Waka Tanka

Waka Tanka - Cover

Ceux qui suivent mes créations depuis longtemps savent qu’il y a un genre avec lequel je me sens assez à l’aise, et auquel je reviens fréquemment – les petits jeux de cartes basés presque exclusivement sur le bluff. Ceux qui apprécient le genre, ceux qui jouent à mon Toc Toc Toc! ou au Poker des Cafards, ceux qui ont joué dans leur jeunesse au Menteur, ne seront pas dépaysés par Waka Tanka, un jeu dans lequel on joue des cartes faces cachées en essayant de les faire passer pour d’autres.

Cherchant un thème amusant qui pourrait justifier le jeu d’une carte face cachée en prétendant que c’en était une autre, j’ai pensé aux sacrifices d’animaux, et à des prêtres sacrifiant un animal à la place d’un autre, espérant que cela passerait inaperçu des hommes et peut-être des dieux. J’ai hésité quelques temps entre les temples grecs et les sorciers indiens. Si J’ai préféré les seconds, c’est surtout parce que pumas, aigles et bisons avaient plus de gueule et me semblaient pouvoir donner lieu à de plus jolis dessins que vaches, poules et cochons. C’est juste dommage que, après rapide enquête de mon éditeur – je n’avais pas vérifié moi-même – il se soit avéré que les indiens ne sacrifiaient pas les animaux, et se contentaient d’invoquer leurs esprits. Enfin, c’est un jeu familial, on ne pouvait de toute façon pas y tuer de gentils animaux.

Waka Tanka

Nous avons donc des sorciers qui, comme dans les histoires d’indiens et de cowboys de mon enfance, dansent autour des totems en chantant et remuant les bras. Bien sûr, si l’on veut faire venir l’esprit du bison, il faut faire l’incantation du bison et non de la souris, tout comme il vaut mieux éviter d’appeler un glouglou au lieu d’un aigle.

À partir de là, le jeu était presque fini, il n’y avait plus qu’à mettre les totems en cercle au centre de la table, en regrettant un peu qu’il n’y en ait pas qu’un seul, comme dans l’imagerie du village indien des bandes dessinées de mon enfance. L’éditeur a dû se faire la même remarque, puisqu’il a ajouté un joli totem central, purement décoratif.

Waka Tanka

Donc, les joueurs ont en main des cartes représentant des animaux, et doivent s’en débarrasser en les jouant, faces cachées, devant les totems correspondants. Bien sûr, les endroits où l’on peut jouer et les cartes que l’on a en main ne correspondent pas toujours, et les autres sorciers ont tout intérêt à prendre le tricheur la main dans le sac.

Il y a quelques mois, j’ai publié sur ce blog un long article « décoloniser Catan » dans lequel je discutais de l’usage particulièrement fréquent et caricatural des stéréotypes historiques et culturels dans les jeux. Cet article m’a valu de nombreux commentaires et a été, de très loin, le plus visité de tous ceux que j’ai jamais publié sur mon site. On peut donc être surpris de voir, quelques mois plus tard, sortir un jeu exploitant de manière apparemment décomplexée les stéréotypes sur les Indiens d’Amérique. Il semblerait que Wakan Tanka soit un terme Lakota, et que les Lakotas aient des esprits mais pas de totems, mais qu’importe – ce n’est un jeu ni sur les Lakotas, ni sur les esprits, ni sur les totems, c’est un jeu de bluff qui exploite l’imagerie européenne du village indien.

interieur waka tanka

Le contrat d’édition de Waka Tanka a été signé bien avant que je ne réfléchisse sérieusement au sujet de l’exotisme dans les jeux et n’écrive « décoloniser Catan ». Si je devais développer ce jeu aujourd’hui, je me poserai certainement quelques questions, mais je ne choisirais peut-être pas un autre thème – en revanche, j’utiliserai certainement ce jeu comme exemple, en le mettant en pendant de Colt Express. Mon article sur l’orientalisme dans les jeux de société se contente en effet de constater une tendance, de l’expliquer et de montrer ses ambiguïtés. C’est délibérément, et après réflexion, que je ne suis pas allé jusqu’à une condamnation, et j’ai d’ailleurs précisé dans les commentaires, lorsque l’on ma demandé si je continuerai à avoir recours à l’exotisme, que ce serait certainement le cas. Exotisme historique et orientalisme relèvent certes toujours à l’origine d’un processus d’objectivation ou de simplification de l’autre, mais les univers imaginaires qu’ils créent deviennent parfois des références culturelles ayant leur propre cohérence, plus ou moins indépendantes de leur sujet d’origine. Bref, l’univers de mon jeu n’a rien de commun avec celui des indiens d’Amérique, dont je ne connais d’ailleurs pas grand chose, et tout avec les bandes dessinées de mon enfance, dont j’ai un souvenir bien précis, et qui donnaient d’ailleurs des indiens d’Amérique une image certainement fausse, mais très positive.

Waka Tanka

Il serait d’ailleurs intéressant de se demander pourquoi il n’y a pas, en Europe et tout particulièrement en France, de racisme à l’égard des indiens d’Amérique, dont nous avons une image très caricaturale mais systématiquement positive, et ce depuis le XIXème siècle. Bien sûr, on peut répondre par une boutade en disant que c’est parce que nous n’avons pas d’indiens, mais il y sans doute plus que cela. D’une part, nous n’avons pas vraiment conscience qu’il y a encore des indiens en Amérique, et ils sont donc perçus comme des figures historiques plus que comme des étrangers. Surtout, les indiens des Plaines tels qu’ils ont été décrits aux XVIIIème et XIXème siècles ont servi de modèle, en France mais aussi en Allemagne, à la manière dont nous avons construit l’imaginaire fantasmé de nos origines avant la conquête romaine – les villages Gaulois des images d’Épinal, comme celui d’Astérix, avec leur chef et leur druide, ont été construits sur le modèle, également fantasmé, du village indien avec son chef et son sorcier. Les Indiens ont donc toujours été pour nous les gentils, et les cow-boys les méchants. Se moquer des Indiens, c’est un peu se moquer de nos propres ancêtres – quelque chose que l’on fait volontiers, mais jamais méchamment (voir sur ce point cet autre post, plus récent)

Waka Tanka

Mon prototype s’appelait Wakan Tanka, mot Lakota pour le grand esprit, mais le titre est devenu Waka Tanka pour éviter la confusion avec un autre excellent jeu, Wakanda, de mon ami Charles Chevalier. Les illustrations de Waka Tanka ont été réalisées par David Cochard, un ami avec qui je n’avais plus travaillé depuis Key Largo, et qui a fait un travail exceptionnel, surtout pour un petit jeu sans prétention comme celui-ci. J’aime tout particulièrement les cartes d’incantation, avec les sombres silhouettes d’animaux en arrière plan. La mignonne petite souris, moins inquiétante que les autres, est d’ailleurs une idée de David pour la carte maudite. Elle n’a pas l’air bien inquiétante, mais c’est la carte dont il est le plus difficile de se débarrasser, car un shaman digne de ce nom n’aurait pas bien l’air sérieux en invoquant, devant tout le village, l’esprit d’une ridicule petite souris.

Waka Tanka
Un jeu de Bruno Faidutti
Illustré par David Cochard
3 à 5  joueurs  –
20 minutes
Publié par Sweet November (2016)
Tric Trac       Ludovox       Boardgamegeek


Waka Tanka US - Cover

If you’ve followed me for some time, you know there is a genre I like playing, and to which as a designer I am often coming back, light card games based only on bluff. If you have played my Knock Knock!, and may be Letters of Marque, or if you’ve played Skull or Cockroach Poker, or even only if you’ve played Bullshit as kid, you might enjoy Waka Tanka, another game in which cards are played face down and are not always what they pretend to be.

When I was thinking of fun themes for a bluffing game, I came upon the idea of animal sacrifice, and of priests slaughtering the wrong animal hoping that men and may be even gods, would not notice. I hesitated between ancient Greek temples and American Indian shamans. I choose the latter because cougars, eagles and bison are sexier than cows, hens and pigs, and would make for much nicer graphics. My publisher made a very fast enquiry and found out that Plains indians didn’t sacrifice animals, but only summoned their spirits – this makes the game’s theme a bit less fun, but anyway, we probably could not have killed cute animals in a light family game, no matter whether the sacrificer was Greek or Indian.

Waka Tanka

So we have wizards who, like in the cow-boys and Indians comics I read as a teenager, dance around the totem pole and making ample arm gestures.Of course, since this is where the mechanics fit in the theme, a wizard lacking the right animal card might try to invoke a turkey cock instead of an eagle, a groundhog instead of a bear.

Once I had this storyline, the game was almost done – I just had to chose six animals and place six totems in the center of the table, regretting a bit that there was not only one, like in my childhood’s comics.The publisher must have though the same when he added a nice central cardboard totem, of no real use in the actual game.

Waka Tanka

Anyway, players have animal cards in hand, and must discard them in front of the corresponding totems. Of course, the places where one can play and cards one has in hand don’t always fit. Cheating is often the only way to get rid of cards, but the other sorcerers will try to catch the cheater red-handed.

A few months ago, I’ve published on this blog a long article about “postcolonial Catan” in which I discussed the frequent and caricatural use of cultural and historical stereotypes in games. This article was much discussed, and is still, by far, the most visited on my website. Some might be surprised to see, a few months later, a game of mine making an apparently careless use of stereotypes about Native Americans, even choosing an exotic sounding name without trying to see what it exactly means. Wakan Tanka is a Lakota expression for a more or less unique great spirit, and  Lakota have animal spirits but no totem poles – but anyway, this is not a game about Lakotas, about animal spirits or about totem poles – it’s a light bluffing game using the very European image of the Indian village elaborated in comics from the sixties and seventies, whose meaning here is a bit different from what it is in the US.

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The publishing contract for Wakan Tanka was signed long before I started thinking seriously of exoticism in games and I wrote the postcolonial Catan blogpost. If I were to design this game today, I would probably think a bit more on the theme, but I’m not sure I would change it. I would probably, on the other side, use it as an example and place its cover next to the one of Colt Express. My article on orientalism in boardgames notices the trend, tries to explain it and to show its ambiguities, but it doesn’t go as far as condemning it. When asked about it, I answered in a comment that I will very probably keep on making use of all forms of exoticism in my game themes – I even sometimes think it’s better to keep on using such themes just to remember what they mean rather than resigning with it and losing not only some humor, but also our knowledge of our intellectual history.

Anyway, if historical exoticism and orientalism always start with objectivation and simplification of the other, the imaginary world they create sometimes become cultural references more or less independent from their original object. The context of Waka Tanka is not native Americans culture, of which I know almost nothing, it’s the Indian villages as described in French and Belgian comics from the sixties and seventies – which were giving of American Indian a simplistic but also very positive idea – and this is also worth discussing.

Waka Tanka

There’s definitely much racism in Europe, but there’s certainly no racial prejudice against American Indians. On the contrary, the image we have of them is a caricature, but unequivocally a very positive one. Of course, we can explain this with the usual joke, saying it’s because there are no native Americans in Europe, but I think there’s more to it. Most Europeans don’t really know there are still Native American people and living native American cultures – for us, American Indians are historical figures, not contemporary ones, and therefore cannot be really seen as “foreigners”. Also, in France and in Germany, Plain Indians as described in the late XVIIIth and XIXth century were used as the metaphoric basis when inventing a fantasized history of our origins, before the Roman conquest. The mythical Gallic village of old history books, and of comics as well, with its chief and its druid, is directly copied from the almost as mythical Indian village, with its chief and sorcerer. That’s why Indians were always the good guys, and cow-boys the bad ones, and this from the XIX century. This means that gently mocking this image is also, in a way, a like mocking our own ancestors, something everybody does, but never in a really bad way. What makes this especially difficult to explain to US gameers is also the very American idea that caricature is inherently disparaging – in Europe, and may be even specifically in France, it’s not the case, which I think is the way it should be (more about this in this more recent post).

Waka Tanka

 My prototype was called Wakan Tanka. The name was changed into Waka Tanka to avoid confusion with Charles Chevalier’s recently published Wakanda, a great two players tactical game. The graphics for Waka Tanka were made by my friend David Cochard, with whom I had not worked since Key Largo, more or less ten years ago. I’m really impressed by his work, which really gives life to Waka Tanka, which is basically a light and unpretentious game. I’m most fond of the incantation cards, with the troubling dark shapes of animal spirits in the background. The cute little mouse is David’s idea for the cursed card, the one you can’t play. It’s not really frightening, but it’s actually the worse card you can have in hand because a shaman worthy of its rank can’t decently invoke the little mouse spirit in front of the whole village.

Waka Tanka
A game by Bruno Faidutti
Art by David Cochard
3 to 5 players  –
20 minutes

Published by Sweet November and Cool Mini or Not (2016)
Boardgamegeek

The English language edition of Waka Tanka is due later this year..

Waka Tanka

11 thoughts on “Waka Tanka

  1. Sorry Bruno, I’m not sure ‘we appropriated it before to create our own gaulish village story, so it’s Ok to do it now’ is a good excuse.

    Same with the total lack of research, it’s so easy to do nowadays that just pulling a couple of childhood images as an exotic theme without going back to the source is lazy or ignorant. At least spirit summoning is truer to the source then animal sacrifice!

    Just say “guys, it’s not what I would do now, but the contract was signed before I had my thinking moment”
    that’s fair. Games take a long time to come out and people’s opinions change

  2. For the Gaulish / Indian explanation of the positive image of American Indians in France, I think the parallel is striking : Chief / Chief, Sorcerer / Druid, Totem / Dolmen, Bison / Wild boar, but I admit it’s a personal idea and I don’t think there has been any academic study of it so far. That’s the kind of subject I would love to study if I were starting my study of history now. A good start would be to see if things went the same way in Italy (and may be Britain, or rather England, for complex reasons I can’t detail here…)

    As for the lack of study of the “real” source, it’s because the setting of the game is not the real universe, it’s the imaginary one. It was the same with Valley of the Mammoths – I didn’t study actual prehistory when doing it, even when I easily could have, one of my very best friends being a world renowned prehistorian, and I didn’t do it because I didn’t want it to interfere with the game. Even as a historian, my first master dissertation was about the history of the origins of Chess but deliberately almost ignored what the real origins of the game were – I just studied how the make-up story of these origins we had in Europe at various times was structured and justified.
    So, ignoring the real history of American Indians is certainly lazy, but it’s not ignorant – what would be ignorant were to confuse the imaginary world for the real one. On the other hand, I think it’s important to say it and to state clearly that the fantasy setting is not missed for the real one. It’s also much easier when, as with American Indians, the imaginary image is very positive than it is in the many cases where this image is negative.

    As for your third point, it’s interesting you think fair the point I am least convinced with. It’s true that I’m absolutely not sure I would make this game differently now ! I din’t change that much !

  3. Le parallèle Indiens/Gaulois me paraît tout à fait pertinent. C’est une évidence, je crois, pout tout lecteur d’Astérix. Au reste Goscinny et Uderzo ont commencé leur collaboration avec Oumpah-Pah, en 1951,” jeune indien de la tribu des Pieds Plats, vivant dans une réserve, confronté à la modernité des contemporains vivant à proximité, tandis que le village indien a conservé ses rites ancestraux” (Wikipédia).

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  6. Bruno.

    Plains native Americans never made totems. It is a Northwestern tribal tradition unrelated to religious ideas.

    This is why there is objection to what you decided. Your ignorance. Your willful ignorance, in fact, about a culture that, rightly so, doesn’t appreciate you furthering more of this ignorance.

    Furthermore, and worse, Totems are not religious items tied to this sort of spiritualism you portray.

    So your essay above, is really only displaying your euro-centrism in a bad light. I think the “American’s” objections to your ideas in this particular case were spot on. Imagine if we talked about you and your “Italian, or Greek” ways and insisted you put up with characterizing YOU like that (because previous references to you lumped you all together!) when you are in fact, French… and perhaps even a particular SORT of Frenchman; you are certainly not from Brittany, for example.

    Please get over you ignorance a little less publicly and insultingly. Again, you claim you didn’t intend, but your intentions matter little when the FACT is you furthered a viewpoint on Native Americans that is NOT welcome by Native Americans. This is willful ignorance, and imho, you deserve the hot coals you got from such the stance that your ignorance is your excuse.

    • Actually, there was no totem in my prototype and it is an addition bt the publisher for purely graphic reasons, but I think it’s a nice addition because it’s cute. Like with other games of mine such as Valley of the Mammoths or Mystery of the Abbey, like often with comics, the topic of the game is not history but our fantasy history, the topic is not the reality but the cliché, and the graphic style is a way to emphasize this. It happens that I don’t know much about American Indians history, nor about prehistory, but I knew much about medieval christanity, and this didn’t prevent me from putting three orders of monks in the same abbey, and I had no problem when Dominicans were renamed Templars for the US edition.

      • You still don’t seem to understand.

        Your assertion that French people conveniently forgot that Native Americans are real people who are still alive doesn’t excuse you. Honestly, that’s kind of horrifying. It’s okay to depict victims of a genocide (18 million dead in North America) as mostly-naked monkeys hopping around a totem pole as long as they’re all dead already and can’t defend themselves?

        How do you feel about the Jewish Holocaust? “Oh, sorry I thought all the Jews were dead by now! Besides, I saw a comic in 1960 that showed Jews taking a shower together that was funny. It was cute!”

        Because if that’s how you treat victims of 18 million person genocides, I guess 11 million dead is probably totally a joke to you.

        Just say you’re sorry, man.

        It was an innocent mistake at first, I’m sure, but with all this rationalizing you’re rapidly turning it into an intentional one. “I’m sorry. I screwed up.” It’s easy. Try it.

      • I think you don’t want to understand. You’re comparison doesn’t work because of the bad taste “shower” reference. There’s nothing like this in the Indian caricatures in Waka Tanka, nothing disparaging. I think American culture has a problem with caricatures, which are thought to be automatically disparaging.
        I’m not rationalizing, I’m trying to explain why some images can have different meanings in different places, because the common references on which they are based are not the same.

      • So it’s only the French interpretation of caricature that matters? Even though Native Americans ARE AMERICAN? I must have missed the UN convention when the French were given the authority over American first nations culture. I think you actually just made this even worse.

        I should have suspected as much when you nonchalantly explained about changing the Sioux phrase Wakan Tanka to the gibberish phrase Waka Tanka simply because it might be confusing to [mostly not Sioux, presumably] game buyers. Just change a people’s language around to suit you. Pretty ironic considering how fastidious so many French speakers tend to be about spelling and accent marks. But when it’s somebody else’s language (especially the language of some people you keep forgetting actually exist), it’s different, you imply.

        In a way, it’s the game title equivalent of those people who get misspelled tattoos in languages they don’t understand, and then defend their spelling mistakes because “it’s what the tattoo means to me that’s important.”

        Anyway, sure, it’s your right, freedom of the press and all, to publish whatever you want, but that doesn’t protect your game from joining the ranks of all the “Darkies in the Melon Patch” sort of games on BoardGameGeek. I previously respected you as a game designer and hoped I could help you avoid some future embarrassment on cultural topics like this, because I recognized it was initially an innocent mistake. But it’s clear from your responses that you’d rather just double down on your ignorance than learn something about the Sioux and other first nations cultures and treat them like actual living human beings rather than mythical hobbits or gnomes.

  7. Un jeu est avant tout un espace de liberté. Il échappe de fait à toute mise en captivité d’ordre philosophique, considération historique et autre. Il est indépendant et neutre. Imaginons l’inverse un instant: l’auteur, l’illustrateur (et l’éditeur) auraient obligation d’avoir un cachet de conformité historique, un feu vert sur les bonnes moeurs,…On a bien sûr le droit de poser un jugement de valeur sur un jeu ! Mais poser un contrôle quelconque sur l’édition et la création, c’est ouvrir les portes de l’enfer. Si Mr Faidutti avait fait une thèse sur un des peuples indien d’Amérique, il y aurait eu de quoi revenir dessus. Heureusement ce n’est qu’un jeu…dont l’objet principal n’est pas l’apprentissage de l’histoire mais le plaisir ludique. Il est à l’image des représentations et de l’imaginaire des créateurs et pas du réel supposé.

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