Overview: Congratulations on your candidacy! You must now compete with your peers to win your party’s nomination by campaigning across the country, holding rallies, raising money, gaining the favor of Super PACs, and ultimately by winning as many delegates as possible. Welcome to The Primary
The Primary is a political election-themed board game by Matt Quock of Mountaintop Games. The Primary’s own campaign ran back in Spring of 2018, and was supported by more than 350 backers raising more than $17,000. After the campaign ended, the team over at Mountaintop worked hard to manufacture the game, and we received it in November. So, what did we think of the game?
How We Review: As with any of our reviews, we put the game to the test with a variety of playtesters, representing various ages, and demographics. We consider multiple aspects of the game, including clarity of instructions, innovation, artwork, and fun!
Game Contents: The box includes 1 game board, 70 action cards, 12 candidate cards, 18 news cards, 15 bot cards, 5 wooden pawns, 5 wooden stars, 1 custom die, 1 first player token, 17 round tokens, 3 voting markers, 150 plastic cubes, and the rulebook.
How To Play The Game:
The Primary is a fairly simple game in both rules, concept, and gameplay. The game takes place over 11 rounds (8 voting rounds and 3 non-voting rounds), and each round consists of 4 phases. To set-up the game, each player chooses a candidate and a home region. The goal of the game is to increase your influence across the country. Whichever player has the most influence in a region wins that region. Some regions are winner-take-all, and others have a second place prize. If there are any ties, votes can be split. Throughout the game, players will keep track of the votes that they receive, and the player with the most at the end of the game wins the primary!
In order, the phases are News, Action(s), Vote, and Organize. First, the “News” card is flipped, which offers a universal rule to all players that affect this round only. After that, players choose from their hands a series of 4 actions to be played in order. They are then laid down on the table, upside-down for confidentiality, and then acted out by all. The actions can bring you more influence to “spend”, like Fundraiser and Super PAC cards, can allow you to move around on the board, like Bus and Plane cards, or can move influence around on the board, like Rally, Positive Ad, and Negative Ad cards. After all actions by every player are complete, then any voting regions are calculated and tallied. The game is re-organized in preparation for the next round, and the game continues.
In addition to the traditional 3-5 player game, there are Solo, Team, and Duo variants. Though the game is advertised as a 45 minute game, this could range anywhere from 30 min. to 1hr., depending on the number of players, and their level of comfort with the game. We were closer to the 30-40 min. range. Here, we should highlight the Solo variant, where a player can play against the Elect-O-Bot 9000 (a formidable opponent, even on “easy”). This is a great Solo game, that typically runs along the lines of 25-35 minutes. It is still very challenging, and offers similar game-play to the full multiplayer game. One final note about the Primary, it is actually not a political game. It is a game based on the election process, but not on the politics. This can work in the favor of a gaming group or family with split political views, because the actual politics isn’t a component of the game.
An Interview With The Designer:
Q: Do you consider this game an educational tool to increase political knowledge, or mostly just a fun game that happens to have a political backdrop?
A: The design process for The Primary fell in place where the theme really drove the mechanics. It was intended to be a somewhat lighter-weight game and not necessarily 100% accurate to our actual primary election processes. During the development, a number of things had to be abstracted and simplified, but I still think it has some educational value as an introduction to the way the US nominates representatives during the primaries.
Q: How did you determine which states to divide into voting regions?
A: We (my roommate Justin and I were co-designers at the point) realized right away that it would not be a fun game if all 50 states (and other territories, etc) had their own individual votes – or it at least wasn’t the version of fun that we were going for. Grouping states into regions was honestly a fairly arbitrary process – we just grouped ones that visually fit together and gave us a decent amount of total regions. Throughout playtesting, the original regions just stuck and never were an issue. At the beginning, we were using actual delegate counts from a previous primary election and we eventually learned that those had to be scaled down from thousands to much smaller numbers – but that was really the only major change that happened with the regions.
Q: How long did it take to perfect your game concept and working design? How long have you been developing this project overall, from concept to production?
A: I first started working on The Primary in February 2017, the Kickstarter launched in March 2018, and backers started receiving games in November 2018. It’s been a long process – at least to me… I know many other games can take a much longer path to production.
Q: How did you build interest in this game prior to your Kickstarter campaign?
A: I’m not sure I did a great job of this, but I tried a shotgun approach: staying active on multiple social media platforms, writing designer diaries, updating the Mountaintop Games website, posting updates on the BGDF forum, making a BGG entry for The Primary, etc… It’s hard for me to say what really worked (if anything) but I think social media may have been the most effective, and also the most fun and rewarding. The board game community is so cool that it was a fun way to try and be engaged while also doing some “marketing”
Q: What was the most challenging part of making the game?
A: I’d say the most challenging part of making The Primary was balancing, especially the candidate abilities. As much as I tried to quantify things, a lot of that process still felt very subjective and intuition-based to me – and that made it difficult to balance, even over a multitude of playtests.
Q: Are you planning on making more games in the future, or expanding The Primary in some way?
A: I don’t have definite plans right now, though I do have several game concepts on the back burner – including some ideas for a potential expansion to The Primary. It was definitely a difficult and time-intensive process to design and publish a board game, so I think it’ll probably be a little while before I try my hand at it again.
Q: What was your favorite and least favorite part of making your game?
A: That’s a tough one… if I had to choose, I’d probably say my favorite parts were the early stages of game design and working on art direction. My least favorite parts were probably balancing the game and some of the stressful stretches during the Kickstarter campaign.
Q: Where can you buy the game if you missed out on the Kickstarter Campaign?
A: You can order a copy online here: https://mountaintopgames.bigcartel.com/ and a few Friendly Local Game Stores also have some copies on their shelves!
Q: Where can I learn more about the game?
A: The best place right now is probably the Kickstarter campaign (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mountaintopgames/the-primary-an-election-strategy-board-game) and I also have a website for Mountaintop Games (http://mountaintop.games/) but it has been pretty severely neglected recently.
Q: Were there any rules or concepts that you considered that didn’t make the final cut?
A: Yeah, there were a lot of things that didn’t make it into the game – for a number of reasons. Some just weren’t fun, some were too complicated, some just didn’t quite make sense and were better suited to a potential expansion.
Q: If you wouldn’t mind, please tell us a little about yourself.
A: Sure! I’m a first time game designer / publisher, an engineer by training, and I work in new product development. In my free time, I like playing and designing board games, being outdoors, and playing sports. Dogs > cats.
Q: Who else, if anyone, helped you with this game?
A: Wow, so many people… I’d have to start with Justin Hertz who was my co-designer during the early stages of the game. Abby Schultz has been a developer and a great resource throughout the whole process. Nate Zabel helped with late-stage development and balancing. Keith Matejka, Kirk Dennsion, and Dan Cunningham are some local game designers / publishers that have been through it all before and gave me a ton of advice and wisdom. Last but not least, all the playtesters who helped try the game out and provided awesome feedback to make it better.
What We Thought:
- The title is good, art works well, and there was good detail in the News cards. The material quality is very nice. Nothing was a distraction from gameplay.
- There was a good selection of action cards that allow plenty of strategy for players. Depending on your initial hand, each player could be limited to a certain strategy, but there is typically a good mix.
- Gameplay was easy to learn, and you can begin play in minutes. We found that after a few rounds of the game, almost every player had a good understanding of the rules and game system.
- It is great for a party, family, or solo.
- The game is not too long and not too short, a great middle of the road.
- Both the Multiplayer and Solo Variant offer great game experiences, and are both worth the value of the game.
- Gameplay was smooth, and rounds play well. Since there are only 11 rounds in the game, you can predict the end time if needed, and it never feels “endless”.
- Every round, in-fact every play, has meaning. The game perfectly balances the feeling of a need to stay competitive with the comfort to experiment with your strategy. (Sometimes the gambles pay off)
Comments from our Reviewers:
“The Primary is a fun, strategic game that perfectly captures the political game without the political concepts. The gameplay is smooth, easy to learn, and yet full of strategy. Gamers of all types, from casual to hard-core, will enjoy this Action-Based/ Area-Management game.”
“If you vote for me, all your wildest dreams will come true.”
“Casually competitive and addicting.”
“Very engaging. Replicates the flow of primary contests in a simple game format.”
“A very fun theme, easy to learn, and relaxing.”
“Its a interesting concept which take the politics out of an election game.”
“Very exciting game. Very competitive and lots of strategy. Good for all ages.”