I’m playing Civilization and war breaks out. Massive armies pour out from industrial cities, clashing in a titanic battle on two nation’s borders.
But I’m not interested in any of that. Thousands of miles away, in this alternate history’s version of the New World, a series of fledgling colonies gets a message from the homeland — it is now at war with the other nation’s equally fragile colonies. There are no massive armies here, no industrial might. Victory out here will be dictated by levied militia and whatever scraps of military hardware the homeland deigned to send over the years. And a whole lot of luck.
Sure, strategic brilliance and technological wondery are all well and good in any war story, but what I especially like is resourcefulness. There’s something special about a conflict between two scrappy forces, either of whom would be annihilated by any meaningful supply of regulars.
I’ve got two game ideas based on this premise. Read on…
New Zealand: Total War
This would be an interesting (if totally improbable) addition to the Total War series.
I know I am about to simplify what was a complex series of conflicts between the Maori and the British settlers in New Zealand.
But consider: as the New Zealand Governor, your task is to keep and expand your settlements. Even with the best of intentions, relations with the Maori tribes will be strained by your own lawless colonists, interfering outsiders (like American whalers), and a new Maori religion that calls for the expulsion of Europeans. Can you keep some Maori tribes on-side? Do you petition the Crown to send crack Imperial troops? Will you be able to convince volunteer militia to carry on in the face of particularly fierce Maori warriors?
And why not play from the “reverse” angle, as a prominent Maori chief? During the Musket Wars, the various tribes fought one another. This has led to great loss of population and a massive shifting of power and territory. Will you be able to ally with enough tribes to carry our your plans? Can you contend with professional Imperial soldiers, who can wage war year-round, while your own warriors need to return home for harvest?
I enjoyed reading A Commonwealth of Thieves. About the founding of the Port Jackson colony in Australia, it describes the difficulties in establishing a settlement from scratch.
I personally don’t hold the black armband view of Australian history, precisely because historical accounts like these show that conflict often arises out of chaos, lack of understanding and inability to communicate. Governor Phillip actually sought peaceful relations with the natives. The trouble was that many convicts didn’t have such high ideals. Convicts would steal (and worse) from the aboriginal people. When the aboriginals retaliated in some way, it was seen by the colonists as unprovoked. You can imagine how these tit-for-tat incidents escalated.
It would make for a great Dwarf Fortress-style game. In both Port Jackson and Dwarf Fortress, simple mistakes can lead to massive disasters. But instead of seven skilled, intrepid and obedient dwarfs you start with boatloads of convicts, military guards, and a few professionals and administrators. And unlike the dwarfs they’re not all obedient.
I’m having a hard time picturing this scene in ASCII.
It’d be a game of balance. Can you keep the convicts working but not mutineering? Can you keep the military guard loyal and effective? Can you satisfy the individual needs of your vital professionals? Can you stay on good terms with the original inhabitants even after giving them smallpox? (Which, if you excuse the morbid observation, was another Dwarf Fortress-type catastrophe precisely because, knowing what had happened to American natives, precautions were taken to make the fleet free of the disease. Obviously said precautions failed.)
There’s no room for mistakes when civilisation is half a planet away.