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    GMT's PLAINS INDIAN WARS is a welcome change to the tabletop war game genre. It is also quite unusual to find a GMT (or any game) that features two rules books, one for the main game and one for the solo variant, and both written and designed by different authors. The main game design comes from John Poniske (known for GMT's Leaping Lemmings,  as well as Hearts and Minds Vietnam 1965-1975 (1st, 2nd & 3rd editions), King Philip's War and Bleeding Kansas). For the solo rules GMT have to thank Etienne Michot (Unterseeboot: U-Boat Solitaire).

The component production is pure GMT quality. Heavy folded game map, hi-impact dice, wooden cubes and discs, and four decks of 15 cards each. There are two dice and 15 cards for each major faction: Green for Northern Plains Tribes (NPT). Orange for Southern Plains Tribes SPT). Blue for Cavalry and Brown for Settlers. There are two Purple dice who are Minor factions and enemies of the NPT and SPT. The Purple dice are used when necessary by the Cavalry, often adding to the Blue dice rather than replacing them. In the main game the Purple faction can control areas into which Cavalry may retreat but Settlers may not - there is still unrest between Indians and land grabbers as well as a truce of sorts between the Cavalry and the Indians who are enemies of the NPT and SPT. Even in this age, on the plains and out of Washington, politics' were only for the powerful and power-hungry.

  In the Solitaire games the Purple cubes have various values, often being used singly as Scouts, whilst Black cubes are Commanders. Unlike many war games where Commander/General pieces add to the unit value but don't count as units themselves, in PIW the single Commander cubes can attack and be attacked; the purple Scout and the black Commander are always the last two units to be removed, in that order, in combat.

To the best of my understanding and certainly from my own experiences, PLAINS INDIAN WARS is the first GMT wargame that can (almost) be played within minutes of opening the box - at least the solo variation. Both rules books are just 16 pages including front and back inner and outer covers. 

  The solo booklet gives clear descriptions and definitions for Solitaire Variant I which is basically a simplified version of the main game devised to teach the overall game mechanics. After Solitaire Variant I comes Solitaire Variant II which is a series of scenarios. Having read through the solo game scenarios I settled on Scenario VII "Custer's Revenge" because the name intrigued me. The incidents described at the beginning of the VII scenario are when Crook, Gibbons, Terry and Custer were advancing on the Black Hills of South Dakota (Sioux Indian lands) around June 22nd.

Could Custer have his revenge against Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and others? Well, no, of course not, Custer and the 7th Cavalry were dead at the Little Big Horn, but that didn't occur until June 25th/26th, so if the scenario is truly meant to be about Custer's Revenge (rather than revenge for Custer) then it must be setup for him getting revenge 3-4 days before it was necessary.

Another reason I decided on this to be my first solo scenario was because it says it only lasts 5 Turns, a Turn being when all involved factions have been activated.

 In this scenario there are only two factions, the NPT and the Cavalry. One side, the NPT, is run by a Human (as I was playing solo that had to be me, then) and the Cavalry by an A.I.BOT. The Indians have to hold control of the Black Hills, the Cavalry have to force them out and secure the area. The Cavalry are governed by a set of rules that could have been taken from the Bob Newhart monologue about the War of Independence (if you aren't familiar with this I surely advise you to find it and listen - for one thing you'll discover why the British wore Red Tunics).

The factions move in accordance to the general rules of drawing of coloured discs from the bag, one at a time. The Cavalry's columns are made of nine cubes, 7 of the General's colour plus one Purple Scout and one Black Commander. NPT, SPT and Cavalry units are only allowed a maximum of 8 cubes in an area at the end of all movement, though they can move through or retreat through other friendly regions. It is also possible for an Indian force to move through Cavalry forces in a region, but combat will occur if any faction stops in an opposing faction's region. Combat is a simple but effective dice-rolling mechanic.

 In this photo the Green cubes are an NPT force. They are watching as the Brown cubes of Crook's column follow the California Trail into region N7. In scenario VII Crook's column should have followed the directive of the A.I Bot and moved into Region N2. As this was occupied by a North Plains Tribe, I sent Crook into N7 and then on his way to N8 instead of following the N2, N3, N7, N8 pre-determined route. This photo is taken from the second time I played this scenario - the first time I followed the instructions and Crook was wiped out before getting anywhere close to the Black Hills.

That second time I played scenario VII it ended with a narrow victory to the North Plains Tribes whereas the first time I played it, the North Plains Tribes decimated Crook (Brown) Gibbon's column (Blue) and Terry's column (White and led by Custer) with ease. Either way I saved Custer from dying at the Little Big Horn (by killing him 3 days earlier).

  To ensure that the Indian forces outnumber those of the Cavalry, Indian cubes removed in battle are placed into the casualty box. From there, for a cost, they can be moved to the Ready Box and then into play as reinforcements. Cavalry units removed in battle are removed from the game; the Cavalry dice balance this up reasonably well. 

As well as Damage symbols all dice contain Broken-Arrows that represent TREATY's. If only one side in a conflict rolls a Treaty then it is disregarded and damage shown is damage taken - each damage symbol removes one opposition cube  - but if both factions involved roll a Treaty symbol then ALL damage shown is disregarded and both sides retreat.

  Players have 15 cards that are one-offs. They select one, two or three cards, Event and War Party, Engagement and Migration, from their hands to play. Five Turns allow for all 15 cards to be played but there is no absolute need to play all 15; your personal strategies will determine which cards can/should be played in the various situations. Some cards say on them when they should be played, Events for example, can be played before and/or after War Party cards. One War Party, Migration or Engagement card must be played each Turn, no more than one and not one of each. Cards may direct the placement of cubes, reinforcements etc. The rules even take into account should you not have one of the necessary cards, that must be played.

Despite using names known to have been characters (ie people) in this period some famous names on the cards are not enhanced with photograph or illustration of said person. Two of the most famous without faces are Crazy Horse and Cochise. Another is Taza, son of Cochise, who had the misfortune to be portrayed in a 1954 movie by Rock Hudson. 

The 'flavour' text on the cards is highly interesting but sadly often too brief. One thing I learned, and I'm sure the majority of players (or readers of this review) will not have known, is that the facial profile of the Northern Plains Tribal Chief 'Two Moons', who fought at both the Battle of Rosebud (aka Battle of Rosebud Creek where Crazy Horse led mostly Lakota Sioux against General Crook) and the Battle of the Little Big Horn, was used on the US Buffalo Nickel.

Cards for all factions have an effect of some kind and an amount of historical text. Reading these as and when I played them, rather than opening all 4 decks and reading through immediately them, prior to starting to play, has added to my experiencing the plight of the North American Indian Tribes through the eyes of a games designer who has a passion for their subject.

COMPONENTS

PUBLISHED 2022
DESIGNER John Poniske
DEVELOPER Bill Ramsey
SOLITAIRE SYSTEM DEVELOPER Etienne Michot
GRAPHICS Terry Leeds PRODUCERS Gene Billingsley, Tony Curtis, Andy Lewis, Rodger MacGowan, Mark Simonitch
 
  PLAINS INDIAN WARS is for 2-4 players (or one solo player). I have found the best enjoyment at either playing solo against the A.I.BOT or with three players where on controls the Cavalry and Settlers and the other two players each separately have the NPT or SPT. The disfunction between the SPT and NPT really makes for some interesting decisions, tactics and strategies between the two Indian players, so much so that they have to be careful of not handing victory to the Cavalry on a plate.
 
A large, and extremely energetic part of the basic game, is the building of the railroads, the following of the famed wagon trails and the movement of troops across vast stretches of land on said railroads. Used correctly the Cavalry player will be able to cause movement and shelter problems for the Indian Tribes. The Transcontinental and Central Pacific Railroads diminshes the vastness of the great plains so that  the Indian player/s have a lot more to think about.

Indian players may need to use their cards at a faster rate than the Cavalry or Settlers, which is a do-or-die plan that can see the Indian player becoming desperately short of playable, useful cards. The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad or one of the Factions running out of cards can end the game quicker than expected.

  My experiences with playing has seen a minor advantage for the Cavalry when playing the basic standard game and a possible slight advantage to the Indian Tribes when the solo scenarios have the table. This is a $65.00 game with way more than $65.00 worth of quality components and playability. You could try playing the solo games as 2-player so that there are no Bots and pre-conditioned game plans. I haven't done this at the time of writing, but I have seriously considered it. I like the 3-player Standard game a lot, but not more so than a 2-player game where the strategies swing exceedingly close to actually representing Sitting Bull's tactic of drawing the Cavalry into combat advantageous to the Indians.

  PLAINS INDIAN WARS has a topic that is always of interest, and is quite different to any other GMT war game I have played. It may be that it is unusually light in its mechanics and heavy in its dependence on dice rolls, but it does bring am admirable freshness to tabletop warfare that may just be one of the best ways in a long time for introducing new players into the GMT fold and the tabletop war game hobby. There are no bunches of time wasted checking rules or perviewing charts and tables, everything runs smoothly with the dice deciding winners and despatching losers post haste.

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2021