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Sam Mustafa’s “Maurice”

20 Apr

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to play “Maurice“.  These rules from Sam Mustafa specialize in recreating battles from the 18th century and is suitable for games featuring armies from the 1710’s-1720’s, some of whom were still partially pike-armed, through the American War of Independence.

Maurice is about a year old at this point, so plenty of people have reviewed it already.  That’s fine, I’ll add my two cents anyway.

A key factor of the game for me, is that you can base your figures however you want.  I have a low tolerance for games that insist upon a particular basing style and/or number of figures per base.  Want to try a new game?  Fine, all you have to do is re-base all your current troops or paint new ones, your choice!  I won’t buy that set of rules.  An infantry or cavalry unit in Maurice is 4 stands of troops, based however you please.  Artillery is 1 stand.  Measurements in the game are in base widths (BW) rather than inches or centimeters.  So if you have your figures based on a 40mm square base, then your basic unit of measurement is 40mm.  The easiest thing to do if you have odd base sizes is to make some measuring sticks using dowel rods.  This makes it easy to game with whatever figures you have from 6mm up to 28mm; scaling takes care of itself.

The game is card driven and this concerned me when I bought the rules.  I had every expectation that the game would play more like a game of Pokemon (Pikachu I choose YOU!) or Magic the Gathering than like a ‘serious’ wargame.  I’m happy to be able to say my fears were unfounded.

Each player maintains a hand of action cards during the game and may have in their hand any number of cards from 0 to 10 at a given time.  Each card has a number known as its span, which is used to activate units, and also has either an action, which can be used to modify how a phase of play happens, or an event which a player can use in place of taking any action during a turn.  Some of these cards can be used to modify your own play, or to prevent your opponent from taking some action he wants.

In order to move a force (a group of units selected to activate together) a player must discard a number of cards whose total span is equal to or greater than the distance in BW from the commander to the force.  The player has a choice of actions he can have a force undertake: march, charge, bombard, rally or pass.  Passing does not require card expenditure, but does allow a player to draw the maximum number of replacement cards.  The other options are pretty much as they sound.  The only one that is a bit odd is bombard.  If artillery wishes to fire at long range (>4 BW) it must be ordered to bombard; it cannot fire long range during the free volley phase during which infantry is able to shoot; artillery can fire at short range during the volley phase though.

Needing to play cards, and the ability to activate only one force per turn seriously limits an army commander’s flexibility, and this is completely in keeping with the combat of the times.  Unless you keep your army in a relatively compact front (and even if you do), you are not going to be able to have all of your troops acting every turn.  This is very different from many games and I love the feel of it.  It really feels like you are struggling to maneuver a large army where your communications are limited to a guy on a horse with a hastily written note.  And the guy might get lost enroute to his destination.  Or the note might get wet and the ink smudged.  You get what I’m saying; command and control in Maurice is difficult.

Melee combat is short and sharp always ending with someone falling back, again this is in keeping with the combat of the period where long drawn out melees were uncommon.  In Black Powder, I have charged into combat at the beginning of a game and had the resultant combat last the rest of the game.  That isn’t going to happen in Maurice.

Musketry can be very deadly.  Each base that is able to fire rolls one die, so for the most part a unit shooting is rolling 4 dice.  Once hits are made, they must be confirmed by rolling again to see if they have an effect.  This is similar to Black Powder except there is no morale save.  Once a unit’s stamina (determined by the number of bases, 4 for most units, 1 for artillery) is exceeded it is broken and removed from play.  Hits can be removed from all units in a force by using the Rally action and doing so is essential to success in Maurice.

This was only my first game, but I can see myself becoming a big fan of Maurice.  There is more to the rules than I discussed above and perhaps I will cover it in a later post.  Suffice it to say if you are looking for a set of rules that will allow you to recreate combat in the Age of Reason and which will give you a good period feel and not be overly complex so you can teach you gaming friends the rules in an afternoon, Maurice is a very, very good choice.  If you’re the type who obsesses over the technical differences between a Brown Bess and a Potsdam Musket, what we called a “thread counter” back in my re-enacting days, Maurice might not satisfy.  For the rest of us though it is an excellent game.

Below are a few photos of the game I played with my friend Adam at The Whiz.  All of the toys and terrain were provided by Adam:

Armies in their starting positions.  My British/Hanoverian force is closest and Adam's d' Argent imagiNation force is opposite

Armies in their starting positions. My British/Hanoverian force is closest and Adam’s d’ Argent imagiNation force is opposite

After a few rounds of ineffective artillery fire, Adam starts the real fighting by advancing his cavalry on my left.

After a few rounds of ineffective artillery fire, Adam starts the real fighting by advancing his cavalry on my left.

Knowing my 2 regiments of Dragoons are outmatched by his 4 regular cavalry units, I move part of my infantry to help cover.

Knowing my 2 regiments of Dragoons are outmatched by his 4 regular cavalry units, I move part of my infantry to help cover.

As the cavalry forces bleed each other dry, a furious struggle over the town raged on the left-center.

As the cavalry forces bleed each other dry, a furious struggle over the town raged on the left-center.

As their comrades busily kill each other on the left, half of my and Adam's armies sit idly by, whittling, singing and swapping stories.  Neither of us can afford to divert the commander's attention for even one turn to get these idle wings moving.

As their comrades busily kill each other on the left, half of my and Adam’s armies sit idly by, whittling, singing and swapping stories. Neither of us can afford to divert the commander’s attention for even one turn to get these idle wings moving.

Ultimately I was able to break all of Adam's cavalry (at the cost of all of my own) and the majority of his right wing.  I wasn't able to close the deal and break his army though.  But given he was reduced to 1 morale point and I wasn't nearly so bad off, this was declared a minor victory for me.

Ultimately I was able to break all of Adam’s cavalry (at the cost of all of my own) and the majority of his right wing. I wasn’t able to close the deal and break his army though. But given he was reduced to 1 morale point and I wasn’t nearly so bad off, this was declared a minor victory for me.

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