Posted by: gschloesser | August 2, 2011


Design by:  Richard Berg
Published by:  Avalon Hill
2 – 4 Players, 3 – 4 hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

The great — yet tragic — U.S. – Indian conflicts are a subject which has not been dealt with to any great extent by the strategy and war gaming industry.  Perhaps this is because the conflicts were so one-sided, with the Indian tribes having little real hope of stemming the great white tide which was sweeping over their lands.  Geronimo is Avalon Hill’s attempt to recreate this tragic period of our history, and represents the U.S. expansion into the West and the subsequent encounters with the Indian tribes.

Each turn, players are randomly assigned a side to play — either Indian tribes or the U.S.  Only one player represents the U.S. each turn, while the other players each have a number of Indian tribes under their control.  Indian players get to select one or two of their active tribes, but the rest are dealt to them randomly.  There are usually more Indian tribes available than what are active each turn, but players don’t really know which ones are inactive.  This can be unsettling to the U.S. player as he must decide where to deploy his limited troops and columns.

The U.S. player is faced with the task of building up sufficient resources (settlements, towns, railroads, mines, etc.) to maintain his existing states and convert territories into states.  Most of his victory points are earned by this conversion process, although he can earn smaller amounts by forcing Indian tribes onto reservations and even smaller amounts by defeating Indian villages or war parties in battle.  However, the U.S. does have a limited number of troops, and can only activate a certain number per round based on the number of Indian players in the game.  With the Indians constantly harassing him at every turn and attacking and/or raiding the various resources, it becomes somewhat of a juggling act as the U.S. struggles to replace ‘hit’ resources and catch the pesky Indians. 

The Indian players, meanwhile, must play the role of guerillas, constantly attacking and raiding resources across the board.  He not only earns victory points in this manner, but also can deny the U.S. player the required number of resources and each turn’s end to convert territories to states or maintain current states.  However, he must be very careful not to suffer too many casualties, as this could cause his depleted and exhausted tribe to go on reservation or become extinct, which costs the player dearly in victory points.  The Indian players must also keep an eye to insure that territories do not become to over-populated with U.S. resources as this directly affects the tribes’ abilities to survive in that area.  There are lots of tough decisions to be made by both players.

One of the key components of the game system is the use of ‘Shaman’ cards.  Players are each dealt a number of these cards, which operate as event cards.  These events can help or hinder the efforts of the players, or, in rare cases, be neutral.  Players must play the card and suffer the consequences in order to ‘move’ that round.  Otherwise, the card is discarded and they cannot move that round.  It is the events that add uncertainty and lots of flavor to the game.  I am always partial to game systems that utilize random events as they can foil the best laid plans.  Devastating sometimes, but always fun!

The game has two options:  the Basic game and the Campaign game.  The Basic game lasts only four turns (although this could easily take 3 – 6 hours) and begins after the Civil War has occurred.  Also, many of the territories have already achieved statehood and others are well on their way to this status.  The Campaign game encompasses eight turns, with the threat of the Civil War hanging over the head of the U.S. player, thereby reducing his commitment of troops.  The Campaign game could easily last 8 hours plus.

I will say that the game does have a nice flavor and deals with a period which hasn’t been dealt with extensively by the gaming industry.  It’s a game that I really want to enjoy … and do … up to a point.

The game is typical Richard Berg.  Lots and lots and lots of detail. Unfortunately, this means that there are tons of fiddly little rules, dice rolls, chart consultations, calculations, etc.  There was a time when I didn’t mind this.  Now, however, with my total immersion in the German and European game scene, I am swiftly losing my desire to play these style of games.  I find them cumbersome, tedious and VERY long. I’ve reached a point in my gaming life where these types of games no longer capture my interest.

However, that is not what is likely the ultimate blow against Geronimo.  Rather, the game seems fatally flawed in that the US player is extremely powerful and will almost always wrack up substantially more victory points than the Indian players.  Thus, whoever draws the US player most often seems destined to win the game.  There may be a way for expert Geronimo players to be able to correct this problem, but it would require masterful play by the Indians working in tandem. Even then, it would border on the impossible.

The Indian player is forced each turn to try to go out and attack settlements, mines & resources.  This is certainly not a sure thing .. far from it.  However, if the US player properly positions his columns, which increase in number each turn, he can attempt to intercept the Indian player whenever he moves to hit these resources. If intercepted, the Indian player must then attempt to flee the US troops.  Even if successful in fleeing, the US player can still pursue them and catch them.  It’s tough being an Indian!  The end result is that the Indian player has to fight, claw and scratch for each victory point and ends up getting far too few each turn compared to the US player.  Thus, the victor of the game boils down to whoever gets to play the US player the most.  This is a major … and fatal … flaw.

Can Geronimo be saved?  Most likely, yes.  An adjustment reducing the U.S. victory points received for converting territories into states seems to be the most obvious correction needed.  Also, I liked the original interpretation of the rules better wherein the U.S. Player could give up victory points to an Indian player if that player put a tribe on reservation.  The official errata says that the victory points awarded DO NOT come from the U.S. player, but are rather just awarded to the Indian player.  I think the former way was much more intriguing.

In any case, Richard Berg has done an admirable job of capturing the flavor of the era.  Unfortunately, the game as a whole is flawed.  Corrections most certainly could be made to alleviate this victory point problem, but the very nature of these fiddly, time-consuming games leaves me with no desire for further tinkering.

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