Continuing my tradition of discussing America-themed boardgames on the 4th of July.
Last Independence Day I reviewed Twilight Struggle, a game that continues to be a favorite; this year’s selection, 1960: The Making of the President, shares several traits in common with TS: both were co-designed by Jason Matthews, both are for two players, and both are primarily card-driven strategy games. But where Twilight dealt with politics on a global scale, 1960 is strictly a domestic affair.
The players vie to become the 35th president of the United States, assuming the roles of Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Played on a game board depicting a map and of the US, the game is played over a series of rounds, each representing a week of campaigning, during which each player strives to add “State Support” (symbolized by small cubes, red for Nixon and blue for Kennedy) to the various states in the hopes of capturing them come election day.
Only one player can have State Support (i.e., cubes) in a state at a time; if Nixon were told to add two State Support to Montana, say, and Kennedy already had four cubes there, he would remove two blue cubes from the state rather than adding his own. It is therefore easy to tell who is leading in a state, simply by noting what color cubes reside there. The candidate who leads in a state at the end of the game receives the state’s electoral votes, and the player who accumulates the most electoral votes wins.
As with Twilight, the game is driven by a deck of card (hence the appellation “Card-Driven Strategy”), with each card portraying a factor in the 1960 election, from specific historical events (“Nixon Egged”), to influential people and organizations (“Henry Cabot Lodge” and “Baptist Ministers”), to abstractions such as “Gathering Momentum”. Each card has an event corresponding to its title (the “Bobby Kennedy” event, for instance, aids the JFK player for the remainder of the round), and a number of Campaign Points (CPs); players may either use a card for either its Event or its CPs, but not both. CPs are typically used to put cubes onto the board (or remove cubes of an opponent); Events produce wide range of powerful effects, but many are localized or only truly useful in specific situations. Thus, the decision of how to employ your cards–for the Event or for the CP–is the central crux of play.
Sometimes the decision is a no-brainer, such as when the card you are playing has an Event that helps your opponent. But even if you opt to use the CPs in this instance (and you invariably will), the Event may still take place if you opponent is willing to expend a “Momentum Marker” to do so. You have the option to spend two of your own Momentum Markers to disallow your opponent from activating an event, but you must do so as you play the card, i.e., before your opponent makes his intentions known. As Momentum Markers are a limited commodity in the game, these decisions can be agonizing.
There’s lots more to the game–debates and issues and endorsements and initiative–but the heart of the game is the deployment of State Support and collection of electoral votes. And this is one major difference between 1960 and Twilight Struggle. In Twilight, players vie for points, and various scoring opportunities take place throughout the game; in 1960 there is only one “scoring” round, that of election day. Consequentially, the games have entirely different atmospheres: Twilight feels like a long, exhausting slugfest, in which you are constantly trying to get the upper-hand with an eye toward acing the next scoring round; 1960 is more of a narrative, which builds to a climatic election day showdown. To put it another way, Twilight emphasizes tactics while 1960 tilts toward strategy.
Which is better? Both are great designs, of that there can be no dispute. But the thing I love about Twilight Struggle is the constant sense of imminent doom, due to both the interim scoring rounds and constant threat of nuclear war. This same tension is present in 1960, but only in the endgame. That said, 1960 holds one huge advantage over Twilight in the eyes of many: it can be played in half the time, with a typical game of the former lasting 90-120 minutes, while the latter can run as long as five hours (or end after a single hour, in the case of a rout or a nuclear holocaust). 1960 is also a little easier to teach and play, and has vastly superior components.
Twilight vs. 1960 may be one of those situation where, of two similar entities, people fall in love to the one they are exposed to first and dismiss the other as a pale imitation. That might explain why, given the choice, I will opt for Twilight Struggle over 1960 every time. But given only two hours, I’ll happily play 1960 in its stead.
Which would I recommend to someone who has experience with neither? Well, unless you already know someone who is willing to play a five hour, moderately complex game, 1960 is the way to go. Plus it’s theme is especially compelling this year, and it’s much more attractive–two factors that will assist you in finding opponents and getting it on the table. After all, your primary goal, when buying a game, should be to get something that will actually get played–especially when it’s a game of such high caliber.