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Subject: Playing from Native American / First Nations Perspective? rss

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I'm anxious to try out Nieuw Amsterdam, which looks really fun. And I like the mechanic it has of wanting to trade with the native population but also trying to take over their land, which moves them further away.

I think it's kind of a neat way to present players with the historical feeling of how the native population was both an ally/resource to the settlers and totally exploited simultaneously.

Then, I was watching some reviews of Archipelago with its dissident natives mechanic, which is also interesting.

Both games are strongly from a European perspective, though. And while there may be some pseudo-guilt on the players' side from exploiting these populations, the depiction of the natives is still as a kind of resource to be manipulated.

I wonder if there are any games that actually let you play from the native point of view where your goal is to *prevent* the settlers from coming in. Or at least keep them contained.

There could be some interesting mechanics where players might want to make alliances with the settlers to gain an advantage, but they may be giving up their independence by doing so...
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David Dawson
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Navajo Wars is a solitaire/cooperative wargame coming out from GMT that lets you play from that perspective, but I don't know too much about it.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Have a look at Apache, Geronimo and King Philip's War.
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Thanks for those examples. I wonder if there are any non-wargames where instead of open military conflict, it's more of a representation of the gradual takeover of land through economics and population.
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Troy Stiltner
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The Princes of Machu Picchu is an Incan economic worker placement game. Players much choose to cooperate and hide from the Spanish in which case the player with the most VP wins, or betray the others, in which case the player with the most gold wins.
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Definitely an underutilized theme. Probably because of it's sensitive nature. Most of them are either "Age of Exploration" games, or native american involvement during 18th century eastern wars.

I think dealing with manifest destiny in the 19th century hasn't had much treatment other than a few abstract games with mostly just settings like Pueblo
 
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Christian Kalk
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The problem with depicting those kinds of events from the perspective of the indigenous populations is that, historically, the colonists won, and the nature of the situation made that conquest inevitable. How do you theme a game on losing your lands to foreign conquerors? Unless the theme is a generic/fictional setting, where the indigenous people have a chance to drive off the colonists?

Very touchy subject for some people in any case.
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Ralph T
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Dakota lets you play as a Sioux tribe and you can cooperate with your other native tribes or do things that hurt the other tribes. The game's rating is low due to perceived (possibly inaccurate) play balance issues.
 
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Dave
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KamikazeJohnson wrote:
The problem with depicting those kinds of events from the perspective of the indigenous populations is that, historically, the colonists won, and the nature of the situation made that conquest inevitable. How do you theme a game on losing your lands to foreign conquerors?


And yet...

Consider these statements:

Quote:
The problem with depicting those kinds of events from the perspective of the Axis is that, historically, the Allies won, and the nature of the situation made that conquest inevitable. How do you theme a game on losing your lands to foreign conquerors?


Quote:
The problem with depicting those kinds of events from the perspective of the Confederacy is that, historically, the Union won, and the nature of the situation made that conquest inevitable. How do you theme a game on losing your lands to foreign conquerors?


But we still happily play WW2 and ACW games.

I think that some people will react strongly to the claim that the Axis and the Confederacy were doomed from the start: What if the Confederacy won at Gettysburg? What if the Normandy landings failed? And so on. They'll concede -- perhaps grudgingly -- that the "inevitable" victors had certain advantages on their side: larger economies, better grand strategy, maybe other things... and there are many analyses that say those would have compensated for any number of tactical defeats, both real and hypothetical.

And yet... the simple truth is that we're generally happy to play historically-defeated sides in games, and even play losing scenarios, and sometimes we're even willing to play games about sides we admit that deep in our hearts had no chance. Why? Because despite that, good choices of scenario and victory conditions makes for a good game. And sometimes, we secretly believe that had the historical dice fallen differently, the defeated would have won, or at least scraped by with some kind of partial, minor, or incomplete victory.

I think the same is true for the Native Americans vs the Europeans. The first European colonies in what's now the US were established in Florida in the mid 1500's. The last major battles between Native American and US forces occurred in the end of the 1800's, and skirmishes and uprisings continued until the 1920's. (I'm deliberately avoiding specific dates to dodge pedantic questions about what specifically counts as first or last "major" this or that.)

That's over three hundred years of conflict. Three hundred years! To a European settler or soldier facing an Indian raid during that time, the victory was hardly inevitable. It's easy for us to make hand-waving statements about demographics and technological superiority while somehow ignoring the conflict going on for centuries. If it was so easy and so inevitable, why didn't the Europeans simply smash the natives and call it done?

Bluntly, because they couldn't: for much of that time, the logistical problems of fighting in what the Europeans regarded as wilderness were overwhelming. The Native Americans also had good tactics and knew much of the terrain better than their European adversaries.

So why so few (war)games about the conflict? I don't have a straight answer. However, I will say that having spend a few hours searching the net and checking (military) history books I have at hand, it seems that the battles are poorly documented, small scale, and generally out of the public mind. It's hard to design a game about a scenario when the forces (or at least one of them) aren't known, and their capabilities are in doubt. It's also hard to sell one if nobody cares about the outcome of the battle, believing it to be either foregone or irrelevant.

So, let me throw down a gauntlet for game designers out there: take a look at the Creek War (1813-14), which is embedded in the War of 1812. The Native Americans were backed by the British, the US had difficulty fighting in the unfamiliar terrain and were hampered by manpower problems. I'll go out on a limb and say that the Creek had a fair chance of winning the war, and that the campaign and battles would make good games.
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Evilest Dave wrote:

So, let me throw down a gauntlet for game designers out there: take a look at the Creek War (1813-14), which is embedded in the War of 1812. The Native Americans were backed by the British, the US had difficulty fighting in the unfamiliar terrain and were hampered by manpower problems. I'll go out on a limb and say that the Creek had a fair chance of winning the war, and that the campaign and battles would make good games.


I asked a similar question a few months back

And here.
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Christian Kalk
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From a racial/cultural standpoint, there's a big difference between WWII/ACW and the European conquest of the Americas.

First is the good guy/bad guy perception.
ACW: South rebelled (bad guy) and lost.
WWII: Axis tried to "take over the world" (bad guy) and lost.

When the "bad guy" loses, there's a lot less sensitivity over re-enacting the conflict. For a alternate WWII scenario, imagine a game where one side plays the Gestapo, and tries to hunt down Jewish families on the run (controlled by the other player) and send them off to Auschwitz. That would be a highly controversial game.

The other issue is the manner of conflict. I could see a reenactment of many different campaigns throughout that 300 year period, including, for example, Little Big Horn and other such battles, and that would be perfectly acceptable. But if you take a more Eurogame-style representation of the Cultural conquest of the Americas, again you're dealing with what some consider to be sensitive subject matter. Let's see, playing on the Amazon map, I play my "Recycled Clothing Donations" card, to advance my position: Missionaries collect clothing from villages devastated by smallpox, "gift" them to other villages. Remove three Native villages from the board and open those areas for colonization.

Another consideration...if WWII had ended with the invasion of Germany, the execution of thousands of "Nazis" and "Sympathizers", German citizens being forcibly relocated to other places after having swastikas branded onto their foreheads, then perhaps re-enacting WWII would be a more sensitive subject. Same with ACW.

The point I'm trying to make, I guess is that the level of cultural (and sometimes literal) genocide involved makes the "displacement of the natives" theme far too touchy to be well-received.

I'm not saying that type of game would necessarily be a bad idea, or that I myself wouldn't play it...I just think that the designers would have to walk a very careful cultural-sensitivity line, at least for the North/South American market.
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KamikazeJohnson wrote:
The point I'm trying to make, I guess is that the level of cultural (and sometimes literal) genocide involved makes the "displacement of the natives" theme far too touchy to be well-received.


I guess for me (I'm Canadian, non-native and live in BC where first nations issues are still very front and centre), it appears that games with this theme *are* being made -- Nieuew Amsterdam and Archipelago, for example. It's not that the theme is too touchy, it's that the role of the native populations is reduced to game mechanics or essentially being a "resource" to manage. The theme seems to be okay as long as it's approached with the European colonists as the player-protagonists.

I'm interested in how Nieuw Amsterdam appears to broach the "touchiness" of the theme by giving you the means of exploiting the natives while also trying to trade with them. I think it would be an interesting for a game to let you feel what it's like to be one of the populations trying to hang on to cultural survival, rather than being the ones colonizing the land.

Transporting the theme to a fantasy/sci-fi setting might make it more palatable. Heck, even in Small World, the "Lost Tribe" is just there to be overrun in the fist few turns! What about a co-op game from their perspective? Haha...

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A God's Playground type game of impending doom would be wonderful.
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Just theorizing:

Perhaps another factor is simply that most people know less about these Indian wars than about (e.g.) WW2, Civil War, Napoleon, etc. And in the popular imagination they are less strategically interesting (I think such battles are usually portrayed in Western films as smaller quick one-sided slaughters rather than very interesting tactical battles, for example), so the Indian wars may simply seem less interesting as wargame material to many people...?

Also the memory and effects of WW2 and the Civil War seem more evident and pervasive today to most gamers, probably, whereas (e.g.) in the US, Indians seem to have been placed aside "out of sight, out of mind" in reservations and/or invisibly assimilated (well, those who weren't genocided) and seem to have less current relevance, compared to more popular (as game material) conflicts.
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Interesting and thoughtful threads like this are why I love reading these forums.
 
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russ wrote:
Perhaps another factor is simply that most people know less about these Indian wars than about (e.g.) WW2, Civil War, Napoleon, etc.

This would depend largely upon where people are located. The OP is from BC where, as he stated, first nation is still very visible and a part of the social fabric. I'm in Minnesota (a Dakota word) where there are a number of tribes and reservations and also home to a number of tragic historic events that are memorialized. I'm learning more about Napoleon since I recently purchased Napoleon's Triumph and have been reading up on it, but before that, I knew next to nothing about him.

A boardgame incorporating a native POV might be best served by a non-military game.
 
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KamikazeJohnson wrote:

The other issue is the manner of conflict. I could see a reenactment of many different campaigns throughout that 300 year period, including, for example, Little Big Horn and other such battles, and that would be perfectly acceptable. But if you take a more Eurogame-style representation of the Cultural conquest of the Americas, again you're dealing with what some consider to be sensitive subject matter. Let's see, playing on the Amazon map, I play my "Recycled Clothing Donations" card, to advance my position: Missionaries collect clothing from villages devastated by smallpox, "gift" them to other villages. Remove three Native villages from the board and open those areas for colonization.

[...]

The point I'm trying to make, I guess is that the level of cultural (and sometimes literal) genocide involved makes the "displacement of the natives" theme far too touchy to be well-received.


Well, it would upset some people, yes. But Paradox's Europa Universalis III (the whole EU series, actually) has slaves as a commodity provinces produce, a big "Attack natives" button to press in colonial towns, and at least one event series that's "Point and laugh while the locals die of disease you brought."

While EU3 isn't a eurogame -- and so there are no slave cubes and native village markers to play with -- the game has the same concepts. History is not rainbows and lollipops all the way down, and victors were rarely saints.

Game designers certainly do choose what they emphasize -- and airbrush out -- but any game involving realistic history is going to touch on events that will make somebody blanch. The plantations in Puerto Rico didn't just work themselves, and it wasn't smiling, unionized Europeans in tractors working them either.

So, while I understand your point, I think game designers should feel free to make games about unpleasant subjects, and people should feel free to avoid upsetting ones. Hell, when playing EU3, I almost always emancipate my slaves, even when it's a huge economic burden to my country. Sure, they're no more real than the thousands of imaginary soliders I send to their horrific deaths when playing division-scale wargames, but it bothers me more. Sorry, I'm only human.
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