Before I begin, I was sent a prototype of the expansion, and a copy of the original game, and will receive a copy of the game should it fund, in exchange for an honest preview. This is not a paid preview. If you would rather watch a video of this preview, you can check it out below. You can pledge for your own copy here.
In general I do not like board games about history, and real events. That is just a me thing. I also, in general do not like area control games, they are just a lot of effort for what is often a lot of frustration to me. So I hesitated when Grey Fox asked me to preview Campaign Trail. I mean an area control game about the US Election process, in the midst of a particularly contentious presidential election.
However, I was informed that the game was more about the election process, and not related to real events as it were, and I had heard that this area control game was thematically on point. This brought to mind my current favorite area control game Theurgy, which I like mostly because the theme is integrated into everything that you do. So with that in mind I said yes and dove in.
The game plays out over the course of three months, at the end of the first two there will be debates on a variety of broad topics, though candidates do have the option to bring non-related topics into it if they choose.
Each turn players will play a multi-use card. They will choose a single action from the card, which might be register voters, fundraise, advertise, run adverts, or politick. Most of these actions are self explanatory, though the politick action, for want of a better description gives you a power boost, allowing you to run adverts more cheaply, or gain other abilities.
Each round you play an action, and you slowly start to get voters committed to you in the various states across the country. As you do the balance of power shifts as electoral votes are predicted to go to the various candidates, which is constantly tracked at the top of the board. Your performance in each debate will also add voters based on your performance on each issue (again managed by playing the same cards that you use for the rest of the game).
At the end of the third month whomever has the most votes is the winner. I will note that the Green Party Expansion adds the ability for a fourth party, and adds breaking news stories which effects the state of the board, as well as a “late returns” mechanic, which can allow you to get some votes at the last minute based on your planning throughout the game.
So what do I think?
The theme is nailed. It is fantastically realized. In addition the game is sneakily complex. Every single action you take has long lasting effects, that are extremely hard to predict. This makes every single card you play an extremely difficult choice. Do you play a card now to raise 100 million bucks?, or do you use the politick action to save money down the road?, or do you hold that card because it will be really effective in the next debate?…I DON’T KNOW!!! So good.
I also love the debates. They manage to give the brain burning of the rest of the game a much needed breath of air. You see the debate mini game is a time where you get to take advantage of all your planning, but it is relatively simple to manage. At the same time results of the debate can be devastating if you misplay it
Finally, I really like the inclusion of the breaking news cards. They are just enough of a change of pace to again, keep the game from ever getting stale.
The design on so much of the game is really on point. The debate board, and the electoral college tracker are just brilliantly done, though on the other hand the quality of the components (talking about the production copy of the base game I have) are just fine. I am confident that Grey Fox will give the new printing the treatment it deserves, but the old version is only ok. Along with the board is not particularly exciting. It works, it is easy to read, and it does fill up with voters, but it looks pretty much like a map you would see rolled up over a classroom white board.
This is a very long game. Seriously, if you play with all four parties I can only assume this game will take 3-4 hours without question. In addition to that, there is certainly a risk for AP to hit hard. As I mentioned above, every action has so many potential consequences, you can absolutely find yourself staring at the board and your cards for a long time.
The game is huge. While you do not need a ton of space for your personal cards, money and voter cubes, the board itself takes up a ton of space, so you will need a big table for it.
Bringing it all together
Campaign Trail is an very good area control game. It manages to almost perfectly capture its theme, while at the same time remaining mostly apolitical. The mechanics are simple, but every action you take has a ton of immediate, and far reaching consequences that constantly keeps your mind engaged. The debate mechanic is both a delightful mini game that requires planning, but is a perfect breath in the midst of an intense game. The latest expansion materials only add to the game, my particular favorite is the addition of the Breaking News cards. The game takes up a ton of space, is very long, and is at risk of analysis paralysis if you are prone to it. The old production was solid, and I have faith that Grey Fox will upgrade the component quality for the reprint.
Voters prefer sound bites!
* Theme almost perfectly realized
* Solid components, potential for an upgrade with reprint
* Simple mechanics that come together to create a wonderfully complex series of actions and reactions
* This is a long game, at max player count I would guess 3-4 hours
* Analysis paralysis is definitely a possibility in this game…so many choices, so many consequences to them
* Expansion material only improves the game
* This is a shockingly good area control game