As a solitaire only game, Comanchería: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire from GMT Games has a very well designed and fairly easy to use AI control mechanic. In this post, I’d like to take a look at how it works and why I like it so much.
Over the time period depicted in the game, the Comanche people were beset by various enemies from each direction. In the design, the enemies are simply identified by the cardinal direction from which they came including North, South, East and West. Typically, the North enemy represents hostile tribes to the Comanche including Apaches, Wichitas, Tonkawas, Pawnee, Cheyenne, etc. while the South, East and West represent different Colonial Powers controlling that enemy. If the counters are marked with a Burgundy Cross flag, these are Spanish colonials. There are also Texian, United States and Mexican markers. These different enemies are controlled by the Enemy Instruction Display.
The Enemy Instruction Display has four enemy columns color-coded with each of the previously mentioned enemies as well as an Inactive Column. At the start of the game during setup, these counters will be placed on this display and will be moved around during the game as play progresses. Each of these spaces can only contain one counter as there is no stacking allowed and different colors cannot be moved or placed in other colored rows. As you can see from the picture, each of these counters has a name, an alphabetic ID and a numeric AP cost. These instructions may be executed as a part of several different actions which include during step 3 and 4 of the Operations Cleanup Phase, during step 8 of a Planning Operation or when an instruction is drawn from the Success Check Draw Cup during a Success Check.
For simplicities sake, I am going to walk us through the process of the Enemy Instruction Display during step 3 and 4 of the Operation Cleanup Phase in order to give you a taste of how it works. If the enemy has at least 1 AP available to spend during this phase, players will roll a die and compare that result to the Enemy Action Table pictured on the History Card. In the picture below, you can see that I rolled a 3, which corresponds to the West enemy on the table. This roll will identify which of the enemies will activate and get to use the available APs to take actions against the Comanche during this phase. Only one of the enemies will activate and will use all of the available APs to perform actions (notice that the East is not active during this time period).
The next step is to roll another die and compare its result to the numbers listed as red die faces down the left edge of the Enemy Instruction Display. This roll will determine which of the counters in the active enemy’s color will be flipped to its opposite side. This action gives some variety to the various actions available and will also open up more powerful actions than ones listed at the start. In the picture used at the beginning of the paragraph above, you will notice that the roll on the red die was a 5 which equates to the Settle action.
The result directs the player to flip the chosen counter in the five position from its Settle 4 action to a new War 4 action. This roll doesn’t decide what actions will be taken this turn but forces a change in the actions that may be taken during a later turn to add some variety and a little bit of uncertainty. The player then totals the number of Available Enemy APs, in this example there are 7 APs, and then simply starts at the top of the identified column (in this case the West enemy column or yellow) taking the actions that it can afford for the turn.
Once again, you will have to look at a few pictures above, but the West enemy can afford to do several actions including Peace for a cost of 3 APs (will not allow a War action to be fully executed) and Settle for 3 APs (place a Settlement counter of the enemy color in a space determined by a list of priorities) but will not be able to afford Culture for 3 APs (take away Culture Points from the player, which is really bad as it can end the game and takes your resources that could be used to purchase new Culture cards to improve your abilities) or Subjugate for 3 APs (remove a targeted Tribe counter and/or place a new Settlement of the active enemy color). At that point, there will not be enough APs to pay the minimum cost of the next available action so the turn will come to an end and the display will be reset. When actions are used, they are simply slid to the far right Inactive column and kept in the same order as they were played in. When the turn is done, the remaining unused actions in the column will simply be slid up to the top of the column in the same order they were and the inactive column counters will be used to fill in the now open spaces starting with the counter at the bottom of the Inactive Column. In this way, the available actions will change each round giving the game a sense of uncertainty for the player as it will be impossible to truly plan for the actions that will be taken against them in future rounds. I really liked this “Fog of War” aspect as it made my decision making steps very challenging.
All in all, I really enjoyed my first play of Comanchería: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire from GMT Games and look forward to exploring the game over many plays. Look for an upcoming review once I have a few more plays under my belt. If you missed Action Point 1, you can read about Taking Actions such as Hunt, Move, Raid or Trade.