So finally we get to have a face-to-face game of Maurice – anticipation has been high for this set of rules, and I’m glad to say they didn’t disappoint. The rules and cards are pretty intuitive and a seasoned CDG player like Nick was soon twisting the knife into me with clever use of his cards – I on the other hand couldn’t seem to draw a high command value card to save my life on the first trawl through the deck – excuses, excuses! Anyway, after a die roll for randomising sides, I was fated to be Marlborough (though no French general was ever going to see the inside of my coach) and I chose to attack after winning the scouting roll. A random generation of terrain produced 2 swamps, a hill and a forest in my central deployment zone, a forest in my left-hand deployment zone and only a hill in the French right deployment zone, which promptly became the objective.
The French general deployed his Guard infantry behind the crest of the objective hill (100 years ahead of Wellington!) with his Guard cavalry and another unit of cavalry supporting them on their right between them and the board edge. The rest of the French force was strung out to the mid-point of the board, where their flank was anchored on another 2 units of horse.
I took one look at that hill and thought “nah” – Guard infantry on a hill would be on a basic factor of 10 and attacking infantry would be on a 5 for starters – even a 6 on the dice verses a 1 in return would be a draw and a loss. Hiding behind the crest prevented me disrupting them through bombardment, and they would easily have rallied any disruption off anyway, so there had to be a plan B. Stupidly, I chose to try and overwhelm the Guard horse and their supports beside the hill with a mixed force of infantry and horse, but due to the forest in my left flank deployment area I had to set down 2 units of infantry in march column – they were there to support my main thrust of 3 units of horse but later spent vital time fannying about trying to deploy from march column into line. The rest of my infantry and all my artillery deployed to distract the French centre, whilst a lone Dutch unit of horse were drawn up beyond a marsh on my right flank (why you ask? More on this later…)
The British flanking force made good progress, but due to a lack of high value cards Marlborough had to stick pretty close to them, leaving him unable to co-ordinate the simultaneous central infantry thrust as I kept drawing low value command cards. I suppose I could just have bombarded and kept drawing until I got a decent hand, but my initial cannon aim seemed to be a bit off, so I chose to press on with the flank attack and hoped the central assault could catch up later (fool!). Even outnumbered 2 to 1, the French guard cavalry just refused to die over numerous rounds of combat, and kept rallying off the resulting disruption (we played the outnumbering rule slightly wrong here – we were subtracting 1 from the French combat score, whereas it should have been 2 due to both British units engaging ONLY the French Guard horse).
I managed to work my spare horse unit around the French flank to take out 2 French cannon, but they were then stung by Guard infantry musketry into charging the horse supporting the Guard horse. In a marginal call we decided that my horse hadn’t flanked his, and they bounced off even though they won the melee (though luckily they were now out of fire arc for the pesky Guard infantry on the hill).
At this point I woke up and realised that all this charging about with horses (glorious and honourable though it was) was just burning through the deck and not sapping the French Army morale much at all, so I activated the central infantry and started the long march towards the French lines. During this lull the French rallied their 2 units of horse and put in a charge against my 3 damaged units of horse. The beastly French Guard horse took on 2 units of my horse, and rolled a 6 to add to their impressive 10 combat factor – predictably both my horse rolled 1 or 2, were promptly doubled and auto-broke taking 6 points of British Army Morale with them. A follow-up volley took out the third unit of my horse, so my left flank was now held by a single unit of infantry! Luckily, I had an event to help me out – with a cackle I plonked down a marsh between the triumphant French horse and the single infantry unit left on my flank using the “That’s not on the map” card (even though a lengthy, swirling cavalry melee had taken place over the very same ground beforehand, miraculously none of the horse units involved had stumbled into this huge morass).
Meanwhile in the centre I had finally got my infantry into small arms range and a large-scale musketry and artillery duel had started. Infantry units were broken on both sides by fire, but even with my advantage of re-rolling missed disruptions I couldn’t silence the French artillery with musketry and they did terrible execution in my packed ranks. In a attempt to break the stalemate I summoned the Dutch horse I had unwisely placed far out on my right flank (I still don’t know why) – this move burned a few high-value cards and we were already on the third run-through the deck, so time was running out. A combination of volleys and the Dutch horse broke both the French horse units but at minimal loss in French Army morale – the further loss of the last French artillery battery didn’t even impact on their morale at all, so clearly these Frenchies were made of stern stuff!
With 3 cards left in the deck, the French could have practically ended the game by passing and drawing all 3 cards, but sportingly they charged the Guard horse and their supports across the mystery marsh into my waiting infantry. They couldn’t make a dent in my infantry, bouncing back into the marsh and taking further disruption in the process, but the lack of cards meant this was literally the last roll of the dice – my remaining 2 cards were value 4, so I quit the field and it was game over. Army morales were actually quite close at the end, with the French having 5 remaining and the British 4, but I think I would have been really lucky to win as my attack was spent and there were 3 French infantry units who hadn’t even been engaged as yet (never mind the Guard on the hill who were back at full strength). Though the re-shuffle card did come up very early in the second deck meaning the game was shorter than expected, I don’t think my army morale would have lasted much longer even if I did get a few more card plays.
There were lots of other fun moments during the game – for instance, the play of the “Confusion” card when the French forced a disrupted unit of my horse to charge a fresh unit of their horse. My horse were so confused that they inadvertently clipped one of the French artillery batteries on the way in and wiped them out in the fighting – a bit of a result for me as the main cavalry melee was indecisive. And speaking of confusion, the merry dance my infantry in march column supporting the left flank cavalry performed in deploying from march column into line had to be seen to be believed – in true period fashion, you have to march parallel to the enemy, then left turn to form a line – I had skipped over this bit in the rules, so ended my move with the head of the column facing the enemy – ooops! By the time they had formed up facing the right way, my cavalry had been routed and were mere specks on the horizon.
So, at just over 3 hours to play to a conclusion with one of us never having played the rules before, this was a fun experience. Maurice gets a thumbs up from us.