Geronimo (Avalon Hill)
Playings; 2 (12 hours)
Geronimo was rumoured to be Blackbeard on land which is why I bought it. The countless Blackbeard haters will be glad to hear that the 2 bear no relationship nor is Geronimo similar to any other game. Geronimo is pushed as a 1 to 5 player recreation (important point, not game of the subject) of the US - Indian wars. I played the full campaign keeping to the solitaire rules and was not over impressed.
The 10 turn campaign takes a long time (allow 45 minutes turn) with the solitaire aim of equalling or beating the number of territories formed into states of the USA. The map is divided into areas based on current state boundaries although as the campaign begins only California and Texas are states. The remaining areas are territories which will become states when a set number of resources are built and functioning in each. Most of these resources are settlements but die rolls can bring on railways and mines which add to the "statehood" score. In solitaire play the gamer plays the US and builds up resources to get states declared as efficiently as possible. He does his best as the Indian to stop this expansion by eliminating settlements and damaging mines and railroads but at a slower rate than they are replaced. As resources are built in areas the ability of the Indians to survive there goes down, each area has values for Indian survival and statehood. Any resources built will not only count towards statehood but also reduce the Indian survival number by the same amount. In short as the areas are civilised it becomes harder for the Indians to stay there. The survival number of an area is divided between all the tribes in it and any tribe which has less strength points than it's share must lose 1 strength point. Tribes vary in strength up to 12 but with the aid of a little slicing and dicing from the US cavalry even the hardiest tribe will be looking pretty ropy by the later turns. If a tribe moves away from the expanding white man then there are more tribes in fewer areas reducing each tribe's share. Indian tribes can do nothing in a turn and double their share of survival points but doing nothing is not a lot of fun and will not reduce the strength of the US army or slow down the speed of resource placement.
As a multiplayer game Geronimo shifts from civilising the west to earning points. This concept is pretty well trodden and aims the game at the Brittania or History of the World crowd. It is also somewhat better solitaire with 3 fictitious dummies all scoring for points. When playing for points, 1 player is the US and all the others are Indians. At the beginning of each turn chits are picked to see who will be the US, in theory the US player can change every turn which is pretty handy as the US player has the best chance to earn points every turn. At worst the US is not going to be the lowest scoring side very often. A shorter game can be played over 4 rather than 10 turns although this does not start on turn 1 so some changes are made to the board and card decks before play. The 4 turn game is considerably better than the full campaign because it is more likely to be finished and avoids the late turns which have the US mopping up the map and Indian tribes heading for the Ethnography museums. 3 players is a good number yet with 3 players and a 4 turn game 1 of the 3 must play the US at least twice, this player is not likely to come last.
An obvious option would be to have the player with least points at the end of a turn choose to be the US next turn should he wish (and he almost certainly will) or pass the choice to the next lowest scorer and so on. Unfortunately there is a game mechanic that allows the US player to pay any Indian any number of victory points to have a tribe go on reservation. Tribes on reservation cannot be attacked or worry about surviving on the board making reservations relatively attractive. If victory points were used as a mechanism for deciding on the US then the reservation system could be used to buy control of the US possibly by 2 players acting in loose alliance. Tribes can also be forced to go on reservation when they are below half strength and fail a die roll so the voluntary reservation system is not necessary for play of Geronimo, players who do not like bidding games would do well to scrap it and benefit from allowing the lowest point scorer to be the US.
The basic play mechanics of Geronimo are card weighted. 2 packs are provided, firstly for the 28 Indian tribes that contain information which is all easier to find elsewhere but are primarily used to decide which tribes are in play. The number of tribes in use varies with the number of players and as the game progresses tribes will be wiped out or go on reservation (temporarily out of play) reducing the number of tribes to go around. Indian players may choose up to 2 tribes (some powerful single tribes count as choosing 2) and the rest of the available tribes are distributed randomly with any excess tribes being out of play for the turn. Tribes in play and controlled by Indian players will change from turn to turn. Some tribes are strong enough to take on the white man and earn a few points by beating him in battle attacking resources, others are so weak or out of the way as to be unlikely to get used. Indian players can also earn points by raiding (a throwaway action that is not always possible and yielding a poor 1 victory point) or by attacking other Indians (for the grudge bearing sort of player). Each tribe can be used twice in a turn although some activities count as 2 uses and some tribes have more than 1 village (playing piece) each of which can go twice. Indian players lose 3 points for having a tribe become extinct when under their control which is not quite as un-politically correct as giving the US points for wiping out Indians but amounts to much the same thing.
The real ability of both sides to do things is governed by the 2nd pack, the Shaman cards. Again the number of cards dealt depends on the number of players. Play operates in rounds with a player playing or discarding a Shaman card each round, if the card is discarded then the player has finished his round but if it card is played then Indians may make 1 action or the US 1 action per Indian player. In solitaire games each Shaman card must be played and if Indian must be played on a randomly drawn Indian tribe thus there is no skill in card play and a lot of Shaman cards will be poorly used or totally wasted. In multiplayer games discarding can be important particularly for the Indian who can be better off discarding a Shaman card that favours the US and passing than letting such a card go through for the chance to grab a few victory points.
With 3 players each has 7 Shaman cards and the Indians control 9 tribes each (if there are that many left). With the option to use tribes twice and some cards having to be discarded to avoid ill effects there will be less Shaman cards held than tribes available for play giving a fair choice of what to play where. Shaman cards vary greatly in effect the most common raise or (more often) decrease the survival level of areas making it harder or easier for tribes to keep going, Buffalo hunter cards stay in effect throughout the game but most other Shaman effects only last for the current turn. Major changes such as the ACW (which gives the US 1 bad turn followed by lots of good ones) and better US weaponry are 1 use but permanent effect cards. Peace policy cards (which give the Indians some respite from constant attacks) are examples of cards which can benefit the Indians.
Having decided whether to play a card and where to play it the actual on board actions are pretty simplistic. Indians have villages, at least 1 per tribe which can move to other areas but probably wont. The villages can put out warband counters that attack or raid in the same or adjacent areas. The warband can return home after it's action counting as 2 actions for the whole village or stay out for a 2nd and final use before returning to the village. If a warband goes out and comes straight back it should take the full strength of the village but if it is to make an extended tour of duty might leave some strength in the village which can be very vulnerable when undefended. Indians have chief counters which come and go at fixed turns and are a bind to keep track of but will increase the ability of any village or warband that they stay with. An Indian active unit will usually be a chief, warband counter and strength marker for the size of the warband. After a warband has done whatever it has to do US units can try to intercept, with smaller US forces having a greater chance of success and the Indian can try to avoid combat if interception succeeds.
The US player has columns and commanders. A column is at least 1 US strength point which must have a commander. Commander units are randomly chosen every turn and there will be more than enough to go around. The commanders are rated for ability and the less useful commanders will not be used or land up well behind the lines. Each area has a fort marker and columns are either inside or outside the fort. Columns inside forts cannot be attacked and are able to receive reinforcements, those outside do all the running about and attacking. In 3 or more player games the US player places a settlement (counting as 1 resource placed in an area) with each Shaman card play or discard by every player, that's 21 settlements per 3 player game turn. In 1 and 2 player games these are only placed for the 1st 20 cards. Each time a settlement is placed there is also a chance of a railroad being built for 2 resource points or a mine for a varying number of points. It is this placement of resources that will form states and bring on more victory points for the US than those won by whipping Indians. Attacking Indians can result in massacres (Indians can also massacre white men) which reduces the number of resources counted for state determination by 1 for each massacre. This can lead to a policy of building up in some states and ethnic cleansing in others where there is no immediate plan to try for statehood.
Going back to the beginning Geronimo is very much a recreation in game form. Thankfully there has been no attempt to try for the Native American market, the Indians will always lose, indeed they are always called Indians and the names of tribes are those familiar to readers of The Eagle. The problem of all players is that they will be playing for points and there is no reason to identify with any tribe or even the USA. Sides are changed each turn and the hand of Indians can change radically for a player taking the Indians on 2 succeeding turns. The Indians most used tend to change as the game progresses as those nearest the US go out of play and others come in the firing line although some tribes can hang on in throughout.