I am simply ecstatic about this new focus on games that are diving into lesser known parts of history or underrepresented time periods to provide us all with a wider and deeper knowledge and understanding of our world. Such is the case with a new game from GMT Games called Borikén: The Taíno Resistance that was announced on P500 in May 2022. The game is named Borikén, which is modern-day Puerto Rico, and is the ancestral home of the Taíno people. We reached out to the designer Julio Nazario to see if we could get some background on the game and he was more than willing to share.
*Note: The pictures and game art used in this interview, and pictures showing any of the various components and cards, are still in design and are intended to be illustrative at this point. Also remember that rules might still change prior to final development and publication.
Grant: First off Julio please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?
Julio: Thank you for having me. My name is Julio Nazario, I am originally from Ponce, Puerto Rico, but currently live in Asheville, North Carolina. I enjoy playing videogames, watching movies, TV Shows, listening to podcasts and audiobooks (especially LitRPG) and ultimately playing and designing boardgames. I am a Roads Civil Engineer for the National Forests in North Carolina which is a job that I enjoy very much and involves a lot of travel which gives me time to think about designs.
Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?
Julio: An idea started it all, back in 2017 I had been playing boardgames for about a year and I had an idea to design a game called Timber Tactics. Nothing came out of this game, but by the end of my first year, I had designed over 20 games. What I really enjoy about designing is the problem solving, which originates from my engineering mind. Sometimes it can be frustrating, but when you overcome a problem, it is one of the best feelings in the world.
Grant: What designers would you say have influenced your style?
Julio: When I started out, since I was so new to hobby board games in general, I didn’t know of any specific designers or styles, I just wanted to design something that I enjoyed. One thing is for sure, I always enjoy adding layers to the same system to keep games simple, but deep.
Grant: What historical period does Borikén: The Taíno Resistance cover?
Julio: Borikén covers three main periods, one is the settlement of the Island of Puerto Rico by the Taíno people (Pre-1493), another covers the arrival and settlement of the Spanish on the Island (1493-1511) and lastly the removal of the Taíno in the subsequent years (1512-1529).
Grant: Who are the Taíno? What do we need to know about their culture and lifestyle?
Julio: The Taíno are the natives of Borikén, present day Puerto Rico. They arrived to the island 1,000 years before it was discovered, and mainly lived off the land with mainly wood and stone tools. They worshiped many gods that represented forces of nature. Their political system had the Cacique as the leader of villages or sectors called Yucayeques and they were Military, Political and Spiritual leaders.
Grant: What was your inspiration for this game? Why did you feel drawn to the subject?
Julio: Being Puerto Rican was a big factor, growing up we weren’t really taught much about the Taíno and the political climate of Puerto Rico and it’s past focused on the glorification of the Spanish, even though we have been part of the United States since 1898. Puerto Rico has such a rich natural diversity and racial diversity that I have not seen anywhere else, with our African, Spanish and Taíno roots, I thought it would be great to teach this origin through a game.
Grant: What was your design goal with the game?
Julio: I wanted the player to experience the colonization of Puerto Rico through the eyes of the Taíno people, while learning more about the island’s history in the process. This involved having three distinct periods to the game to show the different conditions and challenges facing them.
Grant: What type of research did you do to get the details correct? What one must read source would you recommend?
Julio: It was especially difficult to find historical texts of the period that were not as subjective from a Spanish perspective. I wanted to use material that referenced original texts from the period, including letters, and books from the 1500’s, not just a perspective of a historian from those times. One book that I recommend and was the backbone of the design was Agüeybaná “El Bravo” from Jalil Sued Badillo.
Grant: What is the makeup of the Campaign game? Why did you feel it necessary to present the game in this manner?
Julio: It is not really a campaign game, it is three separate games that use the same base system, but are meant to show different experiences. The first game is competitive, while the other two are cooperative. These three games can be played independent of each other, but can also be played in order as a full experience, especially with the shifting emotions of the Taíno point of view.
Grant: What is the distinction between the competitive game mode and cooperative game made in the various scenarios?
Julio: The first game (Pre-1493) is a competitive game where all players are settling the island as Taíno and compete to become the High Cacique. The Second is a cooperative game where you are meant to complete historical objectives as the Spanish are introduced with multiple ways to win and one way to lose. The third game is a survival game where you want to escape the island as the only way to continue the Taíno culture with multiple ways to lose and one way to “win”.
Grant: How does the game change in the third scenario?
Julio: The main turning point between games two and three is the Spanish-Taíno War of 1511, which the Taíno lost. After that, it becomes a conflict in which the Taíno fight from the shadows and the only way to survive is to escape. Mechanically, as the Taíno escape the island it becomes more and more difficult to win since you start losing the abilities and actions which you have been accustomed to.
Grant: How do you model guerilla warfare and subterfuge in the game?
Julio: After every turn, the Spanish settlement of the island is expanding, and while you can delay it through your actions, there is no way to completely stop it. Three systems that reflect this well is the gold system in which gold can be used to remove the Spanish now, but will accelerate the rate in which they spawn later and the positive and negative effects that you get when performing specific tracks on a given turn (military, political and spiritual), Lastly the Escape Track, which removes some of the actions you can perform as you get closer to escaping the island (there are thematically less Taíno on the island).
Grant: How do the players evacuate the Taíno people?
Julio: Taíno Cards are represented in 5 colors, which in turn represent the 5 Regions of the Island, your objective is to spend actions while on the specific region to discard your Taíno Cards and advance on the Escape Track. You have to complete this objective without losing complete control of the island and can only do this while you control the specific region you are escaping through.
Grant: What is a Cacique identity card? How are these unique for each players?
Julio: Caciques are the leaders of the Taíno, and each player will represent a specific historical Cacique and gain a rule breaking power from them and may become necessary to sacrifice them for a one time powerful effect that will allow others to continue on. Cacique cards are used in the second game, since the winner of the first game determines who is the High Cacique Agüeybaná II, which has two powers. Of course, they can still be randomly assigned if played separately.
Grant: What is the layout of the player board?
Julio: I have eluded to the player action tracks, which are divided into three sections, each with three base actions, on your turn, you can select one of the action tracks and may gain a bonus or detriment for doing so, but on your next turn, that track cannot be chosen twice in a row.
Grant: How do players have to plan out their actions using the player board?
Julio: The player board uses a combination of base actions and complimentary actions through the Taíno Cards, either as one time use cards that have the specific track shown on the card, or as assigned lieutenants that will make your track better in future turns.
Grant: What are Taíno Cards?
Julio: A Taíno Card has a couple of pieces of information, a Region represented by a colored symbol, a type represented by one of the three tracks which are military, political and spiritual and two additional actions that can be used to bolster your turn. They are also the representation of the Taíno people, and each card lost means that the population is decreasing and you will ultimately lose the game if your lose all your people.
Grant: How are they linked to the action tracks and the regions on the board?
Julio: You can settle locations on a region by using Taíno Cards of that region to increase your military power and control in the island. A lot of the main historical objectives of the game are region specific and you need Taíno Cards from that region to complete these objectives.
Grant: Can you show us a few examples of these cards?
Julio: Having the Taíno people as the main focus and most important resource as their leader was intentional. Having them be used to complete objectives, build villages, add actions on your turn both temporarily and permanently are a couple of ways in which they are important to the gameplay, but the main one and connects the the history as a whole is that if your Taíno deck runs out, you lose the game, since it is representative of you losing your people. They are represented by two types, one that is connected to one of the five regions of the island and one that is connected to the three track on the Cacique Board and each Taíno card has two additional actions that you may or may not need and ultimately a face of a person that is representative of the Taíno Race and you will look at before making a decision with that card.
Grant: What are the God Cards and how are they used?
Julio: Since the game is played through the Taíno point of view, Taíno gods are included as part of the game mechanisms. They are part of the Taíno Deck and are tied to the spiritual track and since these gods are represented as forces of nature, they are double edged swords that will bolster some actions you can take while hurting others.
Grant: Can you show us a few examples of these cards?
Julio: Here are a few of these God Cards.
Grant: How is combat handled in the design?
Julio: The game uses area majority of your Yucayeque pieces against the Spanish Conquistador pieces to determine a base conflict resolution, and based on that status you use dice to tip the scales one way or another, with some additional modifications from your Taíno Cards.
Grant: How do players win the game? Does this materially change from scenario to scenario?
Julio: The ways to win and lose are very different between each of the three games. You win the first game by having the most contribution to the discovery of the island. The second game is won by completing the 5 historical objectives (from 12 which will make it different in future games) without losing control of the island. The third game you have to escape the island without losing all your people in the process.
Grant: What type of an experience does the game create?
Julio: It depends on which of the games your are playing, but the first one is supposed to instill a sense of discovery, the second a sense of uncertainty and learning and the third a sense of dread and loss.
Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design?
Julio: The fact that I designed three different games using the same base system with just minor changes that have such different objectives, losing conditions and even player interactions is something that I am proud of. Of course, being able to design a game that can contribute in any way to my culture is an achievement that I have always strived for, and I think I have done it here.
Grant: What other designs are you working on?
Julio: Keep an eye out for a fun DNA splicing game coming from Academy Games called Hero Vector, a party game from Indie Boards and Cards called Free Hand where you use mini cubes to draw pictures and Micro Game Collection featuring Olympic Games coming soon!
Thanks for your time Julio. This game is not normally the type of game we cover, but I am very intrigued by the concepts and the history that the game is attempting to share. I look forward to seeing more on this game over the next year and hope we can all be playing it sometime in 2024.
If you are interested in Borikén: The Taíno Resistance you can pre-order a copy for $56.00 from the GMT Games website at the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-982-borikn-the-tano-resistance.aspx