Hi, Had my first game of Maurice tonight, against Nick the Lemming of the THMG. I have to say, Sam Mustafa has outdone himself this time. I haven't had this much fun playing a new game in years, including the discovery of Impetus - and anyone who's been following this blog knows how much I like THAT game. Overall impression is of dramatic, cinematic gameplay, with elegant rules that shape historical play without being intrusive. Lovely stuff. Set up is fairly straightforward. We'd both put together lists, including select national characteristics. I took Maison du Roi, Cavalliers, and Supply(?) Depots. The first gives upgrades to two elite units (which I assigned to my Irish regiment and the La Reine cavalry). Cavalliers gives my cavalry bonuses on the charge vs. other cavalry, while the last helps me in campaigns. We drew one notable apiece. I got the Rev. Howard Whitehouse, a radical Anglican expelleed from England.
Nick drew a special card, the duel, which he promptly played in a bid to deny me the services of the good reverend.
As it turned out, however, the good Lord looked after his own, the Reverend won the duel, and was promptly attached to my elite Navarre infantry, in the hopes that his fiery sermons would bolster them in battle. I'm glad of it, as he did good service through the game, and gave key bonuses to my units at critical times.
Next, we drew a card for terrain, getting the Tropics. Each player rolls two dice in secret, selecting one, and revealing it, to generate the number of terrain pieces, which must be selected from the options on the card. Nick, who had taken the "Great Captain" advantage, had an extra die to roll. We ended up with 8 pieces. We also sorted out the scouting roll at this point. Being that the battle was fought in the tropic, it was understood that the Navy had transported us, so no specific scouting units were indicated. Nick had an advantage in the scouting roll (again, from his Great Captain advantage), won, and started us off placing terrain. We ended up with a cluster of hills, marsh, and forest on my left, and a hill and forest on my right. Nick elected to attack.
We placed the objective (you win either by holding the objective at game's end, or breaking the opponent). As Defender, I deployed first, and went with a fairly straightforward "two lines with cavalry on the flanks" formation. I put my guns to the right of my infantry, fairly far forward. Nick went with three tight lines, his cavalry on the right, and his flank anchored on a hill.
The first few turns were fairly straightforward. With all of our lines neatly dressed, Nick advanced his infantry as a single force, and I shot them with cannon, causing some minor disruption (units can sustain as many points of disruption as they have bases). Nick then played an event card, and then had his general give a rousing speech, which raised the morale of his entire army.
While I'd initially thought to make him come to me, I got a bit impatient, and came down off my hill to meet him in the middle, At this point in the game, manoeuvre seemed straightforward. This had to do primarily with the relatively close distance between units. As the game wore on, and things got more confused, lovely grand advances like this got more complicated. I used a card, "coordinated" to advance my infantry and cavalry at the same time. The card seemed to be overvalued at the time I used it, but in retrospect, would have been worth it's weight in gold later in the game.
Nick then played a rather filthy card that let him a) see my hand, and b) steal one of my cards. He took "Death of a Hero" which allows you to do damage directly to the morale rating of the opposing army. Pity, as that card would come back to haunt me later.
At this point, our lines were close enough for a few units to begin shooting at one another. His got the worst of it (as it was essentially two of mine on one of his), at which point, I played a rather dastardly card that forced his damaged unit to charge.
As it turns out, this was a mistake, as his unit was at 4 disruptions, which made the charge illegal. That said, I still think it was a brilliant move ;) His unit, enraged at the mauling it had taken, rushed forward . . .
. . . and broke on my stalwart lines.
Combat mechanics are fairly simple, a die roll is added to a modified combat value for the unit, and then compared against each unit with which your is engaged, defender resolving first. As his unit was double by mine, it was destroyed.
On my turn, I called for a volley phase, but Nick played an interrupt card, giving him first fire, and then a modifying card to enhance his shooting. A rolling fire erupted along the lines.
Thanks to pure skill on my part (by which I mean pure luck), my gallant French gave almost as well as they got, and the net result was both of our front lines began to show some wear, as disruptions accumulated.
I sent my line charging in. Although both sides were about equally damaged, I had my elite units in front, and played a modifying card to give them bonuses in combat. Unfortunately, Nick had a modifier as well, and the combats came out about even.
I did slightly better on the left, he did better on the right.
If you don't double your opponent and destroy them, there are two basic outcomes. Either you beat their score, in which case they take two disruption and you take one, or they beat you, and damage is reversed. In either case, the attacker recoils.
Although this combat wasn't decisive, it did set the terms for much of the rest of the game. In the process of attacking and recoiling, my lines were disrupted. You can see the gaps opening up in the pictures above, and the spaces between units that emerged here.
This meant that rather than acting as a single coherent force for the purposes of activation, my infantry was now broken up into two individual forces (of one unit each) on the left, and the remaining three or four infantry units on the right.
The centre of my line would now be where the battle was won or lost.
Nick tried a counter-attack, and was repulsed, at which point we discovered that it's important to leave room for attacking units to recoil. Otherwise, they're forced to interpenetrated right through the formation, causing disruption along the way.
Things settled down for a few turns at this point. Both of our lines were chewed up, which meant that an attack wasn't feasible without stopping to rally and reduce disruption. I was pretty starved for cards as well, and the whole combat degenerated into a firefight, with each of us volleying when we could see an advantage, and then rallying our units (using modifying cards where available) in an effort to offset the damage we'd just accumulated from musketry.
This had me tearing my hair out. With a few more cards in my hand, or a good rally turn, I could gain enough of an advantage to charge. Alternatively, with a decent cards I could activate my cavalry on the flank, and maybe pressure him there. However, the one time I actually ended up in a position to charge, I was out of cards. Meanwhile, the gunnery duel kept grinding down my lines, including one of my "guard" units, the Irish regiment Clare.
From the perspective of my general, the Austrians were getting awfully close.
Nick scraped some cards together, and managed to charge in on my centre, wiping out a unit or two . . .
. . .but my brave Navarre shrugged off the fatigue of battle, held the line . . .
. . . and even rallied.
At least, long enough to buy my cavalry time to finally act. I had accumulated a few cards by this point, and marched the cavalry forward to menace the Austrian flanks. This was a bit of a risk, in that his cavalry were skulking on the reverse slope of the hill you see at the top right of the picture.
If I recall, he played his (formerly, my) death of a hero card, knocking off another morale point, and charged in on my centre.
Wiping out the last of my infantry.
The battle hung by a thread at this point. Morale is partially random in the game. Each time you lose a unit, it can cost you between one and three morale points. Both of us were thoroughly chewed up. If I recall, I was down to two morale points, and Nick was down to one.
I then played an event card . . .
And sent my cavalry crashing into the damaged infantry in the Austrian second line. It lost, and Nick lost his last morale point. Victory to France!
What a game! Although we both played extremely aggressively (next time, I'll likely try to coordinate a bit more), the game lends itself to cinematic moments. There's plenty of skill in the game, in terms of learning how to use units in support, and set up favourable combats, but there's just enough command friction and randomness in combat outcomes that tension is maintained throughout; action and reaction are complementary elements of the game.
It's also bloody. This was what the table looked like at game's end:
Basically, our centres crashed together, mine was destroyed, but the Austrians paid for it, and I was able to capitalize on his exposed flank.
I cannot recommend this game enough. Great fun, requires attention and though without it becoming a sterile mental exercise, and quick; we played our first game in about two hours. I'm hoping to get in another game next week. Until then . . .