If there is one designer that I think handles difficult and sensitive designs better than many others it is John Poniske. From one of his first designs on the conflicts between early colonial settlers and the Native American population of the time in King Philip’s War from Multi-Man Publishing to his most recent game about the turbulent and violent politics of Pre-Statehood Kansas at the outset of the American Civil War in Bleeding Kansas from Decision Games, John always is willing to tackle the controversial and bring it to life in his designs.
* The pictures of components and art used in this interview are not yet finalized and are for playtest purposes only.
Grant: What is the historical background on your upcoming game Pontiac’s Uprising, 1763-1766?
John: It has to do with my work on Blood on the Ohio from Compass Games and what I learned about what led up to Pontiac’s Uprising.
Grant: Why are you drawn to these conflicts involving Indians during the Time of Enlightenment?
John: This was their land. Not ours. How did we come by it? Everyone should have some interest in that. I will always be interested in the background of the people who were caretakers of our country!
Grant: How did your 1st design on the subject King Philip’s War rear its head in this design?
John: Good Question. I suppose primarily it is reflected in the representation of the tribes involved and how they related to each other. However, the mechanics have evolved a great deal since King Philip’s War!
Grant: What elements are important for you to model regarding frontier fighting including Indians?
John: First and foremost – ambush. Second the idea of recruiting warriors through the passing of warbelts from nation to nation. And finally Indian relations with the French and how this effected the conflict.
Grant: Who is Pontiac and why do you believe he was successful in uniting tribes in the Great Lakes region to resist settlement?
John: He was a charismatic leader, however he was only representative of the feeling among Indians at the time. The conflict might just as well been named after any number of Indian sachems that threw themselves into the conflict. He did however have a manner of coordinating the unrest that was universally felt.
Grant: In your opinion is Pontiac a villain or a hero?
John: Wow – put me on the spot. He was a hero from the Indian perspective and we should give their perspective an understanding look. The Indians were definitely getting the short end of the stick from European interlopers. Pontiac saw what was happening, had some influence and used it to instigate…I would have done the same.
Grant: What resources did you consult regarding the history?
I love it when people ask that question. It leads folks to further research.
Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766
Dixon, David. Never Come to Peace Again: Pontiac’s Uprising and the Fate of the British Empire in North America
Dowd, Gregory Evans. War under Heaven: Pontiac, the Indian Nations, & the British Empire
Jacobs, Wilbur R. Pontiac’s War—A Conspiracy? in Dispossessing the American Indian: Indians and Whites on the Colonial Frontier
Middleton, Richard. Pontiac’s War: Its Causes, Course, and Consequences
Parkman, Francis. The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the Conquest of Canada. 2 volumes. Originally published Boston, 1851; revised 1870
Grant: What tribes are represented among the Indians? Do they all have separate commanders?
John: I include all of the major tribes: Ottawa, Lenape, Seneca, Ojibwe, Miami, Shawnee, Mingo, Mississauga, Menominee, Mascouten, Potawatomi, Wea, Piankeshaw, Kickapoo and Huron. Yes, each nation is represented by two or more sachems (war chiefs). There were a number of other minor nations that that were not included because of the scale of the game.
Grant: What is the scale of the game and units?
John: The map covers what was then the portion of British controlled North America from the East coast to the Mississippi and from Kentucky north through the Great Lakes. Three year long scenarios (three active seasons per scenario). Approximately 30 men per unit.
Grant: What is the Sequence of Play?
John: Here is the Sequence of Play from the current rulebook:
1. Indian Reinforcements (Optional Annual Activation)
1a. Key Leaders
1b. War Belts
2. British Reinforcements
2a. Militia Volunteers / Rebuilds
2b. (Spring) Guinea Loans
3. Indian Movement/Battle
4. English Movement/Battle
5. Supply/Siege Losses/
(Winter) Lift Sieges/Wintering
6. Mutual Rally & Leader Health
7. Determine Victory Point Levels
Grant: I notice on the Turn Track a few special effects. What is the British Guinea Purchase Turn and what does it represent from history?
John: The leading cause of the American Revolution was British taxation. Our histories do not emphasize enough the fact that Britain was expending vast sums of money to defend its North American colonies from the French, the Spanish and from North American Natives. For this reason I incorporated the requirement for the British player to take out “Guinea Loans” from the Bank of England to bring in reinforcements. This is done at the onset of each scenario and the reinforcements themselves arriving in the final two seasons.
Grant: What is the Winter Effects Interphase and why was this included?
John: Certain actions are only carried out during the Winter interludes. These actions are as follows:
1. Lift Sieges: Remove all siege markers from the map
1. Indians: All Indian units (including those on Fort Battle maps) return to their Nation’s villages – a village limit is a maximum of two units and any number of sachems. Excess units, those that cannot find village Space, are placed back in the Indian Nation’s Reinforcement Box.
2. British: British units on Fort Battle Maps return to their fort icon on the Game Map. British units outside of forts return to the nearest fort. If two or more forts are equidistant, the British player chooses their destination. A fort may winter units 5x its value, whether healthy or disrupted. For example: Fort Ligonier, value of 2 could winter 10 units. If units bound for a fort will exceed this they retire to the next nearest fort. Philadelphia may winter an unlimited number of British units.
3. British Allies: All Indian Allies are removed to the British Reinforcement Box. Their services will have to be repurchased.
Grant: What is the ARMS Points Track and what does this represent?
John: After years of trading with the Europeans before and during their wars, the Indians were nearly as well armed as English they faced. On the other hand they did not have manufacturing or repair capabilities so when ties were cut with their French Allies Indian ability to maintain arms parity with the English declined. I included an ARMS Points Track to indicate limited Indian Arms capability. Each battle the Indian player must commit an arms point if he wishes to go into battle on equal footing with the English player. He does not have to commit the point but if he does not, he enters battle at a severe disadvantage. Additional arms points can accrue through random trading and through the sacking of forts and defeat of English armies.
Grant: What does the British Bank Box simulate and why is it important to include? What challenges does it create for the British player?
John: Explained above regarding “Guinea Loans.” Each representative guinea spent increases English strength but is also subtracted from English victory points. It is in fact historical play balance.
Grant: What units comprise each side’s forces? Can you show us the anatomy of a counter and explain the numbers?
John: Indians have three types of units: Key Leaders, Sachems and War-bands. The English have a much wider variety of units: Field Officers, Fort Officers, Replacement Officers, Lake Vessels, Regulars, Royal Americans, Black Watch, British Allies, Artillery, American Militia, French Militia and Supply.
Grant: How do Leaders effect their troops in combat?
John: Indian Key Leaders and all British Leaders can force their opponent to reroll attack dice. Indian Sachems add +1 combat strength. All leaders allow for rally assistance.
Grant: How do Rally actions work?
John: Any disrupted unit will rally on a roll of 6 during the Rally Phase. Leaders effect individual units by adding +2 to their die roll. Over winter all disrupted units become undisrupted.
Grant: There are a few special Leaders including Johnson and Rogers. What are their roles and abilities in the game?
John: Johnson was the Chief British Indian Agent. He facilitates Indian allies from the Iroquois Confederacy. Rogers was the famed British ranger leader who allows his force to ambush, retards enemy ambush and prevents militia desertion from his force.
Grant: What role do Supply units play?
John: Supply units allow a large force to move and engage in battle. They also allow British troops to range far from their forts
Grant: What types of reinforcement options does each side have? Why was this important to include in the design?
John: As explained earlier, the British obtain their reinforcements by taking out loans. It is important to point out that the British control the type and number of reinforcements entering the game but the more they order in, the more difficult it is to win the game (counter intuitive), they also obtain a single free militia every turn, but then militia tends to desert pretty easily.
The Indians have two streams of reinforcements every turn. Through force of personality, Key Leaders attract one unit apiece to their force from any nation already represented in their force. In addition, war belts, intricate beaded works circulate among the nation and a die roll will indicate whether the nation ignores the call to battle, provides nominal assistance (one unit) or strong support (two units). Historically war belts had already been circulating among the nations several years before Pontiac rose to prominence.
Grant: Cards are included in the design. What role do they play?
John: This is a card-assisted rather than a card-driven game. Cards become a major vehicle in games to transmit history. This conflict had too much rich history outside of its basic mechanics and needed cards to truly bring it into the light for players. In Pontiac’s Uprising, players have an eight card hand – one “bluff” card is always available. Players each commit a card face-down simultaneously before every combat. The card text may or may not affect the current battle. It will however reflect some historical situation and affect the game in some way. A proportion of cards are labeled “OH NO!” These are cards that a player must play or suffer victory point loss if he does not.
Grant: What is the Combat Sequence?
John: Here is the current Combat Sequence taken from the rule book:
1. Combat Preparation:
1. Retreat – The Defender must stay for one round of combat. After the first round of combat, the defender may retreat to an adjacent space.
2. ARMS Points: Indian player may subtract and commit an ARMS point to the ambush/combat.
3. Ambush – A player must have healthy FP present to attempt an ambush
4. Combat Cards: Attacker and Defender select and reveal a card simultaneously.
5. Card Effects: Defender’s Card effects take place followed by the Attacker’s card effects. If no ambush/combat takes place after commitment of an ARMS point – restore the point.
6. Card Draw: Discard used cards and each player draws one replacement
7. If Combat Continues: go to first combat round.
1. First Combat Round:
1. Artillery Fire
2. Players each tally their Force Points.
3. Players roll dice equal to their Force Points.
4. (Discount hits equal to the value of any fort being attacked)
5. Players remove casualties – each hit removes one unit step.
6. Record a VP for each destroyed unit.
7. Retreat or enter into a second round of combat.
Grant: How does Siege work?
John: During the conflict smaller forts fell to the Indians easily. Larger forts were more problematic. Historically, Fort Detroit and Fort Pitt were placed under siege and Fort Detroit very nearly fell because of it. During the game, when the Indian player enters a fort space with his force the English player decides whether to fight or enter siege. If he does, he receives the strength of the fort during the battle. If he survives that first round of battle, thereafter he suffers attrition to the tune of one step loss for every three units (rounded up) under siege.
Grant: How are forts rebuilt?
John: Once a fort has been razed, the English player may rebuild it if he occupies the razed space with units at least five times the Fort’s value and pay 1 Guinea for each value point being rebuilt.
Grant: How are captives taken and what effect do they have on the game?
John: Historically captives played a huge role in the conflict. Through the course of the uprising 2000 settlers were either killed or captured and 4000 more were displaced. When a settlement or fort falls captives may be obtained by the Indian player. These count as victory points that may be kept until the end of the game or used as bargaining chips by the Indian player to weaken the English position.
Grant: How are Victory Points scored?
John: Players receive 1VP for every destroyed unit (not reduced), 1VP for each Fort point or settlement razed, and for each captive held by the end of the game. 5VPs for the loss of a key leader, 5VP for forcing a treaty on a nation. Each scenario starts with specified VPs already recorded. VP allotment is still in flux.
Grant: How does the Razed Fort Track effect victory for the Indian player? Why is this the case?
John: In the opening scenario, the Indians must raze a certain number of forts to get anything better than a draw. We are trying to get the player to at least achieve the historical result.
Grant: What must the English do to be successful?
John: The English must essentially put down the rebellion with the fewest resources possible. The more resources he commits the more difficult VPs become. I love that part of the game.
Grant: What optional rules are included? Why not just add these into the regular game?
John: All optional rules have not yet been ironed out.
1. Nation Activation:
Rolling for nations using a Nation activation chart to offer the Indian player the opportunity to bring nations into the fight more historically. Nice chrome but unnecessary for the basic game, would make the game longer.
Effect #1: A Result of 4-6: Movement and Combat are unaffected.
Effect #2: A Result of 2-3: Movement is unaffected. Only Defensive Combat allowed.
Effect #3: A Result of 1 or less: No Movement. Only Defensive Combat allowed.
2. Eliminate Battle Cards: Dispense with all Battle cards. However, if you do, award the Indian player two new Arms Points during the Reinforcement phase of each new Season. This would speed up the game substantially but reduce its historicity.
3. British Advantage: If the Indian player is more experienced, allow the British player one or more of the following:
• Give all healthy British leaders 1FP
• British may retreat, regardless of the odds.
• +1DRM to the second battle round of each battle (not sieges)
to simulate a bayonet charge.
4. Indian Advantage: If the English player is more experienced, allow the Indian player one or more of the following:
• Give all healthy Indian sachems 1 FP
• Add +1DRM to every War Belt Roll
• Take Captives from all razed fort without rolling: number of captives to equal the value of the razed fort.
• +1FP to each battle round involving Shawnee and Lenape warriors to simulate rifle proficiency
Grant: What scenarios are included?
John: Five short introductory scenarios are included:
A) Fall of Michilimackinac (The sneak attack that began with a ball game)
B) Siege of Fort Pitt (The failed siege of the fort that is in the center of what is now Pittsburgh)
C) The Battle of Bushy Run (The Indian ambush on the column sent to relieve the Fort Pitt siege)
D) Ambush at Devil’s Hole (The Indian ambush on a supply column bound for Fort Niagara)
E) Bouquet’s Expedition & Hostage Release
(One of the British punishment expeditions sent out in 1764)
Three historical year-long scenarios (3 season turns per scenario)
F) 1763 – The Rising (In which the Indians must raze at least 10 Forts as they did historically)
G) 1764 – The British Response (The British expeditions sent out to punish the Indians & bring back captives)
H) 1765 – The Inconclusive Conclusion (Except for minor skirmishes the war was essentially over by now but what might have happened if the British had marched in force into the West?)
One three year (9 seasons) Campaign Game
1763–1765 Pontiac’s War
Grant: What has changed in the design due to play-testers feedback? Please give a few specific examples.
John: Oh, my gosh, better you should ask what hasn’t changed. We are working on our 5th map, our 3rd set of cards, our fourth set of counters. One of the hardest things to accomplish was to find representative sachems for each of the nations. Determining leader effects changed several times as did the reinforcement and siege rules. Regarding the cards: I began with four separate decks (Indian, French Traders, British & English Traders). This proved too unwieldy. I began with three card hands but not enough information was revealed. I began with bluff cards, eliminated them then brought them back again…and that is just the tip of the evolving play-test iceberg.
Grant: What is the schedule for the games release?
John: Well, it is on the pre-order list right now and I encourage your readers to take the proverbial plunge. As to when it goes to press that’s entirely up to Compass. I would venture to say probably fall of next year.
Thanks for your time in answering our questions John. We also appreciate your time while at WBC this summer showing us the game and shooting a video interview. If you are interested in that video you can watch it here:
If you are interested in Pontiac’s Uprising, 1763-1766 you can pre-order a copy for $72.00 from the Compass Games website at the following link: https://www.compassgames.com/pontiac-s-uprising-1763-1766.html
Nicely, done, Grant, as always.
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Thanks John. Great looking game that I’m excited to play. I also am trying to get my hands on a copy of King Philip’s War as the one I thought I had secured fell through!
WSould like to help you but I’ve sold my copies but one. You might try Wade Hyett at
Grant…It was great to read this interview. Poniske is one of my favorite designers, for many reasons… “Commanceria” being only one reason. I would whole heartedly agree that the history of native Americans is part and parcel to that of the United States as a whole. This is a forgotten and massive bit of history, untouched until “Navajo Wars ” came along. With TOO MANY D-Day, Gettysburg, Stalingrad, and other WWII games collecting dust, these games are a genuine breath-of-fresh-air. This game is going on my BUY LIST. Looking forward to your review and unboxing.
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Jim, I cannot take credit for the amazing designs Navajo Wars & Commanceria. Those would be Joel Toppen’s brainchilds. But I share your enthusiasm for his work.
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Sorry for the gaff! I was too late to buy Navajo Wars and Commanceria is still on my BUY LIST. I have been watching the reviews of all of your “First Nation” games and am pretty excited. I’ve had to back off a little as the KS’ers and other games on my BUY LIST have been a little steep… Armageddon War, and Warfighter to mention only a few. Recently, after a lot of hassle, I FINALLY got my KS copy of “Triplanes and Tripods”. This mixed with new expansions to “Obsession”, “Vengeance”, “The Grizzled”, and “Nemo’s war” have me counting my dimes, as such. I am really interested in your hit and run mechanics (raiding))… are you working on any NEW flexes to Bleeding Kansas, as a possible expansion? AGAIN… sorry for the gaff! Sometimes it’s hard to remember everything. MY BAD! to be sure.
I purchased your game”Blood on the Ohio” last month mainly because I love this time in history and I’m from Ohio. I found myself pulling out my textbook “A History of Ohio” from 1976 and looking up the Territorial Period. I did not know that you are doing a game on Pontiac. I had just read about that war just a month or so ago. I have an idea for you. Why don’t you do the Seminole Wars (1816-1858) in Florida. I think it could be an amazing game. Just a thought. Ben Grimes
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