The Political Machine returns to Steam for another US election

Audio player loading…

2020 is an election year in the US and today is Super Tuesday, the day when the greatest number of states in the country hold primary elections and caucuses. It's also the day that The Political Machine 2020 (opens in new tab), the latest addition to Stardock's long line of election simulators, makes its debut on Steam.

The Political Machine 2020 lets players to vie for the top job as a real-world Democratic or Republican candidate, or a custom candidate. Once the sides are set, you'll embark on a 21-week campaign filled with activities ranging from delivering speeches to opening campaign headquarters, hiring underlings, and spending "ideology points" to establish your bona fides with the electorate.

What you can accomplish each week depends on both your personal stamina—Joe Biden is "sleepy," for instance, while Donald Trump is "hyper"—and the amount of money you can bring to the table. That too varies widely between candidates, but even the wealthiest of them, like Michael Bloomberg or Mitch Romney, will have to engage in fundraising sooner or later. Problems and controversies will occasionally have to be dealt with, and states can also be influenced in more underhanded ways, with fixers, intimidators, and "smear merchants."

I played, and lost, several elections, and I was a little surprised at how conventional it all is. Candidates have different attributes—stamina, charisma, intelligence, media bias, experience, minority appeal, and starting money—but are shorn of the quirks, eccentricities, and criminal tendencies that make them "interesting" in the political milieu. There's also a lack of detail in backroom operations and dirty tricks: Fixers, spin doctors, and other operatives are just tokens on the board that have a set impact on the stats of whatever state they're based in, and random "bad news" events like blackmail attempts are simply pop-up notifications that tell you what happened and how much it cost.

As well as doing battle with the machine (the literal machine that is your PC, I mean), The Political Machine 2020 also enables two contenders to go head-to-head in public or private online multiplayer campaigns. I think this might prove more interesting: Humans are generally better than computers as strategy game opponents anyway, but I feel like that might be even more true than usual here, since each campaign is essentially an independent operation. Reacting to the other side is bound to happen now and then but for the most part, each party runs their best campaign and when it's over, the votes are tallied and the winner crowned.

The Political Machine 2020 goes for $15 on Steam, and more information about the game is up at (opens in new tab). Alternatively, there's also Early Access game The Political Process (opens in new tab), which has a denser interface and more comprehensive approach—it includes school board, city council, mayor, state house, state senate, governor, US House of Representatives, US Senate, and presidential elections.

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.