Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Out on Manoeuvres

Wow, it's been a long time since I've written anything here. I still have to complete a report on a fantastic DAK2 game Mike and I had at the beginning of the month. He's already blogged it on his site (and on BGG) so I need to add my comments.

Last Monday, we finally got back together for a gaming session. It was Mike's turn to pick and he chose GMT's new release Manoeuvre. This is a game that sat on GMT's p500 list for a LONG time before finally being released and, not unlike Twilight Struggle, the buzz for the game has increased greatly post-release.

When you first open your Manoeuvre box, you'll see eight small decks of cards, a sheet of counters, a stack of modular terrain tiles with a 4x4 square grid, and a 4x6 (or something like that) rulebook.

Game setup is relatively simple. You basically just choose four terrain tiles, two armies, deploy, and go at it.

Game play is almost as simple. On your turn you discard as many cards as you want, draw back up to five, move a unit, optionally fight, and optionally do a restoration action.

Combat is by far the most complex thing in the game, and it's not all that tough. There's two types of combat – ranged and close. Close combat involves the active player playing a card matching the lead unit in the combat, the defender plays cards in response, then the attacker can play leaders and additional unit cards to emphasize the attack. Each unit has a two steps and a strength level and most unit cards provide dice (6, 8, or 10 sided) to add to the attack. A typical attack might be a 6-strength unit with 2d8 of dice vs. a 6-strength unit with 2 points of terrain defense. You roll the dice, add up the total, and compare it to the defender's total:
  • Less, you take a hit (step loss);
  • equal, no effect;
  • greater, defender's choice of hit or retreat;
  • double or greater, attacker's choice of hit or retreat;
  • triple or greater, hit and retreat;
  • quadruple or greater, defender is eliminated.
It's real easy to remember. The attacker usually will have to pursue into a vacated space, and cavalry may be able to inflict an extra hit in pursuit. Ranged combat is simpler, but involves less dice, and simply scoring a greater score inflicts a step loss on the defender.

The restoration phase allows you to rally units, build redoubts, and possibly a couple other actions. Only one of those things per turn, though.

The game is designed to be played in around an hour, and we got two games finished in just over 2.5 hours. Given I'd never played and Mike had only played a couple times, I think the hour estimation is just about perfect once you understand the game.

Like I said, we played twice. Our first game was the “standard” French vs. British where Mike took the French. I really failed to understand the implications of the pursuit rule, and frequently ended up with my units surrounded. Mike proceeded to crush me via attrition 5-1, I believe.

In our second game, I chose Spanish vs. Americans, and I got the Americans. We ended up with a LOT of terrain on the board and it was a much closer fight. As time went on, though, a few bad die rolls (including one memorable total of 4 on 2d10+1d6) ended up death-spiraling my game and we ended up with a nightfall ending and Mike winning by controlling 14 squares on my side of the board to my getting 5 on his.

The details of those two games aren't really that important. What's far more important are the impressions made by the game.

First, from a high level, the game is chess where you have to fight over the spaces instead of just automatically capturing your opponent's unit. The terrain layout ends up being an 8x8 square grid, and each army has 8 figures. The requirement to move one unit per turn aids in the chess comparison.

Second, controlling space is almost as important as killing opposing units, and if neither side loses five units the winner is determined by most space controlled on the other side of the board.

Third, you must track your deck. Each army's deck consists of 40 unit cards (5 cards per unit) and 20 other cards. The latter is where the decks differ from army to army. You might be planning a late-game assault, but if you've already gone through the five cards for that unit, you're not going to be able to lead an attack with him. It can definitely make a difference.

A side-effect of this is that maintaining tempo and initiative (in the real since, not as a game mechanic) is critical. If you can force your opponent to use their unit cards for defense and rallying purposes, they can't use them for attack. This allows you to force the action on your terms, and that can almost trump any die rolls.

Manoeuvre is exactly what it claims to be, and no more – it's a distant derivative of chess in Napoleonic clothing. It's not a simulation. It's not a heavy game. It's a good, solid one-hour game that will give you some tough decisions, reward you for advance planning, and penalize you for being too rash. The rules seem to be pretty tight (we really only had one question and while it wasn't directly addressed, the way the rules around it were worded gave us the answer indirectly.)

I can see why this game took so long to get through p500. It's really hard to explain in a way that replicates the experience. I'm sure this post isn't going to really do it justice, either. The experience of playing Manoeuvre is much greater than the sum of its parts. And, with 20 terrain tiles, and 8 different armies in the box, the replayability is through the roof. And, at an hour or so per game, I have a feeling it'll get played a lot. Even though I got my butt kicked in both games, I greatly enjoyed the challenge. Two thumbs up from me.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Man hoovers

After a brief hiatus due to family, work, and general life intervening, Eric and I got back together again, and my choice was the recent GMT game Manoeuvre (BGG). I'd played this a bit with other gaming buddies, but this was Eric's first play.

We started off with Eric's Brits vs. my French. I had a good hand with unit cards for my 3 strongest units, plus a good leader, and advanced strongly on my left flank. However, Eric didn't oblige by giving me a way to gang up on his units. Eventually I started whittling him down, without losing any of my own units, and eventually managed to end the game by scoring a 5th casualty. Right at the very end I had 4 cards for 2nd Legere and a Forced March, so ran up and issued the coup de grace.

We turned around, this time Eric chose the Americans, and I the Spanish. The board came out with lots of terrain in the middle, hills and forests, and we spent the first part of the game cautiously advancing until we faced off in two parallel lines. Eric started pushing my weakest unit back on my right flank, chasing it all the way to the very edge of the board, but was never able to get the card in hand to kill it off. In the mean time I'd been slowly grinding down the middle, building a 4-1 lead in casualties. This time, however, the end of the day arrived before I could score the 5th casualty, winning about 14-4 in territory.

I'd give more details of the games, but, like our recent playing of C&C:A, the details have gone from my head already. Maybe it's just that I'm an old git, but these games just don't have any staying power in my memory. That's not to say that they're bad games, or that they weren't enjoyable (neither is true, not even close). However, given that they're both short, light, almost filler, games, perhaps it's not surprising that I don't remember too much about them.

Anyway, after several playings how is Manoeuvre working for me? It's a fun little game, with just the right combination of simplicity, playability, choices, luck. I'm really enjoying it. Well, I didn't enjoy the last game with Eric quite as much, as what started out as a tight little game devolved into a one-sided affair as it was Eric's turn to roll crappy dice, suffer from our card distributions, and have 2 of his 4 leader cards come out in the bottom 3 cards of the deck. Up until that point though, there was a fair amount of manoeuvre going on, as we probed for weaknesses, looking to create situations favorable to our hands.

A few things are clear, though. Using multiple unit cards in a single battle can be lethal. I used that tactic a lot, building up to a mega-attack, looking for that 4-1 killer blow. This is especially true if you also have a leader card and can bring in supporting units. Maintaining a line to prevent your opponent using Leader cards is also vital, as things can go sideways rapidly if you get flanked.

Counter-attacks can also be painful. So make sure that you really want to advance into that flanked position before you play that unit card to attack, as advance after combat is mandatory, unless the unit card states otherwise (rare). I also found the Forced March cards useful to bring pressure to bear in an unexpected location, especially if you also have unit cards for the same unit that you move, advancing quickly and making a strong attack.

Once things start going wrong it can spiral down pretty quickly. Once you have a unit disrupted, you then have to choose between using the unit's cards to attack or rally, so once forced onto the back foot it can be hard to recover. You use your cards to recover instead of attacking, and your opponent causes more damage. This is what I felt happened to Eric, as I managed to get my fist in first in both games.

Yep, a very decent little game. Fast to set up, simple to play, and with lots of variety/replayability. It doesn't come much better than that.