First Look at…The Primary

The Primary

Players: 1 – 5

Time: ~25 minutes

Times Played: 5

I really enjoy the Kickstarter aspect of this hobby. There are things I don’t like about it, such as Kickstarter Exclusives that can impact gameplay that are not available for retail purchase but there are more things that I do like, namely that you, as the customer, have a say in what is funded and generally the designers have their ear to the ground to listen to their backers.

I am trying to be a little more meticulous in my funding this year, mostly due to space reasons. In 2017, I backed six games. I have received all but two so far and those two are still on schedule to be delivered this year. I have only had one outright bad Kickstarter experience and one game that I backed that I didn’t enjoy playing as much as I thought but that hasn’t deterred me yet. I’ve also backed a few non-board game items as well and have had good results. But basically this long-winded paragraph is to say that I want to ‘try before I buy’ more games that are up for funding.

This new tactic led me to The Primary, currently available on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter page offers a print and play version that lets you get a feel for the game before you back it. The best part about this print and play is that it’s less than twenty pages for everything and most things can be cut simultaneously as they’re the same size. It probably took me less than ten minutes to prepare the game and another ten to familiarize myself with the rulebook. I did have to steal a few components from another game (I chose Pandemic) to act as the player pawns and their influence cubes and for the solo run-through, I needed one die. Not too shabby.

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Before going any further, I do want to mention that I have nothing to do with the campaign for The Primary and minus Mountaintop Games liking my Instagram post showcasing me playing the print and play version, I’ve never been in contact with them. This is just me writing candidly about a game I found neat. 

The Primary is a game where you are vying for your parties nomination in the presidential election. The game lasts eleven rounds and utilizes area control and card actions each round to determine how each candidate influences the board.

On a personal note, I really enjoy games that deal with politics, whether directly or indirectly. I don’t know why. I think I enjoy the campaigning process and the behind the scenes aspects. In our collection, we own 1960: Making of the President and have backed Campaign Trail. As mentioned in a previous post, Mr. President is on my list of most anticipated games for 2018.

The Primary was incredibly easy to just pick up and play. There isn’t too much you have to concern yourself with as each turn you will reveal a news story that impacts each player, positively or negatively, and then choose four cards from your hand and lay them face-down in the order you want to use them. The rulebook is technically eight pages but if you remove a graphic or two and the FAQ page, this thing would be six pages tops with lots of spacing and images.

The game does not take itself too seriously and does not approach parody either, which is nice considering the climate we currently reside in. The finished art is colorful and the text is easy to read. I wonder about the map colors with people impacted by color blindness since the game doesn’t follow the typical bordering of just a state. The finished work can be seen on the official Kickstarter page. Everything in this preview will be of the print and play variety.

To give a brief overview of what is happening in The Primary, the main focus of each round is the playing of the candidates action cards. Each player has the same cards but each candidate will have their own unique special ability. The special ability could be that they can move an extra space when campaigning or that their pawn counts as two influence cubes instead of one. Players and candidates is being used interchangeably as each player is acting as a candidate.

Simultaneously, players will select four cards from their hand and place them in the order they want played in front of them. Starting with the first player, their left-most card will be revealed and the action written will be carried out. Then the next player does the same. Once every player has revealed their first card, the starting player reveals their second card and so on and so forth until all four cards are revealed. This continues for eleven rounds.

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On some rounds, there are elections in certain regions, designated by numbers corresponding to the round. Most rounds only have one election but some will feature two or three elections. Some regions have points for first and second place while others only have it for first. The player with the most cubes and/or their candidate pawn in the region will win the region and gain the points on the point tracker, which covers the outer edge of the board. In the case of a tie, the points are split between the tied parties.

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The game plays up to five players and has a solo mode where you compete against Electo-O-Bot 9000. The Electo-O-Bot 9000 is similar to the Automa found in games such as Scythe and Viticulture where you reveal a card and perform the actions on said card for the AI player.

I played the solo version to become comfortable with the rules and got washed. There are levels of difficulty and I tried the most difficult. The difficulty scales by adding more influence cubes to the board for the AI player to start with, which makes gaining traction in each region more difficult.

I did not mind the single player mode but I wasn’t in love with it either. I can’t honestly say that I would play it as a single player game again because so much of what is going on is the interaction between players and flipping a card over robs you of that. That being said, I appreciate the inclusion of the mode as it gives players the opportunity to play on their own and it helped me reign in any rules questions I had before introducing to my friends. I do want to try it again though as I hate losing to a stack of cards…

After playing only solo, I wasn’t too sure I wanted to introduce this to others. I thought the game was alright. A lightweight, easy to grasp area control game isn’t exactly the cup of tea of my group. It reminded me of Eight Minute Empires and not in the best way.

I persevered though and played it at the two-player count with my fianceé. Seeing the almost finalized art in the rulebook helped us both visualize the game (the print and play is just text and paper) and the human dynamic made it much more enjoyable.

We played twice. The first time was a strictly two-player game where we butted heads and tried to race around the board. This is a game, when in two-player mode, that you want to go second. You know when the regions are going to vote and it becomes a cat-and-mouse game of where do you chase votes. Do you try and get ahead now or do you try and plan for a future election, not knowing what News cards could impact your delicate planning?

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I played the long game and Rachel the short. As there was no one to interrupt us, we were both mildly successful in what we wanted to do. The News cards were the deciding factor. Extra influence or farther reaching travel put me on top but it was a close victory. If any other state’s election result would have been swapped, our finishing positions would have been swapped as well.

The next time we played, we utilized the official two-player variant, which adds a third dummy player to the board that you must have more influence than to win the region(s). Definitely a much harsher scenario as one or two influence would generally not win you the region and I definitely agree with the inclusion of the variant. However, this still wasn’t a game I would be interested in based off of the solo and two-player formats.

That changed when playing with four. The player interaction made me appreciate this game immensely and playing with four (and I assume five, but I cannot comment on that number) is the sweet spot. The board is in constant flux and the players are all vying to position as they try to mitigate the work done by one another.

My main concern going into the four-player game was the possibility of this fast-paced game being stretched to unfathomable lengths of time. I am happy to report that was not the case (at least in the one play-through). Since you are picking four cards and are stuck using those cards, having another player usurp your plans does not mean you have to spend a long time thinking of what to do next. The cards dictate your action and you just have to figure out where.

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Once we got into the flow of the game, we flew through the remaining rounds like we had been playing The Primary for years. It just felt comfortable.

Is it perfect? No. It is definitely lighter than most games I would typically want to play but the ease and speediness make up for that. I do wish for more News events and Candidate options, just because I worry that repeated playing may diminish the fun as the candidates and News events are well-known. I do think this game has the opportunity for a lot of customization though. Not that I am for changing ones well-laid plans, who wouldn’t want to make their own candidate (fictional or non-fictional) to add to the chooses or create some custom News events to mirror the real world.

I kind of wish for a variant where the regions that are voted on are secret until the round commences. Maybe there would be a way to choose the upcoming region randomly. I wouldn’t want this for the base game (as I enjoy planning ahead) but being able to add more randomization to the game could be add more stress (and to me, more fun) and provide a little more legs for future playing. The regions are already randomized at the beginning of each game as each region receives a token with a number corresponding to a round, so there is some dynamic set-up already in place.

I want to compare this game to Eight Minute Empires in a way due to the area control and lightness (and brevity) of the game but I honestly liked it more than Eight Minute Empires. I felt much more in control of my actions and minus one or two News events, my game-plan went uninterrupted (unless it was disrupted by another player). Minus one News card, I was never in a position where I couldn’t at least plan to do what I wanted. I couldn’t always accomplish what I planned, but where would the fun be in that?

I’m still on the fence about backing this for myself, as I don’t know that it’ll get the attention it deserves from my group but I think it would be fun to have for election viewing parties (ugh…I’m getting old) as something to occupy our time in a lighthearted way and tie-in thematically with what is happening around us. The Primary doesn’t require your full attention like a Great Western Trail does and would be an excellent way to grab a drink and catch-up while moving pieces around a board.

I’m going to stop typing now before I end up convincing myself that I need this added to my collection.

 

Author: Two off the Top

Just a guy that wants to talk about board games more than his future wife tolerates.

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