Last week, I let you guys know in our monthly update that I’ve been working on a solitaire game called Mr. President. Some of you read last year’s teaser article about the game, but virtually everyone is still in the dark about how this game plays. Well, it IS still in the design and alpha testing phase, but it’s starting to come together, so I decided to put together a sneak peek to give you a sense of how the game plays. So I’m going to let you guys virtually share in a round (one month) of game play – to look over my shoulder as I play – so you can get a sense of the flow of Mr. President and some of the things you have to think about as you play. I’m not going to teach you how to play the game in this article – that comes later – but I do hope to give you a sense of how you feel – and some of the things you think about – as you play.
One thing that I’d like you to pick up here is that I am not intending this to be a “beer and pretzels” surface level game. If that’s what you are looking for, RUN AWAY! 🙂 What I want is a game that is deep and immersive, one that will both frustrate and delight the solitaire player, an experience that will beckon you back to the game table after each round, turn, or completed game. I don’t think it’s quite “there” yet, but it’s well on the way.
As we pick up the action, we are six months into the game, my first playtest ever of the Moderate Complexity level in the game (we did all the initial alpha tests with the Easy Complexity level, and now I’m wanting to see how well the next level of challenge plays).
So in the first six months (Turn 1), chaos ruled, especially in the Middle East and Central Asia. Thus foreign policy took a big portion of my time and effort. The Moderate level At Start situation (I may have to tweak this) is pretty intense – Unstable Governments, Terror Groups, and Festering Crises are seemingly everywhere. I did get a little progress made on my two legislative programs (Homeland Security Improvements and Energy Independence) thanks to a couple of advisors who are quite skilled in the legislative process, but most of the action was overseas. I spent a few months tracking down the leadership of a huge (level 4 is highest in the game) Middle East Terror Group, and finally got actionable intel on their locations near the end of turn 1. I gave the go ahead for a large SoF Raid in spite of the fact that the target location was deep in Indian country. Unfortunately, things did not go well; the terrorists somehow got wind of our intentions and the raid failed with heavy US casualties and the Terror leadership cell scattered. Public opinion took a big hit, and the ensuing scandal gave me no real choice but to replace my Secretary of Defense (one of the better Sec Defs available in the game). On top of it all, I lost a Legacy Point! Ouch! (Rolling 10’s is a bad thing in this game!) That was an ugly way to end turn 1, but it’s good to know that the game has some teeth and that the solitaire player can’t just Raid with impunity to solve the Terror problems.
So, as we begin turn 2 (this is July of the 1st year of my first term), the world still looks pretty messy, but fortunately there are no major wars on the board, so most of my overseas problems boil down to dealing with Unstable Governments, Terror, Humanitarian Crises, and trying to help my allies with their regional concerns, while keeping an eye on the Russians and Chinese to make sure they don’t get too adventurous.
Here’s a quick peek at the situation in the Middle East Region (definitely the most screwed up in the game right now) as we begin the turn:
Ok, so it’s Round (Month) 1 of Turn 2. The first thing we do is draw three sequential cards from the Turn deck (constructed from six Action cards that recur each turn – Russia Acts, China Acts, Terror Acts, Congress Acts, Crisis Check, and War Progress Check – and twelve unknown Crisis cards shuffled in at the start of the turn). So we know those six will always show up, just not exactly when, and we never know the kind of challenge and chaos posed by the crisis cards that pop up around them. So here we go. Here’s our first card:
CRISIS CHECK: This card has us update all the crises on the map. There are a lot of them right now, and some of them have not been adequately addressed by me so far (hey, there’s only so much you can do at once!), so this hurts a little. We get a Trending Anti-US marker in South America – they perceived our slower-than-expected response there as a slight against the region. Ugh. We also got massive flooding in Central/South Asia that honestly we can’t do much about at this point (we waited too long to act). It has the potential to hurt us regionally at the end of the turn, when we do the Regional Chaos checks. We also managed to generate another minor Terror Group in the Middle East – like they don’t have enough terror problems there already! And because this card came up so early in the turn, before I’d had a chance to act, there were three previously minor crises that have escalated – in Central America, South America, and Eastern Europe. We don’t know exactly how they’ll hurt us yet, but we’re going to have to give them some attention, or something pretty bad will probably happen next turn when the Crisis Check card comes up again.
OK, on to card #2: “White House Scandal Embarrasses Administration.” This one cost us the loss of a couple minor advisors. Thankfully it wasn’t the newly appointed Sec Def or the Secretary of State, who are massively important to my success. I also took a Public Approval hit. That’s worrisome – I’m down to 34% approval now, and I started the game at 46%! (Why don’t they love me?! 🙂 )
The third and final card for Month 1 is “Border Skirmish in India.” It seems the Chinese (I rolled a “2”) and the Indians had a misunderstanding over some border issues. It was quickly brought under control, but the India/China Conflict Track is increased by one box, to level 2 (at level 5 they go to war), and anxiety remains on each side.
The next thing we do in the round is check (on rounds 1, 3, and 5) which of our Ally Groups is going to Act. Allies and Rogue Nations are broken up into three groups, and one gets to act at each of those times. So we randomly roll, and it’s Group C – Australia, Israel, India, and Game-Created Rogue Nations. This should be good for us because Allies usually give us some help in their regions. The process is to perform one action from a list for each ally (essentially they do something that YOU want them to do), then you roll once on their AI Independent Action Table – which is completely out of your control – to determine their independent action for the turn. So they do two things each; the first you have some control over, the second, not so much.
Australia: We try to get them to help us find a small Terror Group in East Asia/Pacific, but the attempt fails. For their independent action, they have some high level meetings with the Chinese that result in removing one Tension from China (a good thing, for more Tensions tend to equal more aggressive actions in the game).
Israel: This is always an interesting Ally – you guys will see when you get the game and take a look at their Independent Action Table. You just never know what’s going to happen with Israel. In this case, we try to get them to help relocate that Lvl 4 Terror Group that we whiffed on last turn, but they’re unable to get us any additional intel. For their Independent Action, the Israelis are pretty tame this time. They do some joint training with the US, which in game terms builds their strength and readiness on the Israel/Neighbors Conflict Track. You can pretty much bet that at some point in the game, there will be Conflict involving Israel.
India: We ask them to help with an Unstable Govt in their region, and they succeed, through diplomacy and aid, in decreasing it from a lvl 2 to a lvl 1 Unstable Govt. Very helpful! That’s one action our already overworked Secretary of State doesn’t have to take. For their independent action – I didn’t see this coming! – a border problem with Pakistan just escalated into war! Neither side really intended it, but events spiraled out of control, and now there’s major fighting, and at least initially, the Pakistanis are getting the better of it, with heavy losses on both sides.
The game handles wars in a very basic manner – at least compared to some of our more detailed war-games (Crisis Series, anyone? 🙂 ). I’m pretty happy that we portray important aspects of the conflicts, while allowing the “war” part of the game to be handled quickly and easily, so wars don’t take over the game. In this case, our Allies got a bloody nose, and we’re probably going to need to give them some help soon.
Well, that was a big surprise, and that’s going to have an impact on my carefully prepared (yeah, right!) plan for the turn. OK, the last action is for any game-created Rogue States. At this point in the game, there is only one, in the Middle East. It is not currently at War, so we make one Independent Action AI roll for it. The result is DESTABILIZE. So we increase one of the Lvl 1 Unstable Govts in the Middle East to Level 2. The Destabilization Disease seems to be catching.
Well, the allies were not as helpful as I hoped they would be, but now we get to start taking some actions of our own.
Before I do, I want to take a minute to examine the game board. As I look at the world situation, right now China has no Tensions, so they are not very threatening. Russia has two, plus two Russia Influence markers in Eastern Europe, so we probably need to pay a bit more attention to them. There are a couple of serious terror groups (lvl 2s) in Africa. Both Central/South Asia and the Middle East are a mess. Then there’s the India/Pakistan war. Closer to home, South America has a big Festering Crisis, a growing Terror Problem, a Lvl 2 Unstable Govt, and two China Influence markers, and there’s Trending Anti-US sentiment to worry about. Central America has similar issues, but no Chinese to worry about (yet). So the world has more problems than I have resources. And I am supposedly the “Leader of the Free World.” Why do I feel like the dam has 20 holes but I only have 10 fingers? If you’re going to spend much time with this game – and I hope you will – you should probably get used to that feeling. It’s just another day in the life of Mr. President….
At home, things look better, although I do still have some challenges. Neither of my Legislative Priorities has even passed phase one of the legislation process, so I need to get to work on those. I have three key political opponents at the moment, two of whom I consider long-term rivals who could threaten my chances at a second term. I need to find ways to marginalize them while I focus on trying to do what’s good for the country. All of my relationships – with the Media, Congress, and the general public, could use a lot of help. And both Homeland Security and the Economy are in need of improvements, as well. So I have my work cut out for me at home. (The Moderate Difficulty level starts all of these relationships/ratings lower than the Easy level, so you have a bit of a hole to dig out of, at least initially).
Now it’s time for me to use some of my various actions to address issues and try to clean up some of the mess at home and abroad. First, we’ll look overseas, where both my Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense are the key players. You can perform these actions or mix them in any order, but to help you guys keep track, I’ll start with the three Secretary of State Actions, then 3 for Sec Def, then any other possible actions.
Secretary of State (3 Actions): For Action 1, the Secretary is going to swing through East Asia and the Pacific and attempt to sway the countries of the region to extend favor to the US. Each region has a Regional Alignment Track, which runs from Anti-US (3) to Pro-US (7), with three stops in between. East Asia and the Pacific is currently at 6,”Leaning Pro-US.” The Secretary, Raoul Sanchez, makes his trip, and the response is tremendous. We place a “Trending Pro-US” marker on the Alignment Track. One more of these will move us to the “7” box, where we get additional benefits. Action 2 is directed at the new Lvl 1 Unstable Government in the Middle East. The Secretary orchestrates a package of economic and humanitarian support and spends time in high-level meetings to attempt to stabilize this government. Alas, the effort is for naught (at least for now), and the Govt remains Lvl 1 Unstable. The Secretary’s final action for the round is to head to Moscow and try to decrease tensions with the Russians. Unfortunately, the Kremlin is unreceptive to the Secretary’s entreaties, so we remove no Tensions from Russia. All in all, it’s been a busy but not terribly successful month for the Secretary of State.
Secretary of Defense (3 Actions): Action 1 will be to perform a Gather Intel action against 2 Terror Groups. The targets are the Lvl 4 Terror Group in the Middle East (this is the one we targeted last turn and whose leadership scattered after the ill-fated raid) that is currently in the Gathering Intel Box and a Lvl 2 Terror Group in South America that is currently undetected (not on the Intel Track).
The way the intel piece works is you have Terror Groups in each region that are not tracked. As soon as you launch a successful Gathering Intel mission against one of them, it moves to the “Gathering Intel” box of the region’s Intel Track. On successive rounds (you can only make one attempt per round against a given Terror Group), additional Intel successes can move the group to the Locating Target box and finally to the Target Fixed box of the Intel Track. When it’s in the Target Fixed box, you can attack it. This roughly simulates the military’s “Find, Fix, Finish” approach in a very easy-to-use system.
So now for the Intel attempts: We get more Intel on the Level 4 Terror Group in the Middle East (and move them right one box to the Locating Target box), but in South America, where we have much less Human Intelligence infrastructure on the ground, we fail to gather enough detailed info on the Lvl 2 group to move them onto the Intel Track.
For Action 2, we are going to send some military aid (replacement parts, newer technology, etc) to India, embroiled in a conflict with Pakistan (yes, this would have sounded strange even 15 years ago. How alliances shift and times change!). This increases their strength from 5 to 6 on the War Status Track and should help them when the War Resolution Card is drawn later this turn.
For Action 3, we’re going to move both an Intel unit and a Special Forces unit to Africa, to help us deal with the Terrorist threats there in future rounds. The game allows us to move the Intel boys at no cost, but for the Special Forces unit, we have to place a US Military Footprint marker in Africa. We won’t learn until the end of the turn what unforeseen side effects we’ll experience from having troops operating in a foreign region.
If we had managed to move any Terror targets into the “Target fixed” boxes, even though we are out of Sec Def actions, I could have used Presidential Action Points to green light a strike, but that will have to wait until we get better intelligence. The only other thing I could reasonably do, military-wise, would be to deploy more troops to the Middle East and attack the Rogue State there. But wars are costly both to the State of the Economy and to Public Opinion, and both of those are a bit low for me right now. So I am going to wait on any larger-scale intervention. But you can bet I’m paying attention to that Rogue State.
Now I’ll take a look domestically to see what I can address. We have a couple of Crisis Cards (the White House Scandal and the India/Pakistan border skirmish) that we have to “resolve” by playing Action Points on them. If we don’t, and they remain “Unresolved” at the end of the turn, there are further negative consequences.
So I play 3 general APs on the White House Scandal and resolve it. That clears it from the Crisis Matrix and puts it into the “Footnote” resolution pile (I didn’t do anything special, but I handled the issue adequately). In order to get a “Positive” resolution to a crisis (which rewards you with an increase in both Public Opinion and Legacy Points), you have to spend more APs than the cost of the card and then pass a die roll. For now, I just want to get some space open on the Crisis Matrix because I’m expecting up to three more crises cards next round. For all these general APs as well as my Domestic Advisor counters, they are “one time per turn” use, so I need to be careful not to use too many resources here in Round 1.
Domestic Advisor APs
As you can see, I have two Normal (the lighter blue counters) Advisors who have “+1 SOE” notations on them. This means that their “1” ratings are actually “2” if used to try and improve the State of Economy Track (these are economic policy experts). By the way, these 7 guys were randomly drawn from a pool of 24 Advisors, so you’ll get all kinds of different Advisor mixes and capabilities each time you play Mr. President.
Anyway, our State of Economy Track sits at “5” (7 is best, 3 is worst), but it has an “Economy Worsening” marker on it. If I can successfully improve SOE, it will remove that Economy Worsening marker and keep it from possibly falling to “4” soon. It takes 4 Points to make an SOE attempt, so I spend both advisors and make the roll. I succeed! So, I remove the Worsening Economy marker from the SOE Track.
With Terror threats abounding, we’re also going to use our Veteran advisor (he’s a “3” with a “+1 if HS attempt” ability) to attempt to improve our Homeland Security capabilities. This takes four points to make the attempt as well, so we use him and roll. Another success! Alright, a few things are going our way! I increase the Homeland Security Track from 5 to 6. This will help us greatly if/when those Lvl 3 and 4 Terror Groups start launching attacks at the US Homeland.
I’m going to end the round here and save the rest of my resources for future rounds. Next we would move the Round (Month) marker ahead one space, draw three more sequential cards from the Turn Deck of mixed Crisis and Acts cards, and go through the above process again, as the world changes around and because of us. But we’re going to end our tour of the game here for now and come back another day to share more.
I know I haven’t shown you enough to find out “what happens” in this particular test game of Mr. President, but I hope I have given you enough detail so that you can have a sense of how it feels to play Mr. President and to experience a bit of the story that the game tells. With over 100 Crisis cards and so many different action options for both you and your allies, I hope you can see that each new play of Mr. President is going to unfold a completely new and different story. What we are creating, I hope, is something of a “world simulator” that tells the story of an evolving world at a high level and allows you to participate from the point of view of one (pretty important) participant in an effort to inject your priorities into the story in a way that helps create a positive (from your point of view) impact on the world and on the story. As development progresses, I’ll post more articles and take you deeper into the game. For now, though, I hope you have enjoyed this brief look into the world of Mr. President.