I’ve been foiled again! Manoeuvre (4 and 5 record) is the bane of my gaming existence. In the three months since I opened the box and read the incredibly simple rulebook, I have been beaten by my Dad, my wife, my brother, and Joe. What’s most embarrassing about this is not the 4 and 5 record, but the fact that both Dad and Joe beat me as I was teaching them the game. Thursday night was no different. Over cups of coffee and a bowl of dry-roasted peanuts, Mike’s steely-eyed British came back from what looked like sure defeat to mop the floor with my Frenchmen. Oh the horror! Perhaps it was the fact that he was drinking from a General Grant mug, while I had chosen a “Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club” one. Maybe it was homefield advantage (his apartment). Or maybe I just suck at this game.
We used the setup for the 2009 WBC tournament, as I will be playing in it in ten days. Mike pulled out the Brits and the Frenchies, and I grabbed the Frenchies, hoping the Napoleon card could somehow make up for my lack of talent. We agreed to use the tournament/experienced play variant, which lets you shuffle through your deck to pick out five cards of your choosing. I took the north side of the map, we set up, and began play. Mike played a Spy card right off the bat to peak at my hand. Considering I had chosen it myself, he now knew the gist of my strategy; this was rather unsettling. However, I grabbed the high ground to the right with my Imperial Cavalry and Garde Imperial, and after some manouevering, we started trading blows.
I was able to knock out his strongest cavalry unit on the left early on by catching it between my Cuissars and Suisse infantry, and about halfway through the game, we were looking at Mike down two units. None of my guys had even broken a sweat, and I had captured a redoubt in the western woods on his side of the map. I thought I had this one in the bag. And that’s when things went terribly, horribly wrong.
We developed an interesting stalemate on the western side of the board. Mike had moved up a handful of infantry units into a long line. He was out in the open, and I moved several units to counter whatever he was planning. Instead of attacking, however, he built a second redoubt and sort of sat there. I was discarding, trying to find cards to punch out a unit or two, when he force marched some units on the eastern side of the board, surrounded a unit, and utterly destroyed it. Wow, I didn’t see that one coming, I thought to myself. Then it happened again as I was still trying to puzzle out what to do in the west.
I nailed another weak unit (take that, Dutch-Belgians!) with a combined attack from three sides. What I didn’t notice was that the unit required to advance was going to get crushed. One play later, Mike’s British took revenge for their fallen allies as he unloaded Wellington and two unit cards on me. “Let’s see, I roll 4d6+17 against…6. Okay…24 and they’re dead.” Then he took out another French unit in the middle of the board. Incensed, I trapped Mike’s 1st Regiment, weakened by an earlier cavalry charge, and smoked them.
If you’re keeping track, that put us at 4 kills apiece, with the next kill determining the winner. I began marching my Garde Imperial and Suisse regiments up the board to take out a lone cavalry unit of his when a good Forced March play on Mike’s part sent a howling horde of Scots at my poor Swiss! He laid two unit cards and a Committed Attack; I was not able to counter with a single defense card. And that was the game.
On the drive home, I thought about why I haven’t quite grasped this game yet:
- It is abstract in the extreme, a bit like chess. This is not a historical simulation by any means. This abstraction is difficult for me.
- I usually spend more time trying to make my current hand “work” than discarding a hand that doesn’t do much for me at the moment. This is especially true for special event cards, like Resupply or Forced March. I may not need it in the next three or four turns, but I’m really loath to get rid of them. This usually limits my options.
- I am often so concentrated on setting up the perfect attack that I’ll make stupid decisions. I’ll leave a weak unit in danger of being surrounded and destroyed for the sake of that perfect coordinated attack. This almost never works out!
Luckily, I’ll be able to play this at the WBC this year; I’m excited to learn from the masters (though I’m definitely learning from my local group too!)
[Cross posted at Board Game Geek]