The Political Machine 2016: Making Election Sims great again

Supporters crowd around Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as he signs autographs during a rally Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Reno, Nev. (AP)

Like all political science majors, I harbor dreams of becoming president of the United States. Nothing has ever reinforced my belief that literally anyone could become president more than the "Political Machine" games.

Stardock studios have been making a nice heap of cash from this low-risk series, as it's basically the same game released every four years with updated rosters, almost like a low-budget "Madden" game. This time around, players can campaign with any of the major politicians in modern-day America, from Jeb Bush to Nikki Haley and Hillary Clinton to Lincoln Chafee. 

Every campaign takes your chosen candidate through a couple months on the campaign trail, including giving speeches, building headquarters and doing interviews on parody versions of major news networks. It's an interesting take on strategy games if you haven't played the previous games, but there's almost nothing new here for longtime fans. 

Keeping that in mind, I decided to jump into the character creation system and do two separate playthroughs, one round with a character that closely reflects myself and the other a maniac. In the interest of fairness, I randomized as much as I could, including closing my eyes and waving my mouse around to decide on my opponent.

The sane candidate, whom I named Ward, was basically a moderate liberal without any major strengths but without any big weaknesses either. I lucked out by getting John Kasich, the dry tofu of the political world, as my opponent. One thing I noticed early is that your opponent will always spam headquarters across as many states as they can, which puts you in a hole early but also eats up all of their cash, so several playthroughs ended with a "miraculous" comeback.

When it comes time to choose a running mate, you might get a little excited, but they really have no impact besides giving you a bunch of money and raising your awareness stat in any state they're sent to. For that reason I always wound up picking Michael Bloomberg as my running mate, seeing as he offered the most cash up front. That might be a biting piece of political commentary, but it's more likely that the developers just never bothered to make running mates interesting. 

Come to think of it, your opponents don't seem all that smart either. Even Kasich, whose intelligence rating was among the top five in the Republican field, couldn't resist pumping millions in advertisements and headquarters into New Hampshire and Alaska. As a result, I lost New Hampshire and Hawaii but managed to snag Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia by about twenty points apiece, securing my win. 

With the sane run in the books, I switched over to my mirror-world candidate, Budsy McGee. From looking at his attributes, Budsy is one of the dumbest, ugliest people to ever walk the planet, with minimal experience and no credibility. I invested all those points into money and stamina, rationalizing that my best chance of winning came from heavy advertising and sticking to a couple of very simple talking points whenever I had to show my face in public.

I drew Joe Biden as my opponent this time around, which wasn't ideal, but the number of verbal gaffes that might emerge from such a race was fun to imagine. The game attempted to prevent my abomination from ever competing by crashing, but I managed to get back in it. Budsy jumped out to an early lead thanks to a string of campaign headquarters I built across the country. My massive stockpile of funds meant I could afford it, and the stamina boost meant that I could cross the country before Biden made it out of Delaware.

For my running mate, I obviously selected Donald Trump. Not only was he the most ideologically close to Budsy, but he offered the most money out of all the candidates as well. One week before the election, Budsy is dominating the polls. I establish headquarters in Delaware just to spite my opponent. When the final votes roll in, I'm victorious, and the Democratic Party has been shaken to its core. How, they must wonder, were they so totally and utterly defeated by a moron? 

As the confetti falls, though, I'm both amazed and unnerved by my creation. Could it really be so easy for a maniac like Budsy to get into the highest office in the land? Sometimes games make you wonder just how closely they reflect reality, and "Political Machine 2016" is one of those games.

Political science majors could probably have a lot of fun with this simulation. For all my complaints, the mediocre graphics and unchanged gameplay still work fine. It's a basic introduction to American politics for everyone else, but it can still be a reasonably useful teaching tool, not to mention a fun experience.


Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.pankowski@uconn.edu.