Letter from America – 1960: The Making of The President review

As you may well have worked out if you’ve read a few reviews on the site or listened to the show (Episode 12 now available, don’t forget!), I am of the opinion that you should try playing everything at least once. You never know, you may well come across a game or genre that blows you away, sparking a section of your brain never before awakened. The subject of a game is often enough to turn potential players away, but keeping an open mind can sometimes turn up a treasure.

Politics may not be the first thing you think of when considering what to bring to your gaming table, but there’s a fair few games out there deserving of your time. They’re often pretty deep and time consuming, but well worth a look – from the intense Die Macher to the relatively lightweight Campaign Manager 2008, it’s a genre many players don’t have a lot of experience with. I recently got my hands on Z-Man Games’ 1960: The Making of The President which is pitched halfway between the two, an entertaining but thought-provoking journey through the election that is often referred to as ‘the beginning of modern politics’ by those a little more knowledgeable than I.

A strictly two-player affair, it sees you play out the story of the 1960 American Presidential Election between Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy. Of course, history shows that Nixon’s campaign was beset with issues and Kennedy cruised to a comfortable victory, only to be assassinated in Dallas in 1963. Playing 1960 can only end in one of two ways: history either changes with a Nixon victory or remains the same with Kennedy winning – however, the important thing is the journey…

Everything in this game has a historical basis, from the amount of votes that each state gives to its winning candidate to the events detailed on the cards that drive the game. You begin by seeding the board with red and blue cubes (representing the levels of Republican and Democratic support at the time) and deal six action cards to each player. These cards can be used in two ways. Firstly, they can give you Campaign Points to be spent on electioneering, gaining media influence or showing support for issues. You may also gain Rest Cubes which are flung into a drawing bag at the end of each round to help you in various ways, such as gaining initiative or checking your support in a state. Each card also has an event that will have a positive or negative effect on one of the campaigns, all of which are based on actual occurrences. Should you be lucky enough to have momentum – represented by tokens to spend – you can actually do both, gaining Campaign Cubes and triggering the card’s event for a potentially devastating one-two!

Three Campaign Cubes plus one Rest Cube or trigger the event? The choice is yours...

It’s a game of back and forth with a huge amount of interaction between the two players. You play your cards one after the other, travelling around the country trying to gain support while attempting to trip up your opponent. If a state holds even a single cube of your colour, they’re on your side but there is always a danger that public opinion can change! You’ve also got to consider where you focus your energies – not every state has the same amount of influence. Areas like New York and California hold a large amount of sway while Ohio and Alaska aren’t exactly power players on the electoral scene. However, you underestimate their value at your peril as every vote counts at the end of the game.

New York has a lot of influence - 45 votes and the Democrats are well in control...

The whole campaign process is represented, including the Presidential Debate. 1960 saw the first official debate take place between potential Presidents and what took place has since fallen into legend. Kennedy was a rising star, confident and full of swagger, while Nixon was ill, sweating and didn’t even bother to shave. Public opinion swung hugely to the Democratic candidate, with Kennedy eventually taking the White House by 303 votes to 219. Things often run a little closer in this version, though…

After working your way through the various rounds, the game concludes with the final count. The winner is the person who has the largest amount of votes, shown on the reverse of the Seals that you collect by having at least one of your cubes in that State at the end of the game. It may come across as a fiddly and difficult game, but I thought that after a couple of rounds I’d picked up everything pretty well. There’s a very helpful page on the back of the (incredibly detailed) rule book that will get you out of a hole when you’re stuck, but you’ll find your feet quickly.

As is usual with Z-Man games, 1960 is well produced. From the stylistic yet functional artwork on the massive board to the flavour text on the cards (each one illustrated with a black and white photo), a huge amount of thought has been put into the making of the game – just what you’d expect from designers with a CV of games like Twilight Struggle and Founding Fathers. Not content with coming up with a game that entertains, Leonhard and Matthews have given us something that has piqued my interest in the events that took place. Here in the UK we cover little in the way of American history at school, especially that of recent times, and playing The Making of The President has sparked that desire to find out more – surely a great thing.

As with any card game there’s an element of randomness, but I don’t think it detracted from the experience. If you get a hand filled with events that will hurt you, simply spend those cards on campaigning – you’ll still have as good a chance of victory. It’s an incredibly balanced game that rewards paying attention and the exploitation of your opponent’s mistakes… just like real politics! Highly recommended, more so if you have even a passing interest in the subject matter – I’m looking forward to getting this played again soon.

1960: The Making of The President was published by Z-Man Games in 2007. Designed by Christian Leonhard and Jason Matthews, it’s for two players only and will take you a couple of hours (maybe even three) to play through. At turns intense and entertaining, it’s quickly become one of my favourite head-to-head games. Check it out!



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2 responses to “Letter from America – 1960: The Making of The President review

  1. Jonathan Leech

    I love 1960. I absolutely adore it. So much so that I went on to buy Twilight Struggle Deluxe and Founding Fathers because they’re based on similar mechanics and have one designer linking them. Twilight Struggle is an even longer, more complex affair and is also 2 player only. Founding Fathers is based on the drafting of the American constitution but has some fascinating features which simulate debates and lobbying to gain influence and points. It can play up to four and is a shorter game than the others. Anyone who likes the game mechanics and the way 1960 merges historical fact with gameplay should take a look at these games as well.

  2. I’ve played Twilight Struggle and really enjoyed it. Now, after reading this review and the comments previously posted, I think I’ll need to check out 1960 and Founding Fathers if I ever get the chance!

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