It Just Might Work: City council election board game


by Jordan Green

I haven’t played board games in years, but there’s a handful that I loved; Clue, Monopoly and Parcheesi come to mind. I have a child now, and I’m beginning to fantasize about imposing all my old enthusiasms on her when she gets older. Which leads me to an uncomfortable realization: The game that I really got into, I mean spent obsessive hours at, was Risk, which is all about conquest and seizing territory.

It’s not a nice thing to admit for someone who is an avowed anti-imperialist and who embraces civic values of mutual cooperation in pursuit of shared goals, but there you have it — I must have a pretty deep power fetish.

Since I don’t play Risk anymore, most of my gaming instincts are now channeled into observing and handicapping local elections. And so it suddenly struck me that a city council race is readymade for a classic board game in which multiple players circle a board, draw cards and accumulate and leverage resources in pursuit of victory. If you haven’t been following the contested South Ward race in Winston-Salem, which as of Tuesday was separated by only six votes, you may not appreciate how suspenseful and unpredictable the science of vote building and counting can be.

I imagine a map of a city council district with different sectors — part of a central business district, a university area, residential neighborhoods and public housing — each with a set number of votes based on past turnout. Each player would attempt to win as much support from each of the different sectors as possible, with chits representing pledged votes.

Money would factor into each candidate’s prospects: After rolling the die, a player might land on a “campaign finance” space and draw a card from the pile. Maybe the card reads “Collect $1,000 from the mega developer,” or “Three gas station owners pony up $100 apiece.” Or the player might have to settle on “Your former high school English teacher in Buffalo sends five-dollar bill.”

The players would have choices about how to spend their funds. Billboards? Newspaper advertising? Direct mail? Door-hangers? Or they could invest in a campaign fundraiser to generate more funds. Decisions about how to make use of time — a limited commodity in every election — would also factor in.

I haven’t worked out all the details, but there would have to be some element of chance wherein the player rolled the die after making a particular gambit — say speaking to a student group on campus. Rolling a 1 could represent a disappointing result: Sorry, students just aren’t tuned into this election. Collect five votes. On the other hand, maybe the neighborhood groups are up in arms about the city discontinuing loose-leaf pickup and like what you had to say about it. Roll a 6 and pick up 600 votes.

Perhaps there could be other spaces on the board with corresponding card piles representing advancing or receding fortunes for the various players. Draw a card from the “candidate forum” pile that says, “Your opponent humiliates you by pointing out that your proposal to privatize public transportation is empty considering that a private company already operates the system,” and you lose 30 votes. Draw the card for your husband getting arrested for shoplifting or your wife divorcing you in the middle of the campaign, and similar penalties apply.

I know this isn’t the way it’s actually done, but I can’t think of a better way to do it.

And sorry, no recounts or protests.