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This is another of the designer-produced games that I picked up from Essen. The title is untranslatable in a way that conveys the full meaning. The word is a compound of 'stimmen', which means 'to vote' and 'Vieh' which is a general word for 'farm animals'. So you have a combination of a political version of 'cannon fodder' with the idea of 'following like sheep'. My dictionary offers 'gullible voters' as the nearest it can manage, but you get the idea: this is a cynical view of the relationship between politicians and voters.
Each player is the General Secretary of a political party and your aim is to pile up money and votes. At the end of the day it is only money that matters, but the reality of politics is that power attracts money and so votes are important as well, not in themselves, but because extra money will flow in the direction of the parties that do best on polling day.
Each player has a set of ten "influence cards" which they will use to try and gain votes and political donations. There are also a set of 35 donation cards and a set of 20 vote cards. Each card in these two sets shows two numbers: one being what it is worth and the other how much influence will be needed to get it. Some of the donation and vote cards are removed from the game if you are playing with less than 5 players so that the ratio of cards to players stays the same at 7 donation and 4 vote cards per player. This keeps the game nice and tight.
At the start of the game a number of donation cards (equal to the number of players) is placed in the middle of the table. The remaining donation cards are shuffled, as are the vote cards, and the two sets are placed as face up decks with only the top card of each visible. In addition each player selects four of their ten influence cards and places them face up on the table in front of them. All ten cards are available for play; the split is a tactical thing that will give players some control over the donation and vote cards that will come into the game as replacements once play starts.
On your turn you use one of your remaining influence cards to acquire one of the tabled donation or vote cards from the centre. The card you play must at least match the influence cost of the card acquired. If the card you played was from hand, the replacement card for the centre is the top card from the donations deck; if it was one of your face up cards from the table, the replacement comes from the top of the votes deck. If you don't have an influence card powerful to take any of the cards on offer, you discard an influence card. This is the "campaign stage" of the game and, as you can see, it lasts ten rounds.
At the end of the ten rounds each player counts up their votes and donations. The top two players in the vote count (top three if you are playing with the full five players) then double their donations total. That done, votes have no further significance and the winner is the player who now has the highest donations total.
As with all card games of this type, being sat in the right place and still in possession of suitable cards, when the vote and donation cards that you need become available, matters, but there is more scope for tactics than there usually is, because of the ability you have to decide whether the next card to be made available is to be for votes or for donations. And when deciding which to choose you can see the numbers on the two cards and so you are not picking blind. It is also the case that the numbers work when sorting out a winner. In our first game, which had four players, I managed to get myself into the prime position of second on the vote count, thereby getting the doubling factor while having more in the donations column than the player who topped the poll. Even so, I only finished narrowly ahead of the player who took an early decision not to chase votes and just to collect money. So there is more than one route to victory and which path to choose will be a matter of keeping an eye on what the opposition is doing and not just a matter of hoping that the cards will fall your way.
Stimmvieh is not a "must have" classic, but it is a neat and well constructed little game and one much more worthy of a proper professional production than many of the games that get one. Whether this will result in one of the big companies picking it up, who knows. The edition that was available at Essen was a limited edition of 200 copies, non-glossy but serviceable. I don't know if any are still available, but if you are interested, the person to contact is the designer. Her address is Lobsienstr. 22, 28201 Bremen, Germany; e-mail email@example.com. And should you then need a translation of the rules, contact me.