Domestic Tranquility (or not!) in Mr. President

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I’ve had several requests of late for more information about the domestic side of Mr. President. In the recent replay articles I’ve shared, we downplayed the domestic choices and events because, frankly, that piece of the redesign wasn’t quite finished yet. Now I have all the main domestic redesign pieces in place, so I wanted to give you guys a look at what they are and how they work together. I hope this peek under the hood gives you a sense of the domestic opportunities and challenges you’ll find in the game, and introduces you to some of the tools you’ll have at your disposal to become an amazing President – loved by at least 51% of the people! I hope you enjoy the article! – Gene


I’ve received several questions of late about why there’s so much foreign policy and anti-terrorism in Mr. President. Not to be flippant, but “Have you seen the world lately?” I want the game to reflect, at an appropriate level of simulation, that the U.S. President looks out on a world that has never been more interconnected and interdependent, especially in terms of communication, economics, transportation, and security. Mr. President acknowledges this by assuming significant US interests in each of the world’s eight game regions. The game also recognizes that there are serious threats to stability, successful relationships, and burgeoning trade in each of those regions, as well as peer competitors vying for influence in each. Throw in alliance and security concerns, plus the explosion in sophisticated international terror groups over the past 20 years, and you have a complex and difficult operational problem. I believe that deciding how to best promote and protect the interests of the US and its allies in today’s global environment is one of the most difficult and diverse of all the challenges the President faces. In domestic affairs, despite our differences, we mostly share a common language, culture, history, and experience, which facilitates understanding. Compared to that, it seems that operating, advocating, mediating, and sometimes leading in a world with scores of disparate languages, cultures, histories, objectives, and interests is a substantially more difficult task.  So I’ve attempted to build a world situation in Mr. President that will challenge you early and often with many diverse and unexpected challenges and events.

That said, my intention is that the domestic side of the game will be very challenging, sometimes frustrating, yet very rewarding when you play well. I believe that it’s crucial to the game’s simulation value that you have real-world type of challenges, interactions, and tools in the game. As one of our customers wrote to me recently:
“The modern-day presidency has a very large foreign policy portfolio, and so it makes sense that the game would have a lot of management work to do around the world. Then again, even amid the many global crises of the last twenty-five years, a succession of presidents have worked hard at designing, advocating, and pursuing domestic policy agendas.”
I couldn’t agree more. So, in Mr. President, the world regions present some of the most complex and diverse interactions and also present situations over which you sometimes have little control (you’re not President of the Middle East, so it is not surprising that your “Bully Pulpit” might not have much impact there). But that doesn’t mean that all of the game’s challenges are there. You have many responsibilities and challenges on the domestic side as well. Now that we have the domestic redesign mostly locked down,  I want to give you a peek at how that looks.
Here are the major domestic actions that you’ll be concerned with in the game:

Managing Domestic Crises

The thing that happens to you most often in the Domestic part of the game is drawing a Crisis card that will introduce one or more Domestic Crises. These Crises are specific problems on each card to aid with the game’s story-telling, but the game’s Domestic Crises track streamlines them (for playability purposes – or the game would take forever to play) into x number of Crises to manage – if you get too many, you get a Domestic Failure. This increases the Lingering Domestic Issue Track (too high and you lose the game) and causes other unwelcome problems. Domestic Crises are annoying in the context of “I want to get on with my Greater Society and Legislative Agenda (see below), but now I have to deal with these issues first.”

US Domestic Crises, LDI, and Intel Tracks (Playtest)

I guess my 10,000 foot view of the Presidency is that you have your plans and objectives and agendas going in, but you spend most of your time trying to manage all the chaos of the unexpected things that keep popping up. It’s a real challenge to work through all that and still have the time and resolve to stay true to your original purposes. The game has you manage quite a bit of unexpected chaos, but it also gives you opportunities, as you’ll see in the Building a Greater Society section below, to lay out your plan and work toward it. This is a tough balance to get right, but based on current in-house testing, I feel like we are getting close to the mix I want for the game.

Building a Greater Society

There are six Greater Society Tracks in the game, as shown above (I am still considering and tweaking effects, so expect that a lot will change before the final game version). These tracks have evolved a bit over time, but we are finally starting to get them where they feel right to me. These tracks now represent the areas in which you choose to move the US society forward during your term. Together, they form my (still-evolving) view of the areas where a US President needs to help the country evolve and improve. These comprise, if you will, a game approximation of “quality of life” for both the republic itself and for its average citizen.

Using Domestic actions and introducing legislation to move each of these six tracks forward in a mix and at a pace that fits your goals is a big part of what you will be doing and thinking about domestically as the President. As you see, you can get big legacy points (game VPs) here as well – lots of positives for your most advanced tracks, and negatives for the least advanced track at game end, so you have incentive to make sure you progress in all the areas, while probably picking a couple to really focus on heavily. One thing to note is, as with Lingering Domestic Issues, you can’t spend Actions on Greater Society if you have Domestic Crises to deal with. So you have to work to keep Domestic Crises at bay in order to consistently work on your Greater Society projects. How well you manage all this and how you choose to move those tracks forward will be a big determinant of your success in the game.

Advancing a Legislative Agenda

In Mr. President, you have to decide what your Legislative Agenda is going to be each year (turn). As you evaluate this, you get to see what the Public’s Priorities are, and also consider current game needs on various domestic and Greater Society Tracks. Various legislative bills can make the public happy, improve the economy or Homeland Security, and help move the Greater Society Tracks forward — all important things to consider as you decide what your legislative agenda will be.
You will need good relationships with Leaders in the Senate and the House in order to be effective in advancing your legislative agenda. Sometimes you’ll need to put extra effort into building those relationships or to dissuade/discredit an opponent in Congress. This is all done inside a streamlined system for playability purposes, but you still definitely get the feel of having to depend on the people in Congress to be effective on the legislative front.

Managing Your Cabinet and Maintaining Focus

You have four key advisors (VP, CoS, SecState, SecDef). Two of those can help you with domestic issues, but there’s also a POTUS/Cabinet Focus that lets you prioritize five domestic areas for your cabinet each round (see below). You place 5 Priority markers on the areas, which will determine how easy it is to achieve the success effect when you resolve the Priorities (every three months). #1 Priority is successful on a 1-5 d6 roll, #2 on a 1-4, etc. Also, if there is a Tensions marker next to that priority (added by the game as crises or scandals steal your attention), then you don’t get to roll for that priority success. Overall, this is a game subsystem mechanic I’m particularly happy with, because it’s very simple mechanically and doesn’t take long to decide on or resolve, but it represents the value of a good cabinet while allowing you to focus them on your areas of greatest domestic need or priority.
You also track and manage Cabinet Effectiveness. There are numerous times in the game where you are called on to make a Cabinet Effectiveness Check to achieve something, most often to decrease Domestic Crises. If you roll less than or equal to the CE rating on a d10, you pass, so you want as high a Cabinet Effectiveness as possible.
There’s more on the domestic side that you will face and consider, but those are the major areas and subsystems. When we get back to our replay articles (we took pictures of game state so we can easily go back to it, and restarted another game because we needed to increase the pace of our testing), we’ll show you how this all plays out and interacts over the course of a turn.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek inside the major domestic aspects of Mr. President. 
– Gene
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5 thoughts on “Domestic Tranquility (or not!) in Mr. President

  1. In previous iterations of the game that you’ve showcased, certain Opponents in Congress were labeled as being potential rivals for the presidency; is that still the case, or is it now that a certain number rating indicates an Opponent of high enough profile that they might run against you in the election?

    Can’t wait to see more of the replay articles, and more excited than ever to get this on my table in 2018!

    • Hi Isaac!

      I’m handling the re-election process a bit differently now. You’re not really going to care so much about Congressional opponents as potential election rivals. You’ll be more focused on the things you need to do to enhance your re-election prospects. That said, that’s a part of the game that I’m still working on, to get the best mix of fun, detail, and playability. On replay articles, both my co-Presidents are counseling at a youth camp this week, but we’ll get back to the replay once they’re back. – Gene

  2. A great article.

    I suppose the Greater Society Track will change, I love that you can manage the Space Program, but you would also need a track for Work/Unemployment, for example

    As for the Presidential Cabinet and members of Congress, they can change during the game? (resignations, retirements, illness, etc …) and have the occasion to put allies in the congress (or that by mechanics of the game, to substitute an ally for a adversary). Also if appropriate, put a better Cabinet member (or worse, by mechanic rules or events)

    I suppose that the mid-term elections can also modify the composition of the Chamber.

  3. I somehow see the difference in the impact of foreign and domestic issues on the population (in the sense on how it reflects on the opinion of the president, the judgement of her work etc) as indirect in the former case and direct in the latter. For example, a bad economy, a flashy corruption case or a badly managed natural catastrophe impacts directly the public opinion. On the other hand, if there is a terrorist attack in Europe, or a coup in South America, I don’t think there is a direct blame on the president (unless there are preexisting situations and opinions on the public), -but- if inaction of bad action from the US government becomes evident (e.g. multiple attacks, or the new anti-US junta is allowed to destabilise the region with impunity), then the hit can be very strong. I guess this is partially simulated with the tile 2-tile 3 mechanism? Still I feel there is a significantly different time response between the two areas. I sometimes feel there is the tendency of overestimating the impact of foreign factors on the population by the analysts…

    And how is the impact of decisions on very polarised and controversial issues (so where part of the opinion will be strongly in favour and partly strongly against -basically most social issues, or climate change, etc.) is simulated in the game, if it is?

    Also, will the Supreme court have a role in the game?

    I’m so looking forward to this! Thanks for the updates

  4. Really looking forward to this game.

    As a Brit who’s read/watched a lot of American cultural output and politics for many years, I’m familiar with many of the US departments/agencies and their triple letter names, but must admit that I’d no idea what ‘HHS’ was in the card images shown (though obviously related to healthcare from card context).

    That made me wonder – will the manual (or other docs) contain a glossary/introduction to some of the terms/entities (both US domestic and foreign)?

    I really enjoyed the card backgrounds in Twilight Struggle / Labyrinth and, whilst you wouldn’t need something as detailed, a similar glossary/background would be great for any players unfamiliar with every reference.

    I’m sure that similar could also be of great use to US players, especially if the game does well and spin-offs for other nations (such as UK Prime Minister) do get created (as has previously been mentioned as a possibility).