Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Mississippian Board Game?

Update: My copy of Mound Builders has arrived, and my first-impressions overview can be found here.

Victory Point Games is a small, California-based company that manufactures inexpensive designer board games, usually strategy games or historical war games. One of their more popular product lines is “States of Siege,” a series of solitaire games in which the player must defend a central point – usually a capital city – against enemy armies that advance on numbered tracks. Each turn the player draws an event card indicating which armies advance, any special events that occur, and how many actions the player may take, including attacks on enemy forces (which, if successful, drive the targeted army back a space or two on their track). Most include additional resources or political elements that the player must manage while defending the capital. Levee en Masse, for instance – a simulation of the wars of the French Revolution – requires players to maintain (through die rolls) a correct balance between Republic, Monarchy, and Despotism ratings, which shift during the game in response to historical events. Some have special “chrome” that distinguishes them from other titles in the series. Ottoman Sunset, for example, has a game-within-a-game that begins when Britain's fleet tries to run the Bosporus-Dardanelles gauntlet, for which players can prepare in advance if they spend their scarce actions to build fortifications. Other games in the series cover the English Civil War, the defense of Canada during the Seven Years' War, and the Battle of Roarke's Drift, inter alia.

I mention this here because VPG has just released a States of Siege game on what I had thought was an impossible subject for a game, and one highly relevant to this blog and my readers: The Mound Builders. Yes, it's a war game about the Mississippian civilization! Here's an excerpt from the catalog:

“Until the arrival of the Spanish late in the game, you will expand your control across the map of North America, extending it over the various chiefdoms encountered, incorporating them into your economic and religious sphere. Your domain will grow and shrink, but be aware that rather than a military advance and retreat, this process represents the rise and decline of culture, religious ideology, and an economic way of life, [all] threatened from outside by competing ideologies and lifestyles as much as by hostile armies.”

In other words, it's a bit of a departure from previous States of Siege war games, in that it covers several centuries of time and simulates socio-economic as well as military conflict. And it's nothing like Risk, and thank goodness.

Needless to say, your humble narrator plans to order a copy of Mound Builders in the very near future, and in a forthcoming blog entry will let you know how it plays, and whether it is suitable for team play in a classroom setting.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Better Know a President! Series II (Part Five): It's Time to Hate John Tyler

While the American Whig Party technically won the presidential election of 1840, the death of William Harrison actually delivered the White House to their electoral opponents. Vice President John Tyler, a former governor of Virginia, was an apostate Democrat expelled from that party for opposing the policies of Andrew Jackson. The Whigs had added him to the 1840 ticket for sectional balance, and they were properly horrified when President Tyler reverted to his former political alignment, vetoing tariff and national-bank bills that the Whig Party considered cornerstones of its economic policy. Within a few years Tyler's entire Cabinet had resigned in disgust, the House of Representatives had considered (but rejected) impeachment proceedings, and editors were deriding the tenth president as “His Accidency.”

John Tyler considered himself more than a seat-warmer – he wanted to win the presidency in his own right, as the head of an independent political party devoted to Southern rights, territorial expansion, and the sovereign excellence of John Tyler Himself. The one issue Tyler knew would most excite Southern expansionists was the annexation of Texas, and in 1843 he opened negotiations with the Texas Republic to discuss its joining the Union. Secretary of State Abel Upshur concurrently stirred the pot by claiming that Britain wanted to make Texas a free-soil protectorate. Texas was nearly bankrupt and in a state of undeclared war with its Comanche and Mexican neighbors, so its government consented to an annexation treaty, which was laid before the U.S. Senate in 1844. The presenter was John Calhoun, whom Tyler made secretary of state after Upshur died in a naval accident. He decided to make the annexation treaty the pretext for a sectional fight. In his presentment to the Senate Calhoun argued that slavery was a moral and political blessing, and that by annexing Texas as a new slave state, the Senate would endorse this view and attest to the superiority of Southern white civilization. This ensured Northerners would oppose annexation and that white Southerners would generally support it, and reignited a political debate over the expansion of slavery that American politicians had kept quiet for a quarter century. The end of that debate was the Election of 1860 and secession.

Tyler did not win his own term as president. In 1844 he endorsed Democrat James Polk for the presidency and persuaded Congress to approve a constitutionally-dubious joint resolution annexing Texas to the Union, which he signed in March 1845. He then retired from public life, having done what William Harrison almost certainly would not have done: deepened a sectional rift between North and South and created the pretext for war with Mexico, whose government still considered Texas a rogue province. In 1861, Tyler emerged from retirement to accept a seat in the Congress of the Confederate States of America, which his home state had just joined. He died before he could begin his term of service, though, and the War Department turned his confiscated Virginia estate into a refugee center and school for freedmen. In death, at least, Tyler could do something useful for the republic.


And so endeth this series for another year. There will be more presidential history next January, on Anti-Presidents' Day.