Another very interesting looking game based on an obscure yet interesting conflict? What? Another game designed by John Poniske? This guy really does games that are unique and interesting and I simply love doing interviews with him as well. He really is a very nice guy! (I was able to meet him at WBC in late July!). Releasing soon from Legion Wargames is Maori Wars: The New Zealand Land Wars 1845-1872 from John Poniske and we were fortunate to get the scoop on the game from the designer.

Grant: What drew you to design a wargame on the New Zealand Land Wars in the late 1800’s?

John: I had a distant personal connection. My father fought on Guadalcanal in WWII and was wounded there. He was shipped back to New Zealand to recover. He spent a couple weeks recovering with a sheep ranching family. The family greatly impressed him. Dad never talked about the war but he did mention that N.Z. family time and again. Late in life, my wife and I contacted the family and flew to the North Island of New Zealand to spend time with the kids (then in their 70s). They treated us like royalty and I learned for the first time about the amazing Maori culture and their military conflicts with the British. I couldn’t wait to translate it all in game form and share it with others.

Grant: What historical reference sources did you review in order to get a good idea of the history and its nuances? What one book would you recommend on the subject?

John: There are a lot of good sources out there but here are a few that I used:

MAORI WARS Short Bibliography

Here it is, but perhaps not so short – Highlighted is the book I would recommend.


 Bush Fighting; Illustrated by Remarkable Actions and Incidents of the Maori War in New Zealand: Sir James Edward Alexander. 2010. (Guerrilla fighting, New Zealand-style)

 The Colonial New Zealand Wars: Tim Ryan and Bill Parham; 1986 (An illustrated history with a plethora of color plates and period sketches)

 Landscapes of Conflict, A field Guide to the New Zealand Wars: Nigel Prickett. 2002. (fortifications, fieldworks and weapons)

 Maori Fortifications: Ian Knight. 2009 (Osprey publication that covers the construction of Maori forts and trench works during the wars)

 The Maori wars;: The British Army in New Zealand, 1840-1872 (19th century military campaigns: Tom Gibson. 1974 (British organization and deployments)

 New Zealand: Cumberland Clark. 1926. (early overview of culture and history)

 The New Zealand Wars: James Belich. 1986. (inspired a television documentary series)

 The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64), Cowan, James F.R.G. S., 1955

 The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72) ), Cowan, James F.R.G. S., 1956

 Origins of the Maori Wars: Keith Sinclair. 1957 (written by renowned New Zealand historian and poet)

 The Reed Concise Maori Dictionary: A.W. Reed and Timoti Karetu. 2001. ( A simple Maori-English, English-Maori dictionary and phrase book)

 Wars Without End: Danny Keenan. 2009 (A view of the wars from the Maori point of view)


 The New Zealand Wars

 New Zealand in History

 Aukland War Memorial Museaum

 Maori War Canoe

 NZ Army

 New Zealands 19th Century Wars

 Historical photos and lithographs

Grant: What elements from the history did you need to include in the design to be true to history?

John: I had to include British expansion and settlement building as that was the core issue in these conflicts, along with the negative aspects of British fort building. Also the unique defensive quality of the Maori Pa had to be included, along with Maori bush fighting and the British response to it. There needed to be three Maori factions: hostile, neutral and Queenite (Allied with the British). Since tribes occasionally switched sides or dropped out of the fight that too needed to be addressed as well as the negotiating aspect that sometimes led to weakening or strengthening alliances. The variety in British and Australian units and the inclusion of gunboats and war canoes. Finally, the depiction of the many separate conflicts that arose between 1845-1872.

Grant: What challenges and opportunities did the design present?

John: My biggest challenge was unfamiliarity with Maori culture and the related spellings of names and places. Over time, place names changed and depending on the source and the author the spellings often differed. Decisions regarding rivers and water borne movement and combat was also challenging.

Grant: I noticed that Kim Kanger worked as the game developer on the design. What did his insight bring to the table? How did he help to improve the design and assist you?

John: Oh my gosh, I am so thankful to Kim for his patience and precision. He is a true professional. You have to understand that Maori Wars was born 15 years ago and has been in the hands of three publishers (two of which handed the design back when they went out of business). This is to say that I was so far removed from the project that I needed Kim to jar my memory, to shake loose my intentions. He has been instrumental in removing the inconsistencies and sharpening the mechanics. Had it not been for him I’m afraid my scenario set-ups would have been a mess. That said, I want players to know that I am responsible for any remaining errors, not Kim. And dealing with cultural conflicts half a world away, I imagine a few errors will remain.

Grant: I also noticed that the artist is Nils Johansson. What did his unique style add to the theme and end product?

John: I am so glad you asked that. Nils is an absolute joy to work with. He is a European clothing designer of some note. Much of the time when I corresponded with him he was plying his trade in Asia. His artistic talent is other-worldly. I have had so very many people tell me they will buy the game for the map alone. To that end. Randy has seen to it that separate copies of the map will be made available to his customers (rolled and tubed, not folded). Nils is also the genius behind my Berlin Airlift map. I was so blessed to pair up with him.

Grant: It really is a great looking map. Do you feel the map reinforces the theme of the wars?

John: Ah, so you noticed too! Of course it does. That’s what Nils is so good at. Like a method actor who lives his role, Nils dwells in the artistic styles of the period to help draw the players there too.

Grant: What are the major differences in the tactics, forces and fighting styles between the British and the Maori? Would you consider this design asymmetrical? Why or why not?

John: Yes I would consider the different sides asymmetrical. The Maori are fighting in regions they know intimately. To that end they are always in supply regardless of their tactical situation – as long as they have villages somewhere on the map to supply them. Whereas the British are tied to the proximity of their forts and settlements. The Maori are greatly outnumbered and are fighting in smaller bands but their defense-works (Called Pas), their ferocity in battle, their ability to surprise the enemy and their advantage in negotiation with neighboring tribes make them formidable.

On the other hand, the British have overwhelming forces, and can depend on superior reinforcements. They have versatile gunboats that are quite literally water-borne artillery. Over time they imitate Maori bush tactics and create their most effective units, their Rangers. The English have large established towns that cannot be destroyed and from which British reinforcements spring. The British employ a small number of cavalry which can be deadly against Maori units in the open. In addition, the British forts are more difficult to attack and overcome than the Maori Pa.

Grant: What is the scale of the game? What about the force structure?

John: The scale per hex is about 10 miles or 16 kilometers. Each turn is approximately two months. Most English professional and militia units consisted of 200-300 soldiers – Naval, Artillery, Cavalry, Ranger and Constabulary units somewhat less. A Maori unit or Taua consisted of approximately 100-200 warriors. Gunboat units include 2-4 vessels. Canoe units include 3-5 vessels

Grant: What is the Sequence of Play? Anything unique about the elements?

John: The Maori player is considered to have the initiative and plays first.

1. Reinforcement Phase

2. Movement Phase

3. Rally Phase

4. Alliance Phase

5. Combat Phase

6. Bush Raider Phase

7. Construction Phase

8. Attrition Phase

The British Player then follows the same 8 phases after which the turn marker is advanced.

What do I think is unique about these elements:

The Alliance Phase – this allows both sides to treat with neutral Maori tribes to try to entice them to their side. It is not always successful and may indeed turn the tribe against the treating faction.

The Bush Raider Phase – This allows the Maori and later the English player to move units into the bush (off board) and bring them back on – with limitations – to ambush enemy units and structures.

The Attrition Phase – Like many games the English must trace a line of supply within a certain distance to their settlements and forts. However the Maori player is not dependent on a supply line but he is dependent on his villages. The more villages he loses, the fewer Taua he can field.

Grant: What is the Bush Raider Box and what does it represent? How does the mechanics of this phase work?

John: Imagine a foe whose location you know but who slips into the woods/brush/jungle and disappears. This is the concept behind the Bush Raider Box . I used a similar concept in my Filipino Rebellion game, Amigos and Insurrectos, (Battles Magazine). Players remove units to the Bush Raider Box or to the Bush Raider map that Randy is including in the game. The number is restricted by the scenario. On a future turn they may be removed from the box and placed in any hex within the region they slipped into. In doing so they carry an ambush bonus in battle. Units “in the bush” may be searched for and fought but until the English train their Rangers, this is not a very effective tactic.

Grant: Where did the thought for the Territory chit concept come from? How did this change over time?

John: Good question. Originally, my idea was to place a region’s chit over units in the Bush Raider Box to keep players from teleporting anywhere on the map. This forced them to move from region to adjacent region so that their opponent never knew exactly where they were but knew exactly which region was in danger from their raids. Through Kim’s test play he learned that players preferred a separate mini-map which allowed them the same intelligence but was easier to “grok” at a glance.

Grant: What are the advantages of the Maori ambushing the British? Is this their one true advantage?

John: The Maori have several advantages. Their units all move four hexes. Most English Units move only three with the exception of Rangers and Cavalry. The Maori have more flexible supply rules and they have a better chance of winning over neutrals during negotiation. However, I have to agree with you in that Maori Bush Raiding is undoubtedly their greatest advantage…although this advantage erodes over time as the British begin imitating their tactics.

Grant: How does the Maori player form alliances with the other neutral tribes? When an alliance is formed, what happens for the Maori player?

John: Any leader adjacent to a neutral village may attempt to sway them to his side. The player controlling the negotiating leader rolls a die and refers to the alliance chart on the map noting the plusses and minuses that apply: +1 if the leader is alone (non-threatening), Maori leaders have +1 with or without units. -1 if a neutral leader is present (wants his tribe to stay out of the fight). +2 if the village is unoccupied. If the village chooses to ally then the village and any leader and/or units present are replaced with respective Hostile Maori or Queenite pieces. If the Maori player gains the alliance, it improves his supply situation and possibly adds one or two fighting units to his side.

Grant: How can the British player tear these alliances apart?

John: They can’t. Once upon a time I allowed the Maori to treat with Queenites and the English to treat with Hostiles but somewhere along the line I was talked out of it. I no longer remember the details.

Grant: As you’ve mentioned earlier, there are Leaders, canoes, gunboats and artillery. What role do these units play?

John: Leaders are necessary for negotiation and for rally. Canoes are used for long range Maori transport along coastal hexes and, unlike gunboats, may be carried cross country. Gunboats are used for long range transport along coastal hexes as previously mentioned as water-borne artillery. Artillery is used to bombard Pas, which increases the odds of overcoming Maori defenses. It may also be used as an intimidating factor in negotiations with neutrals.

Grant: Tell us a bit more about the British Rangers and their special abilities? The Cavalry? Marines?

John: Rangers are specialized English and New Zealand troops who have learned Maori tactics in the bush and for all intents and purposes have Maori abilities with one impressive advantage – they bush raid with a +2 die roll modifier. Rangers only appear in the latter scenarios. Cavalry which was rare and sparingly used, has increased movement and in open terrain enjoys a +1 die roll modifier against Maori units. Naval units or Marines are essentially British soldiers in all respects. Long ago, I had them restricted to operations within a certain distance of rivers or the ocean, but just like the negotiation rules mentioned earlier, this rule too was trimmed.

Grant: Also what is unique about Maori Warriors and Queenites?

John: Both are Maori Warriors. Queenites are just Maori warriors allied with the British…usually against traditional enemy tribes.

Grant: How does the Sap marker work and how does it affect attacks on villages?

John: It is only used in the Wanganui and the Combined Hutt Valley & Wanganui scenarios as a nod to the historical use of the tactic by Major General Pratt. In these scenarios, against one chosen Pa, the SAP marker is placed on the besieging British unit with the arrow pointing to the Pa in question. If the hex containing the SAP marker is still occupied by British troops at the beginning of the following turn the Pa is destroyed. It has no effect on Maori leaders or units.

Grant: Rally is easier for the Maori. What does this reflect from history?

John: How does it change the way each side treats combat? Much like the American Indian, the Maori were fighting to defend their lands and their homes. They had more to lose. They also understood the land and were raised with a warrior mentality. The regular English troops were disciplined, no doubt, but were a long way from home in an environment they did not fully understand. The various militias were largely conscripted and although they rise up on occasion they did not have the stick-to-itiveness that regulars had.

Grant: How does combat work in the game? Why do all units have a combat value of 1? What was your reasoning for this choice?

John: First, all units have a combat value of one for simplicity sake. This also allows me to reward the vastly outnumbered Maori with battlefield man-to-man advantage. In combat both sides determine their combat factors and roll a die. The CRT is set up to reflect three types of engagement: 1) Inferior force vs. superior force 2) Equal forces, or 3) Superior force vs. inferior force. Results include: No effect, Disruption, Retreat, and Elimination.

Grant: What is a Battle Dispatch Chit and how does it work?

John: Battle dispatches are my way of introducing historical situations into battle. Whenever a player attacks, the defender draws a Dispatch Chit and refers to the Dispatch Chart to see what has occurred. If “According to Plan” is drawn, then nothing interferes with the attack. Otherwise things like: Quick March, Ferocity, New Religion, Atrocities or Seek Peace, may throw a wrench in the works.

Grant: Why did you allow defenders to attack first in combat? What does this add to decisions to attack or not?

John: It forces the attacker to avoid suicidal attacks and accounts for the casualties taken when attacking fortified positions as so many engagements in the Maori Wars were.

Grant: What is the CRT like and why did you construct is as you did? What are the various results?

John: I covered this under combat. Why did I do it this way … to be different. But here is a look at the CRT.

Grant: Settlements, villages, forts and Pa…oh my! Why such a focus on building defensive structures?

John: The wars were predicated on English encroachment by building settlements and forts. The Maori had long since developed intricate defensive fortifications called Pa. Their villages were the source of their men and supplies. Once a village was destroyed – survivors were likely to build another – if given the chance.

Grant: What different scenarios are included? How long is each of the scenario’s play time? What scenario is your favorite?

John: There are seven pages of rules and 13 pages of introduction and scenario. We provide ten separate scenarios. The latter three are longer, combined scenarios. Once the rules are understood – and they are not all that difficult – I would say the first seven scenarios – 1-2 hours. The final three – 3+ hours.

Grant: What are the victory conditions?

John: Each scenario lasts a certain number of turns. Victory points are recorded throughout the game on a see-saw track – meaning only one faction will show points on the Victory Point track and this will adjust back and forth throughout the game. Either side can achieve an auto victory by reaching 9 victory points first. The English player can win an auto victory by eliminating all hostile villages and Pa on the board regardless of the Maori units remaining. The Maori can win by eliminating all settlements, remaining forts and units do not matter. Other than that, 6-8 points is a major victory, 2-5 points is a minor victory, 0-1 points is a draw. The English earn one point for building a settlement or destruction of a Maori or Canoe unit, two points for capture of a Maori leader. The English will lose one point for every fort they build. The Hostile Maori player earns one point for the destruction of every regular, naval, or militia unit, one point for the capture of a British leader, one point for converting a village to a Pa, +1 for the destruction of each settlement and +2 for the destruction of each Ranger, Artillery or Cavalry unit.

Grant: What do you feel the design handles really well?

John: The ability of the Maori to present a formidable fighting force despite the disparity in numbers with the British.

Grant: What are you most pleased with about the design?

John: I am most pleased with the beautiful map, as for the mechanics I truly like including the Dispatch and the Bush raiding aspects.

Grant: What is the timeline of the game’s release?

John: It is scheduled for late August early September so it may well correspond with your release of this interview. Readers still have a small window in which to take advantage of Legion’s preorder discount.

Grant: What other projects are you working on?

John: So many my head is spinning, Grant. By this coming spring I hope to see published Devil Dogs of Belleau Wood (Worthington Games Kickstarter), Hearts and Minds version III (Compass Games), and Berlin Airlift (Legion Games Kickstarter).

Sometime next year I hope to see Fall of Siam (Compass Games) and Bleeding Kansas (Victory Games) released. The year thereafter I will see Wolfe Tone’s Rising (Compass Games) and Banana Wars (Victory Games) printed. In the meantime I am working on The Flanks of Gettysburg, Pontiac’s War and The Tuscarora Wars.

Thanks John for the great insight into Maori Wars: The New Zealand Land Wars 1845-1872. If you are interest d in ordering a copy, you can still do so for the special CPO price of $46.00 at the following link: