This blog is purposely apolitical. I don’t waste time here discussing the ongoing presidential election cycle, who’s a demagogue or who’s facing imminent indictment. But the recent news that Donald Trump is the defacto GOP candidate does afford me a rare opportunity: a timely look at a classic board game. The classic board game? Parker Brothers’ Trump: the game.
1. It’s not whether you win or lose…it’s whether you win
In the late 80’s, people knew of Donal Trump. This, despite the fact he was not yet a reality TV star. He was promoting himself in various financial articles in Time or Newsweek. He sat down and did interviews with many in the news agencies or talk shows. (Not much has changed). When not promoting his image or his business ventures, the tabloids would hound him. I remember hearing about him and his then wife Ivanka even when I was in high school.
In 1989, a man named Jeffrey Breslow approached The Donald about a board game. Jeffrey Breslow has several game titles under his belt
including Jaws (Ideal) and Guesstures. Breslow had an idea for a bidding/auction game. With the name TRUMP attached to it, the game stood a greater chance of getting picked up by Parker Brothers or Milton Bradley.
Trump agreed. Not because he loved our hobby but because he is a shameless self-promoter. Some stars get action figures. Some get candy bars. And a rare few get board games.
With Trump’s name, Parker Brothers agreed to publish the game. Trump starred in the commercial for the game. The tag line was quite memorable: “It’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!”
But is the game itself memorable?
2. Overview of the rules: the goal
The goal of Trump is to end the game with the most money. Players take on the role of a real estate mogul. Both these things are in line with a game based upon Donald Trump. +1 for theme!
There are eight properties that go up for sale. Each property has a cartridge (because it was the 80’s). Inside the cartridge is the value of the property. As the game progresses, unowned properties gather more income, simulating their accrued value. Eventually players will land on the property (like in Monopoly) and the property goes up for auction. High bidder spends his bid and claims the property. The money inside the cartridge is his. Hopefully he invested wisely.
There are two editions of the Trump game. And the rules have several differences. But in both games, the game clock is when all eight properties are owned by the players. The last phase of the game happens when the last property is bought. When the last phase is complete, players tally their money. The most money is the winner.
3. Action choices
Players have a choice of actions on their turn. After drawing a Trump card, the active player chooses to either roll the dice and move his pawn or play a Trump card.
Playing Trump cards, generally gives you money. The Trump cards will give
you money if you own a specific property. This gives players secret goals. If you draw a couple of Casino cards, you have more incentive to buy the Casino than other players.
Moving around the board is how you force certain auctions to take place. It’s also a way to add money to the cartridges of unowned properties, making their upcoming auctions juicier.
The auction mechanism in Trump is…unique. It’s a two phase auction. The first phase is closed and the second phase is open. Players secretly select how much they are going to bid on a property. Players simultaneously reveal their totals. Players who bid nothing are not allowed to participate in the second phase of bidding. During the second phase, players in turn order will bid on the property or pass. Players who pass may jump back in later. The auction ends when all players pass in a row. The winner claims the property and spends his money. All other players keep their bids.
4. What’s memorable about Trump: the Game
The auction mechanic is definitely unique. Reiner Knizia has not even designed that into one of his games. And he designed Modern Art which is nothing but different styles of auctions.
The game also has a game end that is player provoked. Players can try to force the end of the game by trying to get the last property auctioned. Games where players force the end of the game are usually more satisfying than games with a hard limit of turns.
The property cartridges were a cool component. They look pretty cool (for a 1980’s game). And they allow for secret information.
And speaking of secret information: the Trump cards are just that. You have a hand of action cards that you can use to gain some money or to slow down a runaway opponent.
All of these aspects make Trump: the Game more memorable than its closest living relative: Monopoly. And the play time is around an hour so it’s got Monopoly beat there as well.
5. Trump: the Game 2nd edition
Donald Trump’s empire suffered a blow in the 90’s. He filed bankruptcy and went through a messy divorce. I thought I had heard the last of him. But he somehow managed to rebuild his wealth.
And he landed a reality TV show. Since the world was being subjected to Donald Trump: the 2nd Edition, why not subject us to Trump: the Game (2nd edition) as well?
Trump: 2nd edition has several differences over its 1st edition. There is an additional action choice. Players may wheel and deal their Trump cards. Got an Airline card that’s worth $50 million to me? We can work out a deal.
Donald Trump’s reality show coined the phrase, “You’re fired!” So the 2nd edition added several “You’re fired!” cards to the deck. These allow you to eliminate someone from an auction.
The newer edition also doesn’t allow you to buy owned properties. The original edition allowed you to “force” the sale of a property, even a property someone already owns. If you sell your property you collected the sale price. They took this mechanic out in the new edition. I think that was a mistake. I kinda like that mechanic.
6. Final Thoughts
Trump: the Game is one of the better Monopoly clones. This makes it a mediocre game. It has some kinda good ideas. Those ideas would need more work to make it a good game.
The Trump cards are a good idea. But they need more polish. The roll-and-move aspect of the game is just bad. And lazy. There are so many other ways to address this instead. Fix these issues and you would have a pretty good game.
This election cycle, like it or not, has been fascinating. Wouldn’t it be great if the design team that brought us 1960: the Making of the President and 2008: Campaign Manager were to give us a 2016 version? No matter the winner: I would buy that game!