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.

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