In the beginning of the month of March, 2012, I began to take a critical look at the game, NAVAJO WARS. There were two small issues that were bugging me. One was the length of time it was taking to play the game. The other issue was that it could sometimes feel slightly repetitive. Several testers said they didn’t mind game length and that they enjoy the richness of the historical flavor the game imparts. Nevertheless, my goal is to make the game as good as it can possibly be. If there was a way to keep the same historical richness and make the gameplay shorter and even more varied, I wanted to find and implement it.
SHORTENING THE GAME:
The game is divided into three historical periods: Spanish, Mexican, and American. Each period plays from a deck consisting of 40 Operations, 4 Historical Event, and 1 Transitional Event card. The ending of the game is varied. It could end in as few as 37 cards or go as long as 45 cards (if the Transitional Event is the bottommost card.
The problem is that the game’s balance was tuned to this particular structure. Any changes to the system such as removing Operations Cards to shorten play would cause certain game models to cease functioning properly. Play balance would need to be retuned.
If play balance would need a tune-up, why not implement something more exciting than the simple removal of cards. Enter the “CEREMONY” card concept!
Out of the 40 Operations cards, 12 of those cards had a die roll face that served two functions: (1) each was a Minor Event which would cause a necessary recycling of cubes on the Raid on the Raided Cubes and Recovery boxes on the map (critical to play-balance); and (2) each could be used in lieu of a die roll if the card had been brought into the player’s hand via the Planning Operation. What if we changed the way these cards were handled?
What I’ve done is to take the 12 Operations cards with die roll faces and re-title them as Ceremony Cards. Resolution of a Ceremony card is quick and simple. Each Ceremony card has the name of the two most important Diné religious ceremonies: “Blessing Way” and “Enemy Way.” When a Ceremony card is drawn:
What this has done to the game is to make the game even more tense and exciting than before. It has also made gameplay much, much more varied. To an extent, however, it does appear to have made the game more difficult. To serve as a counter-balance, we’ve made some functions in the game more streamlined and easier to handle. We’ve also introduced a way to win the game early!
It has always been the case that the player could LOSE the game instantly if his Military and Culture points fell to zero. But I’ve wanted to also make it possible to win an early victory if the player is doing exceptionally well. Thus, we’ve introduced an Enemy Morale rule:
Enemy Morale begins at a level equal to the number of Families the player has on the map -- 3 during the Spanish period. If Enemy Morale drops to zero, the player wins the game during the discard phase! How do you drop enemy Morale? During each Historical Event card, if the player’s Culture + Military Points are above a certain threshold, Enemy Morale is reduced by one; conversely, if Culture + Military points are below a certain threshhold, Enemy Morale is raised by one. Enemy Morale can also be reduced if the player successfully ambushes the Enemy or raids New Mexico to such a degree that all animal counters are in-play. The Enemy can, however, increase its morale if the player fails to win an Ambush Battle.
Right now we are working on tuning the play-balance of Enemy Morale. In so doing, we’re also finding more ways to streamline and make gameplay more elegant. Overall, the modified rules are making this game a LOT more fun to play and with shorter playing time! Typically it used to take an experienced player 2 hours to play through a complete game period. Now it takes between one and one and a half hours to play!