Saturday, November 24, 2007

Featured game: Afrika Korps

Although my young wargaming group played Afrika Korps some back while we were teens around 1970 it wasn't one of our main games. We tended to spend more time with Stalingrad, Waterloo and Midway, so we missed out on developing the intense, chess-like style of heavily analyzed play of the true devotees.Because of that we tended to regard AK as lighter fare, and while I've dabbled with it over the years, there's little doubt an experienced would-be Rommel would easily dispatch me in a face-to-face game. I do a little better in PBeM where there's more time to analyze things, but I'm still not tournament-ready nor ever expect to be so.From my perspective, I consider it a game that's aged reasonably well, probably the only one of the original AH classics still worth playing.On the other hand, it's not a game that I'd introduce a new wargamer to. I can really only see playing it with another veteran wargamer who already liked Afika Korps, so maybe it hasn't aged well after all.Afrika Korps' problems as a game are well known, and basically revolve around luck. The luck problem comes from two things.First, and foremost, a string of bad luck in the supply rolls can really hamper the Germans. One cardinal rule for Rommel is to never expend his last supply unit, because if he has two consecutive bad supply rolls his whole army surrenders for lack of supply.Secondly, there's the 2-1 attack on Tobruk. Even if otherwise stymied, and on the way to losing the game, Rommel can almost always try a 2-1 attack on Tobruk. Success is basically a 50/50 shot. A bad roll can mean disaster for the Germans, but if they are losing anyway then there's little to lose. A success, on the other hand, can transform defeat into a good shot at victory. It's much harder for the British to recapture Tobruk because the Germans have some strong units they can put in the port and the British units tend to be weak, meaning the British don't usually have a 2-1 option.These problems would never be accepted in a new game.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Tasers for fun

This is getting a lot of play. State trooper zaps a guy after pulling him over because the motorist refused to sign the speeding ticket.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Featured Game: Midway

I can't be objective about Avalon Hill's naval wargame Midway from 1964. It was my first "real" wargame and launched me into the hobby that I've enjoyed these 38 years.
In late 1968 I saw an ad in Boy's Life magazine for an outfit called Alnavco, which sold miniature model warships (back then all in 1:1200 scale). Being a middle-school kid with no money I wasn't able to indulge in buying the beautiful ship models. I bought one, a model of the USS Olympia of Dewey fame, that sadly was destroyed through youthful carelessness.
In the Alnavco catalog they also listed some naval boardgames by a company called Avalon Hill. I think they offered U-Boat, Bismarck and Midway. The games were just $4.95 and you could fight an entire battle with a fleet of ships. As this was about the price os a single small model warship the boardgames sounded like a good deal for someone on a limited budget like me.
So I ordered a copy of Midway in March of 1969 (I still have the invoice) and a hobbyist was born. I persuaded my best friend to play and before long we had an active little gaming circle going. Besides Midway we played Stalingrad, Guadalcanal. Anzio, Afrika Korps, Waterloo, 1914. Jutland from Avalon Hill plus some of the early SPI games like Centurion and Battle of Moscow.
My best friend's older brother brought back Diplomacy from college and we also tried out nonwargames such as Football Strategy, Stock Market and Ploy.
Most wargamers have a soft spot for the game that first brought them into the hobby, even if it's not an especially good game. Fortunately Midway is better than most of its contemporaries and still holds up rather well despite the passage of 40 years. It's still possible to round up a game now and then. The situation is classic and the execution is entertaining. While newer games are more realistic, Midway is not a howler as far as historical accuracy goes and it has the virtues of playing pretty quickly and being well-balanced.
Most beginning players find it a little easier to play the Japanese, but between experienced players the game is an even match. The Japanese and U.S. fleets are very close in strength during the early going when the game will most often be decided.
The game uses a screen and separate search boards to provide limited intelligence, similar in some respects to Battleship. The U.S. has an advantage in searching power which makes up for its disadvantage in carriers.
Once fleets are located air strikes can be launched with fighters, dive bombers and torpedo planes. Simple and straightforward rules cover the air-to-air and air-to-ship combat while capturing some of the nuances of strike tactics such as "anvil" attacks.
While there are simple rules for resolving surface battles, they rarely occur as the U.S. fleet normally strives mightily to avoid any surface contact with the much larger Japanese fleet.
The game succeeds in capturing the essence of the "Incredible Victory" at Midway. It's certainly possible for the U.S. player to replicate the historical result, but it's equally possible for the Japanese to achieve their sought-for "decisive victory."
One nice additional feature is Rear Adm. C. Wade McClusky's personal account of the battle contained in the battle manual.
Other valuable add-ons include the Wargamer's Guide to Midway, a 36-page booklet published in 1979 that contains a digest of the best Midway-related articles from the Avalon Hill General.
Another great add-on is the Coral Sea variant that adds counters, rules and a map to cover the other 1942 carrier battles around the Solomons. With some slight rules modifications, players can use the Midway game system to refight the battles of Coral Sea, Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz and Guadalcanal. The system works remarkably well for these battles. While not quite as detailed as some of the other carrier battle games depicting this campaign, the Coral Sea variant plays quickly without affronts to historical sensibility.
Overall, Midway is still one of my favorite games and a real "classic" in the best sense of the term.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Featured game: Dogfight

I first played Dogfight in the mid-1960s shortly after it came out.
In my opinion Dogfight is the best of the old American Heritage line of games from Milton Bradley in the 1960s. It had the neatest pieces (model World War I SPADs and Fokker DVIIs) and the best gameplay. There was some player skill required, not just luck. Unlike the other games, Dogfight's game mechanics bore some resemblance to the history that inspired it, enough so that it could be considered a light wargame and not just a war-themed games like the rest of the American Heritage games.
Each player controlled two three-plane squadrons based at airfields in the comers of the map board. For the Germans the aircraft in Jastas 10 and 11 were Fokker DVIIs, which was considered the best fighter of the war. The American 94th and 95th Squadrons were equipped with SPAD XIII fighters. Each squadron could play one plane at a time, with the other planes staying in reserve.
Movement was controlled by dice. Each turn a player would roll two D6. If two planes were aloft, then each would use one roll (so a roll of 2, 5 meant one plane moving two squares and the other moving 5 squares -- no more, no less) If only one plane was airborne then the controlling player could pick one die roll to use.
Combat was not resolved with the dice, however. When a plane moved next to an enemy plane and pointed its nose directly at it the player was entitled to play a "burst" card from their hand. Bursts came in values of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. If the two planes were involved in a head-on pass they would compare bursts (the target plane could shoot back) with the higher card winning. The loser was shot down. In case of a tie both planes were shot down. Naturally, it was less risky to fire from the side or rear aspects where the target couldn't shoot back. A target plane was not without options in that situation because there were also two varieties of defensive cards available. A "barrel roll" caused a side shot to miss automatically. A "loop" allowed a plane being attacked from the rear to change places with its attacker and turn the tables! The target could now play a burst card against its erstwhile attacker. It was possible for the new target to play a loop card in return, reestablishing the original situation, but requiring yet another burst and possible countering loop. This could not go on indefinitely, however, because each plane had a limited number of cards, usually four, that could only be replenished by returning to the aerodrome. It was all very entertaining, however.
Besides the tactics of moving an maximizing card play, players faced strategic decisions, too. After shooting down an enemy plane a plane earned an "ace" marker that entitled it to a bonus of two additional cards the next time it took off. So instead of starting with a four-card hand the "ace" had a 6-card hand. Shooting down a second plane made a "double ace" entitled to an 8-card hand. More cards meant more options naturally, making very aces dangerous. As a matter of fact, the safest way to eliminate an ace was to attack the enemy airfield and strafe the ace while it was on the ground. This tactic had its own risks, because each airfield was protected by four "Archie" (AA guns). Two of the guns were "hits" and two would "miss" when flown over, so it could be expensive to test those defenses.
Of all the American Heritage line, Dogfight is the one best suited for a reissue. The use of quality plastic plane models and cards would let Dogfight fit in quite comfortably with contemporary designs.
I think this one is still a good play. As a simulation it's rudimentary, but it's not valueless. There is at least a passing resemblance to actual tactics. The enclosed historical booklet is very high quality. I credit Dogfight and Broadside with paving the way for me to move into more serious wargames a few years later such as Midway and 1914.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Featured Game: Gettysburg 1964

The classic edition of Avalon Hill's Gettysburg had an impact all out of proportion to its its quality -- it was the first. First published in 1958, Gettysburg was the first historical board wargame. Prior efforts like Tactics and just about every other previous military-themed wargame were either based on fictionalized settings or merely used a historical topic for inspiration
Charles Roberts' Gettysburg, on the other hand, was an attempt to model an actual historical battle with an authentic order of battle fighting over a map of the actual terrain. This game basically inaugurated the historical board wargame hobby.
That's not to say that the game doesn't have some serious shortcomings. After starting off with a square-gridded map, the game took a brief detour to hex-based before returning to a square grid in the 1964 edition, which is the version reviewed here.
Gettysburg's retro move to squares aside, hexes were the wave of the future, to the point that board wargames are commonly referred to as hex-and-counter games. Squares have significantly more distortion than hexagon grids, so Gettysburg is unusual in that respect.
The game's counters are also unusual by being rectangles instead of the typical squares. Each unit has the usual combat strength "factor" and movement "factor," but also has a directional arrow showing the facing. Rectangular counters would be unusual for many years, although more wargames have used them recently.
Although a simple game, Gettysburg has some fairly involved facing rules for that era, with attacking units getting a bonus for attacking from the side or rear.
The game uses the classic 3-1 D-elim CRT seen in many other Avalon Hill games ( By my count at least 8 games used it).
As history the game isn't all that great. The lack of any sort of morale or command control rules (headquarters units have no game function) means that the opposing armies are far more active than their historical counterparts, so the game will be played to a decision in much less than the 49 available turns. That decision is an unusually brutal one for a wargame victory condition -- total elimination. No victory points. No geographical objectives. No morale targets. Nope, it's last man standing wins.
There was considerable debate back int he 60s over which side was favored to win. The Confederate player has the usual Gettysburg battle advantage of more powerful units, while the Union player has more units. Handled well (and with good luck), the CSA can defeat the Union troops in detail. A few missteps or bad die rolls and the Union numbers start to tell. I don't think a final answer was had before players moved on to more realistic wargames, including a couple dozen on Gettysburg itself.
There's very little reason to play the game today. Like most of the AH classics outside of the possible exception of Afrika Korps, Gettysburg is mostly of interest to collectors now.

Scott Horton on torture

Torture is a crime under the law, in the face of humankind and nations. We have, each of us, an obligation independent of the responsibilities of the state to insure the enforcement of this law; to denounce those who violate it; to reveal their acts of treachery and criminality and to insure their accountability and punishment. Torture is a crime greater than most because it corrupts the core of the state and our society. It is a rot which spreads quickly, destroying all the other values on which our life and interaction with others rests. Torture breeds secrecy; it breeds tyrannical expansion of the power of the executive; it imperils the institutions of the democratic state. We underestimate the threat it presents at great risk to ourselves, our communities of faith and our society.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Featured game: Acquire

Acquire is the signature game from the late noted game designer Sid Sackson. Like many classic designs, the premise is simple, the execution elegant, but the gameplay entrancing.
Essentially it's a game about accumulating money through holding stakes in growing and merging companies. Depending on the version the companies are styled "hotel" chains or hi-tech forms, but the business the companies are in isn't important because the game is really about the mergers. When it was first published in 1962 corporate mergers didn't have the high profile they do now in popular culture, but the idea is pretty familiar to folks now.
The key to winning is to be the majority or second-place stockholder in the merging companies, earning various cash or stock bonuses.
Aside from a limited production initial 3M edition the rules to Acquire have been very stable from the bookcase 3M edition through various Avalon Hill editions to the Hasbro/AH edition of 199, which is the most handsome version. One nice touch in the 199 edition is the renaming of one of the companies in the game after Sackson.
One interesting point of variation was a difference in the number of players accommodated by the rules. Multi-player games have to balance two contradictory forces. On the one hand, it's normally better to have more players because it makes the most use of interplayer interaction. On the other hand, with too many players there can be a lot of down time. This can be mitigated somewhat if there is a chance for player interaction during every person's turn, such as in Munchkin or Naval War. Still, having too many players will tend to bog things down.
The 1962 bookcase version seems to think that more is better. The game specifies that it is for 3-8 players. The "sweet spot" seems to max out at 6 however. To accommodate 7 or 8 players the game reduces the amount of money each player starts with. The game board for the 1962 version is only 9 by 12, so crowding 8 players around the board doesn't seem practical and even 5 or 6 is probably too much.
The 1999 AH/Hasbro version uses a much bigger board and specifies that the game is for 2-6 players. When there are just two players than the "market" becomes a kind of dummy player that can can end up being the majority stockholder on occasion.
I haven't had a chance to play Acquire at the extreme ends of the player numbers, so I am not sure how well the adjustments work, but it's interesting to see the problem addressed.

Are boardgames relics? Or the future?

In some ways, boardgaming as a hobby has never been better. There's an active community online. The quality of the games, both from the standpoint of physical presentation as well as game play, have never been better.
Yet the cheesiest, most poorly-done video game sells more copies in a few days than the best-selling boardgames do in their total runs.
Personally I find video and computer games less fulfilling to play than boardgames, but to be honest I have to concede that there are probably generational factors at work. I don't think computer games -- or computers period -- can ever be as central to my life as they will be to my children's lives.
But I also wonder at the long-term staying power of computer entertainment, at least in its explicit sense. The trend in other computer uses seems to be to embed the computer to enhance everyday objects and make them easier to use. Cars, for example, have computer chips running a lot of functions -- invisibly to the driver.
I wonder if, down the road, the same may be become true for boardgames. Will there be a market for combining the computing power of games with the quality components possible with a physical game. Heroclix, for example, is a clever way of creating a mechanical "computer" of sorts for game play. What might be possible with an embedded computer chip?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Featured game: Oh-Wah-Ree

It's quite likely that the mancala family of games are the oldest games of all. There are mancala game pits carved from stone that have been found in Africa that are estimated to be about 3,500 years old. This doesn't make them the oldest games found by archeology -- Senet and game boards from Ur are older -- but considering the nature of mancala there's good reason to suspect it's much older.

For one thing, the stone-cut pits are rather unusual. Someone went through a considerable amount of trouble 3,500 years ago to create a permanent game "board" by making those pits in stone. But mancala is normally played on wooden boards with carved out pits, and is also often simply played in the dirt, with holes scooped out of the ground. Neither of these play surfaces are durable, of course, and could have been used thousands of years ago without leaving any trace. (This is a good place to remember that archeology has unavoidable biases. We can only know about what circumstances allowed to be preserved. We know about "stone age" cultures largely because of their stone tools, but it's likely that most of their belongings were made of more perishable things like wood, skins and bone that aren't often preserved.)

Likewise, mancala is normally played with common items such as pebbles, seeds, sea shells or bits of grain instead of purpose-made game pieces such as Senat had. Again, these are less likely to be preserved, and even if preserved, probably wouldn't be recognized for what they were. After all, how does one know what a pile of pebbles was used for?

Mancala games are played throughout those parts of the world where people have lived the longest. While there are many variations, they all involve the very simple game mechanic of scooping up the pieces from a pit and "sowing' them in other pits to capture the contents of other pits. This mechanic is evocative of the tasks involved in ancient agriculture, and that, indeed may be its origin. We know from our own lives that play often mimics activities of real life.

Oh-Wah-Ree was an updating of the mancala game that was first published by 3M in 1962. Played under the standard rules, Oh-Wah-Ree is simply mancala played using a circular arrangement of pits instead of the traditional side-by-side rows. The primary innovation of Oh-Wah-Ree are rules for scaling the game to 3 or 4 players. This is so simply done, one has to wonder why traditional mancala is so solidly a two-player game. The name "Oh-Wah-Ree" is simply a phonetic spelling of "Awari," the name the game goes by in the West Indies and Guyana.

Mancala games, although of worldwide popularity, don't fare all that well among hobby gamers. As is common with traditional abstract games like backgammon, chess, go and morris, mancala seems to have limited appeal with adult hobby gamers, who prefer games with more explicit themes and clever game mechanics. Oh-Wah-Ree, like other traditional games, has very few rules and is easily taught and passed on generation to generation by an oral culture. Like those other games, however, simple rules does not mean the game is simplistic, and even a standard game can be challenging if played competitively.

Under the standard rules of Oh-Wah-Ree each player starts with the same number of stones in their pits. Each player in turn picks up the contents of one pit and sows them one-by-one in consecutive pits until they run out. If sowing a stone in the last pit causes that pit to have 2 or 3 stones on the opponent's side then the sowing player captures those stones and puts them aside. If the penultimate pit also has 2 or 3 stones then those are also captured, and so on until the series ends by having 4 or more, or 1 or none or reaches the sowing player's own territory.

The game ends when one player has no stones to play and the winner is the person with the most stones. It's not allowed to count the stones and the inability of people to tell at a glance the exact number of stones when there are 5 or more prevents the game from being a simple math exercise.

The sowing mechanic is a tactilely satisfying one, and the game is a good one for parents to play with children.

Oh-Wah-Ree has rules for some more complex variations based on more involved variants of mancala played in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, but the standard game is fine for casual play.

Oh-Wah-Ree also has rules for 'Grand" Oh-Wah-Ree, where players capture pits as well as stones for another variation.

Oh-Wah-Ree is long out of print, but not that hard to find on eBay. Traditional mancala games are available everywhere and are easily fabricated. If you're on the beach a few minutes gathering sea shells and scooping out pits in the sand is all you need to get started.

Mancala, like chess, checkers, go, backgammon dominoes and cards should be part of any household's basic gaming library.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Featured game: Milton Bradley's 1962 Broadside

In retrospect the 1960s was a sort of Golden Age for history-based games, especially wargames. It was pre-computer, pre-D&D, pre-Star Wars, pre-a lot of other things.
While the Avalon Hill Game Company found a market among adults for games like Gettysburg and D-Day, the way was also being primed by family game-maker Milton Bradley (pre-Hasbro) which published a line of "American Heritage" games in conjunction with that then-popular magazine. The games themselves were more war-themed games than actual wargames, but they each included a nifty little color illustrated historical booklet that may very well have inspired the designer's note often seen in wargames.
Among the American Heritage titles was Broadside, which is basically an abstract sea fighting game set loosely in the era of the War of 1812. It doesn't represent any particular fight, and the ships don't really behave like sailing warships do, but for young boys it looked rather neat, with red and blue plastic ships with detachable white sail-bearing masts.
The basic situation is a raid by the Red Fleet of 10 ships against a harbor defended by the Blue Fleet, also of 10 ships. The Blue Fleet is slightly weaker than the Red Fleet, but it's aided by some harbor defenses, comprised of four shore batteries and six floating mines (called buoys in the game for some reason). Two of the shore batteries never miss, two never hit -- their marksmanship is revealed by turning the plastic fort over and seeing if it has the word "hit" or "miss" on the bottom. Likewise, the buoys/mines are a 50/50 shot. If run over by a ship the mine is flipped and it either sinks the ship or lets it pass.
As a matter of fact, there is no luck involved in the game at all. Ship combat is similarly deterministic. If a ship moves into a position where its broadside can fire on an enemy ship in an adjacent spot, then it inflicts one hit and removes a mast. If the enemy ship's broadside can bear, it also returns fire, causing a hit on the attacker. Given this, the only way to damage an ship without being hit in return is to move into a firing position directly in front of or behind it so you can fire without taking a return shot. In the game this is called "crossing the T," although the more historically accurate term would be a "rake." Crossing the T was more commonly used after the age of sail and usually refers to fleets rather than individual ships. I assume someone at MB thought "crossing the T" would be an easier term to understand than "rake."
Every ship fires with the same power, so the only difference is the amount of damage they can take. A Ship-of-the-line has four masts and can therefore take four hits. A frigate has three masts/three hits. A brig has two masts/two hits while the lowly cutter has but a single mast and therefore is gone after one hit. A nasty little trick is to sail a cutter between two enemy ships. You get to fire each broadside, inflicting two hits while you can only take one yourself.
Ship movement is very abstract. Basically a ship can turn and move any number of open spaces in one move. The main obstacles to flying all over the board are some land masses, friendly and enemy ships, the mines and the forts.
The object of the game is for the Red Fleet to sink four immobile merchant ships docked in the harbor which each sink if fired upon. It is possible for the Red Team to win while losing all their ships so long as they sink the fourth merchant ship at the same time they take their last hit.

Overall Broadside is a mildly amusing abstract game with a sailing warship theme and a nice presentation. It's not really a wargame except in the most liberal possible reading of the term.
I have fond memories of playing it way back in the day, but recent replaying of the game reveals that there really isn't that good a game there by current standards, so I'd say it's mostly of interest these days as part of a collection.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Rebranding the GOP

Politico reports the Republicans are trying to rebrand their "scuffed" image but cant decide on a message, They really are sounding more like Democrats.

I'll admit the GOP has a problem. Right now their brand stands for supporting torture, protecting wealthy interests, expressing disdain for gays, blacks, immigrants (especially, but not only illegal ones) war, more war, executive branch excess and extreme secrecy. Oh yes, and a complete disregard for competent governance, so long as party loyalty is steadfast.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, its hard to rebrand yourself when the image of the old brand is so solidly based on actual facts. It's rather like a fast food franchise trying to rebrand itself as a five-star premium restaurant.

Featured Game: Avalon Hill's Civil War (1961)

Back in the dim mists of wargame time, way before ASL, computer games, block games, card-driven games, Commands & Colours or even James Dunnigan -- The Avalon Hill Game Company pioneered the very first modern board wargames.
Like any pioneering effort, there were false starts, mistakes and dead ends. Among those was Avalon Hill's 1961 title Civil War. Apparently timed to take advantage of the centennial of the American War Between The States, Avalon Hill's Civil War was one of two games published that year with that title and covering the entire war on a strategic scale. Neither was much of a simulation in the sense we'd understand it today, but at least the Milton Bradley one (later renamed Battle-cry) has cute little infantry, cavalry and cannon figures.
The Avalon Hill game, on the other hand, was a peculiar hybrid of the very simple family game(red and blue generic plastic pawns for units, a page of rules) and the real wargame (hexagons, classic D-Elim combat result table). It was a slight advance over Charles Roberts' Tactics wargame in that it dealt with an actual historical situation, but it was almost as abstract as the purely fictionalized game. It was the later Gettysburg game that really launched the historical board wargame hobby by depicting a historical battle with an authentic order of battle and map.
Civil War was evidently intended to be an introductory game, being priced at $2.95 instead of the standard $4.95 of other titles in the AH catalog at the time.
It wasn't a success, however, and was soon dropped from the line.
While the game map is a reasonably accurate one, the coarseness of the OB prevents the game from developing in interesting ways. Each army has a number of pawns (of the type seen in any number of 60s-era games) that are each worth "1" in battle. There's a considerable amount of terrain that doubles defense (rivers, mountains, ports) so it's hard to achieve a 3-1. This results in a lot of risky 1-1 and 2-1 attacks. The lack of any kind of zone of control rule means that retreats aren't as deadly as they would be in later games like Afrika Korps, further reducing the utility of 1-1 and 2-1 attacks in the classic CRT.
The game often departs from history. The victory conditions and initial parity between the Union and Rebel forces encourages the CSA to attempt a quick victory by seizing two of the four federal replacement areas. Some early luck can mean a CSA win in the first few months against and unwary Union player.
If that initial Confederate offensive fails, the Union player has the edge over the long haul, with a 3-2 edge in bi-monthly replacements and a maximum army strength of 15 units compared to 9 for the Rebels. The lack of zones of control, the large frontages and small number of pieces will generally mean that a patient Union player can capture the three CSA replacement centers needed to win in plenty of time. So long as the Federal player remembers that maneuver is more useful than combat, he should be able to prevail.
From a modern player's perspective, there's little to recommend Civil War. It's primarily of interest as part of a collection for game historians.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The legacy of torture and abuse

As recently as the 1991 Gulf War, enemy soldiers were so eager to surrender to U.S. forces, who had an unparralled reputation for adherence to the Geneva Conventions, that they tried to give up to unmanned drones and journalists in jeeps. This saved untold lives on both sides.
One has to wonder if the same thing will happen the next time around.
Bush 41 must wonder what 43 hath wrought:

Friday, November 2, 2007

Early presidential preferences

There's a long way to go, of course, but it's worth making some preliminary comments about next year's election, now that we are 12 months out.
I spent the first 34 years of my political existence as a registered Republican, which shows a certain contrariness considering that I lived almost all that time in Massachusetts. It can be pretty lonely being a Massachusetts Republican! A few weeks ago I changed my registration to "unenrolled." I did this out of an abundance of disgust over Bushism, most profoundly on the subject of torture, but with strong contributions from the botched Iraq war, reckless spending and general incompetence.
So, looking at the GOP field first, I have to say I'm pretty disappointed. Ron Paul is interesting. I have libertarian sympathies, but I think the extreme libertarian positions he stakes out are impractical and Utopian, unsuited to the real world. On the other hand, he has principles and wants to get us out of Iraq immediately, which makes him the only anti-war GOP candidate. I think it goes without saying that libertarians are unlikely to be torture supporters.
I think I would find either McCain or Thompson acceptable presidents, although I'm disappointed McCain hasn't done more to distance himself from the Bush excesses. At least neither of them seems hell-bent on either torture or excessive executive branch power.
I would have been favorable disposed to the Mitt Romney that was governor of Massachusetts, but unfortunately that Mitt Romney isn't running. The one running is a completely unprincipled, pandering pretty boy in a suit that will say anything to anybody to win some votes. No thanks.
Giuliani is the closest thing to Bush II that's running, and obviously unacceptable. If there's anything worse than a Bush, it would be a Bush who was competent in his exercise of unrestrained executive power.
None of the other Republicans have a shot nor deserve one.
On the Democratic side, I can't say that I'd be happy to see Hillary elected. Oh, she's competent enough, and calculating enough to avoid screwing things up too much. On the other hand, it means another 4-8 years of bitter partisan warfare and no real progress on the issues facing the country. And she'll stay in Iraq.
Chris Dodd gets points for his principled stands against torture and executive excess, but he doesn't seem viable to win the whole thing.
I don't agree with Obama on many policy matters, but he seems to be man of character who would be a prudent president. And unlike nearly anyone else, he seems to have the potential to transcend the divisions crippling our political discourse.
Edwards also seems like he'd be a decent president and I'd probably pick him over most of the GOP field, but he's no sure thing.
The rest of the Democratic field is, like the second tier of Republicans, not worth spending much time on.

My favorite president

My favorite president has long been TR. Unlike Bush, who is a weak man who talks strong, TR was a strong man of character who understood that actions are what counts. Unsurprisingly, he made the principled call on torture, as Politico shows: