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52 Pick Up: Reshuffled. A New Game each, err... month or so

Donkeys & Elephants:

by Wim van Gruisen (, selected by Chris Czerniak
July 25, 2001
Trey hearts  

During the US presidential election last year there was an animated discussion (to say it politely) on an internet forum that I participate in regularly, a forum that is part of a large gaming site. Discussion there became so animated that the moderator forbade us to start any new thread about the elections unless it was relevant to role playing or board games.

The day that this gag order was issued, I got stuck in my commuter train for an hour... and the result is what you are reading now.

This game was written as a joke for that forum. I fear that the political structure of the US, with fifty states, each with their own number of electors, makes a certain amount of bookkeeping inevitable. It might be a good idea to use a spreadsheet when calculating the score after each round; that would certainly speed up the game a lot.

Election is a silly game for two people (hereafter called 'candidates'), one representing the elephant party, the other the donkey one. Candidates are referred to as 'he', since female candidates never run.


The game is divided in five phases:

  1. Seeding the country. This is done to determine the political affiliations in the different states
  2. Television debates. A bluffing game that gives the basis for the campaign
  3. The campaign. Candidates can visit different states, trying to gain votes there.
  4. Elections. Here dirty tricks can be played to gain votes or to let the other party lose votes.
  5. Aftermath. In a series of legal battles swing states can be swung. And swung back... And forward again.


Distribute the cards over the 50 states. This determines how strong the support for candidates is in each state. A red card shows support for the elephant party, a black card is support for the donkey party. The value of the card shows how strong the support is. For this, an Ace counts as 1, Jack as 4, Queen as 5, King as 6.

Choose one way to distribute the cards. Different methods are:

Now one of the candidates plays one card on one state, after which the candidates take seeding two states each, until all countries are filled. A state which already has one card, cannot receive another one in this turn.

At the end of this phase, hold a poll; write down the support for the candidates in each state and compute the number of electors that would support each candidate, based on these figures.


Shuffle the deck. Deal each candidate five cards.

The candidates can then discuss how many rounds of debate there will be. The Committee for Fair Elections advises three debates, nobody ever listens to them.

Each round the two candidates pick one card from the five they are dealt. They can claim that it is a court card (J,Q,K) or joker and discard it, replacing it with another card from the stack. The other candidate can contest it, forcing the first candidate to turn the card over. This ends the round. If the card was a court card after all, the contested wins five points. Otherwise the contester wins five points.

If no card is replaced, or cards to be replaced are not contested, a bidding war starts. Candidates take turns making bids, where each bid has to be higher than the previous one. These bids have to be accompanied by arguments why the public should vote for them. Anything goes, from "I guarantee you that our great country will have a balanced budget for the next four years" to "My opponent eats newborn babies for breakfast."

Instead of making a bid, a candidate can pass or challenge the other candidate. If the candidate passes, the opponent gets as many points as his last bid. If the candidate challenges the opponent, the latter turns over his card. If the last bid is equal to or lower than the value of that card (court cards and jokers count for zero), the opponent gets twice as many points as the last bid. If the last bid is higher than the value of that card, the candidate who challenged gets twice as many points as the last bid.

Example: Al and George get ready for the first round of debates. George looks at his hand and picks the seven of hearts. He puts it in front of him on the table, face down. Al discards a card, claims that it is the jack of diamonds. George looks doubtful; he knows that his opponent has a reputation for lying. If he is lying now, George can win an easy five points by calling his bluff. However, if Al is discarding a court card, challenging him means that Al gets five points. So he decides not to challenge Al. Al looks smug, grabs a card from the stack and puts it in front of him.Al then opens the debate. "Under my expanded health care plan trees can become members as well. This will potentially thousands of trees. I bid four, "George counters with: "I will appoint lots of family and friends in high places, so that they can help me out if I have no clue on how to act. I bid five points."

Al retorts: "Ha! Your family is a prime example why I propose to legalize abortion. Seven." George is in a pickle now. If he bids more, Al would win big points by challenging him. He could challenge Al himself, gaining fourteen points if Al's card has a value less than seven, but if Al's card is higher, those fourteen points would go to Al. Decisions.. George wishes that he could call his father now and ask him for advice. Oh,well. There are two more rounds to go. George passes, and Al notes down seven points.


All the cards are shuffled into the deck again, and each candidate draws as many cards as the number of points he won in the television debates. Now the candidates start on the campaign trail. They take turns playing cards in different states, starting with the candidate who lags in the polls. Each turn, a candidate can play up to three cards, in the same state or adjacent states. For each card played, he has to give a short speech (one line will suffice)as to why people should vote for him instead of for his rival. The value of the card is added to the candidate's support in that state. Again, cards count for their value. Jacks for 4 points, Queens for five points and Kings for six. A joker gives no points at all.

Example: It is Al's turn. He looks at the board, wondering what his friend, the Puerto Rican card shark Jesus Montoya would do. In the end, he decides to campaign in Michigan (twice) and Ohio. George leads in Michigan with seven points and Al holds Ohio, but with a small two votes, that state could use some support.Al plays a three ('I will fight for the right of you people to get the drugs that my dog gets.') and a seven ('I plan to let the Michigan Navy have a more important role in the defense of this country.') on Michigan, and an eight ('When casting your vote, ask yourself: "What would Jesus do" He would be trying to understand immigration procedure, probably.') in Ohio. At the end of that turn, Al has a score of three points in Michigan and a comfortable ten in Ohio. If one candidate can't or won't play any more cards, his opponent gets one last turn. After that, hold a new poll.


Shuffle the cards again. Each candidate gets dealt five cards, which he can't look into. Candidates then take turns playing dirty tricks. Once again, the character who lags in the polls, starts. Each turn, a candidate plays one card on a state, declaring which dirty tricks he uses. Several dirty tricks can be played on the same state.

Examples of dirty tricks are:

After each candidate has had five turns, the cards are being turned over. If the card is of the same color as the candidate's party (red for the Elephants, black for the Donkeys), the dirty trick worked and the candidate gets three more votes in that state. If a dirty trick succeeded, leave it on the board.

Determine the initial outcome of the election. This follows the same procedure as taking a poll. Candidates are expected to have a short speech as a reaction to the outcome.


This is where the different parties start court cases and counter-court cases in a desperate last attempt to gain the presidency and have willing interns serve them for the next four years.

Leave the dirty trick cards that succeeded, on the board. Shuffle the other cards again and deal each candidate ten cards. These cards have the following meaning:

Candidates take turns playing cards, the lagging candidate taking the first turn. On each turn, a candidate can play:

Each time the candidate plays a card, he has to explain why. In the case of court cases, he should explain the grounds for the case. In the case of a favorite, he has to explain why the official favors him.

In this way stacks of court cases are formed, surrounded by cards of favorites. After all cards are played or discarded, the cases are resolved. A stack of court cases is resolved from top to bottom. For each case, turn over a card from the stack of unused cards This card decides which party wins the case, in the following way:

The winning party can decide whether or not to discard the following card in the stack. If the card is the bottom card in a stack, then:

A certain stack consists of:

  1. The four of hearts (electoral committee), played by the Donkey candidate.
  2. The seven of hearts (local court), played by the Elephant candidate.
  3. The eight of clubs (state supreme court), played by the Donkey candidate.
  4. The jack of clubs (favorite in the electoral committee), played by the Donkey candidate.
  5. The king of spades (favorite in the state supreme court), played by the Elephant candidate.

First the state supreme court case (3) is resolved by turning over a card from the unused card stack. Normally the Donkey party candidate would win if that card is a club or spade, and lose if it is a heart or diamond. However, the Elephant candidate has a favorite in that court (the king of spades (5)). That means that if the turned-over card is a spade, the Elephant would also win. However, the card turned over is a club, so the Donkey candidate wins after all. He decides to discard the next card on the stack, the local court case (2).

This leaves the electoral committee recount (1) to be resolved. Here the Donkey party candidate would win if the next card that is turned over is a club or a spade (since those are the Donkey colors) or a club (because the donkey has a favorite in that committee (4)). If the Donkey wins, he can gain four votes here.

After all the court cases are solved, have one final poll to decide who is the ultimate winner. That candidate must hold a rousing winning speech, and then gets to decide how he will tax the loser.

In the tradition of 52 Pickup, this game has not been playtested. Try it at your own risk. I cannot be held responsible for any material or immaterial damage resulting from playing Donkeys and Elephants. Copyright rests with me, however. If you are brave (or bored) enough to give this game a try, please send me your comments. I wonder how the game works in practice.
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What do you think?

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Reshuffled: 52 Pick Up, edited by Chris Czerniak

52 Pick Up original run, by Gareth-Michael Skarka

Other columns at RPGnet

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