Big Chiefs - a game about Native Americans and the white people who love them

Started by Liam Burke, April 13, 2012, 03:16:48 AM

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Liam Burke

Here it is:

I wasn't originally going to enter after all, but I was talking with Tom Lawrence and some others in IRC, and he was complaining about feeling like any game he wrote with the ingredient "coyote" would be appropriation in SOME way, and somebody else said "people are going to do it anyway," and I got to thinking about appropriation and one thing just led to another. So this is the game about playing in a cultural exploitation movie. I started it last evening, around 6, and finished it around noon today, so that's how much I proofread it and tested it. I suspect it's not that balanced. There's always time to fix that after the competition except that I almost certainly won't.

Thanks for reading it! Or at least for reading this.


Thomas Lawrence

I suspect, in many senses, this will be the game of the competition.

Jonathan Walton

Yeah, I kinda like "coyote" because it is challenging in that way.  I'm choosing not to use it for one of my games and then making my other game about dogs, so I kinda copped out.


Just wanted to let you know that the link to this game on the Game Chef submissions page isn't working. Right now it opens a blank document.
terrible games about terrible people in terrible situations/
terrible games about terrible people in terrible situations

Liam Burke

Yeah, the link in the post doesn't work. The link in the comment I left does work; it was broken when it was copied.


Big Chiefs Review
By: Troy M. Costisick

I feel very honored to have gotten Big Chiefs to review for Game Chef. Honestly, I have enjoyed reviewing all 4 of the games I was assigned, so I think I got pretty lucky this year. So let's begin. When I printed this game out, the pages were entirely blank. I have no idea what might have caused that, but I had to read it online. I hope this review didn't suffer as a result.

Big Chiefs is a game about Native Americans trying to preserve their territory against aggressive pioneers. This game examines powerful, historical tragedies in the vein of Dog Eat Dog and Steal Away Jordan. This game is going to push people's buttons, and bravo for it. I admire Liam's courage to design a game like this in contrast to my very safe, almost cartoonish treatment of the old west in The Coyote Lode.

Chargen captures its inspirational material (Dances with Wolves and Avatar) perfectly. If I were to play it, I think I'd pick a Turncoat. One motif I've seen over and over this year in the Game Chef games is that characters are given three components or traits that are used somehow in resolution. Liam follows suit in his entry with 3 thematically appropriate abilities derived from white culture, the tribe's culture, and (basically) a D&D Stat. He provides some great examples for each, including "car driving" for the pioneer culture- which I'm not sure what that would refer to. The time period is not right for automobiles, so it must be an aspect of settler life I never learned about. Could Liam have meant cattle driving or cart driving instead? I also wondered about skills that would be cross-cultural like horseback riding, scouting, or buffalo hunting. Are these legal to pick for both the pioneer and Native American traits, or not legal at all since they aren't exclusive to one?

After finishing characters, the players collaborate to create a map where the action in the game will take place. Or, at least I assume they collaborate, the instructions aren't 100% clear. It seems to be written in the singular. Anyway, I have to say that I think the map is one of the most important, if not THE most important aspect of the game. If the map does not provide enough points of conflict, play will fizzle. I'll talk more about this toward the end of my review.

Once play begins, the mechanics ram the pioneers and Native Americans into each other over and over like a kid with two Matchbox Cars and the PCs are caught in the middle. There is really no live and let live in this game. Confrontation is inevitable, and that's as it should be. Play would be boring otherwise.

Resolution is a mix of Risk and Craps. It's like Risk in that each side commits a number of forces (represented by tokens) to a fight, and it's like craps because... well to resolve who wins, you play craps! I'm not sure craps is the best resolution system for the game, but I think Liam's use of it as an ingredient was great. Craps might work better if there could be a connection drawn between craps, casinos, westward expansion, the Indian Wars, and that sort of thing. I get the sense that this game, as written, takes place prior to the Civil War, maybe during the Gold Rush? Liam may have to correct me on that.

Anyway, back to resolution. Losing a conflict is very harsh for the PCs, and that's okay. That's the point. But that also doesn't mean that the odds are stacked against them. PCs can increase their token pool thanks to Coyote's Blessing (too complicated to summarize here), giving this game a definite Fortune-in-the-Middle-w/Teeth mechanic for those who like resolution theory. The GM abilities that can be brought to bear against the natives create a game within a game during Chargen, and I like that a lot! It makes both Chargen much more consequential. Great design!

The endgame is natural and satisfying. I can see how, as written, this game would probably only be played once per group. It would basically provide the same story over and over without much variance. So it works for the Game Chef Theme, IMO.

I see two different ways Liam could develop this game further. First, he could go a more tactical route by giving the Native Americans and the GM more options during a conflict and creating resources each has to gather, and therefore, deny each other. The map would be divided into sections, and if one side has enough sections, that side would get a bonus of some kind. That game would be fun, but I think it may lose the message Liam wants to communicate. The pioneers and Native Americans would basically be reduced to red team vs. blue team.

A second way I might suggest he develop this game is to give the PCs a stronger tie to the pioneers. As it stands now, the PCs are firmly in the Native American camp. We're the good guys, they're the enemy. There's no real choice for the players to make. I think it would be better if the players had to face more of a moral dilemma. There should be something the players want to save, preserve, steal, or convert in the pioneer camp that would put them at odds with the tribe's desire just to wipe them out. This would add more tension to the game and address the premise in a more powerful fashion, IMHO. At some point, the players would have to choose between sacrificing that thing they want from the pioneers and sacrificing their fellow braves. And if each player wants something different, they'll have to decide who doesn't get what they want. I think that would be juicy.

Regardless of the direction you take, Liam, the rules for making the map should be more robust. What you did for your entry was great, but if you want to take this game to the next level, the players will need some concrete suggestions for what to put on the map. Farms for food, trees for lumber, buffalo traces for meat, sacred ground for religion, hills for scouting, and so on. Each of these would provide some resource, advantage, or ability to make them worth fighting over. The map will show where the flashpoints will be and thus, what the conflicts will be about. This makes it the centerpiece for play.

Overall, I loved the game, and I hope you pursue it after you get Dog Eat Dog finished, Liam. I think I read on Story Games where you said that you can design games about stuff other than colonization. I have no doubt that's true, but that doesn't mean you can't design two great games about native cultures being overrun! :)




It took me three reviews to figure out that I'm not supposed to post my eight-paragraph (or more) reviews on the 2012 Reviews page, so I'm finally going to follow the instructions and do this one here.

Contest Parameters: All four ingredients are used well. (Except maybe Coyote, which basically appears in name only. I get the impression that if Coyote weren't an ingredient, you may have called this, I dunno, Great Spirit or something.) I'm not totally sold on this being a one-shot game; it seems like there's enough here to fuel multiple sessions' worth of play. If the Native American settlement is destroyed, of course, it's destroyed, but if the pioneer settlement's destroyed, well, there are more pioneers where they came from (literally). Seems like they'd soon be back, and in greater numbers, which would mean more game. Still, that's a nitpick.

Things I Like: I like the premise -- it's such a cliche, but not one I've ever really seen dealt with before, especially in an RPG. I like the dehumanizing way Braves and Soldiers are just tokens, while the PCs are people, with skills and talents. I like the simple chargen process. The intuitive, open-ended Map Creation process theoretically risks descending into Other Terrain Features Hell, but in practice I seriously doubt players would be anything other than reasonable. I like the cynical name Big Chiefs. I like the craps-based dice mechanics, and the whole concept of Making A Stand. I love the GM moves (and, to a lesser extent, how we're all so comfortable calling them "moves").

Things I'm Not Personally On Board With: Actually... I think I'm good. Wait, no -- I'm not really down with the Traveller choice in chargen. It feels very out of place. I'm not sure what place it has in the source material.

Things That Are Genuine Problems: The only real problem here, I think, is the word count. The text could use some more examples, and maybe some lists of
--Mike Olson


What the--? I can't edit? Grr.

Anyway, I was going to say "lists of Skills, Talent, and Attributes."

Summary: Great concept and execution. And it's pretty funny, too, which is a plus. Congrats.
--Mike Olson

Liam Burke

Hey --

I will post more tomorrow, but I wanted to thank you two, as well as Kyle and Julia, for your reviews.

Devlin: Sorry! Traveller is a specific reference to, another movie in the same vein. I didn't include a specific quote from it in the epigram page, but on consideration it might've been a good idea so that people would get why I wrote Traveller (as well as just because it's really an egregious example). I feel like there are other movies that do similar things with time-travel or whatnot, but Forbidden Kingdom is the specific one I remember, just because I was so excited to see it until I saw it.