In the Year of One Reed - Final Conquest of the Aztecs
Fast and Easy Rules for Students

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By Matt Unsworth

Historical Background (1519 - 1521): In the great Aztec city of Tenochtitlan Emperor Montezuma had reason to worry. It was the year of One Reed, when the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl would return to bring an end to Aztec civilization. A comet had been seen in the sky, a very bad omen. Messengers arrived to tell Montezuma that powerful strangers had arrived at the coast. The strangers were Spaniards under the command of Hernan Cortes. Montezuma was paralyzed by indecision. Should he fight the newcomers or welcome them? He would soon learn that the Spanish conquistadors were on a mission to conquer and loot the Aztec empire. They brought with them horses, powerful weapons, and deadly germs. Many of the local tribes saw the invaders as a chance to defeat their Aztec overlords and joined their army. Cortes and his men would destroy Tenochtitlan and the Aztec empire.

Playtest: I have not playtested this simulation yet, however Matt Unsworth, the author, has used it successfully with his students.

Set-Up: Set the scene: "It is the Year of 1 Reed, one of the yea's prophesized for the destruction of the Aztec world. Strange beings have been sighted southeast of our city along the coastline of the great ocean. These beings may or may not be gods that have been sent to destroy the world." Inform the class that they will represent the royalty of the Aztec Empire in an attempt to stop Cortes' invasion of Mexico. The teacher will control Cortes and his conquistadors. Assign one of the students to be Emperor Montezuma. Divide the rest of the class into 3 groups that represent the Nobles, the Priests, and the Warriors. Put up a copy of the map so that the students can follow the action, and pass out maps so they can track their movements. Find the map here: GIF file. Armies should be marked on the map with pencil or counters of some kind. The Aztecs start with 5 armies in Tenochtitlan, the Spanish have 1 army at their fort. Each neutral city has 3 armies. The teacher will need one die and an ordinary deck of playing cards (52 cards, remove the jokers).

Sequence of Play
1. Cortes moves
2. Answer question (optional)
3. Aztecs Choose Actions
4. Resolve Aztec Actions

Cortes Moves: The teacher will roll one die and move Cortes that many spaces (1 - 6). Cortes should move toward Tenochtitlan, recruiting neutral cities along the way to build up his army. Once reinforcements arrive this army will also move 1-6 spaces each turn until it joins Cortes.

Answer Question: Choose one of the three student groups (priests, nobles, or warriors) to answer a question about the conquest of the Aztecs. Alternate groups each turn so that they all get a chance to answer. You should prepare a set of unit review questions based on your curriculum. Some sample questions are included at the end of this scenario. The group must talk it over and decide on an answer. The group will give their answer to Montezuma, who can either use it or give an answer of his own. If the answer is correct the Aztecs get 3 actions this turn. If it is wrong they get only 1 action this turn.

Aztecs Choose Actions: The Aztecs get two actions each turn (if you use the optional rule they will get either 1 or 3). Montezuma will decide what to do with the actions. He may consult the other groups of students, but he must make the final decision. Each action can be used to move 1 army, send out diplomats, or please the Gods with sacrifices. Once Montezuma has chosen what to do with his actions a student from the appropriate group will step forward to resolve each action.

Resolve Aztec Actions:
Move Army:
A student from the soldier group will roll one die and add 1 to the roll (2 - 7). The total is how many hexes the army can move. The soldier group will decide which army to move and where to move it.

Send Diplomats: One student from the nobles group will draw a card from the deck. If the card is an even number then the diplomat was ignored, there is no effect. If the card is an odd number then the diplomat was taken prisoner, there is no effect. If the student draws a Jack, Queen, or King then the Aztecs gain an alliance with their choice of neutral cities (except Tlaxcala). The Aztecs will control the armies in the newly allied city. If the student draws an ace then Cortes loses a turn.

Results of Diplomacy



2, 4, 6, 8, 10

Diplomat Ignored (no effect)

3, 5, 7, 9

Diplomat Held (no effect)

Face Card

Gain alliance with neutral city


Cortes Loses a Turn

Please the Gods with sacrifices: One student from the priests group will draw a card from the deck. If the card is a 2 - 9 there is no effect. If the card is a 10, Jack, Queen, or King the Aztecs gain 1 army at Tenochtitlan. If the student draws an Ace then the Aztecs get an extra action during the next turn.

Results of Sacrifices



2 - 9

No Effect

10 or Face Card

Gain 1 army at Tenochtitlan


Aztecs get 1 extra action next turn

Neutral Cities: There are three armies in each neutral city at the start of the simulation. If Cortes or an Aztec army enters the neutral city then the armies in the city will join that side. The exception is Tlaxcala. They are enemies of the Aztecs and will not join them. If an Aztec army lands of Tlaxcala they must fight a battle. The Aztecs may also attempt to gain control of the armies at a neutral city by sending out diplomats.

Combat: If Cortes moves onto an Aztec controlled army or an Aztec controlled army moves onto one of Cortes' armies or Tlaxcala they must fight a battle. Students from the soldiers group will draw one card for every Aztec controlled army in the battle. Cortes draws three cards for every Spanish army and one card for every native ally army in the battle. Armies defending a city draw 1 extra card. The side that draws the highest card wins. If it is a tie compare the second highest cards to determine the winner. The winning card determines the outcome of the battle: If the winning card is a 2 - 9 then the losing armies retreat 1-3 spaces. If the winning card is a 10, Jack, Queen, or King the losing side loses one army and retreats 4 - 6 spaces. If the winning card is an Ace then the losing side loses all the armies that were in the battle. Special rule: In battle the Aztecs tried to take prisoners for sacrifice rather than killing their enemies. This tactic was not effective against the Spanish who had steel armor and cavalry. Spanish armies are not lost, they are driven back to the fort instead.

Results of Battle

Winning Card

Result for Loser

2 - 9

Retreat 1 - 3 Spaces

10 or Face Card

Lose 1 Army and Retreat 4 - 6 Spaces


Lose all armies in the battle

Spanish Reinforcements: Cortes receives another Spanish army at his fort after turn 8.

Smallpox: The Aztecs lose 1d6 - 1 units (always at least 1) due to small pox every other turn starting with turn 11. They can choose which armies are lost.

Defending Tenochtitlan: Aztec units defending their capital never retreat and inflict 1 casualty for every face card they draw against their attackers, even if they lose the battle. Aztecs still lose units normally.

Ending the Simulation: Stop the activity after Cortes has conquered the Aztecs by destroying their armies or occupying their capital. Compare the student's accomplishments with the historical outcome.

Sample Questions:
What advantages did the Spanish soldiers have over Mexican warriors?
How did the Spanish learn of the Aztec kingdom from the Tabascans?
How did Montezuma greet Cortes at their first meeting?
What role did the Tlaxcalans play between the Aztecs and Spaniards?
What discovery made the Spanish greedy for more gold?
Why did Cortes take hostage Montezuma?
What happened that resulted in Cortes leaving Tenochtitlan?
What happened at the Aztec feast of the Gods?
What became of Montezuma?
What was the night of sorrow?
How did the Aztecs prepare their city defenses?
How did Cortes control the land and water around Tenochtitlan?
When did the siege begin? When did it end?
What did the city of Tenochtitlan look like after the siege?
How much could a Spanish soldier buy with the gold Cortes gave him?
What happened to the Aztec population between 1519 and 1580?
How did the Spanish replace the Aztec religion?
How long would it be before Mexico was not ruled by Spain any longer?

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