TO: Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers Games c/o Hasbro
FROM: Jeremy Alford
DATE: January 2009
RE: Game concept pitch for Surplus Surprise © Commemorative Edition
Close your eyes and throw a dart at a U.S. map and you’re likely to pierce a state in financial turmoil. Even with its fat, gambling-addled coffers, Nevada is having trouble paying health care claims. Fewer snow-covered streets in Michigan are being salted to reduce overtime pay. Ohio has applied for its first federal loan in 26 years to help float unemployment costs. Lawmakers in New York recently debated a $5.2 billion “savings program” supported by cuts to education and Medicaid. California has kicked around a sales tax increase.
The national economy, plagued by an unstable credit market and worsening auto industry, is crushing everyone. There are 20 states that have already slashed $7.6 billion from their current budgets and 30 others that have identified additional shortfalls totaling more than $30 billion. President Barack Obama has promised a stimulus package in the neighborhood of $700 billion to help the citizenries of these states return to normal. But rather wait on congressional action, there is something Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers Games can do now. I have an idea for a new game that would not only remind the nation that hope remains, but also educate players about the legislative process.
Despite the fiscal famine sweeping the United States, it’s estimated that Louisiana’s government is sitting on a surplus of roughly $865 million from the last fiscal year that ended in June. Conceptually, Surplus Surprise © Commemorative Edition would be a board game that pits political players against each other in an effort to capture a piece of what will likely be Louisiana’s last surplus for many years to come. That’s the catalyst behind offering the game in the form of a “commemorative edition,” because come July 1, 2009, the beginning of the next fiscal year, the Bayou State will be facing a sobering $2 billion budget shortfall.
PLAYING THE GAME
Players are divided into two teams: the Administration, which controls the flow of surplus dollars, and the Legislature, made up of individual senators and representatives trying to secure the money for their districts. While lawmakers want to gather as much surplus cash as possible, the Administration wants to make sure the money they agree to approve will also benefit its players. Horse-trading is encouraged. For instance, in exchange for a road project, a senator could promise a player from the Administration that they’ll lay down for its future budget cuts in Fiscal Year 2009-2010. Players in the Legislature will want to stockpile appropriations, or money, while players in the Administration want to collect IOU’s, chips to call in and favors aplenty.
But no matter what, players are encouraged to just have fun. After all, according to Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, there will only be one chance to play the game. “The math is ugly,” Juneau says. “Soaring crude oil prices during the first half of 2008 were the primary drivers of the surplus. The precipitous drop in those prices – along with an ailing national economy – will remove the word ‘surplus’ from legislative budget discussions for the foreseeable future.”
Under rules already outlined in the Louisiana Constitution, surplus dollars can only be used for one-time expenses like debt retirement, coastal efforts and certain infrastructure projects. Any player attempting to fund a hot air balloon festival, local nonprofit or pet project not included in these guidelines will be forced to sit in Political Purgatory for two turns. While in Political Purgatory, the player will be chastised by editorial writers, good government groups and possibly the state Ethics Board.
During game play, team members might be asked to draw a Wild Card, which could hinder or help their advancement across the board. A legislator wanting to grab cash for a road project along the 10/12 corridor might be pushed back a few spaces when his or her announces that the Capital Region Legislative Delegation has been building coalitions along the corridor for months to land $60 million for Baton Rouge-area transportation projects.
A player with the Administration, meanwhile, might require surplus dollars for coastal work in the Orleans Parish Region. If that player draws one of the newer Wild Cards offered by Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis, it will certainly be a boost to their efforts. That’s because Davis says that there definitely be money approved for coastal restoration. “We do anticipate that we will be able to provide some funding once again to coastal restoration activities through the surplus funding,” Davis says.
There are also bummer Wild Cards for both sides to pull. For instance, there’s the state’s retirement debt, known as unfunded accrued liability, which has eclipsed $10 billion. There will invariably be lawmakers who want to chip away at the debt, but most players will find it boring or too big of a challenge to address. “Paying down debt just isn’t a sexy issue,” says Robyn Ekings, spokeswoman for Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System.
Once every player make its across the full length of the board, the victors will be sorted out. There will be one winner from each team: the lawmaker with the most surplus dollars and the Administration player with the most chips to cash in. There are certain circumstances where a subset of players, known as voters, can win, but it’s practically unheard of and very unlikely. In fact, that notion alone will make Surplus Surprise © Commemorative Edition the most realistic board game in Hasbro’s catalog.