Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 26/04/2011

Poniske: Reflections on “Hearts & Minds”

We asked John Poniske, the designer of the recently-reviewed Vietnam wargame Hearts and Minds, to contribute  some reflections on the game’s design and approach. Faster than the 1st Cavalry air-assaulting into a hot LZ, he emailed us back with a contribution. Thanks, John!

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I thought your review interesting and balanced. However, I was stung that you saw a lack of excitement in the game. From the very beginning, I wanted to insert as much frustration into the game as possible … for both sides. Here I thought we’d achieved it. Every time I sit down to play, I can never quite do what I want to do as the Americans because of those blasted “black pajama boys.” As Uncle Ho, I am often stymied as to where to attack because hefty US concentrations seem to always check my most promising plans.

 A bit about the early stages of the Hearts and Minds design. I originally wanted to create a Vietnam based game along the line of WE THE PEOPLE (Among my most favorite games – kudoes to Mark Herman). At the same time I wanted a simple approach that would woo both the casual and the hardened gamer. I also wanted to do what Mark did in WtP, and introduce as much historical nuance into the game as possible. Stan taught me I had a long way to go there.

 GMT was at first interested but took a pass when they realized the multideck approach would tie up a developer too long. Worthington snapped it up and assigned a new developer, Stan Hilinski. Stan is a wonderful guy. He knew little about the war but dove in with both feet and researched the hell out of the war. He now knows considerably more about our involvement in Southeast Asia than I ever will. On the other hand, he took the game down a different path than I would have – ultimately a better path.

I was intent on simplicity. Stan was intent on historicity (as much as can be allowed in a game of this scale) We disagreed, we argued but in the end, I think that Stan’s version is superior to my original vision. The campaign cards are entirely his, as is the period flavor of the cards you alluded to and so are the government collapse rules. I still disagree with his giving the ability of the VC to abandon a province to escape the allies. I still contend that local insurgents stayed local and were loathe to abandon the local support they enjoyed. Still, it’s a minor point.

I was particularly keen on your comments regarding HaM’s instructional value. I am a teacher myself and believe that board games can be a valuable tool in a teacher’s bag of tricks, particularly a social studies teacher. I in fact just sold a game to high school social studies teacher who used HaM as an integral portion of her lesson. Games allow students a tactile learning base from which to feel as if they are experiencing history.

Thanks again for your kind words. Hey, keep an eye on two of my current preorder projects: LINCOLN’S WAR, a card-driven design based on the impact of politics on the American Civil War; and MAORI WARS, the first gaming approach to the British settlement of New Zealand in the face of their most implacable foe – the Maori Warrior. Also on tap is my unique approach to the slave uprisings on Haiti ,1792-1802 (ala Toussaint Louverture) called BLACK EAGLES. This will be the first treatment of the slave uprisings which encompassed the surprising defeat of Napoleon’s veteran legions. Further information on these designs can be found on BoardGameGeek.

John Poniske

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