After my recent unboxing of GMT Games new “Plains Indian Wars” I knew I needed to get it to the table. Such a stylish design, beautiful artwork and seemingly interesting gameplay. I was right in my then assessment that this was similar to the Academy Games “Birth of America” series. It was apparently originally designed and submitted to them, but they passed on it. Fortunately GMT picked it up and the result is a mostly successful endeavor.
I played using Solitaire Variant I, which pits the player as the US Forces against the Indians of the Northern and Southern Plains, which are run by a simple AI system. Solitaire Variant II flips the script and lets the simple AI control the US as the player tries to preserve what’s left of the Indian homeland.
For my first game, I won 49-41. This was without actually looking at the final scoring rules beforehand. They were not located in an obvious way or referenced in the variant details, instead on the back of the solo rules manual. However a special scoring note was included, so that made it even more unclear I should be looking elsewhere for the final tally.
Which is the one real problem with the game. The manual(s). GMT has normally been strong in this regard, laying claim of course to the single best rulebook for any game ever written (Combat Commander: Europe). But this rulebook feels like it was written by the designers and that’s never a good thing. Designers know they game. They (normally) approach the rules with a lot more assumptions and forget their audience doesn’t not share all their insider information. A good rulebook assumes the player knows nothing and addresses everything clearly and cross-references rules where necessary.
Not to say this is a HORRIBLE rulebook, it’s not. But there are a lot of questions. Also odd is the decision to make a Rule Book and a Solo Rulebook as two separate 16 page manuals. In the case of SpaceCorp, this was done to perfection. You don’t touch the multiplayer manual if you’re playing solo and vice versa. But here, they could have just been combined since you’re required to reference both books when playing solo. The solo steps and charts could have likewise been on one of GMTs fold out player reference cards as well.
That one flaw beaten to death, in the end the game is actually pretty fun to play and simple enough to manage the AI. There is an element of randomness in the card draws your side has access to, the order the discs for each activation, die rolls for enemy forces to be placed and attack your wagons. But no two games will ever play alike. There is no provision however for increased difficulty, but I’m sure the community will come up with something along those lines.
The artwork of the cards and board are quite nice as I mentioned, though I did find the cubes to be a bit abstract, wishing they had gone the counter route (2×1 counters like in Wing Leader) to represent the forces on the board. But the cubes do work all the same. But use a dice tray! Those oversized faction dice can mess up a board but quick!