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Subject: Eric's Review of Navajo War from a Solitaire Player's Perspective rss

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Eric's Review of Navajo War from a Solitaire Player's Perspective



Navajo Wars is a game about the entire history of the Navajo People after their migration/invasion of New Mexico to their demise severe decline about 300 years later. This is primarily solitaire game with a 2-player cooperative option.

Having just finished my second game of Navajo Wars, both sessions of which I played the first full Spanish scenario. I can't help but want to convey my thoughts. So this won't be in my usual review format. More a mixed after-action report and review. But through my early experiences with this game, I hope I can convey my feelings after play.

The Very Basics

There is a lot to the game flow, so I won't try to summarize the rules. But the crux of the game flow is you reveal an event card from a prepare deck of cards, and you can either preempt the AI turn by spending action-points (AP) if you have any, by doing so you go first, if not then the AI goes first. Then either you or the AI has its turn, the AI is driven by a series of counters that are sorted on the game board, the order of these counters dictate the AI's next action and the order these of these counters changes dynamically throughout gameplay. Then you choose to do an action (more on this further down), then after that you play out the events on the card, rinse and repeat, till you reach the end of the deck of cards (actually, the game ends once a certain card is reached) or you have lost through an automatic defeat condition during play. Victory conditions depends on the scenario, but basically you have to sustain the Navajo people's military capability (represented by military points) whilst maintaining their culture (represented by culture points) whilst demoralizing the enemy (enemy morale), which are the Spanish or Mexicans or the United States depending on which era you are playing in.



A very attractive board, its a point-to-point map, the color stones represent the various areas you can go to, note the bottom right area, this is where the AI's action counters go. Not depicted are 2 essential reference sheets printed on thick cardboard stock that contain all the necessary tables and procedures needed during gameplay so that you don't need to refer to the rulebook once you are familiar.


There are 2 short scenarios that takes about 2-3 hours (longer in your first learning game) and there are 4 era scenarios that will take 4-6 hours and there is a campaign scenario (which links up all the era-scenarios) that will probably take 16-20 hours. Setup is very quick and so is take down, there is surprisingly few counters and bits.

Review & After-action report

In my first game, even though I understood the game mechanisms, I did not have a grasp as to how all those unique mechanisms melded towards a victory. So I was struggling through much of it, responding to the AI rather than taking the initiative. I was able to make it to the end of the deck without auto-defeat but I ended up losing with a minor defeat any way.

In my second game, I grasped a little more of the game, but I don't think I've quite grasp all the nuances to make perfect risk management decisions yet. Minimally I realize that to have any chance of winning the scenario, I have to get my military chit higher. I know to do this means that I have to get the culture up and then use planning to convert that culture to military and also conduct tribal warfare during planning ("planning" is an action you can take) . All the while trying to suppress the really bad AI events with raids to suppress their Action Points and using Ceremony cards to manipulate the AI chits so I get seemingly less harmful AI actions. Also need to repair the damage the AI does manage to inflict. Harder said than done, because what seem less harmful is just as harmful in a different way. For instance, I didn't want the enemy to conduct raids because I had accrue quite a few raid counters on Santa Fe (because of multiple "way of the enemy" events, the result of consecutive ceremony cards kept cropping up triggering these events.) so I manipulated the AI board so I ended up with subvert instead of raids... BUT darn it, subvert is almost as bad! This causes me to lose culture and culture is useful to get my military up. So this caused me some stagnation in the end.

It came down to the wire with the AI managing a massive raid, but fortunately I had the "warrior culture" culture card (which made me more ferocious in combat) and manage to battle my way to escape the raid's worst effects and so in the end I managed a minor victory for all my work. And this was just the easy scenario! I have no idea at the moment how to get a Major Victory either!

(Culture cards can be purchased at the start of the game and during certain times in the game, think of these as technologies or crafts or skills of the Navajo, like Weaving, Horsemanship, Warfare etc.)

I did find feeding my families during the "passage of time" action (This is one of the other actions you can take during your turn, it represents a longer period of time and allows for children to grow and elders to come into being) to be a little too easy, maybe it was because the time period, I suspect this becomes more important in later era scenarios. I just didn't see any need to planting corn in my first two games. I had a few drought counters on the board, but I also had lots of sheep (which I got both by raids on New Mexico and breeding). (This paragraph makes this sound like Agricola!)

I really like how the three player actions worked thematically. Taking actions ("taking action" is another action you can make during your turn, this allows you to move, raid, plant/havest corn and trade) equates to the intense action in between quieter peaceful periods of Navajo History, whilst "Passage of Time" allows for family adjustments and "planning action" allows for more strategic options. All this allows the game to emulate the vast time periods involved without the player getting bored in times of peace. Genius.

The great thing about this game is managing the AI wasn't burdensome at all, unlike the flow chart AI of the COIN series (Counterinsurgency Series from GMT, for example the game: "A Distant Plain") which sometimes made the AI turns longer than the human turns. Another advantage I found with the AI was its unpredictability, the die rolls to move and flip the AI action chits around kept you guessing what the AI's next move is (without introducing total chaos), while the AI of the COIN series of much more predictable and deterministic. The AI of Navajo Wars and its action were simple to implement but very profound in its effects on the current action, also the AI's action actually created a believable narrative which is an amazing accomplishment. The asymmetry of the AI and the player's goals also makes the game extremely interesting and you play a tug of war between the colonial military/religious powers as well as other natives. Simply awesome!

Replayability is off the scale! In many other solitaire games, once I won a scenario I usually want to move on, but the author has ingeniously included several random factors that works to make this game a lot more replayable, even the same scenario. The deck of cards is random, the missing AI action chits is random, the development decks available is random, the way which AI actions actually activate is random (but can be mitigated somewhat by the player) and the cubes pulled from the bag is random, as well as the mysterious encounter chits are random. There are lots of games out there with similar randomness, but in this game the above various factors make each game feel genuinely different rather than just some superficial change. Amazing.

Even though the scope of this game is vastly different to those of the State-of-Siege series of games (many of which I've reviewed in the past, see geeklist link below), nevertheless there are some similarities. Such as playing through a (often) prepared deck of cards and having the game partially driven by the events on the cards themselves. BUT playing this in contrast makes me think how anemic & shallow the SoS games feel in comparison and how much more potential could be tapped from all the topics of that series. This game is a super achievement in solitaire gaming and I can't wait to see the author's other endeavors in this first of a series.

During the process of playing, I learn a lot about a people and culture that I knew nothing about and the author really have introduce me to the struggle of the Navajo people and touch upon the decisions made by the colonials and the interactions between other native tribes. The designer notes throughout the rulebook and playbook really help to solidify the player's understand of why such'n'such a rule was necessary. The procedural of some of the actions, I found to be very easy to internalize and made the game much quicker after a couple hours.

Rulebook & Components

This isn't the easiest game to learn but the rulebook and playbook made it as painless as possible. Especially given the numerous unique mechanisms. I highly recommend players to read and play though the example in the playbook before tackling the rulebook. (In the COIN series, I had no problems with just reading the rulebook and ignoring the playbook but not for this game, there is just so much more going on for this game.) Great rulebook! (there is some errata, so you can look up the living rule book the author maintains, but between you an me, the errors were pretty glaringly obvious that I had no problems and didn't even bother with the errata.)

The component quality is top notch, the board is made from extremely thick card-stock, the cards are standard, there is a cloth bag that you draw standard euro cubes from and as usual the rulebook/playbook is the usual high standard GMT fare. GMT's components are actually improving over the years in my opinion, the boards are getting thicker and thicker and the counters in this game are definitely not standard wargamer fare, they are more like those you find in many Euros.

Summary

Can't recommend this game enough. This could well be the best solitaire boardgame I've ever played. It doesn't matter if you have no interest in the topic, whilst playing you will develop interest. Not for everyone of course, it's definitely on the heavy side, but not quite a wargame either. If you are interested in solitaire games and want something a step up in difficulty from twilight struggles then this is a must have. I unreservedly give this game a 10 of out 10!

Link to a geeklist of my other solitaire reviews:
http://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/71266/erics-solitaire-revi...
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Andy Andersen
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Thanks for the excellent review.

I just added this to an order.
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Steve Carey
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An excellent review, Eric - you really captured the essence of the game.

Garfink wrote:
I did find feeding my families during the "passage of time" action... to be a little too easy, maybe it was because the time period, I suspect this becomes more important in later era scenarios.


Agreed - in the Mexican and American periods, there are more 'soldiers' (3 green cubes and 1 green cube/1 blue cube, respectively), so raiding becomes a bit more difficult.

Still, I wish that Corn played more of a prominent role in the game (note that 6 corn can be exchanged for 1 Trade Good, and Corn also acts as a Harass counter for Enemy Raids - tough way to lose a crop!).

Garfink wrote:
The great thing about this game is managing the AI wasn't burdensome at all, unlike the flow chart AI of the COIN series...


Fully Agree - the COIN bot flow charts drive me nuts, I never use them (they seem to generate half the confusion and half the questions), though I can appreciate the value they hold for others.

The AI here is a breeze, and it's so robust.

Garfink wrote:
Even though the scope of this game is vastly different to those of the State-of-Siege series of games, nevertheless there are some similarities. Such as playing through a (often) prepared deck of cards and having the game partially driven by the events on the cards themselves. BUT playing this in contrast makes me think how anemic & shallow the SoS games feel in comparison...


Basically Agree - the SoS games usually play in under an hour and are necessarily limited, while the three main scenarios in NW take 4-5 hours each to play and are truly epic.

SoS is an appetizer, NW is a full banquet.

Garfink wrote:
Can't recommend this game enough. This could well be the best solitaire boardgame I've ever played.


Wholeheartedly Agree - NW is the total package.
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Dennis Ku
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I found the COIN series rulebooks to be mind-boggline, whereas I have somehow learned this game without too much trouble.

Great review. I wholeheartedly agree that Navajo Wars is fantastic!
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Eric Lai
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Steve Carey wrote:
An excellent review, Eric - you really captured the essence of the game.

Garfink wrote:
I did find feeding my families during the "passage of time" action... to be a little too easy, maybe it was because the time period, I suspect this becomes more important in later era scenarios.


Agreed - in the Mexican and American periods, there are more 'soldiers' (3 green cubes and 1 green cube/1 blue cube, respectively), so raiding becomes a bit more difficult.

Still, I wish that Corn played more of a prominent role in the game (note that 6 corn can be exchanged for 1 Trade Good, and Corn also acts as a Harass counter for Enemy Raids - tough way to lose a crop!).



6 Corn for only 1 Trade Good is a little steep, especially since you had to waste almost a whole family's turn, you are unable to move that family from that spot afterwards till the next passage of time, not to mention that most of the corn counters are 1-3, it takes 2-3 plantings to get 6 Corn, also trade goods in my games are easiest to obtained by using Planning and trading culture in for them (this may be more of an issue in later eras, as there is a lot more pressure on your culture).

The math just doesn't seem to add up (in the first easy scenario anyway). I am thinking that, in a situation where you knew you were having food deficit problems, I guess you could plant corn if you had nothing better to do. I did find that on turns that I was taking actions, there were families that didn't need to do anything super-productive and found myself doing long distance New Mexico raids.
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Steve Carey
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It is steep - I'm hesitant to offer variants for Corn, but a few ideas are floating around in my mind.

Tribal Council is a good task to perform for a Family not doing much; I've even used a Ceremony card to guarantee success if I want to get that Ceremony card out of my hand before incurring an Enemy Way penalty.
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Eric Lai
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I'll need more plays before I can give any verdict on the corn. Good tip there with the Tribal Council, I had always picked raids over tribal council (for its stifling enemy AI action points) and also took risks with the ceremony cards and use them for managing the AI chits and for battles. BUT, I can see with higher difficulty with more soldiers in the bag, raids will become a lot more risky and may change the balance of my choices.
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Corn is useful in many ways: Beside allowing to save a sheep counter if there is only 1 or 2 population counters left to feed (and then sell animals You couldn't breed to acquire Trade Goods), and giving a sort of free harass reaction, Corn is very efficient in dealing with the tribal raids: You can spend any counter in the resources box to increase your chances of not being impacted, and then save your precious trade goods.

I agree that Tribal Council seems essential.
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Adam Parker
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Great game design makes the complex simple, replayability maximum, and abstraction credible.
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Garfink” wrote:
...(there is some errata, so you can look up the living rule book the author maintains, but between you an me, the errors were pretty glaringly obvious that I had no problems and didn't even bother with the errata.)


Cheng thanks for the review.

I’m trying to get my first game underway and I’ve spent the last 2 hours updating my rulebook, playbook, cards, card deck, and every chart to reflect the extensive errata for this game.

I take my hat off to you for getting a game underway, as at this point there are 2 aspects of errata fixes I cannot understand. Tonight was to be play night for me. It’s looking not to be.

But mate - there is not “some errata”. There is also no "Living Rule Book" at this stage, though I know Joel plans one and I hope it comes out soon.
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Eric Lai
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Aye, I didn't even know there were errata when I played my games.

(Call me Eric (Fellow Aussie actually, lived in Melbourne for 17 years), I currently have my name changed to my Chinese name because I just bought something from someone here on BGG and I need my full name for mailing, I will change it back when they have shipped the games.)
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Adam Parker wrote:
I’m trying to get my first game underway and I’ve spent the last 2 hours updating my rulebook, playbook, cards, card deck, and every chart to reflect the extensive errata for this game.

I take my hat off to you for getting a game underway, as at this point there are 2 aspects of errata fixes I cannot understand. Tonight was to be play night for me. It’s looking not to be.

Ouch. That gives me pause... :/
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Eric Lai
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russ wrote:
Adam Parker wrote:
I’m trying to get my first game underway and I’ve spent the last 2 hours updating my rulebook, playbook, cards, card deck, and every chart to reflect the extensive errata for this game.

I take my hat off to you for getting a game underway, as at this point there are 2 aspects of errata fixes I cannot understand. Tonight was to be play night for me. It’s looking not to be.

Ouch. That gives me pause... :/


I played the game with just the rules as it was printed with no real problems whatsoever, so I wouldn't worry too much about the errata, much of the errata are so minor they don't affect the game-flow at all. I had a look at the errata after my games and I think only one errata rule actually had any affect in my games and it really didn't matter.

So don't let the errata give you pause and let me press play for you again!
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Adam Parker
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Garfink wrote:
Aye, I didn't even know there were errata when I played my games.


LOL - that’s a classic!

Quote:
(Call me Eric (Fellow Aussie actually, lived in Melbourne for 17 years), I currently have my name changed to my Chinese name because I just bought something from someone here on BGG and I need my full name for mailing, I will change it back when they have shipped the games.)


Cheers Eric. Nice to meet you too mate
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chris leko
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Garfink wrote:
russ wrote:
Adam Parker wrote:
I’m trying to get my first game underway and I’ve spent the last 2 hours updating my rulebook, playbook, cards, card deck, and every chart to reflect the extensive errata for this game.

I take my hat off to you for getting a game underway, as at this point there are 2 aspects of errata fixes I cannot understand. Tonight was to be play night for me. It’s looking not to be.

Ouch. That gives me pause... :/


I played the game with just the rules as it was printed with no real problems whatsoever, so I wouldn't worry too much about the errata, much of the errata are so minor they don't affect the game-flow at all. I had a look at the errata after my games and I think only one errata rule actually had any affect in my games and it really didn't matter.

So don't let the errata give you pause and let me press play for you again!


Agreed. Most of the "errata" are really just clarifications. The only one I feel that is "big" is the way the enemy raids resolved if in the Canyon de Chelly, though it's not a big change, just something I need to remember.

I've played 3 times since receiving the game and haven't had any issues. The errata to the cards is just common sense (you need to purchase level 1 before 2, and 2 before 3, and I think the culture point requirements for cards are printed on the board! I didn't really look at the playbook stuff but I read through it just as an example of play to get the gist of the flow of the game, after that I haven't really used it.
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Garfink wrote:
Setup is very quick and so is take down, there is surprisingly few counters and bits.



Clearly we come from different boardgaming backgrounds. laugh

I only got halfway maybe 2/3rds through tutorial on the one night I
had to devote to it. But my feelings can be summed up by this.

I originally found the game because of clicking on card image in
Hot Images section. Found the theme fascinating and Joel's passion
impressive. So I preordered the game to support him with full intention
of selling it after I tried it. (Complicated long games get played
once a year and Twilight Struggle has that time slotwhistle) But
I have decided to keep it and hope to find more opportunities to
explore this gem.

John
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Don Beyer
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Just ordered. I have been looking for some good heavy sooo games. Thank you for the great review.

(Edit for typo)
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Conor Hickey
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Garfink wrote:
I'll need more plays before I can give any verdict on the corn. Good tip there with the Tribal Council, I had always picked raids over tribal council (for its stifling enemy AI action points) and also took risks with the ceremony cards and use them for managing the AI chits and for battles. BUT, I can see with higher difficulty with more soldiers in the bag, raids will become a lot more risky and may change the balance of my choices.


How do you use the ceremony cards to manage AI chits? (assuming you are talking about using them for one of the die rolls in the Flip Random Instructions part of the Enemy Ops Segment).

The cards state they can be used during Evasion, Battle, and the Player Operations Segment - I took this to mean they can't be used during the Enemy Ops Segment?

I could be overlooking something here of course.
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@Conor
Hmmm, need to look at the rulebook again. I thought I saw it being used this way in the playbook example. But then again, I too could've got that wrong.

@John
Almost any standard wargame, even a magazine wargame has a lot more counters than this game. Come to think of it, Arkham Horror has a lot more setup time. So setup time is certainly relative to each person's experience. As to how long it took to go through the tutorial... it took me a good 4-5 hours.

@Don
You won't regret it!

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TwoShedsJackson wrote:
Garfink wrote:
I'll need more plays before I can give any verdict on the corn. Good tip there with the Tribal Council, I had always picked raids over tribal council (for its stifling enemy AI action points) and also took risks with the ceremony cards and use them for managing the AI chits and for battles. BUT, I can see with higher difficulty with more soldiers in the bag, raids will become a lot more risky and may change the balance of my choices.


How do you use the ceremony cards to manage AI chits? (assuming you are talking about using them for one of the die rolls in the Flip Random Instructions part of the Enemy Ops Segment).

The cards state they can be used during Evasion, Battle, and the Player Operations Segment - I took this to mean they can't be used during the Enemy Ops Segment?

I could be overlooking something here of course.


I'll take a stab at this. During the Enemy Ops Segment, you could use the Ceremony cards for the dice rolling during Raids. I've used them to Evade a Tribal or Enemy Raid many times, which usually just means I've moved far enough away so that it takes them a few more counters before I'm caught!
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Steve Carey
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Right, as the rule specifically mentions "Evasion".

A player could not, for example, use a Ceremony card to affect a Major or Minor Event die roll since that falls outside the Evasion, Battle, or Player Operations segments.
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Steve Carey wrote:
Right, as the rule specifically mentions "Evasion".

A player could not, for example, use a Ceremony card to affect a Major or Minor Event die roll since that falls outside the Evasion, Battle, or Player Operations segments.


As does Step 3 of the Enemy Operations Segment, which I am presuming is where Garfink was using a Ceremony card roll to manipulate which AI chit was getting swapped/flipped in that phase?

2.2.1 splits up the Diné Operations Segment (Diné presumably being interchangeable with 'Player' as referred to on the Ceremony cards, and the Enemy Operation Segment.
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TwoShedsJackson wrote:
Steve Carey wrote:
Right, as the rule specifically mentions "Evasion".

A player could not, for example, use a Ceremony card to affect a Major or Minor Event die roll since that falls outside the Evasion, Battle, or Player Operations segments.


As does Step 3 of the Enemy Operations Segment, which I am presuming is where Garfink was using a Ceremony card roll to manipulate which AI chit was getting swapped/flipped in that phase?


Correct - a player cannot manipulate Enemy AI die rolls during Step 3, but if a player wants to prevent an AI chit from flipping then they can spend 2 Trade Goods as noted in 10.2 and also on the Trade Goods Summary.
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TJ Tutt
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Whelp, so much for trying to hold out for Christmas...
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Garfink wrote:
Navajo Wars is a game about the entire history of the Navajo People after their migration/invasion of New Mexico to their demise about 300 years later.

I'm sorry, I don't mean to be picky, but... did you really mean to use the word "demise"? The Navajo people still exist, are "the largest federally recognized tribe of the US", and continue their government in the Navajo Nation.

Again, sorry to be picky, but I've read a bit of American Indian history, and one of the ... problems is an illusion that the people disappear after subjugation.

I don't mean to distract from the discussion of the game - just wanted to make sure "demise" was a misstatement.

Edit: Got past that in the review - Nice review! I've been considering the game, and this is good evidence for getting it!
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Eric Lai
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To clarify, no I don't mean "demise" as in "extinct", I was paraphrasing from the game's playbook actually, as the author of the game says in the manual: He lives in a community that has a substantial Navajo community. So clearly the people and much of the customs survived subjugation and is at least identifiable in some form, but much was lost as well, but no full-blooded Navajo people are left alive, like many of the indigenous people of many places. For example, in Australia the last full-blooded Aboriginal died in 1876. It all depends on your definition of full-blooded of course. Not that any of this is important, I personally think a people isn't simply defined by their genes or bloodlines, but more so defined by their history, traditions, behavior and way of life. So no doubt the Navajo people's culture has been greatly diminished, but there is some renaissance right now. This is definitely beyond the scope of a game review though.

(I've made an adjustment to the review to use the words "severe decline", just to clear up ambiguities)

Interestingly, I knew nothing about the Navajo prior to playing this game. Goes to show the power of historical games like this to educate and entertain!

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