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Subject: Initial Impressions of King Philip's War rss

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Wendell
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Early last week I received my pre-ordered copy of King Philip's War (KPW for short) from the good people at MultiMan Publishing. Now I have read the rules several times and played one solo game to completion, and I thought I would offer my initial impressions on this game.

What WAS King Philip's War?

First, a couple of sentences on what exactly this game is about. King Philip's war (also known as Metacom's War; King Philip was how the English referred to Metacom, Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag Confederacy in southern New England) was, as designer John Poniske puts it in the game's introduction, "the highly destructive conflict between the Native Indians and English settlers of New England in 1675-76." "Highly destructive" is right. Scholarly estimates put casualties - as the proportion of the entire populations, NOT just among combatants - at 1.5% for the English colonists and 15% for the Indians. It marked the beginning of the end for strong and independent Native American tribes in the northeastern United States as well. So not a very well-known war, but an important conflict.

Components

The Map

The attractive map covers the colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth (modern SE Massachusetts), Rhode Island, and Connecticut, and the villages of nine different Indian tribes sharing the same region. There are three types of space on the map - Indian villages and English settlements, Indian and English forts, and open or neutral spaces, connected both by dotted lines depicting roads and trails and by river. Small pips on the land connections show whether movement between those two spaces cost one, two, or three movement points to enter. Rivers are not just for looks. They can be used by both the Indians and (eventually and under limited circumstances) the English for movement; if you can follow a river you can really zip units across the map because moving by river from one space to another costs only 1/2 movement point. Some English settlements have docks to show they are ocean ports; English units can move from one port to another, though doing so takes up a unit's entire move.

Board Game: King Philip's War


Counters and Dice

The game comes with 176 5/8" attractive and wargame-standard cardboard counters. These counters depict English soldiers from each of the colonies (plus Allied Indians, not further identified), and Indian warriors from nine tribes. Both the English and Indians have several unnamed leaders ("Captains" for the English, "Sachems" for the Indians), and both have two "key leaders" - Philip and Canonchet for the Indians, Winslow and Church for the English. There are various game markers as well to keep track of raided and destroyed settlements (more on that later), victory points, battle locations, muskets, etc. KPW also has two very useful player aids that include sequence of play, reinforcement schedule, combat results table, etc.

Board Game: King Philip's War


The game ships with three dice, used in combat. Two are standard d6; the third six-sided die is the "event die,", used in combat (more below).

Board Game: King Philip's War


Rules and Game play

Okay, so what do you do with these components? First the rules. Rarely have I read wargame rules that were clearer. Admittedly, King Philip's War is by Poniske's conscious choice, a simple wargame, "designed for ease of play." But we've all read rules (not just in wargames, either) for simple games that were unclear or ambiguous. So two thumbs up to KPW just for being easy to understand!

Infantry (KPW's collective term for English and Indian units) begin on their full-strength side, worth two strength points. They can be reduced in battle to one SP; a second hit destroys the unit. Leaders are removed if all the infantry they are stacked with are destroyed in battle. Both sides will gain reinforcements during the game. Additionally, King Philip will move around the map bringing in new Indian allies (one new tribe per turn max), based on how much damage the Indians have inflicted on the English. Later on, some tribes may surrender and drop out of the game, as the English accumulate victory points.

To know what to actually do with your warriors and soldiers, you need to know how to win the game. In KPW, you win by outscoring your opponent in victory points. Simple.

But the way you earn VP in KPW underscores the grim nature of this small but terrible war and its appalling casualty count. Both sides gain VP by destroying enemy centers of population (in KPW called villages for the Indians, settlements for the English, but functionally identical; for simplicity I will refer to them collectively as towns) and forts. Every enemy town you raze (the game term, raze = utterly destroy) is worth 1 VP. If you raze an enemy fort, 2 VP.

You also earn VP by destroying enemy units and killing/injuring enemy leaders; whenever an enemy infantry is removed because of losses in battle, score 1 VP. The Indians can earn 3 VP if they can provoke a border war between Connecticut and New York (based on razing settlements in Connecticut). Either side can win a sudden death victory by hitting 30 VP; in addition the English can win an instant victory if both Philip and Canonchet are dead or on the Game Turn track due to being removed during combat. The Indians can win an instant victory if they can raze both English forts at Boston and Plymouth. Otherwise, whoever has the most VP at the end of turn 9 wins.

Infantry on the map are termed companies (English) or war bands (Indian); they are functionally identical. Only two infantry may stack and move together unless a leader is included, which bumps stacking to three (leaders stack for free, maximum one per space). In addition, there are limits on what may be included in a company or war band. Until the English leader Benjamin Church enters play (somewhere during turns 1-6, by random roll), soldiers from different colonies may not stack together. War bands can only include warriors from the same tribe; however Philip and Canonchet can combine warriors from different tribes in their stacks, and three confederated tribes (Wampanoags, Sakonnets, and Pocasetts, the belligerents at the start of the game) may freely stack with one another.

Movement as noted above is based on the pips connecting the spaces; Indians however get 6 movement points (MPs) vs only 5 for the English. In addition, until Benjamin Church enters the game the English may not use 2- or 3-pip connections. Also, players cannot move all of their forces; only five companies/war bands can be moved in a turn - and until Church enters, the English can only move three companies. There is also a limit of five battles (three before Church for the English) per side per turn as well. Movement and battles are further restricted during the one winter turn (turn 5); both sides may lose infantry in winter due to attrition, based on how many towns have been destroyed (one infantry per two friendly towns razed).

Forces may not enter hexes containing enemy forces. That includes enemy towns - each town and fort has an intrinsic defense and cannot be entered by the other side until it is razed.

A company or war band attacks an adjacent enemy (if the enemy does not evade) after completing movement by placing a "battle" marker on the map connection; though the company/war band does not actually enter the enemy space, it must have enough movement points remaining to do so in order to attack. Towns/forts without enemy infantry may be attacked. Enemy forces may attempt to intercept movement OR intercept into a space being attacked.

Combat is quite simple. Total the strength points of the two sides, including both infantry (2 points full strength, 1 point if reduced), key leaders (+1), muskets (+1 for Indians), spies (-1) AND the defensive value of the town (+1 if full strength) or fort (+2 full, +1 damaged) if any is present in the defending space.

The attacker then rolls the three dice. The red dice indicates hits inflicted by English forces against the Indians; the green determines hits by the Indians against the English. The third is the event dice, which can generate good or bad events against either side, including massacres (brings on new units for one of the players), spies, guides, reinforcements, panic, and ambush. If a spy or guide was present at the beginning of the battle, re-rolls of one or another of the die are possible. If at the end of all rolls and re-rolls, the two combat dice are the same (i.e., two '4's) then NO COMBAT (or event) takes place; something went awry.

Players choose how to inflict hits (0 to 3) on their forces. This includes towns and forts; one hit reduces a town to "raided" status; a second hit (in this or a subsequent combat) "razes" the town and gives the opponent a victory point. Forts are treated the same, but start off worth 2 strength points, and take a total of 3 hits before being razed. One hit flips infantry from full strength to reduced (and reduced units can NEVER be returned to full strength); a second hit (same battle or later) destroys it. The attacker can advance into the space if it is free of all enemy presence after battle. Destroyed English units go to the force pool, and can be returned to the map as reinforcements. However, destroyed Indian warriors cannot return as reinforcements; the only way a warrior can be returned from the eliminated units box is if a massacre event is rolled that gives the Indian side a new reinforcement.

Comments

As followers of the game may recall, there has been a fair bit of controversy about King Philip's War since late 2009. Some Native Americans, in particular members of the tribes which were involved in this war, questioned whether it was appropriate to base a "game" on such a tragic and bloody conflict. John Poniske addresses this controversy in his designer notes at the end of the rules to KPW. I won't revisit it here.

As a game, and based only on one two solo plays so take this with all the grains of salt you like, I find KPW very interesting and enjoyable. With its straightforward mechanics and low unit density, I could see using this to introduce somebody to wargaming. But I think there is enough there to challenge experienced wargamers as well. It is an interesting situation; new forces will enter and drop out as the game develops, which may in the long run favor the English. However, the Indians enjoy advantages at the beginning and can spread the English forces thin by bringing in new tribes farther from the initial focus of the battle in Rhode Island and Plymouth Colony.

But no question, it is a bit grim to earn VP by burning down enemy towns. This is not a criticism of the game - this is an honest way to depict what qualified as success in this war. I don't play wargames because I enjoy death or destruction, nor because I advocate war, nor because I necessarily identify with one side or another in the conflict in question. Rather, I play because I enjoy the intellectual challenge such games present, because I find interesting the strategy and tactics from these conflicts (and the politics behind them, though that is not always covered in games), and because these games can help me better understand the war or battle being simulated.

In KPW, the connection between VP and death and destruction (destroying centers of population) is perhaps more explicit and raw than usual. In his designer notes, Poniske said he designed this game because he wanted to "increase knowledge and interest in this little-known, but highly influential, chapter in (American) history." I think KPW can do that. It is very well done and interesting, despite the grim subject matter - though we should remember, all historical wargames are based on grim subjects because all wars are grim.
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Mike Owens
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Great review. I'm still waiting for my copy.

Just wondering: How drastically does the balance swing depending on when Church enters? If he enters in Turn 1, are the Indians totally screwed? If he doesn't enter til turn 6, are the English likewise screwed?
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Chris Bryant
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Thanks for the prompt and (for this stage) wonderfully thorough review. Just received my copy this morning; can't wait to break it open.
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Matthew Cordeiro
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Great review. As a resident of southern New England my entire life, I often see reminders of this war in local history books, museums, and monuments. I even did a report and presentation on KPW back in elementary school. This is a very interesting subject that helped shape our country's history and even our (mis)treatment of Native Americans.
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Wendell
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MikeO wrote:
Great review. I'm still waiting for my copy.

Just wondering: How drastically does the balance swing depending on when Church enters? If he enters in Turn 1, are the Indians totally screwed? If he doesn't enter til turn 6, are the English likewise screwed?
I've only played once, so I can't really comment. Maybe some of the guys who playtested (ScottH, Spizio...) have some thoughts.

There is a developer's note that, "for a more competitive game" just have Church enter automatically on turn 3 instead of rolling. As luck would have it, that's when he entered in my solo game.
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Dan Dolan
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I think the early arrival of Church isn't necessarily a game breaker rather it puts the colonists on an equal footing with the indians.

An early arrival (turns 1-2) will allow the English player to slow the early indian onslaught with some counterattacks. It won't however stop the indian attacks on settlements in the colonies. There are just too many scattered settlements and indians for that to happen. But Church can mobilize and move to respond and create problems for the indians.

That is one of the subtle dynamics of this game. Phillips recruiting of the various tribes and the colonists trying to get them to surrender and remove a threat. The colonists try to attack and drive the VP's up to cause surrender but they don't need to attack the actual tribe to get them to surrender. They can hit weaker areas and this will effect the other tribes lower on the VP chart. The indian player must make use of the Niatics and Nipmunks early on before they quit the fight.

The early battles in RI and CT are good places to use these tribes to absorb casualties. However the colonists will be hitting other tribes to try to whittle them down and gain VP at the same time. It is a race to see which side can utilize their forces better.
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Mike Owens
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Phlegm wrote:
I think the early arrival of Church isn't necessarily a game breaker rather it puts the colonists on an equal footing with the indians.
Thanks, Dan. How about the late arrival? Is that a game breaker for the English?

Is bidding for the Church turn of arrival the appropriate mefor (dude WTF) method of balance for tournament use?




Edit: Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit uppers using spellcheck.
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Dan Dolan
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The designer suggests that bringing Church on Turn 3 for a balanced game.

I don't have enough experience to state that having him come on late would or wouldn't have an effect. But having him come on late would hinder english troop movement and force them to strike where the indians weren't.

Not having Church would put them at a tactical disadvantage but there are still more colonists than indians and it would force the colonists to choose where they were going to hit and try to get villages to drive up the English VP's and force tribal surrender.

I'm a bit of a dreamer though. I try to look at dice luck as something that happens. I don't get down if reinforcements arrive late or too excited if they get there early. You have to deal with things as they happen. That's one of the great learning lessons of wargaming.
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Steve Herron
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thumbsup Since I was raised in Tennessee I had not heard of this war, we had our conficts with the Cherokees. The postings here on BGG on KPW got me interested in the game. I assume it plays well solo since you played it that way in your first game? What number would you rate it from 1 to 10? Thanks for writing the review.
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sherron wrote:
I assume it plays well solo since you played it that way in your first game? What number would you rate it from 1 to 10? Thanks for writing the review.
I think it plays solo very well - no hidden information. I've given the game an initial '8' but that could change as I play it more.
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Phlegm wrote:
The indian player must make use of the Niatics and Nipmunks early on before they quit the fight.
We had a different experience with luck related to the above. We decided to go with Church arriving on turn 3 so that bit of luck didn't impact the game. However, the Indian player rolled so many doubles during the first two turns that they razed a total of 0 settlements. When Church came out the Indians had not yet added any tribes and the Nipmunks and Niatics surrendered before they ever arrived. It ended up being so lopsided after Winter Attrition that we called the game.

It was a little bit disappointing for a first game but other than that the game seems pretty good.


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Andy Daglish
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wifwendell wrote:
because all wars are grim.
What about the Ashanti campaign? beautiful weather, ineffective enemy [apart from one column wiped out], a few weeks' duration, natives who kept golden ornaments in their huts. Sorted!
 
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Thanks for the kind words about the rules. Adam, John, and I worked very hard to make them clear. It was my first time writing wargame rules, and a pleasure to do.
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kklemme wrote:
Thanks for the kind words about the rules. Adam, John, and I worked very hard to make them clear. It was my first time writing wargame rules, and a pleasure to do.
No, thank YOU for the effort to make them clear!
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Wendell
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I've played this now twice by vassal and a couple of more times solo. Nothing much to change in my review - I still like it!
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King's Philip War is a good game, would have gotten my vote over Washington's War for the Charles S. Robert's award. The are both rather light wargames, but I find KPW much more interesting and challenging than WW. KPW for example has more tactical options and you don't need to deal with a huge deck of cards to play!
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wifwendell wrote:
kklemme wrote:
Thanks for the kind words about the rules. Adam, John, and I worked very hard to make them clear. It was my first time writing wargame rules, and a pleasure to do.
No, thank YOU for the effort to make them clear!
Wendell, it is not the rules that I find clear--I don't--it is your interpretation and explanation of the rules that I find clear.

goo

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I played 3 solo games years ago, stumbled on Wendell's review once more and have put KPW into the rotation to play again. King Philip's War is interesting subject matter (if not tragic as are most war scenarios). Having lived in Rhode Island and being familiar with the NE and its history, I still find the game enjoyable given its low complexity and low unit count.
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Wendell
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landru wrote:
I played 3 solo games years ago, stumbled on Wendell's review once more and have put KPW into the rotation to play again. King Philip's War is interesting subject matter (if not tragic as are most war scenarios). Having lived in Rhode Island and being familiar with the NE and its history, I still find the game enjoyable given its low complexity and low unit count.
I played a game just last month - and yes, I still enjoy it!
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