joel toppen

I have gone through the first scenario of Navajo wars a few times now and I have to say it is one of the better solitaire games I have played.  Toppen Does a great job directing you through a tutorial to give you a feel for how the game actually plays through a number of turns. Solitaire game systems can sometimes be very tedious but this has a very simple mechanic to tell you how to play the enemies turn.  The game is very challenging but keeps you right at the edge of frustration.  It has been set up on the kitchen table for about a week and a half now.  I don’t see it getting put away soon.   

Navajo Wars (GMT Games) | Unconventional Review

It took me a lot to get into a deep game like Navajo Wars, one of the latest game produced by GMT, designed by Joel Toppen (check my interview with Joel Toppen in the Archive of this blog).
I looked on the web and I’ve seen many reviews of this title, which I think are well written but a bit long and tedious. Imagine a reader who wants to know exactly if this is the game he’s looking for : will he ever read the entire papyrus? Or at least: is this reading effort necessary?

Let’s try to make a different review, highlighting the virtues and weaknesses of the game and discussing the differences between this and the others GMT products.

Why Navajo?

I don’t know much about Navajo history and about Navajo - inspired wargames, but the theme is really interesting. Joel Toppen said this is the first chapter of a series of games inspired by the American Natives. 
This an unconventional theme in the wargame’s universe, expecially for the way in which it has been treated by Joel Toppen. I heard some gamers laughing about this game before it was out. Afterwards, immediately after reading the rules and looking at the game system, they realized they made their biggest mistake. 
Don’t make the same mistake!

Why Wars?

The game depicts three different campaign involving different enemies of the Dinè (the word Navajo used to refer to their tribe. It means “The People”). These are not really “wars” in the common sense of the term, involving two equal armies on two (or more) opposite fronts. Instead, as you will see if you choose to play this game, these are skirmishes involving tribes or military detachment and which can be resolved easily and quickly. 
In each campaign a new enemy threatens the development of Navajo tribes. Each of these campaigns represent a different historical period:

1. 1595-1821 : Spanish Campaign
2. 1846: Mexican Campaign
3. 1864: American Campaign

The first one is the easiest campaign and historically it is a period in which the Dinè were strong. The last one is the hardest campaign cause it is the last stand for the supremacy on their lands.

The Game System

This is mainly a solitaire game. You will act as a Navajo leader, choosing among different options (some necessary and other less) and waiting for an enemy reaction. The game uses a deck of cards to scan the succesion of operations and events and a matrix to govern the enemy’s operations. These are the two main pillars of the game.

There are different types of cards in the game: development cards, operations cards, historical event cards and so on. Each of these cards explains to the player what he can do in this turn and how to do it.
I won’t talk about the game sequence cause in the Playbook is already well explained with examples by Joel Toppen. One of the good thing of this game is that the author brings you inside the game as a teacher, letting you try the different steps and discussing the possible options.
At first glance the game seems chaotic and hard to master, but if you read this playbook, jumping often to the rulebook, you’ll be ready to set up and play the first scenario in less than expected.

Counters

Surprisingly, Navajo Wars doesn’t have a lot of counters. 
There are only 1 and ½ countersheets inside the box. Among these counters - beatifully illustrated and perfeclty cutted for an easy punch-out - there are Population or Family counters, wich represent the members of the Navajo’s families (the Elder is my favourite); Animals and Corn counters, which are used with specific associated actions; Instruction counters which are used to drive the enemy’s actions against the player; Outpost counters used to mark enemy’s Ranchos and Missions on the map. I won’t spend a word for each of the counters in the countersheet, but I ensure you they are pretty functional and well designed. Okay, this is the right moment to stop my counter - festicism. 

For the gamers

Navajo Wars is a game for real gamers. Not for hardcore gamers but neither for newbies. Playing Navajo Wars is like reading a refined old book. When you open it you immediately feel small, but once you get in to it, you begin something like a journey on its pages, following the adventure word after word. 
Will you lead your tribe to great cultural achievement and peace, avoiding battles and trading resources with the other tribes or will you lead the them to starve and death, destroying traditions for a bit of glory? 
That’s what I mean with unconventional game. Navajo Wars brings you a new challenge each time you play it. The possible worlds of gaming wind between cards and chits. The choices are always yours, but the Will of the Great Spirit won’t always be by your side.
I’m not reccomending this game only to wargamers but also to those who like euro-games and historically-themed boardgames. The mechanics are really innovative and unusual. Comparing this game’s system to other GMT games systems, I can’t find a similar one. The card driven mechanic is by now a GMT set piece and it has been used in another great solitaire game: Labyrinth - War on Terror by Volko Ruhnke, with a different function.
What I need to say now is that if you liked ¾ of the things I said about this title and you are a passionate player, then you must try Navajo Wars.
I could explain it in many ways, but the best thing to do is to try it in first person. 
But be careful! You don’t have much time. Dinè awaits you.

Rating: 8/10 

Overall Quality: 10 - Great Map printed on solid cardboard, high quality counters and cards, simple and clear Rulebook and Playbook.

Difficulty: Medium/High - Not a entry level game and not that difficult to learn but it’s hard to remeber everything while playing and to guess the right thing to do.

Playing Time: Approximately 30/45 minutes for a single scenario and 3 hours for a complete Campaign.