“If we do not punish the Indian raiders, the whole country seems to be on the verge of complete depopulation.” – General WT Sherman
General Sherman’s little-known words tell us everything we need to know about Comanchería: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire. The United States has finished the war for its independence and now finally has time to deal with the internal affairs of the country. They discover that despite the absence of a foreign enemy, they are still not masters of their future continent. There are still the dreaded Indians decimating their borders.
Doubting General WT Sherman takes a trip along the frontier to get a picture of the situation for himself. And it is here that he utters the sentence mentioned above, which leads to a long-term conflict and ultimately the end of the Indian tribes on the Southern Plains.
Back to history
It is clear from the introduction that we are in America in the 18th century. At that time, the United States was still in its infancy, and the main inhabitants of the continent were native Indians. And it is the game Comanchería that captures the Comanche tribe, which begins to assert itself and, over time, the small tribe becomes the tribe that will rule the Southern Plains.
However, becoming the biggest and strongest player is not easy and they had to face many challenges and obstacles during their reign. They were often threatened by various powers and other tribes who thought they had a right to their land, their herds and their lives. For many decades (175 years to be exact) the Comanches were able to withstand all these pitfalls, but unfortunately every nation one day reaches the end of its journey and must vacate its place.
And it is precisely in the development of this history that the game Comanchería has its first plus, because you can experience the entire story of this tribe during pre-prepared scenarios. Or you decide to start the development of the Comanches right from the beginning and everything will develop according to your own decisions and see how far you can get with the tribe.
Flamboyance vs. practicality
Before I jump into introducing the game components, I need to clarify one thing: Today we are dealing with a historical war game, which mostly means that there is little flashiness in the graphics, but high clarity during the gameplay.
But let’s take it in order and start with the game map, which, when unfolded, offers the player a view of the vast plains of America, where our entire story takes place. This large area is divided into several smaller locations, such as the Rio Grande, the upper and lower Arkansas or the Red River. Each of these locations contains places (fields) where you will move with your tribe, go on a bison hunt and face various attacks and raids from neighboring tribes or powers.
After the map, the second most important element in the game are the cards, which represent not only historical events, but also the technological capabilities of your tribe. I definitely mustn’t forget the war cards, without which any war campaign against your tribe would be lost in advance and wouldn’t know what to do. And last but not least, we also have a plate of tokens in the box full of units, bison, captives and other markers without which Comanchería would be impossible to play.
It is already clear from the pictures that you are looking at another game from the GMT Games workshop (Cold War, Churchill, Tank Duel, Gandhi), which has never stood out for its spectacular graphics. In general, I can be very benevolent towards war games, but I really regret the austerity here. It’s a shame that there are no pictures on the historical cards, and mind you, there are no pictures on the technology cards either, where you get the feeling that the game is literally coming to life under your hands.
Alone against the game
I’m not crazy enough to try to describe in detail how Comanchería is played in a few paragraphs. After all, it’s a game from GMT Games, who don’t make small games and it takes a while to fully master them. But I will at least try to bring it to you.
After choosing a scenario, you will have several rounds where you and your tribe of Indians try to reach the goal on the history card. We have exactly four of them in the game, and each card represents a certain scenario, or historical period where the Comanche nation was located. You can thus choose its beginning, its peak or the struggle to preserve the tribe.
I was surprised that the preparation of the game is not complicated and you simply follow the instructions on the card. Once you have everything ready, you will only have several dozen rounds, where you will always decide at the beginning of the round whether a war expedition is moving towards your tribe, which is followed by your various actions. You can go on a bison hunt, raid enemies or trade. You can also strengthen your culture and improve your leaders, or even start other tribes, so called rancherias.
And once a certain amount of time has passed and the time passing phase occurs, you have to take care of your tribes and leaders, but more than that, you also have to see if you have achieved victory. If you’ve done it, congratulations, you’ve had a great game experience. Otherwise, you lose and can try again and again.
Playing against you
So far I have described what you will do in the game and what awaits you. Although this is a pure solo game, there is still only one player sitting against you. This is the in-game AI, here called the Enemy Command Table.
The more active you are as a player, the more the game comes alive under your hands and different enemies take their own actions. In general, enemies await you from different directions, when other Indian tribes will attack you from the north, and from the other three directions, strong powers in the form of Spain, Mexico, Texas and the USA will push into your territory.
Each enemy mentioned above has its own command tokens that you move, activate or remove from the game during the game. One day you may be surprised by a war expedition that wants to settle scores with your tribe, another time you watch them try to settle the Southern Plains and build settlements on your territory. But not everything is bad, sometimes you can even come to an agreement on a momentary peace, which allows you to relax a little and maybe thanks to that you will meet the winning conditions.
I have to nod my head that this mechanism works great and fast. The more active you are as a player, the more actions the game takes, and it can happen that your overactivity (sometimes it’s just bad luck) creates more problems for yourself than you would like. But that’s just the beautiful spice of this game that will keep you entertained and you won’t feel like you’re alone with the game.
Two leaders, one tribe
Already while loading the rules and the game guide, I liked the game element that captures the interesting solution of the leaders in the game. That is, the leaders in the Comanche tribes, when each tribe had two leaders. One is called Paraibo and the other Mahimiana.
I’ve always been more of a one-man rule, but here it makes wonderful sense, as Paraibo represents an elder who has experience and takes care of the civil affairs of the tribe, while Mahimiana was the younger Indian deciding matters of warfare and fighting. As time passes, the warrior can become an elder and, based on his experience, he leads his tribe and leaves the battle expeditions to someone younger.
This whole idea is very nicely incorporated into the game, where everything revolves around these two leaders. Everyone has their Puha scale, which is their experience and skill, and you can even go on hunting and war expeditions with Mahimiana. But be careful, it can also happen that you die during the battle…
The road to culture
I’m going to dwell a little on one game element that I enjoyed while playing, and that’s the culture cards. What I like about any Civilization game is when the creator (in this case Joel Toppen) includes the possibility of a tech tree and allows you to develop and improve as you play.
In total, you have eight areas that you can gradually improve. These are, for example, horse riding, politics, warfare, etc. It is up to you what your nation needs and what it would like to improve on. You can dive into better knowledge of your surroundings and better face raids, or learn to trade and acquire new weapons. It’s only a few cards, but it really fits the game and I’ve always wondered for a long time what would ultimately help me gain the upper hand over my enemies.
Everything comes to an end
I could write about Comanchería for a really long time and I would still feel that everything would not be described completely. From the beginning of playing, I had a problem to penetrate the theme of the game, after all, I only knew Vinnetou and The Last of the Mohicans and I could not imagine the huge location where the game takes place.
That’s why I reached for the book Empire of the Summer Moon: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Nation, which, although it deals with the later phase of this tribe, beautifully captures the entire final conflict with the USA. One has to tip one’s hat to the courage of not only the Comanches, but also the settlers, who often did not even know what they were up against. So I really recommend this book, as well as reading the attached author’s notes, which describes how he created the game and how he based it on his original Navajo Wars game.
In conclusion, I would like to write that Comanchería is not a small game and I did not manage to finish it in one evening. At the same time, I like when I learn a lot of historical information from the game and when the game portrays to me what it was like back then. Unfortunately, I don’t have that feeling here, and I was more focused on the game mechanics than the resulting story.
This is not to say that there is no plot in the game, it’s just that it’s like a super movie from Hollywood and not a history book. So if you expect to experience various epic moments, then Comanchería is a good choice and you will enjoy the game. But the question is how often, considering its “massiveness”, it will get on the table.