Monday, September 20, 2010

Out of the box impressions of King Philip's War

King Philip's War would normally be an unremarkable wargame covering a little-known subject with a straightforward simple design.

But a story in the Providence Journal a few months back that highlighted the fact that a game on the topic was going to be published and spiced up with questions from a reporter to various tribal figures in the Rhode Island area that seemed designed to provoke reaction made this game stand out a bit from the crowd. Because, while the war it depicts happened a very long time ago -- 435 years to be exact -- feelings about it still run a bit raw among descendants of the Native Americans who were on the losing side of the conflict.

This is natural, of course. It was a brutal and sad war, even by the standards of the time. Only a generation earlier Europe had been ravaged by the 30 Years War, for example. Indeed, the more genteel style of warfare that would come about in the 1700s was largely in reaction to the excesses of war in the 1600s.

King Philip's War is interesting, because it probably represents the one time that the balance of power between the English colonists and Native Americans was close enough that there was an actual possibility of a strategic defeat for the British. Unfortunately for the Indians, they had only a dim sense of what was at stake and disunity reigned. Indeed, a signficant factor in the ventual Engish victory were Indians who took their side in the conflict. Even among the tribes that rose against the English there was division, and many individuals tried to stay neutral or aided the British, King Philip, himself, was fated to die at the hand of an Indian ally of the English.

The game is, by the designer's admission, not meant to be an exhaustive detailed simulation of the conflict but an easy to play wargame that highlights some aspects of the war. The factors emphasized by the game include its fluid, no-front-line nature, the fractiousness among the Indians, the unpreparedness of the English, the greater resources of the British, the large distances involved and the volatile nature of the fighting which involved militais on one side and tribal warriors on the other.

Component-wise it's a fairly typical MMP offering, with a large, full-color heavy paper map, two color player aid cards, a rulebook, also in full color and one counter sheet with large counters. There are three dice includes, two standard D6 one in green and one in red and a special custom "Event" die which adds potential random events to each combat.

I won't venture much comment on how it plays as yet, having just one solitaire session, but it solitaires pretty well and plays fast. It should be easy to play within a typical evening's time.

As far as the controversy goes, there's nothing remotely controversial about the game content aside from the same objections one could levy against any wargame. The Indian side is treated with respect and the sanguinary nature of the conflict well exposed. And I think it provides a valuable reminder that this nearly forgotten war happened.


  1. I live in Singapore and am originally from upstate NY. A friend of mine from the UK asked me what I felt about the fuss surrounding this game. I told him I had seen nothing on it. You've now had the honor of being able to change that. It makes me wonder how my B-29 Superfortress plays will 'fly over' with some. I also wonder how the upcoming Persian Incursion by Clash of Arms is going to be talked about if it ever goes to press... Thanks for your entries!

  2. It's an interesting problem that has always hovered around the edges of wargaming.

    I think it's worth noting that the original burst of interest in wargames occurred during the Vietnam era when there was a bloody war going on and a considerable segment of the public was hostile to all things military.

    Yet in many ways the discourse about war seemed more honest and open than what we have today. The KPW controversy is just one example of how the conversation seems to have shifted. I do wonder if the upcoming Persian Incursion will garner negative press attention, especially if it's perceived as providing support for a strike. (based on a preliminary article on the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran that appeared in the Naval SITREP I believe Bond has concluded that the strike is very "doable" for Israel. What he hasn't take a position on is whether it is wise.

    For another example, 20 years ago it wasn't uncommon to see SS runes and swastikas depicted on military models and in games where historically accurate. Now, however, you see those symbols being suppressed. Just two examples that come to mind -- while swastikas were almost universal on the tail of Nazi German aircraft they do not appear on the Wings of War miniatures or Axis & Allies Miniatures aircraft. Similarly, the A&A War at Sea miniature for the German Battlecruiser Gneisenau has the deck markings (a white circle within a red square) that historically framed a swastika but the crooked cross itself does NOT appear.

    This sensitivity about the King Philip's War is of the same ilk. It wasn't so long ago that you could have a game called Custer's Luck being marketed with little notice and yet today a more straightforward game like KPW is controversial. Odd.