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Subject: An Abstract of Battle - Manoeuvre After a Year rss

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Adam Parker
Australia
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Great game design makes the complex simple, replayability maximum, and abstraction credible.
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I've owned "Manoeuvre" for roughly a year now, grabbing it on the first reports of release. It's garish art and glaring green box made it hard to walk by on the shelf. Anyone with even the barest chivalric attraction to the Gunpowder Era, would just as easily be swayed.

So with a year of intermittent play now under my belt, how well does it feel, both as a investment in gaming and as a game of war? Here's some modified first impressions of mine I recorded at the time of first opening the box. As you'll see, I still have the box close by - but just how close to reach is it?

Set-up
Setting up the game took 2 minutes to match the suggested first play example on page 7 of the rules. Never before have I come across a board war game that sets up so easily. Basically - choose 4 map sections, put them in a square, place your sole 8 units per side in the nearest two rows at each edge, shuffle your cards, draw 5 and boom! Play begins.

Out of the box, you will need to take some patience shuffling for the first time. The cards are small, yet sturdy. Thumb shuffling like plastic playing cards could cause these ones to bend. So the best idea I've found, is a flat table shuffle. Be sure to do a good job as each "unit" has 5 cards specific to it. 20 command cards round out each side's deck - and it's a real pain to see all 5 unit cards come out at once!

Playing time
First sitting, 2 hours. Easily playable under an hour with the rules down pat. Half way through the game I was "patted". Play speeds up remarkably after. Very little need to glance at the rules once there. The reference card does a good job especially in prompting combat results. The Terrain Effects Chart is a very basic thing - and importantly, only found on this card.

Play
Manoeuvre is a weird game at first. It's not a game that grabs you with immersion until you realise "where you are". It's not a war game where you'll find yourself cheering and sitting in amazement at elegant game design. "Commands and Colors: Ancients" had me doing this immediately. It's more a title where you find yourself nodding quietly to yourself; "isn't that interesting".

At first feel, the game gives a sensation of being highly generic. Playing Britain vs France, with hills and forests dominating the middle of a 16x16 square map, I found it hard to picture exactly where I was in history. Units having "regimental" names, made it difficult to fathom scale. Most significantly, the fact that there are no leaders on board, they turn up in the cards, made command and control seem very weird: Suddenly Napoleon appears in your hand! (He has a few uses). Once used, he disappears - and unless your side is the first to deplete its deck and earn a re-shuffle, chances are you'll never see him again. (Once both sides have depleted their decks, "night" falls and the game ends if not won earlier).

On top of that, the element of initial strategy seems to be missing. This isn't "Advanced Squad Leader" where one immediately senses the tactical scale. Nor is this a typical regimental board game where once senses a divisional-sized operation in motion. There's just infantry and cavalry - usually at the ratio 4:1 for each side. Artillery is enabled through Bombardment cards applicable to each regiment. So in a sense, one does initially feel as if he's pushing cardboard for a very generic goal, with little room for finesse or "sense of the moment". But that soon changes...

Excitement Factor
So play goes on. At first it seems impossible that the card decks will ever diminish. At the start of each turn, a side gets to discard anything it has of a hand forming 5 cards. This hand is then drawn up again before movement and combat. I found myself holding on to just about everything I had.

Then as losses start to mount, cards slowly begin to become useless. The discarding pace then increases. Sides begin to encroach into each other's territory (you win in Manoeuvre either by eliminating 5 of 8 enemy units or having more units in enemy territory by "nightfall").

Suddenly a "game" begins to build. In Manoeuvre, a unit that causes an elimination, retreat or withdrawal (all extremely easy concepts to grasp in this game - we're talking mere lines of rules here - not pages) must in most cases, advance into the vacated square. So over-extensions begin to form, moves to the flanks and rear appear.

This is when anything can start to happen - and the decks begin to run low with many a useless card stymieing combat as a result. You begin to pray for a leader to show up so you can initiate a multi-square attack. Forces have become intertwined.

Summary
May initial game went down to the last card of the British deck presaging nightfall (the French had already reshuffled), just as the final British combat eliminated the fifth French unit needed for victory. The British in other words won the day by "elimination". Both sides had 2 units in each other's territory. The British in fact, held out the turn earlier right on their border, entrenched in a redoubt, on a hill, for a +5 combat bonus. The French could have won through territorial possession if not.

So the game did fulfil its promise of close play as many others have reported.

Will this be a game that I can see myself playing years from now? I'm still not so sure but 30 or so games later, I have been eager to play again. There are 20 other map sections waiting to be fought over, which coupled with the initial 4 make for immense geomorphic game board opportunities. There are then as yet, untried nationalities still waiting to fight - America, Spain, Russia, Prussia, Austria and Turkey, add to Britain and France.

Even within the French and British (as with all armies in this game), there are subtleties to explore. Unit cards vary between regiments of the same type. I yet have to master the art of maneuver in "Manoeuvre"!

The cardboard map sections do bow slightly and could have been of heavier stock but they sit more than reasonably well without plexiglass to play. I was tempted to take out a Chessboard and cut out some terrain tiles to match these maps - didn't really work out! The large playing pieces are well proportioned for people with fat fingers and are of a reasonable thickness. The Redoubt markers though beautiful, are wasted sitting under the units to which they protect. So I've replaced these with glass gaming stones.

Solitaire played out extremely well but not as beautifully as "Commands and Colors" in which cards regulate movement to map areas (flanks/center etc) thereby leading to a constant sense of motion and chaos, making solitaire so unpredictable.

However, as a 2 Player game Manoeuvre will really shine being a quick to play game in which bluff and aggression can equally work or fail.

A fellow gamer suggested that Manoeuvre may resemble "Stratego". You know, in a way it does - but the latter offers a more "sophisticated" type of tension - countered by limited replayability.

Manoeuvre is an interesting design and will keep me playing for a while. It's blessing is its ease of set up and simplicity/briefness of rules. It does teach war. It does instruct the strategic mind.

It definitely leads itself open for a more historical form of play (scenarios are none!) One can easily picture a series of redoubts in place prior to play to represent Borodino or open plains in which ownership of a solitary town could represent Waterloo.

So at $50 I have received my money's worth. Manoeuvre is a fresh design. Good for solitaire play, excellent for human-human play. With solid components and the odd errata which in play is unnoticeable. I do like the little cards. They go far to saving playing space. But shuffle well!

How much playing space do you need? Try 14 x 12 inches and a spot to throw dice. I like that a lot.

Epilogue
Manoeuvre therefore, is a blemished gem. It is a design that offers many positive elements. It is a game that's been easy to unpack and put away after a few sessions of play here and there - and being so easy to learn, it's been a game very easy to re-acquaint myself with. It's a clever addition to our hobby and (if it can't be repeated enough) one packed to the brim with abstraction!

Now, as I've posted on many occasions in various forums over the years, abstraction in a game is a fine and essential thing in my opinion. However, the measure of its success, is its ability to "suspend our disbelief" that we are pushing cardboard around, in the pursuit of gaming out war.

Whilst Manoeuvre definitely offers play of a competitive and military nature, for me, it's been too abstracted towards the generic to hold my attention for weeks on end.

Manoeuvre is a game that I've definitely been keeping near the top of my wargaming pile but as an historical gaming buff, I need more grounding into the "moment" to enjoy my repeated re-introductions to the arena.

"Commands and Colors: Ancients" does this for me. "Lock and Load: Band of Brothers" and even more recently, "Eisenbach Gap" all succeed in creating this solid context.

In this regard, I feel that Manoeuvre is very much like "Memoir 44". Games I really want to play but need to prepare my mental gyroscope for, in order to gain a sense of exactly where I am on the board - and why.

Manoeuvre is definitely unique - and clearly crafted for competitive play. If you can give yourself the essential "suspension" and rejoice over the barest of rules, Manoeuvre will be a title that will not let you down.

Happy gaming,
Adam.
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Mark Buetow
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Good review. I find that M. is a good choice for, "What do you want to play with only a little bit of time left in our gaming session?" or "Let's play something quick and light."

Just a slight detail correction: In the setup, the rules indicate that you draw your starting hand *before* you set up your units.
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Jody
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sometimes i think people let me win just so they can hear my lengthy victory speeches
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isn't there also an option to choose what 5 cards to start the game with? maybe that was mentioned in the forum instead though.

oh, edit: and good article!
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Guy Riessen
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An excellent and fair review of a solid but not inspired game of abstracted war. I found myself nodding in agreement throughout the article.

I will add too, that it is a fairly nice introduction to wargames, but that I have had more success with both C&C:A and Combat Commander. Both games seem to fire up enthusiasm more than Manoeuvre has.
 
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Mark Buetow
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BlinkyJOH wrote:
isn't there also an option to choose what 5 cards to start the game with? maybe that was mentioned in the forum instead though.


That's listed in the rules as a tournament option. (It was the original design way of playing, though).
 
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Michael Sosa
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Malacandra wrote:
Good review. I find that M. is a good choice for, "What do you want to play with only a little bit of time left in our gaming session?" or "Let's play something quick and light."


The problem is that it isn't really quick, my average game takes over an hour. The game would be faster if nightfall happened when one player exhausted his draw deck.
 
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Mark Buetow
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Belisarius88 wrote:


The problem is that it isn't really quick, my average game takes over an hour. The game would be faster if nightfall happened when one player exhausted his draw deck.


I guess it depends who you play with. In any case, our games usually last an hour or slightly less, I'd say. It's faster than Combat Commander or Fury of Dracula or most of the other games we play.
 
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Adam Parker wrote:
Manoeuvre is a game that I've definitely been keeping near the top of my wargaming pile but as an historical gaming buff, I need more grounding into the "moment" to enjoy my repeated re-introductions to the arena.

"Commands and Colors: Ancients" does this for me. "Lock and Load: Band of Brothers" and even more recently, "Eisenbach Gap" all succeed in creating this solid context.


I've decided that it is almost the opposite with me. Manoeuvre is so far from a simulation that I can ignore that aspect entirely, and play it simply as a game, like Neuroshima Hex or whatever.

C&C Ancients, by contrast, does so well in some areas, that every time I play it I feel aggravated by the areas in which it does poorly. I understand that it is an unfair basis for judgement, but I can't get away from it.

C&C Ancients is a hard-working honor student who disappoints me with an A-, while Manoeuvre is a dim but jovial fellow who can delight me by earning a C.
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Kevin Duke
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Quote:
The game would be faster if nightfall happened when one player exhausted his draw deck.


Given that a player can discard and redraw his entire hand every turn, this would create some funky "I'm a little bit ahead and now want to blow through the deck in a hurry" situations.

As it stands, some think blowing through the deck is a good idea, some like knowing that--once the other guy has reshuffled-- they have some control over "night fall." I think that is one of the very clever elements in the game and would not want to change it.
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G. H.
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Quote:
It definitely leads itself open for a more historical form of play (scenarios are none!) One can easily picture a series of redoubts in place prior to play to represent Borodino or open plains in which ownership of a solitary town could represent Waterloo.


I've helpfully created several scenarios last year to alleviate this. Please see:

Pyramids http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/35182
Austerlitz http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/35040
Marengo http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/34893
Borodino http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/34888
Waterloo http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/34861

Enjoy!
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Lee Massey
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Thanks for the review! I just picked up the game and eager to try it out!
 
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