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Maharaja: The Game of Palace Building in India» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Maharaja: Why I Love this Game rss

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Mike Dommett
United Kingdom
Ipswich
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Finally, I have found the time to write a review on BGG, and Maharaja is the obvious choice for me. It has been a favourite game of mine ever since I bought it several years ago, and yet I rarely see it being played by others and it seems relatively underrated, especially given the pedigree of the designers. (That said, rank 242 on BGG at time of writing is not to be sneezed at, although it is probably outside the range it needs to be in to generate a "snowballing" of interest.)

Why I Love this Game

- No random elements during play
- Simultaneous action selection
- Flexible action resolution
- The victory condition is "part of the game", i.e. it is not a victory point abstraction
- Lots of player interaction
- A good blend of strategy and tactics

Key Features of Gameplay

- The aim of Maharaja is to build seven palaces before your opponents.
- At any point in the game, each player has a "role". This role determines the order of execution of actions and may bestow an additional action or an augmentation to an action.
- Each round, each player simultaneously selects two actions in secret. These actions and any role-based actions are then executed later in the round according to the order determined by each player's role. Actions include building palaces and houses, changing roles and altering the Maharaja's itinerary.
- The Maharaja pays players once at the end of each turn depending on how much influence they have over the city which he is visiting. This is one main way for players to generate income.
- The itinerary of the Maharaja is determined at random during the set-up of the game, but this order is then open and fixed for the game with the exception of specific player intervention.
- To exert some control over a city, a player must first make sure his architect is in the city and may then pay to build houses or palaces if his selected actions allow him to do so. Houses are cheap and exert low influence. Palaces are expensive and will exert more influence for the first player to build one in a city.
- To enable his architect to be in a city, the player must nominate a route and "travel" through each village either for free (because the player built one of his own houses there) or for a fee (because another player's house is there). This is the other main way for players to generate income.

Comments and Opinion

So, what we have here is a race to build palaces. To build palaces quickly the player must manage an economy efficiently. To do this, a player must balance an element of area influence with an element of network building - both of which have the potential to generate income in different ways; controlling areas increases the payout from the Maharaja visits each turn, and controlling a larger share of the network generates income from other players' moves. An interesting characteristic of this game is that it is possible to succeed by sticking to an extreme strategy in either of these two areas, or by blending the two. Despite this, individual turns can be surprisingly tactical, especially when you are lower down in the turn order, because other players' decisions can dramatically affect your best move. This is mitigated by the ability to perform your selected combination of actions (some actions can also be split) in whichever order you prefer when the time comes for your turn. I have heard others describe the game as chaotic and, while I agree that there is unpredictability, in my experience the limited possibilities for each player, combined with the flexible action execution, allows careful consideration to triumph over most situations. That said, a game is unlikely to pass without a few surprises!

Maharaja has been described as a "gamers' game", and I think this is a fair comment. It is not immediately obvious how to succeed and it is possible for certain tactics to dominate over the unwary. However, if you are looking for a slightly different Euro with a lot of interaction and lots of scope for cunning play then look no further! Play time for a new group of five is around two hours and for an experienced group around an hour and a half. It plays pretty well with two although, as with most interactive Euros, it is generally better with a more players.
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Paul Hackman
United States
Champaign
Illinois
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I love Maharaja, but I just sold my copy. What I love is how wide open the game is as compared to other Euro games of the time. With two (sometimes three) actions you can mix and match them in such interesting ways and accomplish surprising things that catch your opponents off guard. To me this was a breath of fresh air compared to other influence/efficiency games where the choices were more clearly defined.

Unfortunately, with new players (and it seems I am always playing games with new players) it was hard to catch up with whomever jumped on the first city and got the big bonus. Reeling in the leader takes a little bit of coordination (though not necessarily in a deliberate way).

The bigger problem for me, though, was that the last round was always anti-climactic for at least two of the players. The victory condition means that you can pretty easily determine which players can potentially end the game. Perhaps experienced players could do a better job of extending the game by stopping the leaders, but we usually found that two players really, really cared about the last round and 2-3 others had a chance to be kingmakers.

So, I haven't found any Euro game that resembles the meaty middle of the game with wild swings of fortune based on your two actions each round, but the end often left players with a bad taste. Sometimes players also resented having their perfect plans ruined by a role card switch or change in the Maharaja track, but to me that was the best part of the game.

So I think you sum up the awesomeness of the game very well, but I also think there are reasons this one isn't considered a classic.
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Mike Dommett
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Thanks for the replies!

pomomojo wrote:
Unfortunately, with new players (and it seems I am always playing games with new players) it was hard to catch up with whomever jumped on the first city and got the big bonus. Reeling in the leader takes a little bit of coordination (though not necessarily in a deliberate way).


Funnily enough, my main criticism of this game for some time was that it can be difficult to catch the leader. However, I think now that this is not true, and that switching roles and Maharaja order can be extremely effective at assaulting one person. The difficulty then becomes balancing your assault against others who are doing the same thing!

Horrid Beast wrote:
This game is just OK for me. There are flaws in the design. Some of which Paul has outlined. I have only played it twice and won my second game. It really isn't that strategic. Even if players try to skip past a city where you have the centre palace spot you can always build at the next one late game to ensure the victory (in a two to three player game anyway).


It is true that one turn's worth of actions might not swing a game in the last turn, but they can have a dramatic effect a few turns earlier. It took at least half a dozen games for me to realise just how much of an effect you can have, so I would definitely urge you to keep getting those games in!
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Mike Dommett
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Horrid Beast wrote:
There is just not enough in this game for me to play again I am afraid. It only took me one game to see how the game worked. It really isn't that complex. It is no Die Macher. Some people may struggle with the mechanics I suppose but I would say it is less complex than Union Pacific and realistically a player should know how to play that game reasonably well after one-two games.


Stay away from Go then - the rules are *so* simple that I understood right away - I didn't even bother playing!

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Pete Whitelegg
United Kingdom
Stoke on Trent
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Great reply with the 'Go' example.
The game is really good.It's nice and easy to teach and the down time is low due to selecting actions at the same time. Like the way that there is a proper winning condition rather than a points track.
My only criticism is that someone can work out (and annoyingly announce to the rest of the players) with a couple of rounds to go whether they have enough money to win and there is little that can be done to stop them?
 
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