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Subject: A tasty, unique wargame with personality rss

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Jordi Prieto
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(This review is a rough translation from the review in Spanish I submitted)

Ni! Ni! Ni!

A game with such a typical name mentioned in so many famous songs, using as cards a customized French cards deck and dealing with a topic as popular as Succession War in Austria, could be of any interest? Yes. Does it deserve a review written by a clumsy person as I am? Definitely not. But there is a serpent in every eden, so here I go.

For general info: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/40354/maria


Historical background

MARIA THERESA: Daddy, daddy! Shall I be Empress like Sissi, when you´re dead?
CHARLES VI: No! And Sissi will exist only in the forthcoming century, you deaf dumb hen!
MARIA THERESA: Come on, come oooooooooooooooooon, I want it sooooo badly...
CHARLES VI: Alriiiiiiiiiiiight... damn the lass, what a pain in the ass... again with that issue... now I have to convince all Europe to swallow her...

(Some years later…)

LOUIS XV: Hey Fred, Charlie of Austria is dead and his daughter will reign...!
FREDERICK THE GREAT: This girl doesn´t know the first thing about it... here we have a good chance to get a good slice! It´s time to attack!
LOUIS XV: Oui... but we signed that Pragmatic Sanction and we shouldn´t jump off the wagon now...
FREDERICK THE GREAT: Fine, then stay in your tiny gardens in Versailles daydreaming and staring at your royal nails, I´m gonna be back in the saddle to invade Silesia to make history and justify my nickname!
LOUIS XV: Well... Charles Albert of Bavaria is sighing for the crown of Holy Roman Empire and he´s a good bloke... look, you can start with it, I would join the party later… but I don´t know… English won´t support us…
FREDERICK THE GREAT: Take it easy, everything´s gonna be alright, almost all Europe will go against this thunderstruck girl…

For a serious, historic interpretation, you can go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austrian_Succession


Components

Cards size is 56 x 87 mm, rounded corners and good quality material. Except for political cards, the ones used in the game are sort of a French deck and illustrations of higher value cards depict historical characters of the age that take part in the game. There are also some really effective player aid cards, with useful symbols and scarce in text. All in all they´re 192 cards, if my abacus hasn´t tricked me while counting. Pictures on the cards are quite decent though some people could dislike them, a matter of tastes. Here you can see the most prominent ones:

External image


Generals and supply trains are wooden pieces, I don´t distinguish birch from ash tree, I´m a clumsy wood-analyst, in a nutshell. These ones are made of birch I think… To the core: they´re cool. The round ones (generals) are 15 mm diameter and the proud game´s owner must put the stickers on them, anyway, calm down, this is not C&C; since they´re only 20, it won´t hurt. Small cubes (trains) are 10 mm side.
Chits are small, cardboard, nice thickness. 11 mm side. Unpunching was clean and easy.

The map measures roughly 84 x 56 cm, mounted of course. It comes in a single piece. Neat! It´s divided in two European zones, Flanders and Eastern France on the left and Prussia and Bohemia on the right. As a curiosity, the back of the map reflects how regions were “turned” when featuring them in the map in order to favour playability. Artwork is quite beautiful; far from being baroque or old-fashioned, it´s elegant and appealing. A personal favourite without a doubt, without matching the heights of excellence achieved by Napoleon´s Triumph, board which makes me suffer from Stendhal´s syndrome. As far as tracks are concerned, the board is quite self-explanatory and clear, something remarkable for awkward people like me.

There is also a separate board, the political display (30 x 21 cm). Unfortunately, it´s not hard like the map, but simple cardboard. It´s quite straight and less attractive than the map, or speaking in other terms, a bit dull.


Rules

The rulebook is very well structured and clear, with shadowed spaces to separate advanced game rules from introductory, some examples and interesting design notes from the author. Not many doubts rise after a couple of readings and there are hardly ambiguous issues. It´s quite nice to read in your bed at night and there are no many pages, around 12 or something.


Players/game length

Maria is done for three players. That´s the number in which it will shine and be more juicy. What about 2 players game? It´s playable but the diplomatic element is lost since alliances are not possible. Sides are too unbalanced in the gameplay mechanic, since a player should manage many powers hands and the result could be a bit messy, specially for beginner players.

If all 12 turns are completed, the game could take five or six hours, but if victory conditions are met before the thing will be shorter. With fluent players aware of rules the average game length could be three hours and a half, I´d say. Length listed in BGG is quite accurate. Introductory game (a simplified version of the game) is shorter, lasting around two hours, in a bold estimation.

External image



Mechanics

Maria is a strategic wargame based on card management, basically. As a whole, it works this way: each player controls one or more nations at war whose goal is to empty the own pool of victory markers, placing them in the map when conquering enemy fortresses or in the political display due to victories in battle or diplomatic successes. The game is divided in turns, each one conformed by the next phases:

1) Politics: cards are played in the political display. Countries with higher cards choose one of the two political cards revealed each turn, to play or either discard it without effect. Each card moves markers on the display than can move victory markers, give/take troops and cards or affect Saxony political position.
2) Hussars: pieces only moved by Austria, used just for annoying invaders; they cut supply lines and make the rivals lose cards.
3) Action phase of France-Bavaria
4) Action phase of Prussia-Saxony
5) Action phase of Austria and Pragmatic Army

Each action phase includes five things to do:

a) Draw cards: each nation has its own supply of cards, it´s not the same for all.
b) Checking supply: each general must be distant as much as 6 cities from an own train supply. If lines are cut by enemy or distance is longer, that general loses troops and he won´t be able to conquer fortresses. In homeland every general has supply and no train is needed. Interesting bitching detail: a general can eliminate an enemy train without combat, simply passing through the city it´s placed on.
c) Moving pieces: generals move 3 cities or 4 if they march through main road. Trains move the same way but one less city. Only generals can do forced marches, moving up to 8 cities under certain conditions. All pieces can be moved in each turn, no limits here.
d) Combats: when two rival generals are in adjacent cities, there´s a combat. Each player will only use cards of the suit marked in the square of the map which his general is located in. Battles are quite simple: troops of each general are counted. If at the start a player has 5 and the other 7, the one having less will begin with -2 and since he´s in negative figures he will play a card, whose value will add to the -2. If the resulting figure is still negative to him, plays another card. If the number becomes positive, the rival (who will be in negative then) will play a card. The process repeats until someone decides not playing a card; then that player will lose as many troops and will retire as many cities as the number in negative he had at the moment. If the number is 0, no changes in troops nor positions take place.
e) Retroactive conquests: after battles, players check whether any fortress has changed control due to retreats. A fortress is protected by the defender if there is a general at a distance of three cities or less from the fortress. If the general(s) who defended are not eliminated or moved away, the city is not seized.

A curious detail of the game is that the amount of troops of each general are hidden until getting into battle; then each player announces how many troops he´s commanding. During the game, players write by hand the troops of each general in sheets (downloadable at Histogame web) and along the game, the players modify the number of troops crossing out and writing according to losses or reinforcements. It´s a bit old-fashioned system, but it´s effective anyway. There are restless craftmen who have invented a better device for troops assignment with some spare time and good skills:

Board Game: Maria


Each three turns we have the Winter phase, when troops take a break and sing some carols, so each side only devotes to recruit new troops, getting the kids out of their warm houses to send them to the front. Each troop cost 4 card points of any suit. It´s also tracked how many markers each power has in his pool; in the end of the game, if no one has emptied his pool, the one with the lower total winter scoring along the game will be the winner.

There is also the chance of diplomatic movements to influence the game: temporary alliances, card subsidies between allies, pacts… Prussia can offer the peace to Austria during some turns if France must be stopped, for example. Also the fact that Saxony can become neutral or even become allied with Austria can be a turning point in a game and change the landscape… to complete this cocktail of political intrigues and alliances (?), the weird fact about Maria: the player controlling Prussia and Saxony is also responsible of the Pragmatic Army, that unlike Prussia and Saxony, is allied with Austria. Therefore, the same player strikes France and helps Austria in a part of the map (Flanders) and in the other side (Bohemia) hits badly Austria and respects France for being allied.

All this explanation goes to the complete rules. Introductory game (useful to learn or introducing the game to someone, namely unwary eurogamers, naive girlfriends, flower-powers with existential doubts…) only utilizes the Bohemia map and the pieces there in the initial set-up and goals are different: France and Prussia must place a certain number of markers in Silesia and Austria, while Maria Theresa will win if France nor Prussia achieve their objectives.

From gallery of fjordi


Conclusion

Maria is mechanism-wise very simple, but deep in possibilities and options. There are no determinist events, nor differences between battle, recruitment and political cards: everything is made through spades, clubs, etc. that are the main thing to handle and carry out your strategic plans. If you don´t have a certain suit, the defense of some cities can be quite fiddly, but you must be able to change your strategy to be in other lands where your position can be stronger to defend other fortresses. The same goes for attacking. Being three players, you can see what suits are being spent by other players to glimpse their weaknesses. Or maybe they can be saving some strong cards and you will end tarred and feathered? Players look at each other actions and speculate about strong suits, how many troops have each general, what movement will be the next… political display does nothing but add more tension and uncertainty about what to do, enriching the game and providing depth. Diplomatic gimmicks are useful to prevent the player with advantage from winning quickly. Historical element has been wisely included, something remarkable since this war was quite complex and filled with nuances.

As some of you sensitive readers may have wondered, Maria is asymmetric, so each side is a story of its own: some powers have a bigger pool than others, some have a clearer strategy... as a complaint, some people say it´s impossible to win playing Austria. My personal opinion is that Austria is more demanding than the other powers, but it´s possible to win with it. Austria needs an accurate strategy, to be clever taking important offensive decisions and a sensible hand management. Errors playing Austria can mean a high cost.

Both eurogamers and wargamers may like Maria, so it has things from both types of games combined in a very original and convincing way. The mixture of piece movements, simple card game and war concepts is quite powerful and makes me considering Maria as an excellent game, with high replayability, meaty, nice to the eye and with a smooth historical flavor.

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Michael Cowles
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Great review (and far far better then I could do in spanish soblue)
I got the chance to boardgame recently and since there were 3 of us, Daniel suggest Maria - we had a great time.
I enjoyed the mechanics, but could see that in this case it takes 3 to tango, which is a blessing (for the times when there's 3) and a curse otherwise.
I intend to add it to my gaming arsenel - as soon as budget permits
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richard sivel
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Great review! I enjoyed your humour very much! Thank you!
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Filip Makówka
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Quote:
As some of you sensitive readers may have wondered, Maria is asymmetric, so each side is a story of its own: some powers have a bigger pool than others, some have a clearer strategy... as a complaint, some people say it´s impossible to win playing Austria. My personal opinion is that Austria is more demanding than the other powers, but it´s possible to win with it. Austria needs an accurate strategy, to be clever taking important offensive decisions and a sensible hand management. Errors playing Austria can mean a high cost.
At firs I thought the same. Now, when I've played Maria several times I have some worries about it. It looks like playing Austria is not only demanding but it is very hard too, almost impossible to win without big mistakes of Prussia or France. Maybe I'm wrong, I hope I am Though, I still really like and enjoy Maria and I think that Richard did a terrific job.
 
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Happosai wrote:
It looks like playing Austria is not only demanding but it is very hard too, almost impossible to win without big mistakes of Prussia or France.
I think, by its very nature, that Maria is self-balancing. If France wins, Prussia could have stopped pushing so hard; if Prussia does, France can blame itself equally. Of course, Austria has to convince one side that the third side is going to win too...
 
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It took our group 10 plays before Austria was able to win, but now after 30 or so plays Austria wins regularly (and without needing to resort to diplomacy).

Yes, playing Austria well is more difficult than Prussia or France, but in my experience among seasoned players the powers are all relatively balanced.

My biggest suggestion to fledgling Austria players is to stay focused on the victory condition, which is to dump all your chits. Which is another way of saying that you can't win without going on offense. Don't let yourself get bogged down defending core Austria, keep in mind that all you need to do is place your last chit before another power does. Defending every fortress tooth and nail is a surefire way for Austria to lose.
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Alex H.
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verandi wrote:
It took our group 10 plays before Austria was able to win, but now after 30 or so plays Austria wins regularly (and without needing to resort to diplomacy).

Yes, playing Austria well is more difficult than Prussia or France, but in my experience among seasoned players the powers are all relatively balanced.

My biggest suggestion to fledgling Austria players is to stay focused on the victory condition, which is to dump all your chits. Which is another way of saying that you can't win without going on offense. Don't let yourself get bogged down defending core Austria, keep in mind that all you need to do is place your last chit before another power does. Defending every fortress tooth and nail is a surefire way for Austria to lose.
Agreed but I don't think it's just because players learn how to play Austria better that it takes a while for Austria to win. It's also because the players playing the other powers start to better understand how to balance each other out. In early games, it can become a reace between Prussia and France. Later on, The Flanders map should become very important and thus also ensure Austria can fully compete.
 
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fjordi wrote:
Historical background

MARIA THERESA: Daddy, daddy! Shall I be Empress like Sissi, when you´re dead?
CHARLES VI: No! And Sissi will exist only in the forthcoming century, you deaf dumb hen!
MARIA THERESA: Come on, come oooooooooooooooooon, I want it sooooo badly...
CHARLES VI: Alriiiiiiiiiiiight... damn the lass, what a pain in the ass... again with that issue... now I have to convince all Europe to swallow her...

(Some years later…)

LOUIS XV: Hey Fred, Charlie of Austria is dead and his daughter will reign...!
FREDERICK THE GREAT: This girl doesn´t know the first thing about it... here we have a good chance to get a good slice! It´s time to attack!
LOUIS XV: Oui... but we signed that Pragmatic Sanction and we shouldn´t jump off the wagon now...
FREDERICK THE GREAT: Fine, then stay in your tiny gardens in Versailles daydreaming and staring at your royal nails, I´m gonna be back in the saddle to invade Silesia to make history and justify my nickname!
LOUIS XV: Well... Charles Albert of Bavaria is sighing for the crown of Holy Roman Empire and he´s a good bloke... look, you can start with it, I would join the party later… but I don´t know… English won´t support us…
FREDERICK THE GREAT: Take it easy, everything´s gonna be alright, almost all Europe will go against this thunderstruck girl…

For a serious, historic interpretation, you can go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austrian_Succession
Just to set the historical record straight:
Frederick the Great originally offered to support Maria Theresa if she would give Silesia to him. He only turned against her after she rejected his offer. The Wikipedia article does not mention this detail.

I've played a bunch of games of Maria and it's really good. Actually, it's my favorite game at the moment. But in my gaming circle all of the sides have an equal chance of winning.

How to win as Austria
Create as many 8 strength armies as you can. Stack these full strength armies as soon as you can to form super armies. This will force your opponent to burn valuable cards without having to use any cards yourself. I've won many battles without using a single card this way. Then group all of your armies against one target (France or preferably Prussia but definitely not both and do not split your armies). Then don't chase Prussia all the way back to Berlin if you have him on the run. Instead immediately shift your entire army towards the French and and kick him out of Austria (think Lee first concentrating his entire army against McClellan at the Seven Days Battles and then going immediately after McDowell at Bull Run). But if you get an opportunity to destroy France or Prussia's supply trains, do it even if it puts your offending army in an exposed position! The blow to your opponent will far out way the harm to yourself. If you battle with France or Prussia and you can lose by one or two, do it even if you've got plenty of cards in that suit. You will end up preserving your own cards and burning your opponents. This will also allow you to save cards for the political phase and for winter army builds (get them up to eight). By preserving cards for the political phase you will eventually be able to cripple both France and Prussia that way too. I've seen people burn all of their cards in battle and then have nothing for the following political phase. Major mistake. The Austrians have a general in the lowlands as well. Don't charge him towards the Holy Roman elector cites or southward into France unless you want to lose him. Let the Pragmatic army do that. Instead move him into far northern France so that the Pragmatic Army is between you and the French Army. If you can follow these principles Austria becomes a very strong player. By the way, though Prussia begins with the most cards, by turn 3 Austria will have received more than Prussia. And by using the Hussars a couple of more cards can be whittled off of the Prussians. So be patient, the Prussian advantage will quickly evaporate.

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Filip Makówka
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bartman347 wrote:

How to win as Austria
Create as many 8 strength armies as you can. Stack these full strength armies as soon as you can to form super armies. This will force your opponent to burn valuable cards without having to use any cards yourself. I've won many battles without using a single card this way. Then group all of your armies against one target (France or preferably Prussia but definitely not both and do not split your armies). Then don't chase Prussia all the way back to Berlin if you have him on the run. Instead immediately shift your entire army towards the French and and kick him out of Austria (think Lee first concentrating his entire army against McClellan at the Seven Days Battles and then going immediately after McDowell at Bull Run). But if you get an opportunity to destroy France or Prussia's supply trains, do it even if it puts your offending army in an exposed position! The blow to your opponent will far out way the harm to yourself. If you battle with France or Prussia and you can lose by one or two, do it even if you've got plenty of cards in that suit. You will end up preserving your own cards and burning your opponents. This will also allow you to save cards for the political phase and for winter army builds (get them up to eight). By preserving cards for the political phase you will eventually be able to cripple both France and Prussia that way too. I've seen people burn all of their cards in battle and then have nothing for the following political phase. Major mistake. The Austrians have a general in the lowlands as well. Don't charge him towards the Holy Roman elector cites or southward into France unless you want to lose him. Let the Pragmatic army do that. Instead move him into far northern France so that the Pragmatic Army is between you and the French Army. If you can follow these principles Austria becomes a very strong player. By the way, though Prussia begins with the most cards, by turn 3 Austria will have received more than Prussia. And by using the Hussars a couple of more cards can be whittled off of the Prussians. So be patient, the Prussian advantage will quickly evaporate.

I can't wait to try this!;P
 
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Joseph Knowles
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I kinda wish I'd stumbled across this before I started a game on VASSAL this past week . . .
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