Practice politics without offense

Election: `The Political Machine' allows players to be campaign managers for real-life Washington movers and shakers.

Game Room

September 09, 2004|By Victor Godinez | Victor Godinez,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

There are eight long weeks until the presidential election, but now you can take matters into your own hands.

The new PC game The Political Machine makes you the campaign manager for a presidential hopeful, steering your candidate to victory.

It's a strong performance, but the Ubisoft game doesn't quite score a landslide victory.

All your favorite real-life politicians - from President Bush to John Kerry to Hillary Clinton to Arnold Schwarzenegger, plus dozens more - are available for you to direct at your pleasure.

You pick a candidate, set parameters such as the state of the economy, the level of military conflict around the globe and the level of restlessness among the populace, and off you go.

You start off with a few million dollars in the bank, a home-state base of operations and access to basic information on the issues most important to voters in various states.

The main battlefield is an electoral map of America. The goal is to amass 270 electoral votes, meaning you need to develop national policies but also pander to local voters.

So while the war in Iraq is a popular topic for Republicans in Texas, you might not want to give that same speech in New York or California.

In fact, you have several modes of attack.

Once you point-and-click your candidate to fly to a state, you must decide whether to build or upgrade your campaign headquarters, give a speech, create an ad campaign, stage a fund-raiser or spend political capital on winning endorsements or hiring behind-the-scenes operatives.

You need to quickly establish large campaign offices in the biggest and most important states. Bigger offices give you access to more sophisticated polling data and increase the amount of cash you shake out of people's pockets at fund-raisers.

You also want to buy ad time as soon as possible, purchasing expensive national television ads on universally popular topics such as the war on terrorism. You can either come out in favor of a topic to boost your ratings or attack your opponent to lower their poll numbers.

Then you can use local outlets, such as newspapers and radio, to publish or air ads on topics that might be popular in certain states - such as gay marriage - but less well-received in others.

All this costs money, so occasionally you'll need to replenish your treasury with a fund-raiser. But the more you stump in a particular state, the smaller the payoff. So you can't camp out in California and pocket $400,000 every five minutes.

If you're feeling devious, you can hire operatives to harass your opponent in a particular state.

Even with all the details, you'll want more. For example, it would be cool to download current controversies, such as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads or joblessness, to test the responsiveness of your campaign team.

But The Political Machine is a blast for political junkies who love charts, graphs and arguing about gun rights or the war in Iraq.

The Political Machine

Cost: $19.99

Rating: T -- for ages 13 and up

Platforms: Windows 98 / Me / XP

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