Posted by: jwhiff | January 22, 2017

Northwest Coast Game Part 2: The Potlatch

I’ve been doing a bunch of research for this one.  Potlatching is complicated business!!  I really wanted it to be a critical portion of my game somehow, though.  Before I get started, I’m going to give you two excellent links, so you can verify what I am proposing yourself:

Living Tradition: The Kwakwaka’wakw Potlatch of the Northwest Coast

SFU: The Potlatch Ban

The first link is a virtual museum, full of fantastic videos and photos.  It is an absolute gem.  The second provides a clear, detailed explanation of the potlatch in a couple of paragraphs.  I found it very handy.  I looked through a bunch of other websites as well, but they weren’t as appealing.

If you haven’t read my first post on this game yet, you should.  It will give you the necessary background and provide you with essential game pieces.  Basically, my class is split up into three teams and each team is working to accumulate:

  1. population
  2. claims to land, ocean and river resources

When they claim a resource area, they post a team crest logo up on a map.

However (here is where the potlatch piece comes in), in order for you to have official rights to these claimed areas, you must host a potlatch. The other two teams are invited to your potlatch as witnesses.  You must provide the other teams with gifts in order to assure their support of your claim.

Now, from the research I’ve done (see Purposes of the Potlatch), I’ve determined that potlatches were largely for:

  1. publicly recognizing class structure and status
  2. passing on a family’s rights, privileges and inheritances (this includes the rights to land, property, fishing holes, etc. AND rights to songs and stories, etc.)
  3. celebrating, honouring and supporting individuals (and the community as a whole) at important times

The focus of the potlatch in my game is the recognition of rights to resource-rich areas, not passing rights along.  I figured that the combination of 1. and 2. make my take on the potlatch defendable.   Plus, each team will need to make their potlatch a time of celebration.  We are in the process of creating masks for this purpose.  I am envisioning dancing, drumming, acting out stories and eating snacks.

Teams are ready for a potlatch when they have built up a store of potlatch gifts.  These gifts are acquired by trading 5 health points for a chance to draw out a gift (printed on paper) from the Potlatch bag in each game bin.  There are bunch of different gifts.  I am going to consult with the kids on the relative worth of each gift this week.


**Note that I have included 4 “trespass” cards in with the potlatch cards.  I wanted to intensify the game a bit, so I added these.  If you draw out a trespass card, your team has just trespassed on the territory of another team (crest on the card determines whose territory).  If this team has official rights to a territory, they can demand a gift to settle the score.  This includes potlatch gifts, or even people (to take as slaves).  If you don’t like the confrontational nature of these cards, just don’t include them.

Finally, after one team hosts a potlatch and gives away gifts to each witness, other teams must follow suit.  The second host team must honour the first by making sure that their gifts equal or surpass the gifts of the first (which, in fact, was expected).  In this way, our teams have the chance to show off their status.

I haven’t actually tried this out yet, so bear with me.  As the game progresses and (inevitably) changes, I’ll post updates.

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