Saturday, 19 October 2013

Maurice - The First Battle and First Impressions

We played Maurice last week. It was out first time out with the rules and we were interested to see how they worked. For those that do not know, Maurice uses a card draw system instead of rolling dice for command points or just permitting you to move everything at one go.

Each player starts with a hand of cards, which have a number in their top left corner. This number is the distance in base widths from the general, that a force (group of units) may be activated. To activate a force, you measure the distance to the force from the general and play a number of cards whose value equals or exceeds that distance. The actions you take determine how many new cards you may draw on that turn. If you charge, you get no cards; if you pass you get three cards; and other actions permit you to draw one or two cards to replenish your hand. This means that attacking is difficult because you can quickly run out of cards and thus the attack loses momentum.

The game is very much about hand management then. Maurice also uses a system of alternate activation. The first player activates a unit or force, and then the second player does the same. Repeat until the battle is over. However, you are not restricted to only activating units that have not previously been activated. Instead, you can activate the same force continuously until it is annihilated or runs out of steam. This permits grand flanking manoeuvres at the expense of the rest of your army standing still.

Steve brought his newly painted Russian Great Northern War army round, while I used my Swedish GNW army. For the sake of simplicity, we ignored pikes and early eighteenth-century artillery rules, which are in Maurice for just this period.
The view from the Russian lines at the start of the battle
We chose to play a standard encounter battle and adopted the set-up procedure from the free Maurice Lite rules, although we used the full rules for everything else. Steve chose lots of infantry, while I chose a force with a balance of infantry and cavalry.

Russian cavalry open the assault with a charge on the Swedish left wing.
We began with a bombardment on both sides, which gave us a chance to cause some disruption to the enemy, while also building our hands up to permit an assault. The cotton wool in front of the guns not only looks cool, but it is also a marker showing that the guns cannot move without being given a march order first. The Russians charged first.

The Russian charge stalls
Although they succeed in causing more damage to the enemy than they suffered, the Russian cavalry assault stalled because they were too far from their general and Steve quickly ran out of cards trying to press the assault. This gave me a chance to rally my troops, who were closer to my general, and then to throw them back at the tired Russian cavalry.

Russians charge in the centre, while the Swedish cavalry clears the right flank
In the end, this first assault saw two of the Russian cavalry units and one of the Swedish units routed. I managed to gain the advantage, but my dice rolling was very low throughout this game, so I did not do as well as I should.

Meanwhile, in the centre, Steve advanced his infantry, only to find a previously unseen bog in his way. Some cards permit you to play events instead of using them for command purposes. One of these is the much complained about "how did that get there?" card, which allows you to place a small area of rough going at any point on the battlefield. I got it and used it to slow Steve's advance. The rest of Steve's infantry managed to advance and drive off one of my infantry regiments at the cost of one of his own. By this point I was cursing my dice and threatening them with a watery grave, because I could only roll low and cause minimal casualties, while he seemed to be rolling high for everything.

On the right flank, things were a bit different. My cavalry charged and drove off his cavalry. They then turned and prepared to charge the flank of his infantry, who were slowed by the bog, and his artillery, who looked ripe for the picking. It was also at this point that I got too excited with the game and forgot to take any more photos!

As it turned out, Steve's high rolling did for him. Each army has a morale total. When units rout you dice to see how many moral points the army loses. Steve's high rolling throughout the game caused his army's morale to disappear in a welter of high rolls. Although I took more casualties, my low rolling also meant that my army stood firm. I had lost more units but retained my morale and won the day. Huzzah!

So, what did we think of the rules?

The hand management aspect is rather good. It forces you to consider your priorities and plan ahead. It also meant that the game had a rather stately pace as we acted, paused to recover/draw cards and then acted again. Assaults petered out as cards ran out, and both sides had to step back to recover. This felt right for the period.

The activation system was good. Being able to repeatedly activate one force was both a blessing and a curse. It meant that you could get lost in trying to push one part of your plan while forgetting about the rest. Also, if you focused on a flank and moved your general over there to make it easier, then you were in trouble if your other flank was attacked, because it would cost a lot cards to respond.

Overall, the pace and structure of the game worked for us. We enjoy games where you have to plan several moves in advance to be able to carry out your plans, and this is one of those games. You cannot simply react as you might in a lot of other games. We are looking forward to our next game now. I can still imagine using Polemos: GNW for historical games and these more for imagi-nation games, but it will be interesting to try a historical refight or two with Maurice.

I think that these rules will work well with C. S. Grant's Scenarios for Wargames, and I plan to string several of them together as a mini-campaign, once we are suitably au fait with the rules. I am also keen to try them with Grant's Programmed Wargames Scenarios. They have the right Olde Skool feel to them, which is good.

Anyway, I would suggest giving Maurice a try, if you are interested in the first half of the eighteenth century. Now I must also consider how to include the devices and engines of our Lacepunk game in Maurice terms. Hmmm ...

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