Cardboard Clash

Taking a look at board games playable with either one or two players. Reviews written by the husband in a board game-addicted marriage with occasional commentary from his better, and far more strategic, half.
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Review for One: Maquis

David Wiley
United States
Des Moines
IA
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Thank you for checking review #91 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A prototype of the game was sent in exchange for an honest review. This game is currently on Kickstarter!

An overview of Maquis

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Maquis is a board game designed by Jake Stains that is being published in 2019 by Side Room Games. The box states it plays 1 player in 20 minutes.

Engage the Nazi occupation of France in la petite guerre to throw off the yoke of the oppressors and free your homeland!

Maquis is a solitaire worker-placement game with variable goals and a play time of approximately twenty minutes. The player places his resistance agents on spaces around town to achieve his goals - blowing up trains, publishing underground newspapers - but at the same time Milice collaborators and Wehrmacht soldiers patrol the area. Agents who can't make it back to the safe house at the end of the day are arrested, and never seen again.

My Thoughts

When you think of worker placement, you think of putting out meeples to take an action or collect an item. And that is true still in Maquis. However, this game takes worker placement to the next level by adding in an incredible amount of tension based upon the level of risk you are willing to take. Do you place a worker on the outskirts location whose action you need to use this round, or do you try and build your safe route up the map and hope it remains open? And as the meeples get placed, and so many likely spots fill up, do you gamble and place the last worker on a useful spot that might lead to one of your workers being captured, or do you play it safe with a "wasted" spot but keep your small group in tact for another round? Those are just a few of the placement decisions you need to make every turn in Maquis.

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Everything I love about Maquis can be summed up in one word: tension. This game is a solo experience like few others, where every turn feels like you could be dealt the fatal blow that ends the game prematurely. Careful consideration needs to go in to what you need and how to chart out the path to obtain it. Items beyond food are difficult to obtain, either from the path you need to trace to secure the item or from the cost (not just in what you pay, but in how many turns/actions it may take to even use the space). Every placement of your worker leads to seeing how the opponent places their next Milice worker, which either leads to a sigh of relief or a silent curse based upon where they go. Even worse, it may lead to agony over the loss of your worker. The tension permeates throughout the entire experience - an enjoyable quality for a solitaire game and a fitting experience considering the theme.

Resources are incredibly hard to earn, apart from food. This means you need to carefully plan ahead a turn or two. Not only that, but the Milice can block your path meaning you need to know where and how to pivot on a turn if your Plan A gets foiled before you can lock down a safe path. Although if this happens enough times, you could find yourself foiled by the game because...

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There are two missions you need to accomplish to win the game, and they are different every time you play (okay, so you could have the same ones, since they are from a small stack of cards, but you get the idea). These often have you delivering a specific set of resources, either bringing different sets in order on different days or bringing them within a certain timeline (such as no sooner than Day 6 but no later than Day 9). Some even require you to keep said worker on the card for a span of time, such as until you deliver the next batch or until a specific day passes. These throw interesting wrinkles in your approach from game to game.

Okay, so I said that the difficulty of resources was a good thing. And I mostly stand behind that. However, the one resource that feels like it is "priced" wrong is the money. You need it to get Firearms (it is the most straightforward way, but not the only way) which appear on a lot of missions that I've played and are used to eliminate Milice if they are blocking your path to safety. More importantly, you need two money to upgrade a Spare Room space into one of the six available rooms. Because there is only one way at the start to earn money, and it costs you a resource AND a morale to gain, it pretty much forces you to build the money action space first if you have any need to use the Radio spaces for something besides Firearms, or if you want to build more than one room. This means my early game almost always consists of gaining food/medical supplies and turning them in for money for the first two turns, building the money room, and then turning in a set of food and medical supplies to try and earn back part of the double hit on the morale track. There is still tension in these rounds, as the Milice can mess with those plans along the way, but I don't like feeling like I'm making the game harder for myself if I don't follow that sequence in the first 3-4 turns of the game.

I understand the philosophy on the Patrol deck size. And I have no issues with it as it stands. I certainly am unlikely to be smart enough, or obsessive enough, to perfectly memorize the deck to the point where I can know what those final cards are (even if I do not know their order) when the deck gets depleted. Some players may feel a rewarding sense of accomplishment from that deck memorization. As for me, I'd rather have a larger deck so it needs shuffled less often.

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Okay, so this isn't even a critique of the game itself, but rather a wild suggestion on something that would provide an interesting twist and add replay value. Right now the board is a static design. What if there was an alternate layout on the back of the board? Or, better yet, small modular tiles that you could randomly distribute to change up what locations appear where on the board. Yes, it might make some resources (such as information) easier to obtain for that play. But it would make something different more challenging at the same time. But even without these "what if" changes, this game remains so good that I struggle to find anything fully negative to say about the experience. It provides everything I want in a solo game of this type - which leads me to:

Final Thoughts

Rarely can a person spend time in the Print and Play circle without hearing hushed whispers of Maquis and how it is such a great solo game. It was a game always on the fringe of my radar, but my skill with Print and Play games is so laughably low that I rarely get the opportunity to construct one and get it played. The easier the build, the better the chances of one day following through with it.

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Well, I should have taken the time to print this one years ago, because it is absolutely worth the time and effort it would have taken to make the game. Thankfully, Side Room Games is helping those of us who are Print and Play challenged and bringing this game to production. And dang, this game is good.

So many worker placement games involve trying to successfully top a score, whether that is a personal high score or a predetermined "opponent" score, and it was refreshing to play one where there was a win/loss condition. Not only that, but the placement, and order of placement, for your workers matters a TON in the game. If you cannot make it back to a Safe House successfully, you lose the worker. Run out of workers, and you've hit one of the losing conditions.

The hallmark of a great worker placement game is struggling to be able to do everything you want to from turn to turn and by the end of the game. That provides serious tension, and it is completely true with Maquis. The hallmark of a great solo game is that it provides tense and challenging decisions, provides replay value, and is easy to navigate. Maquis checks all of those boxes, too, providing an excellent worker placement game for solitaire gaming. Regardless of your current collection, much like Black Sonata before this, you have a slot in your shelves for a game like this because it is just so different than what else is available.

The world of Print and Play greats are showing their mettle, with games like Maquis, Black Sonata, Pocket Landship, The Draugr, Mr. Cabbagehead's Garden, The Maiden in the Forest, Assembly, and more getting published. And you will find that there are a great many excellent games out there that started as a Print and Play, just like Maquis.
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