Comanchería: Designing For Feel

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One of the challenges of designing a game that depicts the vast sweep of Comanche history was how to model the phases of their history without a host of special rules and exceptions. In short: how do you put the player into a position from which he or she can get a reasonably realistic perspective on the challenges that faced the Comanche people without forcing certain behavior upon the player? Or put it this way: How do you enable the player to feel the history without destroying that feel with the rules?

As it turns out, one solution I’ve set upon happens to also be something I wish I had thought of when I was designing Navajo Wars. If there’s one mechanic about Navajo Wars that I’m not really happy with it is the Victory Check Procedure. When I began designing Comanchería, I wanted something that would be much more streamlined and easier for the player to look at-a-glance to see if he or she was winning or losing. The solution is to use cards in Comanchería in a different way than I did with Navajo Wars.

In Navajo Wars, there are a few cards that have persistent effects while they remain in-play. With Comanchería, I’ve taken that concept and expanded it quite a bit. In Comancheríadevelopment cards are drawn from a deck and laid face-up on the top of the map. Many of these cards have a persistent effect that changes the game so long as the card remains in-play. Similar to development cards are the history cards that come with the game. There are four history cards in Comanchería. What these cards do is help direct the behavior of the artificial intelligence in the game. More than that, however, they help guide the behavior of the player.


Sample Development Card

Consider this: Between 1700 and 1800, the Comanche were relentlessly pushing other tribes aside and essentially carving out a sizable empire of their own on the southern plains of North America. During this time, the primary threats impeding Comanche conquest of the southern plains came from the Spanish Colonies of New Mexico and Mexico as well as from northern tribes who were being pushed west and south by American expansion far to the east.  Therefore, the history cards that govern these periods have two pieces of information that help to direct the actors on this stage:

  • An Enemy Action Table which dictates which enemies will act against the player during this historic period, and
  • A Victory Objective that shows the player what he or she must achieve before the end of the historic period.
Card_H1H2 (back)

History cards from 1st and 2nd Historic Periods

Because the Americans have not yet entered into the affairs of the Comanche in any meaningful way as of yet, the Enemy Action Tables for the first two historic periods of the game has that enemy more or less dormant. Instead, the colony of New Mexico in the west, Mexico in the south, and the tribes in Comanchería and to the north are the enemies that the Enemy Action Table gives highest probability of acting.

The player is thus, able to look at these two pieces of information, and then voluntarily begin to undertake actions that the Comanche people would have undertaken during this historic period.

Historic periods come to an end in a semi-random way. I say “semi-random” because the end of the period is diced for after the player takes certain operations. There is a “grace period” of sorts in which the historic period cannot end, but after that time is up, the player will be forced to make a die roll which grows increasingly likely to bring the historic period to a close. At this point, the player must have achieved the victory objective on the current history card in-play or lose the game. In practice, the effect thus achieved is a surprisingly accurate portrayal of the history of the Comanche people across a broad sweep of history without having to impose on the player a great number of special rules and exceptions.

Another way that the game helps to portray Comanche history well is actually embedded within the system itself. In the early period of the game, the player only has one or two Rancherías from which he or she can operate. Navajo Wars players may find it helpful to think of Rancherías like Families in Navajo Wars. The advantage of only having one or two Rancherías is that the player can be very active with these two Rancherías both offensively and defensively, nimbly dodge enemy war columns and strike back with shocking ferocity. The downside to only a couple Rancherías, however, is that the player will be culturally weak and that can be very dangerous (run out of culture points and military points and you lose the game). The player will also be unable to make best use of the leadership of its headmen (like elders from Navajo Wars). Having more Rancherías on the other hand, makes the player much more culturally strong and gives the player powerful leadership capability. The trouble is that the player will not be able to be as active with warrior bands as he or she was with only a few Rancherías to work with.

The effect this achieves is again, quite accurate to history. By the time the player has the maximum number of Rancherías in-play, it is often late in the game (3rd or 4th historic period). The Comanche bands will be powerful but not as active offensively as one might think. The enemy will be pushing against the player but almost warily at first – the Comanche commanded a good deal of respect even after their power was mostly broken by the colonial invaders. In short, the Comanche will look stronger than they really are. And the player can feel this. The player will sense that something must be done to recover the former greatness, but with resources dwindling, the player must use clever tactics to wrestle advantage back from the enemy.

My design goal with Comanchería has from the beginning been to create a game that puts the player into a position from which they can, in a small way at least, feel the history. It seems like each time I play the game I am transported back in time to another place. To the southern plains, where I can live the broad sweep of the history of a people….

Comancheria Map2

Playtest map (latest artwork by Joel)

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