By Paul Davis
The game, called King Philip’s War, allows players to defeat Colonial or Indian forces in “a momentous example of New England frontier savagery,” says Multi-Man Publishing, a military game company in Millersville, Md.
The game features a New England map, dice, tokens and historic figures from the 14-month-long conflict, including King Philip or Metacomet, sachem of the Wampanoag Indian tribe, and Indian fighter and Little Compton resident Benjamin Church.
Publisher Brian Youse says the game mixes military strategy with history—and tells a story that many people outside of New England don’t know.
But tribal historians say it is in poor taste and perpetuates stereotypes of Native Americans as savages.
“It clearly demonstrates how—sadly—racism and misconceptions continue to exist in America, even in the 21st century,” says Rae Gould, tribal historic preservation officer for the Nipmuc Nation.
“I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or be angry,” adds John Brown, historic preservation officer for the Narragansett Indian tribe. “The message seems to be, it’s still OK to kill Indians.”
Colonial players win by gathering points or eliminating King Philip and other Indian leaders. Indian players win by accumulating points or seizing the settlements of Boston and Plymouth.
Game designer John Poniske, who teaches social studies at a Maryland middle school, created the game after reading an article about King Philip in the magazine Military History.
“I immediately saw the gaming potential in the historical situation,” says Poniske, who has designed games based on the Vietnam War, the Civil War and the teachings of Jesus.
As a boy, King Philip grew up in a world where he was free to practice his beliefs in his ancestral land, says Peters, marketing director for Plimoth Plantation.
But as an adult “he and his people were pushed out.”
During an earlier conflict in Mystic, Native women and children were burned in their beds, she says. “It was no game.”
“That a game would be based on this really bothers me,” says Peters. “Would we play a game called The Holocaust?”
Even if the board game gives opportunity to have the colonists lose the war and allows for critical thinking, what next? Will the learning extend beyond the board game and help students understand what's happening in "Indian" country today...?
Comment: Good points. The game's creator is a social studies teacher who read about the war in a magazine, so how accurate is the game likely to be? Does it include any context--i.e., the 50 years of New England history leading up to the war? You know, the history chronicled here:
Losing ground in After the Mayflower
Pequot massacre in After the Mayflower
Praying towns in After the Mayflower
What if either side is faced with accepting defeat or massacring the other side in a surprise attack? Does the game present the "atrocities" mentioned above as a viable option? Does it encourage them? Should we really be teaching that conquering and killing people is the best way to achieve one's goals?
Inside the game
The game has a webpage, so we can begin to answer these questions. My impressions:
Focusing only on the war makes it seem as if the invading and occupying forces were morally equivalent to the people defending their homes and way of life. They weren't. The Europeans were morally wrong, but the game doesn't seem to reflect that.
So if a massacre occurs next month in Brazil or Iraq or Tibet (to pick three hot spots)? Somebody rolled the dice and got a bad break. Too bad...now it's your turn. Roll again.
Meanwhile, the Indians have to capture two major towns to win? Two towns vs. two leaders: How is that fair? What's the historical basis for saying the colonists would've fought until their biggest towns fell? Since this didn't happen in reality, how can the developer know whether the colonists would've given up sooner or later?
The colonists seem to have an easier objective. Which means there's a bias toward the colonists winning. Just because this happened in reality doesn't mean the game should promote that outcome.
So the game seems questionable at best. I'm not sure any game featuring Europeans vs. Indians would be a good idea. Kids should learn America's genocidal history as a serious business, not as a game.
For more on Indians in war games, see Natives Criticize Sid Meier's Civilization and Mayans in The Settlers.