If you follow us at all you know how much we enjoy wargames that cover little gamed subjects. I have played only one game designed by Kevin McPartland, Conquest of Paradise from GMT Games, which is a 4X style game set in ancient Polynesia, but really enjoy his approach to design and am currently tracking another of his designs called Banish the Snakes also from GMT Games. When I saw the announcement for Maori: Warriors of the Long White Cloud from Compass Games about a year or so ago I was immediately interested and reached out to Kevin to do an interview on the design.
Grant: What has drawn you to design a game on the New Zealand clan wars?
Kevin: In many ways, New Zealand is the ultimate Polynesian culture. The geography of New Zealand is a chunk of continental land mass, unlike the volcanic heights and low coral atolls of the rest of Polynesia. This gave the original settlers a much greater array of resources to draw from – for example, weapons and jewelry made from the jade available on the South Island. This made for a unique situation for a simulation.
Grant: What do you enjoy about designing and playing games on Polynesia?
Kevin: The accomplishments of the Polynesians have always amazed me. And for some reason, nobody else was designing games about them. 😉 Although there are now a few wargames on the topic, Maori: Warriors of the Long White Cloud will be my third published game based on Polynesian culture.
Grant: What history does your new new upcoming game Maori: Warriors of the Long White Cloud deal with?
Kevin: The game simulates the situation on New Zealand when only the Maori were there. It’s not so much history as anthropology; the time period is from before written records were kept in New Zealand. It takes place a century before Western contact, when Maori culture had reached its full expression. The game puts you in that time and place, and you see how well you will survive.
Grant: What was important to model from the history and cultures of New Zealand?
Kevin: So many things! The importance of mana, the spiritual life force energy; this is expressed in the game in the importance of leadership, the effects of curses and omens, and each player’s Tohunga (religious leader). The effect of pa – Maori fortifications – on combat. The choice between focusing on land or sea forces. The economic engine based on essentially stone-age technology. The cards allow for an abundance of Maori cultural concepts to get into the game.
Grant: What does the title Warriors of the Long White Cloud mean and what do you want it to convey about the game?
Kevin: The Maori are the Polynesian inhabitants of New Zealand. Their name for the place is Aotearoa, which roughly translates to “Land of the Long White Cloud”. When the great Polynesian navigator Kupe discovered the island, the first thing that he saw over the horizon was a cloud that would only form over land – and it was a big one. He knew then that he was about to see a great land of immense opportunity. I hope that the name conveys a sense of awe and wonder about the culture that grew up on Kupe’s discovery.
Grant: Who is your co-designer Jerry Shiles and what does he bring to the effort?
Kevin: Jerry and I are buddies who have been gaming together since 1994; we both have a passion for history and simulation games. He is one of the most creative thinkers that I know, and always a source of inspiration. For him, the ideas just flow, along with his great sense of humor. But it’s up to me to nail things down and crank out the playtest graphics. You might say that he is Simon to my Garfunkel.
Grant: What sources did you consult for the history?
Kevin: Again, anthropology not history. What we know about Maori culture before European contact has been learned using the tools of anthropology: ethnography, linguistic analysis, mythology and of course archaeology. There is a bibliography included in the game. If I had to pick one, perhaps my most important single resource is Rautahi: The Maoris of New Zealand by Joan Metge.
Grant: I know that the game is a card-driven war game. How are cards used in the design?
Kevin: Cards are earned by players by doing well in the game: the more tribes and villages they control, the larger their hand of cards. During your turn, you play a card either for the Event or the Operations (“Ops”) Points. There are also a lot of cards that are Reaction Cards, allowing you to do things out of order or to enhance your attacks.
Grant: What are Ops Points used for? What different actions can players take with these points?
Kevin: Each card has between 1 and 4 Ops Points. Ops Points can be used for one of two things: activations or building. You can activate leaders to move combat units, or in some limited instances, move units themselves. Building involves training up combat units to higher levels of proficiency, or constructing your military infrastructure, building war canoes, villages and fortifications called “pa” by the Maori. Cards have from 1 to 4 Ops Points, and you can spend the points in any mix of activations and building that you’d like.
Grant: Can you show us a few examples of cards and explain how they work?
Kevin: Yes, but note that the attached graphics are not quite finalized. There are 110 cards in the deck, and they aren’t divided in any way, either by player or by era. So players can never know what’s going to come out of that big deck! Here are some examples.
Clan Elders are generated randomly, with eight different possibilities for each player, all with different values. If you haven’t been getting Clan Elders, or if you’ve been drawing lousy ones, you’ll use this event in order to replace yours with better ones from the supply. If you’re happy with your Clan Elders, you’ll spend this card for the Ops.
Here’s another card that will effect Clan Elders making them more powerful; the card simply makes one of your Elders easy to activate – and also extra charismatic, so more warriors will want to follow him improving your standing army.
Each player has a Whare Purakau counter at their disposal. The only way to get yours into play is with this card. Having a “house of learning warfare” helps all of your warriors in combat.
This card doesn’t have a very big effect on game play- it just takes away one option from your opponents- but I had to get Haast’s Eagle into the game! They are now, unfortunately, extinct.
Now here’s something different! In Maori culture, a Taniwa is a type of legendary sea monster. In the right situation, this card can be very powerful, stranding an enemy force with its war canoe suddenly gone.
Grant: With the events on the cards how did you make the decision to pair them with a certain value of Ops Points?
Kevin: As you can see, nearly every card has an event. You play the card for the event or the Ops Points; but sometimes that is a very difficult choice to make! The Whare Purakau card has a very strong effect, but those four Ops Points are hard to ignore. So including larger value of Ops Points on cards inserted a certain level of angst regarding decisions about how to play the cards. There are also some cards with no event, but I will save that surprise for after the game is published. There are also some “must play” cards that generate random events that effect the entire map. Most also advance the game towards its end. Here’s an example.
Grant: How are Seals and Moa used during the game to effect Ops Points? Where did this idea come from?
Kevin: The idea came from the narrative. Although the Maori were an agricultural society, they were not averse to a little hunting and gathering when the opportunity presented itself. When the Maori first came to New Zealand, it was completely uninhabited by other people. The ecology had evolved with no large land predators. This presented several opportunities. First of these were the Moa: several species of flightless birds that were indigenous to New Zealand, ranging in size from Dinornis maximus, which could grow up to thirteen feet tall, to Megalapteryx didinus, which was the size of a chicken. Unlike Ostriches and Emus, they had no vestigial wings at all. The Maori found these birds so tasty that they were driven to extinction by about 1,500 AD
Another opportunity were the seals that would breed on specific beaches at certain times of year. These were also an easily gathered source of protein. In game terms, both work the same way: hunt them, take them to one of your villages, and you get extra Ops Points for building.
Grant: And how does it effect the players management of their kingdom over the course of the game?
Kevin: Moa and Seals are really just a small opportunity for most players. But their abundance on the South Island can be a real draw for players to expand in that direction. A bigger influence on how you expand are the actions of the other players: which direction are they expanding? How can you threaten your opponents while protecting your own infrastructure?
Grant: I see that players start with only a single village or Iwi and must train an army, build war canoes and expand with new villages. How does the player carry this action out?
Kevin: The Build Chart, a one-page reference, provides all the information that you need. Villages are the key: you need them to train warriors and build war canoes. But first you must expand politically, moving your leadership into the surrounding neutral tribes (called Iwi) to get them to join you. Each Iwi can support only one village. You must also send out your growing population to gather forest products – simply called big logs in the game. These are needed to build new villages and war canoes. The Build Chart explains what needs to be exchanged for the new improvements that you want for your military.
Grant: What are the challenges with setup with the game supporting up to 4 players? Are starting points virtually on top of each other or is there space to grow?
Kevin: Set-up is very easy, since players start with so few pieces. Even in a four-player game, there is space to grow. There are recommended starting locations indicated on the map for two-, three-, and four-player games, but your group can choose other starting locations. You might even start one player on the South Island; there are advantages and disadvantages to starting there.
Grant: How are reaction cards used? Can you show us a few examples of these cards and explain how they work.
Kevin: Reaction cards are used during another player’s turn, or at unusual points in your own turn. The card will say what they do, and thus when they can be used. There are quite a few cards that have an effect on combat; but there are many others. Here are some examples.
This card simply gives your Leader a boost for one Battle by adding 1 to their Combat Value.
This reaction card stops a Battle in its tracks.
This card actually stops the effect of another reaction card!
And this card does something completely different, causing a problem when another player is simply trying to hunt a Seal or Moa. As you can see, the reaction cards make it so that players can take nothing for granted during the game!
Grant: What different types of combat units are included in the game?
Kevin: There are five different types of combat units in the game.
The first type is Militia, which are built directly from Population units. They are really just a stepping stone towards building Scouts or Warriors; but in a pinch, they will take part in combat.
Next are Scouts; they are trained using Militia, but are kind of a side track from the usual progression. They do not require a Leader to move them – they simply take one Ops Point to activate. The asterisk indicates that they will always take part in combat, even if there is no leadership available. They have a special ability to look at a stack of enemy units (which are usually hidden) in an adjacent area.
Next are Warriors, which are also trained using Militia. They are the backbone of any stack of combat units.
Then come Elite Troops, trained using Warriors. They are stronger, but brittle: they will drop down two steps if they Panic in combat.
Finally, we have your Royal Guard, trained using Elite Troops. Each player has only one of these in their force pool. This is the strongest combat unit available, but like Elite Troops, they can be brittle.
Grant: What different types of leaders are included and what effect does each type have?
Kevin: Everyone starts the game with a Paramount Chief – this counter represents you on the board. He only takes 1 Ops Point to activate, and he can take 3 units with him as he moves. He has a value of 2 in combat. He also has a political capability: the ability to convince neutral Iwi to join your side.
Everyone also starts with a Tohunga, the religious leader of your faction. He will only move with the Paramount Chief – or stay where he is. He always adds 1 point to combat, regardless of the leadership with him. In some cases, depending on card play and the situation on the board, he can be flipped to his 2-point side.
Each player has a pool of Clan Elders to draw from, with a range of values although none are as good as your Paramount Chief. You have the possibility of a Clan Elder joining you every time you successfully convince a neutral Iwi to join you. They can even convince other neutral Iwi to join you, but not as well as your Paramount Chief.
Grant: How does combat work in the design?
Kevin: Combat is pretty straight forward: each player adds up his combat points; the player with the larger total adds his advantage to a 6-sided die roll. High roller wins. There is no CRT in the game. Combat units must have leadership: for attackers, it’s the leadership value of whoever took them into battle. For the defender, one leader’s value counts (if there are any there), as well as villages (one additional unit) and pa (one or two additional units).
Grant: What are the possible results of retreat?
Kevin: The greater the victory, that is, the bigger the difference between the two die rolls (as modified), the more areas the loser must retreat. For each area that the loser retreats, he must check all of his units to see if they panic. An even roll is good; an odd roll and they panic. A panicked combat unit will drop to its next lower step (except Elite Troops and Royal Guard, which drop two steps), all the way down to Population. If a Population panics, they are captured by the enemy!
Grant: How is the map laid out? How many different Iwi are there?
Kevin: There are 19 Iwi on the map; only three of them are on the South Island. The names of the Iwi indicate tribal or regional names at the time of first European contact. This is, admittedly, a rather simplified version of the complex political structure of Aotearoa. But to this day, most of the Maori live in the part of New Zealand shown on the map: the North Island and just the north end of the South Island. This is because the Maori agricultural system was based on tropical plants like taro and coconuts; the further south you get, the colder it gets (remember: this is the southern hemisphere) and the more likely it is that tropical crops will fail.
Grant: How do players move from sea zone to sea zone?
Kevin: There are six sea zones on the map. If a leader has canoes available, he can load up to two combat units onto each canoe and head out to sea. From the sea zone his area is on, he can move to an adjacent sea zone, and then into any area on that sea zone. This covers a tremendous distance across New Zealand! Having canoes give your forces excellent flexibility and reach.
Grant: Can players expect to have full control over every situation in the game?
Kevin: No, quite the opposite! If you are a player that likes to perfect a foolproof plan, and execute it faithfully every time, this is not the game for you. It may seem like you have control, with the ability to construct your fighting force as you wish. But the cards and the random events inject a high level of uncertainty. You can be sure that your opponents will do everything they can to foil your plans.
Grant: What is the Whare Purakau and how does it effect the game?
Kevin: This counter represents the Maori tradition of a “house of learning warfare”, where young warriors learned to be effective in battle. In all combats, ties are won by the defender, unless the attacker has a Whare Purakau and the defender does not. Also, in the area that the Whare Purakau is located, you defend with two extra combat points, and one additional combat unit will defend the place.
Grant: I feel that the game has an overtone of conservation and proper resource management. Why is this the case?
Kevin: Partially because these are concerns that I wanted in the design, but mostly because these are important aspects of Maori culture. In giving you the ability to construct your forces as you wish, it became important to include aspects of resource management into the game.
Grant: How do players win the game?
Kevin: The most direct way to win is to kill your opponent(s) in combat. But the game has a timer built into it – certain cards will move the game towards a conclusion. If the game ends this way, then the player controlling the most Iwi will win the game – ties are broken by the player with the most villages.
Grant: What is the typical length of games?
Kevin: Typically one to two hours. The game can be shorter if one player comes out very aggressively; especially 2-player games, where the aggressive attack works – or totally fails. Games can take longer with new or tentative players, especially 4-player games.
Grant: What has been the experience of your play testers?
Kevin: Most have really enjoyed the chaotic nature of the game. I’ve also taken my playtest kit to conventions (before Covid-19 descended on us!) where it is obvious that everyone is having a great time.
Grant: What do you feel the design excels at?
Kevin: I think you’ll learn something about Maori culture just by playing the game. Their real culture, not the cartoon version or the Lego story line. I’ve done a tremendous amount of research and tried to tell the story of Maori culture as honestly as possible. It’s an unusual topic and the game uses some simple new mechanics. I expect everyone will have a great time with the game!
Thanks for the great information on the game. I think it looks interesting and should be not only fun but teach me something about the Maori. I also really like the simpleness of the mechanics and really like how it all seems to work together to create a fun, chaotic and interactive experience.
If you are interested in Maori: Warriors of the Long White Cloud you can pre-order a copy from the Compass Games website at the following link: https://www.compassgames.com/maori-warriors-of-the-long-white-cloud.html
*The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the designer, author and development team and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Players’ Aid Blog or Grant Kleinhenz and Alexander Klein. Any content provided are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.