The Political Machine 2016
Steam Trading Cards: No
Controller Support : No
Retail Price: $9.99 (if you own the 2012 edition, you can upgrade for $4.99)
High Level Premise: Choose your favorite candidate, and try to win the Presidency!
Graphics/Style: Early 2000s Freshman computer animation student assignment. All the characters are depicted as bobble heads. They all have a very dated look to them. It can be hard to discern where things are, and what they are on the main map...especially when at "full country" zoom.
Music/Soundtrack: There's some patriotic music that repeats in the background. It sets the mood, but I tend to mute it.
Story: "Become President"
Replay-ability: Fully re-playable until you beat Trump, or lose all hope and play as to get a victory.
Time Commitment: You can set the game anywhere from 21 to 52 weeks / turns. A short 21 turn game will set you back about half an hour.
Value: If you are looking for an election themed game, but don't really want a deep simulation, then this is a fine choice for the price. If you have access to one of the older editions (especially 2008), and can still play it, there's little need to upgrade.
Favorite Element: I created my own character, and made him a robotic crab person with a pompadour.
The Political Machine is a fairly light area control game that plays more like a board game than a video game. In board game terms: it's an action point game (a la Tikal or Pandemic) where you get a certain amount of stamina points every turn to do as much stuff as you can. You can use those points to travel around the country, build offices, give speeches, hold fundraisers, and hire political operatives that can do your dirty work even when you're not in state. The game takes place on a US map where the states will change colors based on which side is projected to be winning.
Along the way, some random events will pop up. You might be asked to go on "60 Seconds" to answer hard hitting questions about your campaign. Or, you might get a "Kook" as a follower who will damage your reputation in a given state. The developers tout the fact that there can be some "Super Events" in this game (such as affairs, mass bee death, or terror attacks) which can dramatically shake up the course of the game. After a couple weeks of game play, you get to choose a running mate. They give you a boost in their home state, plus you can send them around to visit other states (though they cannot take any other actions).
This process repeats itself until the prescribed number of turns is finished, at which point the actual election takes place. What happens here is that the game zooms in on each state, and colors it in, just like what happens on the news networks on election night. For the most part, you already have a good sense on whether you've won or not before this ever happens (though I have had a couple states flip that weren't leaning my way). Once the results are totaled, you either get a celebration or defeat screen, and then go back to the menu screen.
I've been playing The Political Machine since 2004. This is the 4th version of the game, and in my mind, it's the most disappointing. It doesn't feel any different at all than the 2012 edition...which was itself a step backwards from the 2008 edition. We are in one of the most insane campaign seasons ever, but nothing in this game reflects that, apart from the sheer number of candidates you can choose from. There are no primaries, there are no debates, there are no rallies or any of the events that have been making the news over the past year. It's1 Democrat v 1 Republican fighting for the Presidency. I almost would have rather this have been a Republican Primary Sim than an election game this year, because that part of the process was WAY more interesting.
With all that being said, it's really not a bad game. There is a good bit of strategy into trying to do everything you want to do as efficiently as possible. You have to gauge just how hard you want to fight for that one state that's already leaning your opponent's way...knowing it could cause you to lose traction in another key state. I've found so far that Donald Trump is extremely overpowered in short games because of his massive wealth and PR advantages. If you play a longer game, those advantages can be nullified, and your political clout advantages can finally come into play. Alternately, if you want an easy win, you can honestly play as Trump and not do anything for half the game, regardless the opponent.
The Political Machine 2016 is a frustrating game. It feels like putting a coat of paint on an old car and trying to sell it as new. Yet it does what it does rather well. The developers keep touting new enhancements are coming as the season drags on, but other than new candidates...nothing has happened yet. I would love to see debates or primaries added to the game. Maybe 3rd party candidates, or the ability to run a split Democrat / Republican ticket (Come on, you know you'd pay to play Hillary Clinton / Donald Trump vs Ted Cruz / Michelle Obama)? Or even just the scenarios from 2008...how would Marco Rubio do trying to get elected during the Civil War? It remains to be seen what features actually materialize. I've enjoyed my time with The Political Machine 2016, although I'm dismayed at how little the series has outwardly evolved over time.