APs are precious, but so are UN Actions and we have 16 APs at the moment. And we learned in our last game that having a bunch of Civil Wars in the game can really cause some big problems later. So we decide to spend 4 Pres. APs (down to 12 now) to get two US-initiated UN Actions, both Broker Peace attempts, for Civil Wars in the Middle East and Central/South Asia. Amazingly, we succeed with both, and replace Civil War markers with CW/Ceasefire makers in both regions.

Perform 2 Domestic Actions. Our Domestic Crises level is currently at 2, which is getting a little scary. We need to spend one action to try to address that. For the other, we’re going to try to track down that Lvl 2 Terror group.

  1. We spend one action: Address Domestic Crisis. Success! We decrease Domestic Crises by one box to 1.
  2. Next, we choose a Domestic Counter-Terrorism action. We make a Homeland Security Check, and Pass. As a result, we move the Lvl 2 Terror Group to the Targeting box in the US. This action allows the potential for an immediate Raid if the intel piece moved the Terror Group in to the targeting box, as is the case here. We make another HC check (think of this as  “how quickly can we coordinate our assets once we get solid intel on the target?”) to make an immediate raid. We pass this check, and launch the raid, but alas, our Raid result indicates that the Terrorists were somehow tipped off, and moved at the 11th hour. So the Raid is aborted (for now). 

Legislative Segment: We roll on the Congressional Maneuvering/Drama Table, only to find that Congress is in recess. So there’s no Legislative segment this time.

Now we’ll do what we hope is a quick Opponent Reaction Phase. Draw one chit. It’s Draw THREE Crisis Cards! Ugh. Not gonna be quick…. The cards come out as follows:

  1. Card #55. Coup in Egypt. +1 Tensions to Israel. We roll for the Coup and get “Arab Spring.” Increase Middle East Regional Crises by 1 box to 3.
  2. Card #171. “Drought in Africa Creates Famine, Refugee Crisis. This Cascading event affects both Africa and the Eurozone. So we increase the Regional Crises in Africa from 1 to 3 (Ouch!) and the Eurozone Reg. Crises level from 0 to 1. We make a State of the Economy check in the Eurozone to determine whether the waves of refugees are causing significant stress on European economies. The current Eurozone SoE is 5, and we roll a 9 (time to fire the unnamed member of our trio who’s doing the die rolling!) so we fail, and place a Worsening Economy marker on the SoE Track in the Eurozone. Lastly, we place the card in the 2 Pile because it’s a Cascading Event. We won’t spoil the card for you by showing it all here, but we note as we put it in the 2 Pile that we need to work on African Regional Crises or this card will hurt us even more the next time we draw it.
  3.  Our final draw is Card #160: “Drug Lords and Terror Groups Unite to Destabilize Central American Governments.”  This event increases the Regional Crises in Central America by 1 box (to 2) and also increases the two highest-level Terror Groups there by one level each. So the Lvl 1 and 2 Terror Groups in Central America are increased to Lvl 2 and 3, respectively. Next, this card says that if there are currently any Lvl 3 or 4 Terror Groups in Central America, the governments there ask the US for Intel and anti-terror help, and that we can freely deploy an SoF unit and an Intel unit to Central America. But we already have a unit of each in Central America, which will help us deal with that Level 3 Terror Group, so we decline the option. We place this card in the Reshuffle Pile, as it directs on the card. We may see these guys again.

So that was a tough set of Reactions. To finish up our actions for this Activation Phase, we get to choose any mix of 2 Diplomatic or Military Actions: We decide to:

  1. Move a USAF unit to the Middle East, to assist with the war against the Lvl 2 Rogue State (We are making a War Progress roll in a minute, and we want some extra help.).
  2. Make intel attempts in Africa and Asia/Pacific. Unfortunately, we failed both.

Now on to the War Progress Segment: First we will check on all four of the Civil Wars, then we will move on to make a Progress roll for the US and Coalition war with the Rogue State.

Civil War Resolutions. 4 Civil Wars. We decide to spend 1 Pres. AP on each (intense diplomacy) to get a -1 drm to each roll (Pres. APs now 6).

  1. Middle East (Ceasefire) Result is Fragile Peace. No change
  2. E. Europe (Ceasefire) Result is Fragile Peace. No change
  3. C/S Asia (Ceasefire) Result is Fragile peace. No change.
  4. Africa (Ceasefire): Yes!! We get “Permanent Peace” (well, as “permanent” as things get in Mr. President). We get to decrease Regional Crises in Africa by one box to 2.

Now, on to make a War Progress roll for the war between the US Coalition and the Lvl 2 Rogue State in the Middle East. First, we total each side’s strengths (kept on the War Status Card). The Rogue State has a current strength of 8, including the two reinforcements they got this Phase. You’ll see from the map at left that the US has a total strength of 11 (the numbers on the US units, plus the 2 on the Regional Troops marker under the War marker). The US also has two Carrier Groups (each strength 2) adjacent to the regions, so we count their totals as well. That’s 15 now. We also got two Ally Reinforcements early in the game. The US gets a total of 17 strength vs 8 for the Rogue State. We round down to 2:1 odds. The US gets several drms:  -1 for Focused National Intel in the region, -1 for SoF units in the region,  and -1 for having at least one USAF unit in the combat. So that’s 2:1, -3. We roll terribly – a 10!!!! So that’s a net 7. Consulting the War Progress Table, that means that we get “No move. Both 1 loss.” No move means that the War Status marker remains in the Stalemate box for now. The Rogue State goes from 8 strength to 7. US doesn’t lose any combat units (they get replacements), but whenever you take war casualties, you take hits at home. In this case, it’s costly: We lose 2 boxes of Public Approval (34% now)  and have to make Media and RWC checks. Predictably, we failed both. Relations with Media is now 3. RWC is as low as it can get, at 2.

So there you have it. That’s the end of the first three months of our new administration. As you can see, this Activation Phase was significantly different from the first, not only in structure, but in terms of what came out of our chit draws. In the 1st Activation Phase, we saw one Crisis Card. In the 2nd, we saw six – and they hurt.

In thinking about our priorities for the next Activation Phase, a few things stand out:

  1. Crises Levels: The only world region with a Regional Crises rating of 3 is the Middle East. No real surprise there, but we need to work on it soon, or get that war over, or both, or it’s liable to become a real mess.
  2. Terror Levels: we have a Lvl 3 Terror Group in Central America and another in Asia/Pacific, and we have a Lvl 4 in Africa. All three are on the Intel tracks in their regions. We need to tighten the noose on all three ASAP before they cause more trouble.
  3. Peer Competitors: Russia currently has two Russia Influence markers in Eastern Europe. One more and they could get a base there. We need to push back in Eastern Europe. So what to use? More diplomacy? Economic support? Military buildup? We’ll need to decide over the coming months, or the Russians are going to permanently expand their foothold in Eastern Europe.
  4. Economic Stability: Both the US and the Eurozone’s economies are worsening slightly, while China’s is improving. Russia’s is fairly stagnant, but their economy isn’t generally a big threat anyway. We need to think about economic stimulus domestically, and how we might help our allies in Europe.
  5. Domestic Relationship Tracks: relations with both Congress and the Media are terrible. We need a new P/R firm!
  6. Domestic Crises: We’re in decent shape, at 1, but unless we can drive that to 0, we won’t be able to address lingering domestic issues. Having Congress take a break this phase was not helpful, so we’ll need to make domestic and legislative progress a higher priority in the coming phase.
  7.  Legislative Agenda: Temporarily frozen, but with both Social Security (ours) and Health Care Reform (opponents’) bills moving through Congress, we should see some new signed legislation soon. We’re thinking maybe we should introduce a Job Creation package soon. It’s not on the public’s list of priorities at the moment, but we think the economy needs a shot in the arm.

We’ll pick up here, staring the 3rd Activation Phase, in our next installment. I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into the world of Mr. President! – Gene

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11 thoughts on “Three Presidents For the Price of One: Inside Mr. President (Pt 3)

  1. Great update with lots of information.

    The game depends a lot on the dice rolls, I see that the “random” factor is high.
    In addition to terrorism, there are some other types of threats in the area?
    And the countries affected by Civil War or other, is something “generic” or do we have a table to know the name of the country affected by this events?

    Thank you and hoping to see the continuation of the Billingsley Administration mandate 🙂

    • Hi Sam! Thanks for your comments and questions. I’m glad you’re enjoying these articles.

      The game does have randomness, mostly by the nature of having 170+ cards (I think we’re up to 175 now – 180 will be the final mix) that can fall in any order or combination. When it comes to the die rolls, though, it’s more “weighted randomness,” where the results fall within a random spectrum that is weighted by game state or what actions the player has taken to date. So it is very much a game about immersing you in a different story every time and managing chaos with limited resources, but I’ve tried to put that all in a context of “you can have a big impact on the results because of your planning and actions.”

      The “threats” to manage are terrorism, instability, war, civil war, and a variety of events that all coalesce in the Regional Crises track. You’re also concerned with a region’s alignment (how friendly are they to the US) as well as their economic well-being (back to stability rating, trade agreements, lack of regional crises, war and terror, etc). You’re also concerned about Influence in each region from Russia and China, in the sense that they are competitors in the game, both for markets and in terms of alignment and influence.

      For Civil Wars, right now they are generic, although whenever I get one in a particular region, I think “there goes _____, blowing up again.” It would be easy to add a table like you mention, but it could also introduce potential questions and conflicts in the mind of the player (I rolled the same country again, etc). At this point, I’m trying to subtract–not add–wherever I can to streamline the game; this is one of the areas where I think it’s best, all things considered, to have the player’s imagination fill in the blanks. I went with regions as the basic foreign policy scale purposely for that reason. If I had all the countries in the world in the game, you’d never be able to play it in a reasonable time frame.

      I hope this is helpful.


  2. Hello again Gene, and thanks for starting this new series of blog posts giving us a glimpse of the new and improved Mr. President. I really like where this project is going, especially that sense of “I have nowhere near enough resources to do it all!” I also really like where the complexity level is as well – not everyone wants to play one of GMT’s Next War titles with me. I look forward to finding out how the three of you deal with this brave new world of ours!

    Regarding presidential actions, will we have some “larger, country-specific, executive-branch initiated” actions available to us? I’m talking about things like attempting the reunification of Korea, regime change in Iran, negotiating US-UK Free-Trade Deal, etc. Or does the player simply respond to these things as cards when they come up? Responding to crises is great, but hopefully the player gets to try to advance some foreign agendas as well.

    If you ever need a beta-tester, I’d be happy to volunteer! My design experience is more so in tactical naval sims and 4X but if you do need anyone, I’d be honored.

    I’ll be looking forward to each of these blog posts. Best wishes with development!

    • Hi Andrew! Thanks for your thoughts and questions. I’m glad you like the “limited resources” aspect of the game. At it’s core, Mr. President is a resource management game. Getting the balance “just right” in terms of “giving the player just enough to have a chance and not enough to make the game easy” is definitely something I work on each week. I’m still not completely satisfied, but it’s getting close.

      In terms of Presidential Planning and actions, yes, you have a variety of actions you can take on the world stage to affect a region, an ally, a rogue nation, a situation, or a peer competitor. I don’t have a direct “Regime Change” with a major nation state right now. Rather, you try to “manage” those states and relationships to keep them from destabilizing their region or the world. You do have tools, like Free Trade Agreements, designed to improve both a region and the US economy, although they CAN backfire on you (such agreements are not a “sure thing” in terms of benefits, but they are generally useful tools). And you have actions to attempt to keep Iran’s Nuclear Program or North Korea’s Missile Program in check, although real world events may cause me to readjust here and there as we head into development/testing.

      The thing to know here is that you DO have pro-active tools on the world stage, both unilaterally, in concert with your allies, and through the UN, to make a difference. You don’t just have to wait for a card to come up and then respond to it. But as with the other parts of the game, you can’t do everything or ensure success; you have to pick your spots, plan well, and then hope for the best.

      A quick example is dealing with Iran or N. Korea’s nuclear/missile advances. As we all see on a regular basis, in the real world this is no easy thing. In the game, you have a variety of tools, including going to war (although going to war can have a lot of really bad consequences) and more diplomatic tools. Unilaterally or even in conjunction with your allies, you can’t do a lot game-wise except use sanctions and then do your best to keep Tensions off of that nation (so they don’t get too aggressive or feel too threatened). But there’s a UN Action you can take, in concert with Russia or China, to decrease the value of their Nuke/Missile track. When this succeeds (and it might not), you get the benefit of reducing the track by a box, but you also have to place a Russia or China influence in the region to represent their increased influence–or whatever back room deals were made to get them to pressure Iran or N. Korea. So I hope I’m giving options that give a sense of real world geopolitics, while maintaining streamlined game-play and ease of use.

      Thanks for offering to playtest! I’m not sure exactly when Mike will want to expand the test group, but I’ll make sure we post it in the monthly GMT Update and on social media when he’s ready.

      I hope this is helpful.


  3. Really enjoying the updates! For the Chaos segment, could one possible nastiness-mitigating factor be having an additional roll to determine whether you get hit with either just International or Domestic Chaos or both? That might make it a bit less of an avalanche every single time Chaos acts, and make the times when both international and domestic Chaos occur stand out as the major crisis points.

    Looking forward to seeing how the intrepid Presidential Triumvirate saves the day in future updates!

    • Lol! Thanks Ted! Please don’t beat me! 🙂 I’m working on it all week. Getting ready to show the new version to developer Mike Bertucelli on Friday. (And I can’t wait to see your next design, either!) – Gene

  4. I think I remember earlier someone had commented about re-election. Has that been incorporated in the game? I feel like a die roll somehow tied to public approval could work. Perhaps in the re-election year, spending AP’s on campaigning could improve re-election chances, but also take away from other necessary actions, resulting in some difficult choices, while also trying to extend the game from 4 to 8 years of play.

    Looks great so far. I can’t wait for this to come out!

    • Hi Jim!

      Yes, we have two election options in the game – one for mid-term elections and one for Presidential re-election. The mid-term is a lot more refined at this point and working pretty well. We’re need more testing on the Presidential elections. Our last few test games were either auto-wins or auto-losses, so we haven’t tested it lately. Anyway, that’s where we are right now. Glad you’re liking the articles! – Gene