What follows is a wonky discussion of my first three games of Geronimo. If you're not a little bit of a wonk, you probably won't like this game anyway, but be warned that without some knowledge of the game, what follows will seem really dumb (and seem dumb even if you know the game well).
This game came out after I began grad school, so I didn't play it until very recently. I had heard little good about it and wondered what the point was of learning the game. First, I think the rule book is poorly organized and poorly written. All four players found ourselves forced to consult the book often during our first play. But the game is relatively simple, so by the second play, the rules seemed solid in our minds with minimal consultation. We played the campaign game three times and found that the harsh criticism the game receives, that US players late in the game always win wasn't born out by experience. Moreover, the changing dynamics of the game from turn to turn held boredom at bay. The strategic options of selecting tribes based on available opportunites, deciding where to try to create a state, predicting where juicy targets might materialize, knowing when to do maximum damage with your shaman cards, and choosing between the temptation of scoring now vs. cautiously moving fading tribes to avoid extinction all added up to a game rich with strategic options but peppered enjoyably with the luck of the die. I'm not sure after three experiences that I'll return to this game or try to introduce it to my regular gaming friends who like trick taking card games and German style board games, but I thought it was much much better than billed. I would say to potential players that you should bite the bullet and try the campaign game. It's long, but balanced and fun. To demonstrate my point that the US players late don't always win, here is the turn-by-turn breakdown of scores. * marks the turn when the Civil War happened. That event, which enters into the campaign game only, is really fun and exciting for changing the whole complexion of things in its aftermath.
This first game confirmed the criticism that playing the US late is a giant advantage. I credit this to weak play by all players as we were learning. But the game was competitive to the end and the final US player did not win the game. A furious effort to gang up on the front runner fell short in turn 8.
1: ML (US, 10 pts.) BA (I, 6 pts.) EM (I, 13 pts.) DN (I, 11 pts.)
2: ML (I, 16/26) BA (US 23/29) EM (I, 7/20) DN (I, 13/24)
3*: ML (I, 7/33) BA (I 7/36) EM (I, 15/35) DN (US, 5/29)
4: ML (I, 9/42) BA (US 22/58) EM (I 6/41 DN (I 14/43)
5: ML (I 13/55) BA (I 2/60) EM (US 29/70) DN (I 8/51)
6: ML (I 10/65) BA (US 21/81) EM (I 7/77) DN (I 8/59)
7. ML (I 8/73) BA (I 3/84) EM (US 24/101) DN (I 8/67)
8. ML (I 11/84) BA (I 0/84) EM (I -6/95) DN (US 13/80)
After game one it looked like the game might need revision to remain interesting, but we tried again the following week and armed with better knowledge of the game's mechanics. The US player in turn six made some key mistakes, but really the other players set him up by saving nasty cards until late in the turn when the US couldn't recover. Basically, the US left several states in near preparation for statehood, but a furious assault by all Indian players denied him any states. That was fine, but on the next turn the US player was the beneficiary of an excellent opportunity to score big. This revealed not so much a flaw in the game, but a flaw in strategy. That the winner won in part due to inheriting a botched situation isn't the whole story. He played very well and was co-architect of the opportunity he received. In other words, denying the US player any states and leaving the US with many near states, risky strategy for the Indians.
1: ML (I 3) BA (I 8) EM (I 9) DN (US 11)
2: ML (US 8/11) BA (I 14/22) EM (I 5/14) DN (I 14/25)
3: ML (I 17/28) BA (I -4/18) EM (US 2/16) DN (I 4/29)
4: ML (US 11/39) BA (I 6/24) EM (I 16/32) DN (I 8/37)
5*: ML (US 0/39) BA (I 16/40) EM (I 18/40) DN (I 7/44)
6: ML (I 7/46) BA (I 11/51) EM (US 2/42) DN (I 11/55)
7: ML (I 16/62) BA (US 20/71) EM (I 15/57) DN (I 5/60)
8: ML (I 16/78) BA (I 11/82) EM (I13/70) DN (US 8/68)
The last game was the most skillfully played as reflected in the much higher scores. By this point we understood how to get the most out of shaman cards and how to maximize gaining points as Indians. US players learned to create states at a far remove from the really powerful tribes like the Sioux early when the US's columns are weakest. The US players also stopped placing markers in helpful places late in their turn when opportunities to score points had dwindled. Why leave the next US player in a good position was the reasoning. The winner didn't draw the US once during the crucial final three turns, but did benefit from an unlucky US player who had two states apply for statehood and fail to attain it.
1. ML (US 9) BA (I 8) EM (I 9) DN (I 10)
2. ML (I 22/31), BA (I 12/20) EM (I 15/24) DN (US 1/11)
3. ML (US 7/38) BA (I 16/36) EM (I 13/37) DN (I 9/20)
4.* ML (I 13/51) BA (US 10/46) EM (I 8/45) DN (I 10/30)
5: ML (I 19/70) BA (I 19/65) EM (US 30/75) DN (I 12/42)
6. ML (US 9/79) BA (I 11/76) EM (I 14/89) DN (I 21/63)
7. ML (I 10/89) BA (I 7/83) EM (I 14/103) DN (US 20/83)
8: ML (US 17/106) BA (I 12/95) EM (I 16/119) DN (I 9/92)
I'm not sure I'd hurry to change the scoring system for this game. Yes, it can be advantageous to play the US. But consider the turn-by-turn comparison of the US relative to the average Indian performance in the same turn.
1: US was even, 4 , even
2: US was 11, -3, -16
3: US was -5, -4, -6
4: US was 12, 1, -1
5: US was 21, -14, 13
6: US was 12, -8, -7
7: US was 17, 8, 9
8: US was 11, -6, 4
Based on that, it's clearly advantageous to draw the US late, but it guarantees little. The US scored below average in 4 of 9 times during the final three turns of the game. Of course three games isn't enough, but my general impression is that I shouldn't have listened to all the bad publicity this game gets and tried it much sooner. I think the bad press might have to do with the basic game rather than the campaign. The complaint about consulting lots of fussy charts is true and it marred the first play, but you learn the charts fast and stop needing to look at all but one or two. Bottom line, I had fun and learned something about a disgusting and sad phase of our nation's history. My sympathies as a player always ran toward the Indians, and I never compromised to help the US. (I also never won, as I am ML).
Never play block wargames with a dentist, they have those little mirrors to peek behind the block.
Your group should get a gold star for showing that it is a good game to play. I don't have it since it would be hard to find players. Sometimes it takes some work to make a game a rewarding experience to play, very good report.
Thank you so much for this session report. I think it is great to show that the game is not nearly as horrible as those who have condemned it after one play (or just a review of the rules or a notice of the designer's name). I wondered if the game was as interesting as it seemed after seeing the reviews and comments on BGG (with the obvious anti-Berg bias) but after reading through the game's folder on ConSimWorld, I realized it is a better game than given credit for. Unfortunately, even though I have been wanting to play Geronimo for a long time, I still can't get players interested in it - even those who own the game. That's why I started a Cyberboard Gamebox for the game, figuring the only way I'd get a chance to play would be with the sporadic fans of the game via PBeM.
Interesting things that I noticed with your VP numbers:
In the first game, the US slaughtered the indians in points, averaging 18.38 per turn compared to the 8.17 pace of the indians. A lot of players seem to have given up on the game at this point, downing it as imbalanced and unfair. In your second game, your group seemed to have overcompensated for the US strengths and the indians averaged 10.25 points per turn to the US average of 7.75. Additionally, the player who played the US was in last place at the end of 5 of the 8 turns. This only happened twice in the first game, both by the same player (which may have been the primary cause). The third game was amazingly balanced with the US player averaging the same exact number of points per turn as the indians - 12.88. That average is higher than the actual per turn score of more than 2/3 of the 64 turns played in the first two games.
Another important feature of your games is that the three wins came from players who had played the US only once (in 2 games) or twice (in 1 game). Having the US for half of the game only placed 2nd! In all, US turns and placements were 1 US turn:1stX2, 2ndX1, 3rdX2; 2 US turns: 1stX1, 4thX2; 3 US turns:2ndX2, 3rdX1; 4 US turns = 2ndX1. Certainly debunks the "all powerful US" argument. One consistency is that ML finished second and DN finished last each game.
It seems to me that the game shines with experienced players (like many games) but can be deeply imbalanced by novice players trying to get their heads around the game. Certainly makes it a difficult sell to new players and definitely not a gateway game. While developing the Gamebox for Geronimo, I often wondered if the scoring system needed a revisit and perhaps a fiddlier sliding scale system. I wanted to play it a few times to get a better feel for it, but after your session report, I suspect it is not a real big issue afterall.
A couple of questions for you: Did you use any optional systems for choosing sides during the game (to avoid having a player get the US 3 turns in a row) or did you use the original published rules? Are the players listed in clockwise order above? How long was the playing time in your three games, and was the action and interest level sustained throughout? Any interest in PBeM using Cyberboard?
The seating order question is because I also tallied the totals of the indian players based on turn order as well, which presumed the seating order as listed. I'm guessing that was not likely though, but would be interesting if it is the case.
I'm so sorry to have taken so long to revisit this thread. I felt sure no one would be reading session reports on a game with such a poor reputation and never checked back. Thanks for taking an interest. Unfortunately, I have no absolute recollection of the seating order. The games took place at my house, so I know I sat in the same place each game. The other players, I believe, scrambled some. We used the published rules to determine who played the US each turn. We introduced no house rules at all. I'd be interested to play PBeM. I've been playing Pax Britannica that way. You note the scores of Indians relative to the US. Indians must cooperate to some extent in order to keep US scores down. But as I wrote, I think people who discover the US has an easy time are likely witnessing a strategic error more than a design error.