Friday, 25 May 2012

Maurice - A new wargaming experience

Despite my continual efforts to maintain focus on a small number of manageable projects, over the past few months I have be drawn into a new (old) world of 18th Century wargaming. My seducer is the 315 year-old bastard of August the Strong, King of Poland, the Marshal of France, Maurice de Saxe.

I am a long-term fan of Sam Mustafa's rule systems. While some are definitely better than others, Sam always delivers fun games with interesting game mechanics, and Maurice has the potential to be the best yet.

Beyond the AWI I have little knowledge of 18th warfare, or of wargaming the period making Maurice a slight adventure into the unknown for me history wise. What makes Maurice new from a gaming experience is the use of "Action Cards", what I would normally term strategy cards, for both a command and control (C&C) system and random events.

When I first heard that cards would be used for the game I was skeptical. I have played a number of wargames that use basic cards for C&C, and the best board games I have played use strategy cards, but I worried that the idea of using the latter to govern a wargame would take too much away from the players and there is always the risk of the uber card.

Seeing the cards in action immediately alleviated all concerns. Cards are used in Maurice for multiple purposes: issuing orders; modifying combat (both musketry and melee); moving the general; and, for random events. In addition to the Action Cards, there are different types of cards for setting up games including National Advantages, Notables, and Terrain generation.

Before the game, assuming its not a scenario, players select their army using the specified points system. The points system works in a way that artillery and elite troops get progressively more expensive the more you have, encouraging players to maintain more balanced armies. A basic game has both players selecting a 100 point army, about a dozen units depending on troop quality and they can then choose national advantages give their army a specialism by making it better at artillery, musketry, combat, etc. The system restricts the amount of points that can be allocated to National Advantages to prevent an army be good at everything.

Each player starts with a hand of cards, normally 8 for the attacker and 5 for the defender. Turns alternate between attacker and defender. Each players turn consists of a musketry phase, followed by the option to issue an order or to play an event card. Finally, the player has the option to move their general. The more things a player wishes to do the more cards they need to play.

For example, I begin my turn with musketry and play a card to gain an advantage. I then play a card to order a force to charge the enemy. In the ensuing combat I play another card to gain an advantage, and finally I play a card to move my general closer to the force I plan to give an order to next turn. I have therefore expended 4 cards in the turn and could expend more to influence my opponents turn.

Players draw from 0 to 3 cards a turn depending on the order they chose to issue but if in any order phase they have no cards, or insufficient cards to issue orders they must pass.

The building and using of a players hand creates natural pauses in the play as the action speeds up and slows down as well as creating an element of chance outside the players control. Players are only able to issue one order to one force in their turn requiring a player to continuously decide what their current priority is. It is very easy to get sucked into one part of the battlefield and exhaust all of your efforts there. This can leave that force isolated and you without any cards to influence proceedings.

As always with a Sam Mustafa game there are rules to create unknowns for a general to deal with. For example, the game length is set by running the Action Card deck a maximum of three times, i.e. it gets reshuffled twice, but the timing of the second reshuffle is determined by when the reshuffle card is drawn and is therefore unknown to the players. The game length also varies by how quickly, and for what, players use their cards. This all means that when planning your strategy you cannot rely on having a set number of turns or a set timeframe to initiate it.

Army morale also varies. It is set initially by the number of units in the army and then decreases by between 0 and 3 determined by a dice roll as each unit is lost.

I'll stop now before this becomes a never-ending description of all the game mechanics. The mechanics for movement, shooting and combat are all seem good so far. The rulebook also contains a campaign system to link battles around Wars of Succession which looks fun but I have yet to try.

There are only two slight negatives so far. The first is that while the rulebook contains three historic scenarios, it does not provide a guide to creating your own scenarios like the one in Grande Armee. Nor does it contain suggestions on historic army lists. Being new to the period this would be a useful aid and thankfully there are already some guides on the Honour forum.

The card system also limits how the rules will work for multi players. This is discussed in the rulebook and some suggestions offered but none of them sound convincing.

To date I have played three and they have all been excellent. Some players have raised concerns that the card system, and nature of the period, will lead to repetitive games but having played a number of board games based on strategy cards this was not been too big a problem for them.

At present I am completely sold and took the opportunity to pick up some 10mm Seven Years War French from Pendraken at Triples as my first army.