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Fabian Mainzer
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Introduction
This is my first review on the Geek, as on most occasions, people have already written better reviews than I am capable of, while I am still waiting for the game to arrive in Europe. Now, with Maria probably coming out in Germany a lot earlier than elsewhere, I feel it is time to pay back a little.

Last week I got Maria and now had the chance to get a couple of plays in and think about the game for some time. I have to admit that I am a big fan of Friedrich, which got me back into the hobby after stumbling on it in a gift shop in Berlin in the summer of 2006. As Friedrich as Maria’s predecessor is of course the main reference for comparison, this review will inevitably do just that, but I hope it will generate some interest and information to newcomers and Friedrich veterans alike. Unfortunately, I have not yet found out how to upload photos to the geek and include them in a post, so you will have to do without visual candy. I apologise.

Maria is set 15 years before Friedrich in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48) and focuses on the crucial years of the conflict 1741-1744 in two theatres, called Bohemia and Flanders. The map "Bohemia" comprises Brandenburg and Saxony in the North, Bavaria in the South West, present-day Austria in the South East and Bohemia and Silesia in the middle. The "Flanders" map consists of the Netherlands, the Austrian Netherlands (roughly present-day Belgium and Luxembourg), North-Eastern France and Western Germany. One player plays France and Bavaria, trying to rob as much territory and the imperial crown, the second one the schizophrenic role of the young King in Prussia, the hazardous adventurer on the throne trying to grab Silesia, and at the same time George, King of England and the leader of the Pragmatic Army, allied with Austria and trying to keep a sort of balance on the continent. The third role of course, is the young Maria Theresa, trying to defend her hereditary possessions against a carriage-load full of enemies. The designer claims that this distribution works very well.

Components
Those already acquainted with Friedrich will recognise a lot of the components in Maria. Both feature a big mounted map board (22x33"), coloured wooden disks representing generals and wooden cubes representing supply trains, a lot of die-cut markers for marking conquest and game tracks, four deck of tactical cards (TC, more on those later), some play aids and 5 army sheets on normal paper (you can photocopy these when you run out or download them for free at http://www.histogame.de/download.html). New to Maria is that the dreaded Cards of Fate have been replaced by a deck of 25 political cards and a Political Display has been added, printed on solid card stock (DIN A4). Stickers are provided to mark the different generals with little difficulty, turning those wooden disks into heroes like Friedrich the Great himself or French Marshal Maurice de Saxe or little known characters like Saxon general Rutowski.

Overall, the component quality is top notch and more akin to your average euro game as your average wargame. Aesthetics-wise, the choice of colour compared to the Friedrich map is more toned down and sepia like to evoke more period flavour. While I like the choice of colour, I am not quite sure about the dirty/old look, which can be easily confused with real dirt. The only real downside is that even the downloadable file for the army sheets has this sepia tone on it, uselessly wasting printer ink. If the designer reads this, maybe it would be possible to offer this on plain white background? That would be much appreciated. The divided and rescaled map at first takes something to get used to, but while playing the game, you come to appreciate the designer’s rationale to cut out those parts of the map that won’t likely see any action.

Rules
The rules are little more complicated than those of Friedrich, however at 10 pages for the English rules much less so than your average war game. Maria introduces some new concepts while staying true to the design philosophy of its predecessor. There are two versions of the game, one light introductory game and the so-called advanced game. However, I think that anyone who has played Friedrich before can jump right into the expert game, which offers the full game experience. There is also a nice player aid card for every player that summarises the subtle rule changes from Friedrich to Maria.

The core rules of Maria remain the same. Each general has a certain amount of armies, 1-8, assigned to him on the army sheet. Each nation has a starting number of armies to be assigned, more can be added later. Two generals may stack to create larger forces. Every general can move up to 3 spaces on the map, while the supply trains can move up to 2 spaces. This movement allowances can be increased by one if the whole movement occurred on main (bold printed) roads. Maria also introduces the concept of force-marching, where generals can move up to 8 spaces, appearing out of nowhere in faraway places. This movement, however, is impeded by enemy-controlled fortresses and enemy pieces, so one can take measures to interdict rapid enemy movement. Supply is also crucial. Each supply train supplies an unlimited amount of generals up to 6 cities away. As generals move much faster than supply trains, any advance has to be carefully calculated. Different from Friedrich, supply is checked at the beginning of your turn, so the enemy can easily interfere with it if you don’t pay attention. Unsupplied units in foreign territory cannot conquer any fortresses and slowly wither away as they keep losing armies unless back in supply. Fortresses can be conquered by moving over them. However, enemy generals protect fortresses in a 3 spaces radius. Therefore, if the enemy is not compliant and moves away, one has to drive him away. The method to do that is, of course, battle. Battle occurs if enemy generals are adjacent to each other at the end of a player’s turn. Both combatants announce their respective general’s strength and the one trailing behind is the first to play any cards. There’s where the Tactical Cards (TC) come into play. TCs come in four decks of normal poker playing cards (period flavoured artwork notwithstanding) with values from 2-10. There are also two Reserve cards in each deck, with a variable value of 1-8. The values of the cards have been slightly reduced compared to Friedrich (2-13, 1-10). Each power gets a certain amount of cards each turn and you use them for politics, combat and recruiting, so in essence for everything. In combat you look at the suit sector your general is located in. Each suit has some corresponding sectors on the map. The player with a negative score may either play cards until he reaches a positive score, surrendering the ability to play cards to the opponent, or call the battle off, suffering army losses and a retreat in spaces corresponding to the negative score at the end of the battle.

The game itself lasts 4 years divided into 3 campaign turns plus a winter phase each. In the advanced game, each turn starts with a political phase, where two events (the political deck is subdivided into 1741, 1742, etc.) are drawn and then the major powers do a secret bidding with one tactical card. The suit which counts is decided upon by the last player to win a battle, or if there is none, randomly. The winner may either save his TC for future diplomacy or pick up a political card and carry out the event(s) listed on it. This may be that certain powers lose or gain cards or armies or that the markers on the political display are moved. There are three tracks. The first one deals with the unstable stance of the Prussian ally Saxony, which can result into the defection of Saxony into the Austrian camp. The second one marks the attitude of Russia towards the conflict. That is also mostly a concern of Prussia, which starts with substantial forces tied-up in the offmap box "East Prussia" to defend against a possible Russian threat. As Prusso-Russian relations decline even further, Prussia can lose up to 2 TC (out of 3) of its draw, so better watch out that the Russians are appeased! Likewise, if the marker moves further to the left, the Prussian cover force is free to be deployed elsewhere and Prussia might even gain a Russian subsidy. The third track symbolises the Italian Theatre of War, which was outsourced from the game. Here, Austria fought against the French, Spanish and Neapolitans with the unstable ally of Sardinia-Piedmont. As the fortunes of war shift back and forth, substantial resources can be drawn in to the sideshow, up to one tied-up general or a card draw. All there is to be won is one victory point. After the political phase, the campaign phase begins, starting with the Franco-Bavarian player, afterwards Prussia and Saxony, then Austria and the Pragmatic Army. During winter, armies can be bought for 4 TC points each (by the way, supply trains can be rebuilt during the campaign phase for 4 TC) and the winter scoring is done. This leads to the question of

How to win
Each power has a certain amount of victory markers, which allows for a fine-tuned game balance. For example, at start Prussia has still 11 victory markers in its pool, while Austria has only three. This is of course about to change quickly as Prussia conquers much of Silesia, however, one has to eye the different pools carefully, as those can be empty quickly with one power taking away the win. VP markers may be placed for conquering fortresses and winning major battle victories. Moreover, there are some country specific victory points for things such as the annexation of Silesia, winning the upper hand in Italy or securing the Imperial Crown for your candidate. If one power manages to place all its VP markers, it has won an automatic victory. During winter, each power gets the number of VP markers remaining in its pool deducted. Who scores the least negative points at the end of the game wins, if no one has claimed automatic victory before.

Strategy
The basic strategies of Friedrich still apply. You have to choose the sectors you fight in wisely and must at all cost avoid fighting against different powers in the same suit. If you are low in cards in one suit, try to defend from another or attack with superior numbers to win the war of attrition. Try to trap the enemy so he can get surrounded. Always keep a reserve of cards and never get totally depleted in one suit. Cutting the supply lines of the enemy is always worth pursuing, especially in Maria, as both France and Prussia rely on one supply train each in Bohemia and the effects of being OOS prohibits any effective campaigning. The new Hussar pieces can also make supplying armies quite expensive, as you have to pay in TCs for supply lines laid through Hussar pieces.

However, while the aforementioned strategy tips are still valid, they are far harder to execute now. Any power can expect to fight against two enemies for some time (well, except the Pragmatic Army) so managing cards and choosing defensible suits is much more difficult. The multiple ways to win and the fact that you do not have to conquer all the fortresses anymore (as in Friedrich) makes the strategy to defend the last objective in a suit where you are near unbeatable invalid. Moreover, initiative constantly shifts in the game, first all gang up on Austria, later France, then Prussia. A comfortable position can turn into a desperate situation any time. How does this happen? The key to all is diplomacy! And in my opinion, there lies the genius of the game and the reason why this game surpasses Friedrich.
The unique thing in Maria is that everyone is both enemy and ally with everyone else. Example: At first, Austria is beaten up pretty badly by the Prussians and Franco-Bavarians; however both invaders eye the success of the other enviously. As Austria signals to falter and let one player run away with victory, negotiations start: Of course, Prussia and France are allied and cannot attack each other, but maybe Prussia can give Austria some breathing space in exchange for a Silesian fortress or two, for a better winter scoring? France will be too weak to fight against the full Austrian army, and be pushed out of Bohemia quite quickly. Now Austria has mauled the French and is ready to fight for Silesia again. And if Russia is hostile and the Saxons change sides, the Prussian card house will collapse quickly. Prussia starts with a strong hand initially, but Austria will get stronger in relation to Prussia each turn. Of course, as the Prussian player is also the Pragmatic Army player, he blackmails Austria that he will step aside and let the French overrun the Austrian Netherlands unless there can be some agreement in Silesia? Add to this all the small favours and disfavours one can do for ally and enemy on the politics table, you can see that there is some chaos and Machiavellian power politics going on! And the player to manage this best will most likely walk away with victory in the end.

Conclusion
I tried to employ some neutral stance in the review. I do not know if I succeeded; however, here is the place to come out with my glowing praise for the game, which I think is a masterpiece! As in Friedrich, Maria captures the feel of 18th century warfare with simple elegance. No chrome and tons of rules are required, everything is achieved through the system and you can concentrate on what is important: manoeuvre, bluff and cut-throat diplomacy. Friedrich is a very fine game with very little things that bother me. Maria has done away with all the minor problems and also added a full new twist to the game. So what’s new to like?
thumbsup The three roles are much more equal than in Friedrich. Moreover, as each power is equally concerned with each theatre, downtime, which was a problem with Friedrich sometimes, is at a minimum.
thumbsup Armies are much more important now, due to the change that you can only rebuild them during winter and the reduced value of the TC. You cannot afford suicide attacks anymore, as it can completely wipe you out for some time. Moreover, shattering defeats may award victory points to your opponent and may lose some for you.
thumbsup The flow of the game feels much quicker. Forced marches allow generals to move around the map quite quickly.
thumbsup Some love them, some hate them: The Cards of Fate in Friedrich. They are gone now. The game end is now fully in control of the players.
thumbsup The political system, which seems a little simple at first, works to full satisfaction.

The only thing that still is not really solved is play time: The advanced game still can take up to 5 or 6 hours, so better bring time, it’s worth it!

If you were let down by Friedrich because of downtime, random ending or seemingly endless stalemate, please give Maria a try. If there was nothing in Friedrich for you to like, stay away from this one.

My verdict: 10/10
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Michael Edwards
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Thanks very much for the review! I now feel even better in my pre-ordering this game, and look forward to it.

Braunschweig wrote:
The only real downside is that even the downloadable file for the army sheets has this sepia tone on it, uselessly wasting printer ink. If the designer reads this, maybe it would be possible to offer this on plain white background? That would be much appreciated.
Regarding this, if one has access to Acrobat (the full version, not just the reader), it's a simple operation to cut out the background. I would be glad to upload such a version, if permission were granted by the publisher first.
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richard sivel
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Thank you Fabian for this very detailed review! I am very happy that you liked the game

About the downloadable army sheet: I was indeed thinking a week whether I should upload the version as printed for the game, or come with a version with a pure white background. -- I guess I will simply offer both variants! The new download version should be online at the weekend.

---------------

One comment on the review: The wording in the English rules has changed a little: "armies" are called "troops" now.
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Great review Fabian. I hope we can get this to the table at the BGG.con!
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Christian Krach
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Nice one, now I am totally convinced.
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Periplaneta wrote:
Nice one, now I am totally convinced.
Yep- I am fairly confident that this is going to be to Friedrich what Napoleon's Triumph was to Bonaparte at Marengo.

Just thinking about it makes me excited.
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Is there anything to mitigate terrible card draws,. like we experienced when we played Friedrich?
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shadow9d9 wrote:
Is there anything to mitigate terrible card draws,. like we experienced when we played Friedrich?
Well, now the values range from 2-10 rather than 2-13. That should tighten things up a bit.
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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So it doesn't go beyond 1744? No Fontenoy scenario or Jacobite rising to distract the British?

I was hoping it would cover the distance, as I'm anxious for a game covering the whole war.
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verandi wrote:
shadow9d9 wrote:
Is there anything to mitigate terrible card draws,. like we experienced when we played Friedrich?
Well, now the values range from 2-10 rather than 2-13. That should tighten things up a bit.
The suits were more of a problem in my last game :(... but that certainly helps.
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Superb review, Fabian. Having purchased Friedrich long ago, and followed Richard's comments online, I had no doubt that this would be a superb game. I must have it, and soon!
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richard sivel
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Quote:
So it doesn't go beyond 1744? No Fontenoy scenario or Jacobite rising to distract the British?
Having an eye on the playing time, I had to compress the history a little bit. That means that what the game calls 1744 did not necessarily happen in 1774, etc. -- There is the chance for the Jacobite rising between turn 10 an 12 (technically 1744 in game turns. Ergo, one year too early looking at real history).

And be sure, there is a lot of action on the Flanders map. Yesterday, when excersizing for Essen, we had a big Pragmatic offensive into Picardie, taking Amiens, Lille and Maubeuge. (I know Fontenoy was the other way round!)

At the same time, Frederick was heavily defeated in Silesia and had to give up hope for an walkover.
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Ty Wyman
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Thanks for working so quickly to get us a detailed review. Many of us were waiting for one (and look forward to more).

I simply can't wait to get the game; it should fill many a winter eve. (The five-hour game length is great! I love games that I can ponder during the day and where there is a real investment in your decisions.)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Quote:
Having an eye on the playing time, I had to compress the history a little bit. That means that what the game calls 1744 did not necessarily happen in 1774, etc. -- There is the chance for the Jacobite rising between turn 10 an 12 (technically 1744 in game turns. Ergo, one year too early looking at real history).
I was a little annoyed that the reviewer made the first half sound more important than the second half. Anyway, I like that you did it for playability, but is there anyway of their being a scenario to cover the second half of the war or an extended game for crazy people like me? One thing I liked about Friedrich was that the game didn't end when the Elizabeth died.
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richard sivel
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@ Sean/Paul:

Maybe this game report will tell you a little bit more about the action going on in Flanders

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/4081395#4081395

Quote:
but is there anyway of their being a scenario to cover the second half of the war or an extended game for crazy people like me?
During playtest, I had a version which was more following the historical pattern of events, but it came down to that the game split up in 2 parts:

Part 1: All against Àustria, the Flanders map is not active.
Part 2: Prussia walks home with Silesia and is neutral, Flanders map is activated and France is on the ropes.

The problem was, that part 1 did not really influence part 2 very much, the game felt scripted. Even worse: Part 2 felt like a completely re-start, and players asked: Why the hell did we play 2 hours for part 1??

richard
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Quote:
@ Sean/Paul:

Maybe this game report will tell you a little bit more about the action going on in Flanders

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/4081395#4081395
Already read it but thanks for posting it here.

Quote:
During playtest, I had a version which was more following the historical pattern of events, but it came down to that the game split up in 2 parts:

Part 1: All against Àustria, the Flanders map is not active.
Part 2: Prussia walks home with Silesia and is neutral, Flanders map is activated and France is on the ropes.

The problem was, that part 1 did not really influence part 2 very much, the game felt scripted. Even worse: Part 2 felt like a completely re-start, and players asked: Why the hell did we play 2 hours for part 1??
Hopefully someone does a variant for the whole war. I'll have to put this on the backburnner since my gaming budget is limitted and it doesn't cover the whole deal. But I will get this one eventually, this I assure you.
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Gotthard Heinrici (prev. Graf Strachwitz)
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What a great review.

I got my copy at Essen and have played it over the weekend and this really one is a 10 in my books as well.

I can't agree more with your last sentence:

'If you were let down by Friedrich because of downtime, random ending or seemingly endless stalemate, please give Maria a try. If there was nothing in Friedrich for you to like, stay away from this one'
 
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I'm interested in this one but the playing time of 5-6 hours for my non-wargamer game group seems like an obstacle. What about downtime? Downtime is compared to Friedrich but I never played Friedrich...
To me and my friends a long playing time could be mitigated by a fast gameplay (= low downtime).
 
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Lord Warlock wrote:
I'm interested in this one but the playing time of 5-6 hours for my non-wargamer game group seems like an obstacle. What about downtime? Downtime is compared to Friedrich but I never played Friedrich...
To me and my friends a long playing time could be mitigated by a fast gameplay (= low downtime).
I think you might only get that playtime if you had really, really, great players. We've played three times and it's only been a couple of hours. Don't let the published time fool you.

Downtime is also less than Friedrich because the powers you play all play their turns at once, rather than in sequence; and Austria and the Pragmatics (two different players) also play at the same time.

I think, in many ways, both games seem to capture the "feel" of the historical situations but improvements and enhancements make Maria fell a bit more sophisticated. I think Richard has done a marvelous follow up to Friedrich.
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Fabian Mainzer
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I have to say that after the experience of some more games, the game time is 5 hours at max, and often under that. Minimum is still somewhat 3 hours.

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