Navajo Wars Playtest

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Resource Management

posted Apr 9, 2012, 1:47 PM by Joel Toppen

When I set out to create this game, I wanted it to have a “Euro” feel and yet also be a wargame that would appeal to the conflict simulation enthusiast. One of the things the player will be confronted with very quickly in the game is the necessity for wise resource management.

The player’s resources come in three forms: Population, Animals-Firearms-Trade Goods, and Cards. Within each category, the player must balance understand the capabilities of each resource.


The player’s Population IS the Tribe’s most essential resource! Make no mistake about it, horses and sheep are important. Firearms are very useful. Trade Goods and Cards will make life easier for you, but your Population is absolutely critical!

The player’s Population is divided into four categories according to age: Children, Women, Men, and Elders. Population counters for each age group are placed on the Population Display and organized into Families; Elders are placed in an Elder Display. Each Family can consist of a maximum of one Child, one Man, and one Woman counter. A Family must have at least one Man or one Woman to exist on the map as a Family.

During an Operations Segment, the player will have the opportunity to undergo one of three Operations (Op): Take Actions, Planning, or Passage of Time. Take Actions is the Op most used by players. During this Op, the player will be able to do things with each Family on the map. The more Families you have on the map, the more you can do! It therefore behooves the player to strive to grow his population.

Each Population counter brings something to the table so to speak. Men enable the Family to fight battles against hostile tribes or their enemy in New Mexico. Men enable the Family to Raid, to Harass Enemy Raids, or to engage in Tribal Diplomacy. Families without a Man counter are seriously limited in taking offensive action. Finally, Man counters can be converted into Elders during a Passage of Time Op. Elders, as we’ll see in a moment, are very important.

Women are also very useful, but in a different way. Women enable the player to spend APs during a Planning Op to create Trade Goods. We’ll talk about Trade Goods a little more in a moment. For now, suffice it to say that they are VERY useful commodities! Women can also be converted into Elders during Passage of Time. Wait a minute! Women can be tribal Elders??? That’s right! In A Journal of the Santa Fe Expedition Under Colonel Doniphan, Private Jacob S. Robinson writing of the Navajo they encountered in October of 1846 near the site of modern-day Fort Wingate, NM said:  

“The women of this tribe seem to have equal rights with the men, managing their own business and trading as they see fit; saddling their own horses, and letting their husbands saddle theirs” (Robinson, pg. 46).

The Navajo were, and still are, a matriarchal society. In some areas, women are revered more highly than the men. Seeing that they enjoyed leadership roles in the time period covered by the game, I’ve chosen to incorporate this fascinating little piece of history in the game’s mechanics.

Children have a seemingly minor role. Some new players have failed to see the utility of Children because their role is very subtle. Essentially Children have one chief purpose: they can be converted into a Man or a Woman during Passage of Time. They have another utility though, one that is more subtle: they can be taken as losses following an Enemy or Tribal Raid (thus preserving the Man and/or Woman in that Family).

Elders are hugely important in the game. Elders are primarily used during Planning Ops. Each Elder on the Elder Display at the start of a Planning Op yields the player an Action Point (AP). APs can be used to Preempt the Enemy and go first during an Operations Segment; they can also be used to create Trade Goods using Women during a Planning Op. 

Each Elder on the Elder Display during a Planning Op can also conduct a special Elder Action. To do so, the player must roll a die and compare it to the “death check” range below the box containing the Elder on the Elder Display. The older and closer to death the Elder is, the greater the chance of success — the Elder enjoys more prestige and his counsel carries more weight. Elder Actions include the lowering or raising of a Family’s Ferocity rating. If a Family is made more Ferocious, the player gains a Military Point! Similarly, if a Family is made less Ferocious, the player gains a Culture Point (see previous Blog entry for the importance of balance in the game). Elders can also convert Culture Points into Military Points and vice versa. 

The trouble is, every time you conduct a Planning Op, all of your Elders will slide one box to the right, moving them into a box closer to death. When the player conducts a Passage of Time Op, he must dice for each of his Elders to see if any of them die. Fortunately, it is during Passage of Time that the player can create new Elders! As a bonus, newly-placed Elders yield the player a single Culture Point.

During Passage of Time Ops, the player must decide whether or not to turn Children into Men or Women and whether or not to turn Men or Women into Elders. The player must decide whether to create a new Family using cards in his hand (see below), or whether to replenish depleted Families — Families which do not have all three Population counters cost the player more Military/Culture Points when raided by an Enemy column or a Tribal war party. Decisions, decisions…


Private Robinson observed the horsemanship of the Navajo in 1846, writing: “Today we were exhibited several scenes of the chase by rabbits being started from the brush; when in an instant five hundred riders at least were on the chase. No fox or steeple chase can equal it; the Arab cannot excel the Nebajo [Navajo] in horsemanship; and better horses can hardly be found. The plain was covered with these mounted warriors, with their feathers streaming in the wind, their arms raised as for conflict; some riding one way and some another; and in the midst of these exciting scenes they indulge in the wild Indian yell, or shout of triumph, as they succeed in capturing their prey. It was a sight unequalled in display of horsemanship; and can be seen nowhere but in the wild mountains and plains of the west” (Robinson, pg. 46-47).

Horses are of great utility for two chief reasons: (1) they greatly enhance the mobility of the player’s Families on the map; (2) they enhance the Family’s ability to win a Battle against hostile Tribes or their New Mexico Enemy. To get Horses, the player must either buy them with Trade Goods, or (easier) steal them from the New Mexicans.

Sheep have one great use for the player: they provide the means for feeding the player’s Population which corn simply cannot match alone. As the game progresses, the land will become drier and less able to sustain a large population. As the Enemy encroaches on your land, the land’s ability to feed your Population diminishes. Sheep can pick up the slack in this regard and become a real life-saver. In a very real sense, the sheep was to the Navajo what the bison was to the plains tribes.

If the player has at least one animal in his Resources Box during a Passage of Time Op, he an freely add one additional matching Animal to the Resources Box. Thus, it is very important that you not spend your last Sheep counter (or lose your last horse in a Battle) before you get a chance to breed it! 

Trade Goods

Trade Goods are created by Women during Planning Ops. They can be spent for a variety of reasons including the purchase of animals, re-roll the dice after an unlucky result, re-draw a cube after a bad cube pull, or bribe the Enemy in Negotiations or Tribal Diplomacy. Many players are loathe to go into Battle without enough Trade Goods to make a re-roll.

Which begs the question: “What does that represent?” Well, a stockpile of Trade Goods is a measurement of the wealth of the tribe. This wealth would allow for better Battle preparation — thus the re-roll or re-draw option.


Operations Cards can be drawn into the player’s hand during the Discard Phase after the player has undertaken a Planning Operation, or when the die roll following a Die Roll Minor Event matches that on the card. Having an Operations Card in your hand gives you the ability to grow your Population during a Passage of Time Operation. THIS is THE key way to grow your Population: collect Cards by Planning.

Finally, as stated above, Cards with a die roll symbol can be used in lieu of making a die roll. This is an expensive thing to do, however, because you lose the ability to place that Population Counter during Passage of Time. But sometimes it is absolutely critical that you make a certain die roll. Having such a card in your hand gives you a bit of insurance. Of course, you have to discard the card in LIEU of making a die roll; you cannot roll a die and overturn it with the card. So do I chance it, or do I make certain I make this die roll? These are tough questions the player must make when having one of these cards in his hand.

In Summary

As the player, I must decide what Resources do I most urgently need: If I need Population and or Trade Goods, I should do Planning. If I need Animals I should do Take Actions and Raid NM. But what if it is not a good time to Raid? I should buy Animals with Trade Goods. But to buy Trade Goods I need Women in my Families. The complexity in the game lies in the decision-making, something playtesters seem to be enjoying immensely!