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Hózhǫ́: Balance

posted Apr 9, 2012, 1:46 PM by Joel Toppen

If there is one consistent concept present within the Navajo culture, it is that of balance — hózhǫ́. From the artwork to their lore the Diné strive for hózhǫ́. Their world was divided into four sacred colors, four sacred plants, four sacred gemstones. Their land was divided into four sacred directions, the borders of which were marked by four sacred mountains. Their artwork “adhered to a tight symmetry, the designs of which were divided into equal quadrants representing the four directions” (Sides).

The ordered world of the Diné was further defined by gender. “Objects, landmarks, even acts of nature could be either ‘male’ or ‘female.’” The Navajo dwelling, known as a hogan could be either a male or a female hogan (most hogans found on the Navajo Nation today are of the female variety; the male hogan being more spartan and only used for some ceremonies).

Balance was and is very important to the Diné. In designing the game, NAVAJO WARS, I sought to introduce this concept into the game’s mechanics in a widespread fashion. In the game, the player will find that balance is the key to success. If you go too far to one extreme, you will be punished for it. To best explain this, we need to look at some of the game’s mechanics pertaining to the tribe’s population.

In the game, the tribe as a whole is divided into “Families.” The term “Family” could just as well be “band” or “outfit” (the latter term preferred by Hampton Sides). These were groups of Diné who lived near to one another and travelled together. The Diné had no centralized political authority that would be recognized as such by any European — something that would greatly complicate European-Navajo relations. The Diné had no great “chief.” Instead, each Navajo “Family” was pretty much autonomous, governed by committee of elders which could be male or female within that Family. In fact, to this day, the Diné are very much a matriarchal society with the older women reverence nearly more than the older men.

Each Family in the game is represented by a game piece and can exist in one of four states of “Ferocity” from 0 (low Ferocity) to 3 (high Ferocity). Ferocity in the game is a measure of that Family’s prowess in armed conflict as well as its willingness to stand and fight as opposed to evade and elude. Each Family also has an Evasion die roll modifier that is used to elude hostile Tribes like the Ute or enemy columns raiding Navajo land. A Family with very low Ferocity has a favorable modifier for Evasion. But a Family with high Ferocity has an unfavorable modifier for Evasion.

Whenever the Enemy (Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans) raid the Navajo, they will employ a number of Raid counters to penetrate Navajo land. The more counters used, the deeper the penetration and greater the likelihood of success. The player can fend off these raids by fighting a Battle but only Families with high Ferocity really stand much of a chance of success. The trouble is, the Enemy gains BONUS raid counters corresponding to the Ferocity of the player’s most Ferocious Family! Often, one aggressive Diné family would cause trouble for other Diné families which many times were not even guilty of raiding the New Mexicans. And so having even a single high Ferocity Family can make trouble for your low Ferocity Families.

The new player will quickly discover this and so he will say, “Ok, let’s keep our Ferocity low.” The trouble here is that enemy Tribes like the Ute and Comanche will be more likely to raid if your most ferocious Family has low Ferocity! Hózhǫ́. Balance is needed.

Further complicating the player’s goal of balance is the fact that the player NEEDS to raid New Mexico and enemy Outposts in Navajo land. But every time a Family successfully raids, that Family’s Ferocity is increased. How do you get your Ferocity down again? The answer lies with a very important game piece: your elders.

One of the Operations the player can undertake is the “Planning” operation. As part of this Operation, elders can conduct elder operations. Elders are kept on an track known as the elder display. Beneath each box on this display is a range of numbers corresponding to the die roll needed on a six-sided die to cause that elder to die of old age. This “elder death rating” is also the die roll range needed to succeed in an elder action — the older your elders get, the more capable they become. Each time you undertake Planning, your elders age one box and can then take an elder action. One elder action is to decrease or increase the Ferocity of a Family. 

And so just as the Diné warriors undertook the Anaʼí Ndááʼ or Enemy Way ceremony after returning from a raid or battle to restore Hózhǫ́, players must undertake a Planning Operation and use their elders to restore balance to the tribe or suffer the consequences later.

The player must also maintain balance in his use of Operations. Each Operations Segment, the player must undertake one of three different types of Operations: Take Actions, Planning, or Passage of Time. Focus too much on one single Operation and you’ll surely pay for it! Hózhǫ́!

During Take Actions you can raid and move about your land with your Families. But as you do so, you will begin to lose population counters and your Families will weaken. Each Family can consist of up to one man, one woman, and one child counter. The player is punished for having Families with missing population counters. Population counters can be removed from play due to losses in battle or due to enemy slave raids. Population counters can be temporarily lost due to normal enemy raids or to some battle results. 

To replenish your population, and indeed, to grow your population you need to undertake a Planning Operation. Planning not only allows elder actions, but it allows you to take the Operations Card being executed into your hand. Each card has a population counter symbol on it that can be used later on to place a new population counter into a Family. With enough of these, you can build a whole new Family!

The Passage of Time Operation is when you can recover population counters that were temporarily lost and/or play cards you’ve collected during Planning in order to replenish and grow your tribe. During Passage of Time you can convert men or women counters into young elders. You can convert child counters into men or women. And you can play cards from your hand to place a matching population counter into a depleted Family or create a new Family! Sadly, it is during Passage of Time that you must dice to see if your elders die of old age. The player must be sure he has some new up and coming elders before he executes this Operation or he could lose his critical elders!

Overall, the name of the game is balance — Hózhǫ́. Lean too much to one side of things and you’ll be punished. Surviving the NAVAJO WARS is very much like a tightrope walker walking a line. Only thing is, you don’t have a safety net!