June 18, 2024

#UnboxingDay ~ Cowboys and Indians for Grognards – Unboxing Plains Indian Wars by John Poniske from GMT Games

RockyMountainNavy, 21 April 2022

When I was growing up, playing “Cowboys & Indians” meant running around pretending to ride a horse and whooping or badly delivering John Wayne lines while shooting at each other with toy guns. Of course, the “Cowboys” always won. Nowadays to play that game is to open oneself up to charges of racial insensitivity. Lucky for all of us Grognards, John Poniske and GMT Games has made a modern boardgame version of “Cowboys & Indians” that avoids the racial stereotypes and instead gives us a balanced, family-friendly strategy game that teaches as much as it entertains.

Plains Indian Wars by designer John Poniske from GMT Games is “about the nineteenth century struggle between the United States and Plains Indian tribes to control the Great Plains. One to four players control four major factions an two minor factions” (Rule Book, p. 2). If you have ever played the Birth of America series of boardgame/wargames from Academy Games (1775 Rebellion, 1754 Conquest, or 1812 Invasion) you will find this new title somewhat familiar; indeed, Mr. Poniske stated he originally pitched the game to Academy but they passed on it.

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Plains Indian War – Back of the Box (click images to enlarge)


Plains Indian Wars comes in a standard GMT Games 9″x12″ bookshelf box that is 3″ deep. This actually was a little disorienting to me because I view Plains Indian Wars as closely related to the the Birth of America games which come in 13.5″x9.75″ boxes that look more family boardgame than wargame. Sorta makes Plains Indian War a kind of “step-cousin” in that collection…

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An “all-American” family? (Includes the Nordic cousin 878 Vikings…)


Opening the box reveal components “stuffed to the gills.”

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“Full” box


However, pulling out the components of Plains Indian Wars reveals yet another of what are becoming those famous GMT Games box inserts. I will admit this insert is actually helpful because you will need someplace to store the many chunky components of the game.

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Game insert…useful for once


Let me tell you, the components of Plains Indian Wars are simply gorgeous. Graphic designer Terry Leeds deserves much praise for his efforts here. Simply put, Plains Indian Wars has awesome table presence. You will note in the picture that the mounted mapboard is a tad too wide for my smaller game table but it will look awesome on the game mat on the dining room for family game night.

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The 16-page rule book for Plains Indian Wars is in full color and nicely illustrated. There is also a separate 16-page rule book for solitaire play. If I have one criticism, it’s that I wish there were extra copies of the Player Aid card in the box.

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The rules of (Plains Indian) Wars
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SPI case notation…but done right


The heart of Plains Indian Wars is the card-driven mechanics, and the card themselves are incredible. Tarot-card sized measuring 2 7/8″ x 4 7/8″ they are HUGE compared to many other games. Even the “fine print” is easily seen by this glasses-addled Grognard.

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It’s all in the cards…


Second only to the cards in Plains Indian Wars are the custom dice. I measure them at 19mm…giant chunky dice for chucking about during the game. I don’t know if you have dice tower big enough for these but that just means if you don’t already own a dice tray you will now!

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Good Grognard-chucking dice…


All told, Plains Indian Wars comes off looking a lot less like a wargame and more like a good family strategy game. More importantly, John Poniske has designed a game that treats all the factions fairly and gives each strong agency.


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