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NIXON v KENNEDY: 1960 The MAKING of the PRESIDENT
A 2-Player Strategy game designed by Jason Matthews & Christian Leonhard for GMT Games

 

JFK became President in January 1961 after a tough battle for the White House Richard Milhous Nixon who was the encumbent Vice President following Dwight David Eisenhower's 8 years in the White House. Nixon was expected to be a shoe-in, especially as the Democratic party couldn't decide upon a fore-runner to lead them in the upcoming election. John Fitzgerald Kennedy finally got the vote but against most recommendations he chose Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas as his running-mate and eventual Vice-President. Kennedy made a lot of enemies on his rise to the top, and once there made a whole lot more, but this game doesn't cover his mistakes, doggedness or arrogance (history has been rather kind towards him and his Presidency due to the manner of his demise) instead it pits two players, one taking the role of JFK and the other RMN. There is no role for Harry Flood Byrd in the game as his Independent Party didn't win enough to make this a serious 3-player game (though seeing as the mechanics and the choices of the players allow for a non-historical result it could have been fun).

If none of the above is of any interest to you then this isn't a game you will enjoy. I'm not saying that you had to be alive during this period to enjoy it, that would be stupid as we enjoy all manner of historical games and I am assuming none of us were alive when America was discovered, during Gettysburg or the Boer War etc, and games about these periods are usually very fine entertainment.

I will say though that this is a very American game. If you have any interest in the way American politics work this probably isn't going to help you too much, except that you can learn the 50 States by name and location.

 

                                                                              Spot the difference between the real map of the USA
                                                                                                and my attempt with the blocks

 

JFK is represented by the Blue cubes and RMN by the Red, the three White cubes are Track Markers and the cylinders are Candidate Tokens (Nixon is viewed as a trumpeting Elephant while Kennedy is shown as a Jackass). 

The map/game-board shows the USA in political Regions with each voting State shown as a box with it's historical vote results . Skip to the penultimate page of the rules book for some very intriguing facts that have arisen from and since the 1960 Presidential Election. Even as an Englishman with no real concern over who runs the USA I find the historical features of this game more interesting than the actual election itself. You do not have to have some interest in politics to play but is almost a necessity to be able to enjoy 1960 The Making of the President game. 

The events can turn the tide, the random drawing of cubes from the bag can turn a sure thing into a defeat, the playing of the wrong card at the right time or the right card at the wrong time can change the electoral vote either way. Basically what I am saying is that there is some intensity in the play but they can become more of a challenge to see it through to the end than an actually enjoyable game - people who enjoy a game of Chess aren't playing Chess as it should be played; people who 'play' Chess properly aren't really enjoying it, they are getting their kicks by outwitting their opponent, the game is just the instrument used to achieve the victory, 1960 The Making of the President is a similar instrument.

Players begin as equals by placing twelve of their Support Cubes into the 'Political Capital Bag' (plain Black drawstring bag) and then receiving six Campaign/Event cards, randomly dealt from the shuffled deck. (I will point out here that in the Rules both the Campaign card deck and the Endorsement card deck are shuffled separately, but under the Initiative Phase we are told that "each player is dealt a new hand of cards" - it would be a bit daft to think that this would be a hand of Endorsement cards, as there are so few of them compared to the Campaign deck (15 against 97), but there are some daft people out there and the Rules do not actually say a Hand of Campaign cards - just saying!.

The Campaign cards are coloured in a manner that can at first be a mite confusing; just taking the first card I pulled from the deck for an example (they are all similarly laid out). The card I hold is "A Low Blow". It shows 3CP (Campaign Points) in Blue on one side of the illustration/photograph and +1 Rest in Red on the other side. Although the two candidates are represented by Blue and Red these options on the card are not representative of the candidates by colour identification, the designers have just used Red and Blue to keep in with the decor  theme of the game.

Campaign cards can be played for their EVENT in which case the text is resolved, its effects lasting for the complete Turn, and the player takes the Rest cubes denoted. The card may also be played to gain Campaign Points (CPs) which can be spent on Campaigning, Advertising or on the three major important issues - what you choose will be important for your Presidential Campaign, everything you do in 1960 The Making of the President game has consequences. You have to play a Campaign card each Initiative Phase, one time you may play your Candidate card (valued at 5CPs) instead of a Campaign card, and then after the fifth Turn the Debates which are (loosely) based on the first ever TV debates of the two Candidates going head to head, in this case the player winning each debate gains bonus Support Cubes.

 

Throughout the game players get to place their Support Cubes into empty State boxes where they need a minimum of 4 cubes to 'Carry' the State and 2 to 'Lead' it. Only one candidate can have Support cubes in each State but there are ways of overturning the Support in a State, such as having a 'Support Check' and removing the opposing cubes one for one with their own until the State is empty again and open for the take-over. 'Carrying' a State gives the candidate extra Bonuses and Votes at the games final count. Advertising can help a candidate by negating the requirement of the 'Support Check', which is usually needed when a candidate wishes to place their cubes in a State/Region.

As I mentioned the final count can alter history by the differences in final votes and by a complete reversal of who becomes President. The cards cover some important people and political events of 1960 and affect the game when played as Campaign cards though if you feel the Event may be detrimental to yourself at the current time in the game you can play it to get the CPs and try to bury the Event. There is a twist though, the opposing player can gain the advantage of the Event by spending a Momentum Marker (Large Round Counters with Kennedy on one side and Nixon on the other) thus triggering the Event. I like this idea because it means Players aren't compelled to use their Momentum Markers on frivolous actions, they really can make a great affect to the game-play, and because it makes Players think carefully about which cards they use for CPs as they have to weigh the consequencies of gaining a few CPs against offering your opposition the chance to revive an Event you perhaps would rather not be made public - so politically correct.

 

I personally think that the title and theme of 1960 The Making of the President will be off-putting to many potential players, especially non-Americans and anyone non-political - I know I had trouble interesting any of my group in it but once I found an opponent we had no problems playing it a few times with some curiously stimulating results. We played the games over several days with each of us alternating between being the Democrats and the Republicans, differing our tactics, especially on how we played the cards, and although each game was somewhat similar (as to be expected) the results went from being closely fought to a run away victory (only once, everything went his way). 

It is mostly card play but it is a game of decisions, just like politics in real life. Speaking of real life, when there is an election and the results are coming in it is sometimes quite exciting to see the arrow on the Party Boards swinging back and forth between the two main partys when the Ballots have been counted. In 1960 The Making of the President game this swing is somewhat represented by the players Support Checks and the winning and losing of the States, which can turn into a bit of an 'it's mine-it's yours' tug-of-war, making it a bit childish at times - and we're right back to 'just like politics in real life'.

For those of us old enough to have seen this election as it happened (okay at age 10 I didn't take too much notice but I was there and so was our TV and news channel) it brings back some memories or at least stirs the memory to provoke additional interest in the period. I, for one, have always thought JFK was a model President who, apart from his fling with Marilyn Monroe, was a decent chap with America at heart. 1960 The Making of the President game has made me look back through the history of his Presidency - less than short years 1961-1963 - even though the game only leads up to his January 1st inauguration (or does it ?), and thus missing out on his most famous and often repeated quote "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country".

I think 1960 The Making of the President has limited replayability, but putting it in a game cupboard and thinking you might bring it out once or twice a year is likely to see it stay sitting in the cupboard/on the shelf wherever, gathering dust. It is however too good a game for this fate and is perhaps better suited to belonging in a games club library where different players can borrow it or play it on club nights etc. 

 

From GMT GAMES website

COMPONENTS

1960: The Making of the President, 2nd Printing (470 new sales required for target 500)

Currently OUT OF STOCK        P500 Reprint       2nd Printing of Jason and Christian's Best-Selling Game
Status:  Not there yet     Orders To Date:  30      Regular Price: $90.00      P500 Price: $58.00

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015