Common Sense Review
Updated February 2016

The Political Machine 2016

Presidential campaign simulator is easy to play, fun to learn
Common Sense Rating 3
Teacher Rating
Not Yet Rated
  • Polemics: How will you choose to align yourself?
  • Go on interviews, conduct yourself presidentially.
  • Blue and red states: The brighter the color, the heavier the influence.
  • State-by-state breakdowns of how they generally feel about various issues.
  • You can make a presidential candidate dream team.
Stellar state-by-state information, data, and statistics, plus quality pro and con descriptions of every issue.
You can't run as an Independent, and a feature for debates would round things out well.
Bottom Line
Quality, unique civics-lesson-turned-simulation is quick and highly replayable.
John Sooja
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 3
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 4

Students will love being able to take their candidates all the way to the White House. Easy mechanics and fun turn-based gameplay. Best way to experience what it's like to run for president.  

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 3

Students can learn all about the election process, from running a campaign to how the electoral process works. They can also explore hot-button issues such as gay marriage, farm subsidies, and military spending.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3

The game is super easy to play, and the official wiki offers additional guidance. There's a helpful tutorial, too, and it's nice that various difficulty levels are available.

About our ratings and privacy evaluation.
How Can Teachers Use It?

Teachers can use this game as a fun primer on the current issues surrounding this year's presidential campaign. Students can then report their findings and express why they chose to support the issue or not. Was it hard to prioritize some issues over others? How did you make your decisions? Did money sway you? Because the game provides constant updates on candidates' progress, state-by-state breakdowns of the issues that each state cares about most (although these can be randomized if desired), and poll number percentages, teachers can highlight these technical aspects of the political electoral process by encouraging students to reflect on the impact their decisions have in Week 3 versus in Week 38. Students will have to manage their resources, deciding on how much to spend and on what and when. Reacting to opponents' moves and strategies is crucial to not losing critical states. Should you even try for California if you're playing as a Republican? What about Texas as a Democrat? Should you campaign for the legalization of marijuana in Oregon, a state that cares about that issue a lot, even though it might alienate voters in another state?

Teachers might also talk about the electoral college and ask students what they think of this system. As this game can be a platform for various topics, teachers can use it to prompt discussion about any number of political issues. Teachers might also assign different students to different existing candidates. They can then choose to run dirty or clean campaigns and report on what they learned. How effective were your attack ads? How did you respond to attack ads, if you encountered any? If you were defeated, why do you think you lost? Do you think you lost because you attacked your opponent too much or too little?  

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What's It Like?

The Political Machine 2016 is a presidential-campaign-strategy simulation game that teaches players about the political system, campaign management, the electoral college, and how one goes about winning votes. Players choose real 2016 presidential candidates to play as and run against (only Democratic or Republican party candidates, no Independents), but players can also customize their own characters. After choosing candidates, players then must align themselves for or against any number of current and entrenched issues, such as gun control, immigration, global warming, human trafficking, and gay marriage. Will you choose to run a fair and respectful campaign? Or will you choose to run smear ads and attack your opponent's weaknesses? There's no violence or sex or language, but some of the current 2016 issues do reference violence, as in when discussing ISIS or the treatment of African-Americans. While the game is recommended for age 10 and up, many of the issues such as support for Israel or big government may be a bit confusing for younger players. Teachers should be wary of online multiplayer, however, as it includes lobby chat and no restrictions on language.

Players begin by choosing their candidates and opponents, real or fake, and choosing a campaign that lasts 21, 26, 41, or 52 weeks, where each week is one turn. After choosing their candidate's positions on various issues such as gay marriage or drone warfare, players take turns deciding how best to spend their action points (stamina). The main screen is a map of the United States, with some states already colored blue and others red. In a turn, you can build campaign headquarters, an outreach center, or consulting offices. You can give a speech, put out an advertisement, or try to win endorsements. You can even do television interviews, such as on 60 Minutes, recruit activists, or hold a fundraiser. Candidates will need to do these various actions to increase states' awareness of them, sway undecideds, and raise funds to maintain and expand existing campaign infrastructures.

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Is It Good For Learning?

Students will learn all about presidential campaigns and the political process. By running as and against real (or made-up) candidates, students will set up outreach centers, give interviews, react to polls, and give speeches on various issues, such as gun control, marijuana legalization, or fiscal responsibility. As it's a simulation game made for the 2016 presidential election, many of the issues are also current, such as the Iranian nuclear deal, Hillary Clinton's emails, and NSA surveillance. Students will play around with various campaign strategies, such as focusing on advertising and speeches or on fundraising and awareness. 

Very easy to pick up and play, the game is colorful, cartoonish, and goofy, despite some of the sensitive issues covered. Campaigns also don't take very long, and it's fun to experiment with running vastly different campaigns and against vastly different opponents. Surprisingly customizable character creation and game creation (game length, difficulty level, amount of starting cash, randomizing state wealth or issues of importance) also ups the replay value. The game's interface is also intuitive and clean, and anywhere you click, information pops up with descriptions, stats, histories, poll numbers, percentages, and other useful information. Also a wonderful primer for this year's presidential election and the polemics dominating the debates, the game encourages learning about all the issues, from big government to the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal. For some, the lighthearted tone may seem to trivialize sensitive topics, but each issue is fairly and equally presented from both sides of the aisle. Hopefully, the next iteration of The Political Machine (2020) will add debates and the option to run as an independent.

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See how teachers are using The Political Machine 2016

Lesson Plans