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Sam Mustafa’s “Maurice”

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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Posted by on April 20, 2013 in Product Review

 

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Victory at Sea: Age of Dreadnoughts

Naval combat games have always been of special interest to me.  Considering I spent 22 years in the Navy, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Or maybe it should; after 22 years you should be tired of something.  But while I have no desire to return to my deck-scrubbing days, or to stay awake for two days just for sake of staying awake, naval combat still fascinates me.

I haven’t had an opportunity to play any really good naval games for a long time now.  I picked up the Trafalgar rules set from Warhammer Historical a while back.  I’ve read through them several times and I like the level of detail and they seem like they would play well.  Unfortunately, though the Age of Sail is one of my favorite periods to game, I find the prospect of assembling and rigging sailing ships to be daunting.  In the past I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to play with friends’ toys.  Right now, I have three British 74’s from Langton in my lead pile that may never get done.

I have been playing Axis & Allies War at Sea a fair bit lately, and while that game is thoroughly enjoyable, it’s not quite what I was looking for.  No offense to the game or its devotees, but it’s more like checkers with ship models than it is like a naval simulation.  I continued searching for something more suitable.  There are plenty of rule sets out there, but I needed something that would satisfy my historical/realism needs but that would not frighten off my fellow gamers.  Good bunch of guys, but they’re unreasonably terrified of any game with a chart in it.  Some of them have been known to curl up in the fetal position and whimper like a lost child upon seeing an armor penetration table.  Seekrieg and Fear God and Dread Nought were out.

I decided to concentrate my search on rule sets that covered the pre-Dreadnought and WWI era; the period from roughly 1900-1920’s.  I’ve been itching all over for a good WWI game lately and decided now was the time to scratch it.  The rules I settled on are Victory at Sea: Age of Dreadnoughts from Mongoose Publishing.  I became aware of Mongoose a few years ago when they re-released two role-playing games that I wasted a LOT of time with when I was a kid, Runequest (formerly published by Chaosium) and Traveller (formerly published by Game Designers Workshop).  Mongoose did a good job with those games so I decided to throw the dice on their newest naval product.

The Good:
The rules come in a nicely bound, hard cover book.  Illustrations are in black and white, and there aren’t too many, but the quality is good.  The actual rules only consist of about 18 pages.  Twelve pages or so for the basic rules and a further 6 pages for advanced rules.  The rest of the book consists of scenarios (5 generic, 5 historic), guidelines for setting up a campaign game and data sheets for ships from Britain, Germany, Russia, Turkey and the United States.  The ship data includes,for capital ships, not just items of interest to the game, but also a brief historical rundown of the ship or ship class, a photo or two, and usually the number of ships in a class.  Destroyers, torpedo boats and some light cruisers are given briefer coverage, consisting of just a line of game data.  The last few pages of the book consist of turning and gunnery templates that you will need to photocopy (or download in pdf form from Mongoose’s website) and cut out.  I mounted the turn templates on balsa wood, but you don’t have to do that with the gunnery templates really.  It would be nice if someone offered these as clear or smokey acrylic templates…

The Bad:
While the physical production qualities of the book are top-notch, the editing is not.  There are still placeholders in the rules for page and chapter references.  For example, when a rule refers you to Chapter XX for more information, the text is literally “see Chapter XX”, not “see Chapter 7”.  There are a couple of places where complete paragraphs should be removed (these are specified in an errata sheet available from the Mongoose website).  In one case, the section to be removed is a cut & paste error.  Text from Mongoose’s WWII game, Victory at Sea, was inadvertently carried over to Age of Dreadnoughts.  Some errors in the rules are not covered in the errata sheet.  One example is a problem with the “Agile” special trait that some ships can have.  Agile according to the rules allows a ship to turn twice in a move.  But according to the rules, all ships are already allowed to turn twice in a move.  You have to go to the user forums on the Mongoose website to find out which is correct.  These errors are significant and they do mar an otherwise good product.

The Highly Questionable:
Let me first say that Victory at Sea: Age of Dreadnoughts is not a hard-core naval simulation.  I knew that going in, and was fine with that knowledge.  The game has enough detail in terms of combat and damage to ‘feel’ like a sim, but it is easy to manage by novice or chart shy players.  In short, it’s exactly what I wanted for my group.  And while there are clearly many nods to playability over realism in the rules as you would expect, there is one thing that I can’t quite accept.

Every ship in the game has the same turn radius.  The biggest, nastiest battleship turns at the same rate as the smallest destroyer.  The way movement rules work, a ship is allowed to turn twice in its move, once at the halfway point and again at the end.  So if a ship is moving 6″ it can turn once after moving 3″, then again after moving another 3″.  Each turn can be up to 90 degrees, so every ship can turn 180 degrees in a move.  This could possibly be justified because time in the game is abstract.  Distance is not, 1″ = 500 yards, but time scale is not specified.  This just doesn’t feel right to me, though I don’t have any data or math to back up my position.

Mongoose maintains a fairly active users forum, and this point has been raised several times there.  The rules author has replied that his research showed that there was little practical difference in the turning radii of ships in the WWI period.  He did not cite his sources, but I believe he did the research; I can’t help but question the conclusions is all.

Conclusion:
While there are some problems with Victory at Sea: Age of Dreadnoughts I think it is a worthwhile purchase.  The rules are easy to learn and play fast and they ‘feel’ right.  The game is not a simulation and if that’s what you are looking for AoD may not satisfy you.  But if you want a game that will let you play large engagements quickly, that you can easily introduce novice players to, or that you can run as a club or a convention event, AoD is worth a look.

This post is running long, so I will end it here.  I had a chance to play AoD last weekend, and so my next post will be a summary of that game including the details of some of the rule mechanics and a nod to Panzerschiffe, a manufacturer of good quality, low-cost 1:2400 scale naval miniatures.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2011 in Product Review

 

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