The Primary Review

The Primary Board Game Review

There is a bizarre expectation when it comes to games themed on politics that to play and to really enjoy them, you need to have some understanding of politics, or, in my case for The Primary, the American electoral system.  This, quite frankly is rubbish as I know as much about politics as I do about terraforming, farming or about killing orcs, and so I was able to enjoy The Primary a lot.

The Primary creates the feeling of politicking, the bravado, the strategizing, and of course the back stabbing.  The game hinges on things like “the long term plan” and “out-maneurouring”.  It asks you to focus on the “final result” and not each turn, especially those “strategic losses”.  It’s a game where you are very aware that you are playing the players rather than simply playing a game.

The Primary is a game all about becoming your party's primary candidate for the Presidential election.  For this you’ll need to tour the county, hosting fundraisers and rallies, you’ll create campaigns and maybe even smear an opponent’s name in the process.  In each state you’ll aim to outdo your opponent's influence with your own (represented by cubes) to claim the majority of support (victory points), in short, The Primary, distils all of the complexities of the American political system into a very slick and very snappy area control game.

The Primary Board Game Review - In Play

The part of this game that makes it so much fun however is the action programming which in this game is executed very, very well.  All players have the same 14 cards at their disposal and this remains throughout the game, there are a few duplicates so there are only 7 card types to use.  Some allow you to move your pawn to a different state, some add cubes to the board, and some give you cubes from the bank.

In each turn, each player will select four of these cards, playing them face down in order of use, left to right.  Once all players have done this, the leftmost card of player one is revealed and executed, then on to the next player and around and around it goes until all players have revealed and executed their cards.

The Primary Board Game Review - Action Programming

This one-by-one process of action programming does a couple of Clever ThingsTM.  First off, it creates a wonderful atmosphere of anticipation and tension, especially later in the game.  When you get to a point where your plan hinges on what one or more opponents are going to do, and most importantly, the order in which they are going to do it.  You’ll find you are just as much interested in what cards they have as your own.

The second Clever ThingTM it does is it intuitively teaches the player how to best to play the game.  The action selection part of the game isn’t so much about what actions you will take, more, its choosing which actions you won’t.  Once you’ve played those four cards down, early in your game and certainly on your first time playing The Primary, the choices will be very linear, A to B to C to D.  What is needed however is the greatest necessary skill of any good politician, 'Wiggleroom'. The ability to make something bad be less bad, or something merely satisfactory, great.

The Primary Board Game Review - In Play Mid

One of my favourite aspects of the game overall though is the player interaction.  Your plan in each turn requires you to carefully consider what everyone else around the table is going to do.  Which States are they going to try and grab, which ones are they not paying attention to.  The surprises here are what makes this game exciting to play.  Super PAC cards for example are the best way to gain influence cubes, the player who plays the most in a turn gets 4 influence cubes ready for their next turn.  There is an enormous sense of satisfaction when you manage to win this with just 1 card because you’ve read your opponents and nailed your timing.  “Smug Git” doesn’t nearly cover it 

There’s a great deal of replayability in the box, with a decent variety of candidates to provide different and unique player skills, news cards that add a little spice and change up the rules each turn and the voting order of the states changes each game too.  The Primary is a light game, you can quickly dive straight into and start enjoying almost as soon as it’s out of the box.  The 4 page rule book is quickly digested and you’re playing, planning and duking it out.

The Primary Board Game Review - In Play

In many ways the game can feel like playing poker, you’ll need to read and anticipate your opponent to not just beat them, but exploit them - and that’s how it feels (when you can pull it off).  It’s a game that goes at pace, even with eleven turns this can be played in under an hour with 5 players quite easily.  The Primary is slick, surprising and just great fun to play.

This review is based on a full retail copy of the game provided by the publisher. 

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