Possibly the earliest example of a presidential-themed board game, the 1876 card game called The Centennial Presidential Game. The one example of this game known to exist is in the Smithsonian.
With red, white and blue bunting as far as the eye can see and campaign speeches abound, the Republican National Convention has just completed and the Democrats are convening this week. That means the 2012 Presidential Campaign is entering its final stages. With a political fever pitch building toward the Nov. 6th showdown between incumbent President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the wheels and whims of the democratic process are top-of-mind for many Americans. And for those looking to experience a taste of campaign season excitement on the tabletop, there are of course numerous election- and campaign-themed board games from several presidential eras.
The earliest presidential board game that I could find record of is an 1876 card game called The Centennial Presidential Game. It’s a beautifully illustrated piece commemorating, obviously, the American Centennial. As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History has the only existing copy. If you see one at a thrift store or in a yard sale, do not hesitate; buy it immediately!
You’re far more likely, though, to come across Mr. President, a 1965 title released by 3M and reprinted with major revisions in 1965, 1966, 1967, 1971 and 1972. To further complicate matters, the original issue of the game dates back to 1960, when the design was published as Mr. President USA by a tiny, obscure company called Décor Note. It’s a rare item and the only copy I’ve ever seen for sale was asking $50. By all accounts, it’s a simple trick-taking game wherein players play cards to win the electoral votes of states. The ’65 and ’66 editions offer more variants, including long, short and partnership games.
The later editions from ’67, ’71 and ’72 are far more common, far more desirable and far less valuable. These editions of the game—credited to designer Jack Carmichael—are more strategy and simulation oriented affairs wherein players have to juggle campaign finances, media, advertising, party policies, fund raising, debates and other real-world issues. It’s an interesting—albeit quite dated—take on the Presidential election process. Expect to spend no more than an Andrew Jackson on it if it’s in great shape and complete, with a less-than-presidential Alexander Hamilton representing a more reasonable price for a good condition copy. It’s a decent enough game and 3M collectors will want to have it as part of their bookshelf games collection, but it’s still hardly a treasure.
The 1967 edition of the classic election game Mr. President, released by 3M.
There are plenty of also-ran games in this thematic category, many of which are so obscure and so rare as to make ascertaining value difficult. The fabulously titled Who Can Beat Nixon? Is currently listed at a few sites from a high of $50 to a low of $25, but buyers aren’t quite lining up to see if the game answers that question. A rarity like the 1960 game Convention! (which is actually about earning a Presidential nomination at a party convention) or Parker Brothers’ 1935 Game of Politics (subtitled “Elect Yourself President”) are rarely seen for sale and seldom—if ever—played by hobbyists. Vintage alone may result in $50 price tags at retail or auction, but demand is low.
Wait… is this game about Jimmy Carter?
Part of the reason for this is because election- and presidential-themed board games tend to be products of their times. Even the best games in this category tend to lose value as they lose relevancy, regardless of whether it’s a game like 1992’s Road to the White House that offers fictional candidates or something more specific like the 1978 game Peanuts to Presidents, obviously about Jimmy Carter. Politics change, campaigning changes and electoral-vote counts change. Political memorabilia collectors are likely far more interested in Presidential Election Game: Goldwater for President today than anyone was when it was printed in 1964 as a piece of campaign marketing.
A recent, very well-regarded game about one of the greatest campaigns of American History.
Today’s gamers, if they’re looking for a presidential game to play, are most likely to reach for either 1960: The Making of a President or Campaign Manager 2008, both designed by the team of Christian Leonhard and Jason Matthews, and published by Z-Man Games in the United States. The former is a card-driven strategy game depicting the incredible Kennedy-versus-Nixon campaign, complete with the televised debates, a nation in crisis over Civil Rights and the ever-looming specter of the Cold War. Cardplay drives both the manipulation of public opinion (and the media), as well as the narrative of the game, which includes fine detail like Nixon’s “lazy shave” before appearing on television. This 2007 release is usually sold for around $30. I wouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon, up or down.
The latter title is obviously about the Obama/McCain race. Players draft cards to create 15-card decks that they will use to manipulate issues and opinions to win electoral votes in each state. It’s a simpler game than 1960 overall, with far less detail and far more abstraction. It’s not quite as highly regarded as 1960, but it’s also easy to find for under $10—and the subject matter is from recent memory—unlike Barry Goldwater or Jimmy Carter.
Michael Barnes is a lifelong game player, collector and enthusiast. He has parlayed his passion for games into several successful ventures, including a retail hobby store, two popular gaming Websites, and 10 years of widely read commentary and criticism about both tabletop and video games.
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