Updated from the 2004 version, Stardock’s The Political Machine 2008 boasts some enhanced graphics and some tweaked gameplay but doesn’t change the addictive and solid tone of the first.
Playing as your favorite candidate, or from your own fictional creation you have 41 weeks to win the hearts of the American people to become President of the United States. You start from your home state and immediately must build a headquarters and start campaigning. From there you use every tool your budget allows to wheel-and-deal the constituents; from hiring smear merchants, advertising in key states, and using the current polls to tailor your individual campaign message in borderline states. The game succeeds in using current hot topics, such as abortion and Iraq withdrawal, to create a pertinent, intelligent gameplay that will draw more than the common strategist, especially considering its 20 dollar price tag.
The fast pace of the game only encourages multiple play-throughs, as I tried several different iterations, attempting to bend my politics only to win, or another time I used only my moral compass to see how I would fare in the election. Money is the primary way you keep yourself alive here, run out of money and you might as well concede before the election, so you better make sure you keep your backers. In addition to money the 2008 edition includes Public Relations points which are used to offset public opinion polls, which helps slightly level the playing field when your opponent comes up with surprise donors. The AI does an excellent job campaigning key states and especially in later rounds ensures that there is no clear winner close to the election, so you are constantly fighting the good battle up to the end.
Beyond the standard mode, you also have the additional modes of playing in an 1860 American election where you may need to do some research to see who actually cares about tariffs and equality movements. Or you could play on a twisted European theatre version of the game or the equally ludicrous and hilarious alien Drengin Empire elections. All have their different skews, but ultimately are the same core set to different themes. Graphics and sound are appropriate for its 20 dollar price tag, but it is a vast improvement over the 2D representations of the first game.
The Political Machine 2008 unfortunately will be forgotten by the end of the year, which is a shame because it is a solid turn-based strategy game that has big potential to educate younger generations into how the political process actually works.