(This article was originally published in "Games International", issue #5 (May 1989) and is reproduced here with the permission of the author)
As anyone who has played with me will tell you (all too loudly), I'm not the world's greatest games player. Nevertheless, there are a few games I've managed to delude myself into thinking that I play well. One of these is Die Macher, a game based on the German elections, and arguably one of the most sophisticated, in terms of game mechanics, on the market. For the increasing number of owners of this game I would like to share some of the pearls of wisdom I acquired on the hustings. Obviously it's impossible to suggest a definitive strategy in a game of such changing fortunes, so I'll suffice by concentrating on opening moves and the first election.
The first thing you have to do is to jettison two members of your shadow cabinet. This is one of the easier decisions to make in the game. Generally I discard the Fraktionsführer and the Partieboss on the basis that the junior ministers perform many of the same actions at cheaper cost. The Kanzler I always like to keep for that +3 popularity. Expensive, sure, but worth the dough in a crisis. Never get rid of your junior ministers. They offer tremendous value for money.
The next step is to cast your freebies, starting with the votes. This is normally a pretty tough choice, especially if you are going first. Ideally, you want to find a region where you have at least two matching choices. But things are usually not that simple so stay cool, and be patient. Above all try to avoid getting in a fight with an opponent at this stage, wasting your valuable resources to possibly finish second in an election is not a sound strategy. If you do go first and there is no obvious choice as to where to place your first five votes, split them up between the four regions and wait to see what your opponents do. By the time you get round to placing your media disc and campaign days, you should have a clearer picture of the region where you want to mount a serious campaign. Once this has been determined, plough all your resources into that region and get ready to kick ass. But remember; fifty votes is the maximum you can obtain, so don't waste cash trying to get more.
Generally I like to keep my resources as long as possible until I see which way the game is swinging, but this is not always possible with the conferences. If two of your opponents are already agreed on a particular program then get in quick and hold a special conference (cost: 500), grabbing the last remaining program card for that issue while doing so, thus avoiding becoming an early victim of a three party squeeze (there are only three policies of each type). Likewise, if there are two policies your opponents are agreed upon, then hold a major conference (cost: 700). The only other justification for making this move would be that it would enable me to change my program in such a way as to win the first election, thereby getting an instant return on my investment.
If you have the cash to play them don't hang on to your conference markers for too long, especially the cheap ones. Always try to use them to obtain party bases rather than change programs. Remember, this way they earn you money after every election.
Time to send in the crooks. At this stage you can't really afford too much. In an area where I think I have a chance of winning and getting control of the media, I'll probably send in the Außenminister to boost my popularity. Without media control this is a risky move as some sneak could bang you down by getting hold of an unfavourable opinion poll.
If one of your opponents looks like he is running away with the first election then send in the Generalsekretär to launch a smear campaign. He probably won't have enough dough left to buy an opinion poll. Watch the smug grin on his face disappear. A dirty trick, I agree, but then that's politics. It's probably unwise to make this play though against those tiresome vindictive types that one so often comes across.
Always try to get the debate marker onto one of your policies. This will give your vote total a substantial boost and at little cost if you send in one of your junior ministers.
If you can force a coalition and win an election on somebody else's coattails, great. Let them pay the bills. This is another reason for holding a major conference in phase 1 (change two programs to match theirs), but only do this if they already have a coalition card face up in the region. Also, make sure you have a media disc in the region, otherwise your victory will be a hollow one.
Media discs are undoubtedly one of your most important resources, so use them sparingly. Again, try not to get locked in a media war early on when your reserves are slender. Better to relinquish power to an opponent than waste cash trying to create a stalemate. Your day will come. It's always worth playing a disc into one of the lower regions especially if you are trying to win the first election. At the start of the game the floating opinion pool is pretty small, so even if you have the power to change things, chances are the opinion you seek is not available. However, if you have media control in one of the lower regions you may be able to switch opinions. Even going as far as to replace a positive agreement with one you violently disagree with, simply to make the former available for the election currently taking place (this tactic applies throughout the game).
The campaign days represent the best value for money in the game. Always place as many as you can afford though save some cash for the opinion polls. In the early elections don't fanny around. Stick them in a region you're serious about, but always put at least one in the current election, more if you have the dough as the votes they represent will give you an instant cash return.
Yes, it's opinion poll time. Of course it's nice to have lots but you don't have the cash so bid carefully. Do not bid in an area where you have media control if your popularity is up, or if you can reach 50 votes any other way, at least in the early stages. Save your money for a region where you can be hurt. If you should obtain a poll that is unfavourable to your own prospects then try to hammer the leader in that region. Stick the boot in, drop his popularity and raise that of a no-hoper. Only employ this tactic if it does real damage. Otherwise you'll be catching vindictive fall-out for nothing.
To convert, or not to convert. That should be the question. As a rule of thumb I'd say yes when your popularity is up, and no when it is down. An exception to the former is when you want to go last in a turn, perhaps say, in the shadow cabinet phase when you want to kick somebody's media disc out without fear of instant revenge. If your popularity is only at par, it's worth converting if that will give you an overall majority, and equally to stop one of your opponents obtaining the same.
If your popularity is down always convert at least one as fractions are rounded up.
Bribes are tricky things, as any politician will tell you. When you see one of your opponents coining in the cash after an election victory while you're on your uppers, the temptation to visit Herr Flick for an illegal donation is indeed great but must be resisted unless the situation is really desperate.
The potential loss of party bases could be disastrous in the long term. Visit the bank if you must and hit the manager for a plain brown envelope. If you're okay for cash just sit back and collect the 500 risk free, or simply do nothing.
When you contest an election pull out all the stops and aim to hit at least 50 votes. Being a runner-up is nowhere, so be a winner. As someone once said of life in America: 'Son, there are no second acts.'
Always stay in tune with what is happening in Bonn. Agreements count as a big modifier at the end. Check in advance who is likely to win the election and what opinions he is likely to place in Bonn. If he's going to place two that look likely to stay there, then hold a major conference and grab them from the program deck, if available.
Don't underestimate the power of votes. In an election game this may sound strange, but some players get so carried away with modifiers they forget about the nitty gritty.
Try to get your media discs in early on the last election. Experience has shown that this can often be the decider.
The above advice carries no guarantee of success, but follow it and you should be there at the finish. If not, then take consolation in the words of a losing American senator on the stump: 'The people have spoken, the bastards.'