Saturday, September 24, 2011


Last night we played a session of Maria, a wargame covering the Austrian war of succession. The game is played with three players, one controlling Austria, one Prussia and one France. The Prussian player also controls the "pragmatic army", giving him an interesting role in the game. Prussia and France are allied against Austria but Austria and the pragmatic army are allied against the French! One player has the role of playing both sides, but since there is only one winner in Maria, the mechanic works quite well.

Austria ponders his predicament as France prepares to deal punishment in spades. (in spades, get it? Ha Ha.)

The game features the politics, movements and battles of the period on a very abstract level. Fuelling every phase of the game is the nation's hand of ordinary playing cards, which he must learn to use sparingly and effectively in order to win. Spend all your cards to win that one battle and you won't have cards left to buy reinforcements or have an effect on the political phase. Spending too much in any one area of the game leads to the other parts suffering.

In our session, the game was decided on the Silesian front. While on the Flanders front Austria was busy taking the undefended towns of northern France and the pragmatics fighting it out with France over the control of the Holy Roman Empire, the Austrians were neck deep in trouble with the Prussians. In Maria, the map is divided into squares, each of which is marked with a suite of a playing card. This signifies the suite of cards which can be played in battle by troops fighting in this area. A boardgamey mechanic, but it forces the players to try and choose areas in which they  meet their enemies based on which suite their hand is strong in. As it happens, Austria's opening hand was weak in hearts, which was the suite on the area where the Prussian attack came through. Austria managed to slip with small casualties in the opening skirmishes, but lost two whole armies towards the end of the first year due to not being able to match Prussia in either forces or cards, and not being able to retreat to a more suitable area either. A large army under Neipperg was destroyed because Frederick the Great swung around his flank and cut off his line of retreat. In the end of the first year, the Austrian line versus Prussia was all but gone. This coupled with the effect that Austria fought a bitter battle against the French, burning a whole lot of cards in the process and thus not being able to buy much troops in the winter turn, meant that Austria didn't have much chances to block the Prussian advance in the next year. Two more turns and a couple of Austrian defeats later, Prussia won the game.

Austria and France deal more and more cards into the battle, burning through their hand.

The third session of Maria for me, and the third victory for Prussia. I'd say that the game is unbalanced but the talk on the Internets is that France has the advantage in the game. This leads me to think that Austria plays a crucial role in the game. If they are unlucky or too bold in the opening turns, they will give Prussia the advantage. In our games we have not yet learned to be cautious with Austria even though I think the best strategy for them is to accept small defeats in the first year and try to conserve their cards for a proper army. We'll just have to see about that in our next game.

As a boardgame, Maria is pretty unforgiving against reckless or inexperienced play. The game can easily be decided in one bad move or costly battle. As such, it isn't easy to get into, but the rules are simple enough. 
The end. The Prussian armies push the Austrians back, leaving the vital victory locations to Frederick.

This game was powered by Balvenie 14 yr. "Golden Cask" and Vat69. And beer.

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