Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ponape: A Pacific Island for Colonial Gaming

Like the Gunboats in my previous post, my island setting of Ponape is a caricature of features ranging from Australia to China through Melanesia to Micronesia.  Some of it is pure fiction, some things out of place, but all things in the spirit of the game.

The island started as a list; a port, a coast, a fortress, a town, some rough terrain, a native village.  Quickly it evolved into a map designed to fit on a large game table.  At a minimum, the table would need to be 10'x5', preferably 12'x6'.  The features of the terrain dictated a modular design, though less flexible than my typical game terrain.  In its initial form, Ponape featured a Spanish fortress at the "west" end of the island, overlooking a bay with a dock and small town.  As you moved "east" from the town, you would encounter the jungle.   The island was cut in half by rocky jungle covered hills and a river.  Beyond the river were the natives, sometimes friendly, sometimes head-hunters, sometimes in need of a sacrifice for a festival.  To the north was the coastline, and to south, room for new adventure.

Here is the early version of Ponape:

The Spanish governor usually tried to impose his will (whether it be the Spanish will or not) from the fortress in the distance.  The native village can be seen in the foreground.

A view of the town and bay, better showing the fortress.  The town featured Madam Ophelia's, a trading company, and a black-birder auction.  Local business was overseen by "The Boss" with help from his henchmen and working girls.  Foreign navies would sometimes visit.  Sometimes they could be burdensome, as above, where he bay is blocked by the French ship, the Dunois.

The natives above are preparing for one of their many celebrations.  A festive people, in this case it appears that the antiquarian explorer may have lost his daughter, as she is being assisted in preparation for the native celebration.  Converting the Foundry Africans into Micronesians was only partially successful, as the natives all looked like they had a steady diet of steroids.

Strange alliances often formed.  Here German troops are assisted in leaving the jungle by the natives with Austrians in hot pursuit.

Above, natives invite an English explorer to dinner.  The natives were very friendly that way.

 After the first couple of games, the island suffered some geological activity, which made transit on the island  a little tougher. 

Phase two of Ponape featured more dramatic rocky cliffs cutting the island in half, and the addition of a swamp (not depicted above)  in the jungle.  The natives got a more secluded, less accessible village, and proper place for the their rituals.

A view looking from the fortress toward the new cliffs separating the island natives from the Spanish side of the island.

A view of the dock.

A couple of views showing the northern coast and the river.

Spanish troops looking for ...trouble.  The dramatic height of the new cliffs is demonstrated

Views of the "native" side of the island

Eventually the fortress got a minor face lift.  A lot of additional plans were made for the island including detailing existing structure, adding a docking station for the airship, and a small railroad between the mine (yes, there would be a mine) and the dock area.  Only the face lift and some of the minor detail items got completed before Ponape's last game.

The fortress received some battle damage, weathering, and various other details, most of which are not visible in any of the photos that I have. This is how the game looked at its last convention presentation.

Ponape proved to be a success, with players contacting me prior to conventions and arranging to bring their own colonial factions that would be worked into the storyline.  The games flowed more like a "B" movie than the typical wargame with homebrew rules that catered to the light-hearted flow of the games.

Ponape also proved to be a bear to transport, requiring about 90 cubic feet of cargo room with very careful planning and packing.   The cargo room problem was the primary reason for developing the next stage of Ponape, Mission to Pingalap, which used many of the components of  the original island, but reduced cargo volume.

Mission to pingalap is up next.


  1. Thanks for posting this Brian. Playing in your Ponape games are some of my most cherished memories of HMGS conventions.

  2. Amazing looking table. You could get lost in that!

  3. Love the Ponape setting! My Germans are still waiting for another round!