Type: Deck Management / Card Driven

Time to play: 60 – 90 minutes per game (Teaching: 5 – 10 minutes)

Best played with: 3-5 players (Best with 5)

Wanting that authentic American election experience? Found a game that was limited to two players but a group of 3-5? Well perhaps the solution is a slightly less well known 1912 election – where the US splits between Prohibition, Socialists, Progressives and the two traditional Democrats and Republicans. This election year is known as the Bull Moose election and that’s where the game takes its name.

Bull Moose then is a multiplayer fast paced deck management game with a series of really interesting mechanics. The aim of the game is to win the most votes in the electoral college at the end of 7 rounds of campaigning. In each round you will have a hand of four cards which you will play for either Action Points or for their Events. If you go for the points you will have your traditional move and support options for your candidate – shifting around the board and building support. You can also use these action points to drop cubes in one of the special benefits for the end of the game!

If you use the events though, you might travel long distance through the railway or use the text event on the card to trigger a benefit for your party. The events are normally worth more than the action points, but you have to be in a specific location to trigger it. Using your points to enable these events and combining this in an efficient balance is key. Watch out though – well tracked plans can be taken apart with some cards allowing the player to remove other players’ cubes!

So you start the game with 28 cards – 7 rounds of 4 cards. However, the first really interesting mechanic at play here is that at the start of each round you draw 8 and select the four to be brought to your hand. That’s important because you can keep pushing cards down the deck to manage your hand now and your future hands. Also, you know where you need to start the next round to trigger the events! This foreknowledge of your campaign plan is instrumental to success – moving across the South with the right cards can shift your points by 40+ in a single turn as can taking a key state like Pennsylvania or New York.

The second really interesting mechanic at play here is the trade off between placing cubes on the map and the three special end game events. Firstly, cards with the newspaper allow you to play cubes into empty states at the end. Will there be states left empty, or will players exploit events to cover the map? Pushing for this early will put others off, but leaving it late allows a better cost/benefit analysis! Likewise, the senate seal cards allows you to grab swing states at the end or at least contest them. Tricky to know if these will be worth while, but there will be some medium sized points to be taken here. Lastly, if you are the player who loses cubes from other players’ cards then you get a benefit of voter sympathy – a benefit to place the difference between your losses and the second highest losses on any space on the board.

So forecasting and late game manipulation are key in this game; but there’s a core mechanic at play here that makes this game manageable and effects the player strategies. How do you win a state? Well at the end of the game you contest a state if you have more than half of the lead player’s total support – i.e. if the Republicans have 3 cubes in Texas, the Democrats have 2 and the Socialists have 1 … here the Socialists are below half of the lead and eliminated but the state is contested between the Republicans and Democrats. Contested? Throw the cubes in a bag and draw out the winner!

This is absolutely core to the game – you will try and position to push other players out of key states, and then make late game gambles to put yourself back in the race for your opponents highest value states! That means the end game is a probability distribution and at this point I have to admit that this is great and upsetting. Sometimes this is just going to go horribly against you. You are competing across the map and winning very little. The short answer is that’s just going to happen sometime and you need to factor that in when considering this game. The long answer is that perhaps you could have pushed your cubes to be more than double other players and therefore won the state outright. Even if you push out the third player in the state, this moves the odds significantly in your favour – perhaps even moving you from a minority to a majority.

If all of that isn’t exciting enough, there’s one last big mechanic to mention. At the end of each round of four cards there is an asymmetric power for the players. That could be moving support cubes, placing new support cubes or breaking ties across the map. These powers are meaningful and playing to their advantage is really important.

Other than the probability distribution at the end, this game has good balancing mechanics and an ability for the group to chase down a leader, but it’s not a simple ten our of ten. It scales well, but the game can become a little frantic with more players as there can be a few players who lose cubes and two other players who rush away with the lead. Also the cards feel broadly balanced, but some powers will feel slightly unbalanced. Now I don’t think they are unbalanced, but I understand that the perception can creep in for any asymmetric game and this is know different.

Last notes;

  • If you like election games, and don’t mind a luck factor at the finish – this is a good and scale-able game
  • If you hate that late game shift, having worked hard on your plan, then you are going to struggle to enjoy that last 5-10 minutes
  • If you win – take another faction and try again!

This article was co-published as a featured article on The Cardboard Herald. For more reviews, interviews, and recommendations, please visit www.cardboardherald.com.