Review: Comanchería – The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire

Game Name: Comanchería: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire Published Year: 2016
Game Publisher: GMT Games Player Scale: 1
Game Designer: Joel Toppen Run Time: 60-360 min

“Warriors are not what you think of warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another life. The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defensless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity.”

 Sitting Bull (c. 1831-1890),

Hunkpapa Lakota

Introduction

 This is the second game in Joel Toppen’s “First Nations” series. Let’s go back in time to North America, XVIIIth – XIXth Century, the Native Americans dominated a large part of the lands. With this game, we’re going to focus on the story of the Comanche people, the Lords of the Southern Plains. This game is a full solo experience and with it, you will see their struggle against the different Colonial powers of the time. Your objective in the game is to develop your culture and military power and meet the historical period check at the end so your legacy survives.

Comancheria_game

How it plays

The game plays in sequence of phases, cycling through them in every turn. This will make advance the time at th end of each turn and trigger at some point a passage of time (a jump to the next generation of your people).

It gives you an option to play from 5 different scenarios, each one contemplating different historical periods of different length and ranging from the easiest difficulty to the hardest.

Every turn you play it will emulate from 6 months to two years and every Passage of Time will be a new generation on the tribes, also known as Comancherías.

Comancheria_HCards

Historical period cards

There are 4 historical periods in total in the game, and they can be linked together through the different scenarios. However;  each time you get to the end of the time period, you’ll need to pass a victory check, if you succeed you can continue to the next period as indicated in the scenario. If you fail then is game over immediately. Another way to lose is if both your culture and war counters are at zero at the same time.

Comancheria_playeraids

Player aids witht he sequence of play

The sequence of play is very detailed in the player aids, and once you get the pace of the game you won’t need anything else to play. The first phase is the “War column phase” if there are any enemy war column in play they will move and act based on the war card information drawn that turn.

Then, it will be your turn to act. You have 3 basic action trees to choose from.

Comancheria_WCards

War deck

The first tree is the Actions tree that will let you use the Comanche bands you have available at your Comancherías to hunt buffalos, move around the plains, raid enemy tribes or settlements and trade. This will drain your bands, as you use them for the different things they’ll lose strength.  The second tree is the Culture tree allowing you to increase and advance the culture of your people. The final tree is the Planning tree, which lets you refresh units and it will update the leadership of your Comanchería.

Comancheria_chits

Draw chits

The 4th and last action possible it will usually trigger at points throughout the game, (under some conditions you can take the action voluntarily), this action is called the Pass

age of Time. This action, though taken very few times during the game, will be critical for your success, and preparing well for it will determine if you win or lose the game. It is with this action that you might meet the conditions for a victory check but also is your option to grow the Comanche Empire.

After the player has taken all their actions you’ll move into the last phase, the operation clean up. This is where the AI will take its actions, such as deploy war columns, hunt, settle or recover (there are 10 different possible actions in total). This phase will prepare the map for the next round of the game too.

Comancheria_DCards

Development decks, one for each historical period

At your disposition during the game you’ll have different kind of resources, some of them you can gather like buffalos or horses, others more powerful like guns you can only trade for them. As you keep playing you’ll have options to acquire development cards, which have powerful events that can turn the balance to your side in difficult moments or culture cards that will shape the culture of your people and give you permamnent abilities.

Opinion

Comancheria_CCards

Culture cards

The game is a brilliant example of a great solo design. The rulebook is very well done and not very extensive with 20 pages, with plenty of examples, design notes and cultural and historical references. With all that the learning curve is steep, there is a lot going on in this game and decisions matter. The first couple of games you’re probably not going to know what to do but you’ll learn over time from your errors, and this makes a great experience for me.  It is both difficult and rewarding at the same time. Like most of GMT games, this one comes with a playbook, where the designer walks you through a few turns doing the different actions of the game with lots of explanations, this will be your first stop in this game as it will keep telling you which rules to read at the same time you’re playing the game. If this is not enough for you, the designer has done a very good job with a few youtube videos where he goes through this playbook and gives you additional insight into the choices he makes.

Comancheria_AI

The AI engine

The AI is very simple to run, and its decisions will adapt to the state of the board in a very straightforward manner; it is a brilliant design. The chit pull system of the game makes things very interesting, as you’ll try to push your luck to get those success chits, but as you keep drawing them the proportions of the enemy action chits will increase. So how much the AI will act this turn will mostly depend on how far you want to go, a reaction for every action, again, brilliant.

The replayability of the game is high, you can play the same scenario a few times and not a single game will be the same. You can also choose to go through different paths via your choice of culture cards during the game, plus the development deck will be randomised every game. He is also very active and helpful on the game’s forums at BoardGameGeek. The game is very challenging, I still haven’t attempted the most difficult scenarios as I still struggle with the easier ones, so it will give you plenty of hours of entertainment before you even think of attempting the great challenge of a full campaign of this game. The production is excellent as with most of GMT’s games, thick counters, mounted board and artwork are thematic and gorgeous.

The Good: The game is challenging, the game system is brilliant and engaging, lots of meaningful decisions to make.

The bad: Might be difficult to get into it to some people due to the uniqueness of the system, but if you struggle and you’re still interested; keep watching those videos, once you get the hang of it, you’ll see how rewarding it is. Even if you know how to play you’ll still need to go through the player aids regularly to apply the process correctly, this might put some people of too.

You might also like: Victory Point Games state of siege series

That’s it for my review on Comanchería folks!

This is a game that every solo gamer should at least try once if not own, and I believe it will appeal to not only wargamers but to any gamer due to the uniqueness of the system. This is a keeper for me and as far as I am concerned I will follow Joel Toppen’s future games closely.

I hope to see you around in the Great Plains.

Jesus

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Coffee Coolers Meet the Hostiles, by Howard Terpning

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