Monday, November 7, 2011

Fall-in 2011: The Battle of Yellowstone

As I've written before the whole idea of the train game/Yellowstone theme for the gnomish mega-games was my event, the aptly named Battle of Yellowstone. This was not a true Gnome game, per se. Yes, two dozen guys with pointy hats, a stripped down version of the GW rules, and a flock of sheep sounds like a Gnome extravaganza, but in fact, I wanted to run an obscure gaame that fit this year's theme (U.S. Cavalry) and it coniciding with the release of the American gnomes was an added bonus.

To the two naysayers who scoffed at the idea, I stand by my choice. The Battle of Yellowstone was a conflict that stretched over 30 years and helped establish policies of the the National Park Service. Despite a the rantings of peaceniks everywhere, the military management of civilian institutions isn't always a bad thing.

After the establishment of Yellowstone as a National Park in 1872, the park suffered over a decade of incompetent Park Superintendants, nepotism, and budgetary restraints by Congress. In in rush to leave a hot and humid Washington in the Summer 1886, Congress basically destroyed the means of civilian management of the park, forcing the Secretary of the Interior to make a request to the War Department for mounted soliders to perform the civilian duties.

For the next thirty years, members of the United Staes Cavalry patrolled the park, kicking out poachers, loggers, miners, and yes, sheep and other herd animals. All the while, they also mapped the park, made improvements, restored the buffalo, and eventually helped "guide" legit campers and tourists around Yellowstone.

Set-up: Even with ten players, the number of figures on the board was more akin to a large role-playing game:
  • Four units of US Cav (3 figures each)
  • Two groups of miners (4 figures each)
  • One group of hunters (3 figures)
  • One group of rowdy campers (8 figures)
  • One group of shepherds (4 shepherds, 11 sheep, and a goat)
  • The Animals
Yes, I gave one player control of the deer (random movement), buffalo herd (represented by gingerbread men, by hey, we are playing with gnomes), three wolves and a bear. I'm very happy I gave the duties to a husband/wife team (hello Derek/Arlene from Ontario!), because it was a large undertaking. The wolves "orders" were to hunt deer and sheep and only attack lone figures. I figured they would be wiped out fairly early. Boy, was I wrong!

For initiative, I gave each unit/group a playing card and put two of each into the initiative deck. I also inserted a Jack (next unit drawn loses their turn) and Ace (next unit drawn takes two turns). I also had Jokers in the deck, which represented actual historical events that took place over the thirty years of occupation. Since it was a three hour game, and I wanted to get through the history, three Jokers to start was a bit much. Some of the "tresspassers" got to move, two units of Cav, and then a Joker to represent wildfires that had to be put out, followed by another Joker for Winter, forcing all cav units to stand their ground until four cav cards were drawn for initiative. By the end of the game, only one event card was in the deck and we finished with 10 minutes to spare.

The Game: With special events distracting the cavalry from ejecting the tresspassers, I believe I made a giant solitaire game for ten players, and no one minded. Each player had to focus on their own objective, and if everyone game each other their space, it could be achieved with absolutely no bloodshed. And for the first hour, that's the way the game went. The miners mined the ore deposits and rushed them back to town. The hunters/trappers killed Bambi:


The father-son team playing the shepherds had a dickens of time trying to control their flock, and defend against wolf attacks. I simplified an already simple set of solitaire sheep herding rules from an old issue of Wargames Illustrated and they worked out great.

The animals made things interesting. The random movement of herbivores, not so much. They remained static and easy targets for the hunters/wolves. The buffalo never left an area more than two square feet and were never in danger of stampeding!

The predators (bear included) did make the other players adjust their actions, and even team up to fight them off. Only one wolf was killed, after killing three of four of the sheep.

A little over an hour into the game, I had a heart to heart with the young man playing the carousing campers. While he had taken some pot shots at other groups, he had remained static on the board. I educated him (and the other players a bit later), that early campers/tourists were destructive, usually out of willful ignorance than malicous intent. I encouraged him to actively shoot at the other group, all the while moving from point to point on the board, knocking down trees, rolling for starting forest fires, blocking up Old Faithful, heck if he made it to the other end of the board, I would have offered buffalo tipping! This turned the game a bit more violent, and also created bad news for the Cav. Earlier contacts with the tresspassers were peaceful, and sometimes profitable. The civilians were returned to their board edge, sometimes with the ill-gotten gains still in their possession, and the Cav would return to their camp. Sometimes there was a bit of a scrum, but in the end, not many people argue with uniformed military . The open shooting and violence was damaging to the Cav, as budget cuts and more winters slowed their progress. Not exactly historically accurate, but easily corrected once the Cav got reinforcements.

Rowdy tourists shoot the Wildman of Yellowstone

Letting the wolf population thrive is detrimental to a lone man on patrol

Improvements begin to appear in the park

At the end of the game, when the Park Rangers took over, Yellowstone was a bit smaller than it is in reality. The Cav had been unable to clear the area on the other side of the river, so sheep, campers, and even the railroad had encroached on the land. On top of that, the military made an illegal deal with a group of miners to allow a mining claim in return for help in dealing with the carousing campers. In this alternate reality, the buffalo were saved very early on, but it would take years to rebuild the elk and deer herds.

Most importantly, everyone seemed to have a good time, and Old Faithful is safe... for now.

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