What’s on my P500 list?

Manoeuvre: Designer Notes

Jeff Horger, designer of Manoeuvre, had this to say on CONSIMWORLD.

Today I will be delving into the genesis of the game and what the overall game offers to both beginning and experienced players. In the summer of 2000 I was not an aspiring game designer, I was a fairly hard-core hex-and-counter wargamer. Euro gaming was around and I had just picked up Medici and Medieval Merchant at Origins. Unfortunately my friends and I had a problem. At the time we already had a combined game library of over 400 titles and we wanted to actually play all the games we had plunked down our cash for. So we were constantly cycling through games. You all know what happens when you play a different wargame every session, we never mastered any of them. Wargame rules simply don’t lend themselves well for casual play. Why couldn’t a fun and challenging wargame have rules as simple as Rio Grande? We were constantly frustrated at missing some little key rule tucked into some obscure paragraph on page 22.

It was in this mode that I began to seriously consider what value I could place on using historical and complex games to determine our group’s gaming skill. These Euros seemed to offer a balanced opportunity for all with wonderful quality and challenging rules. I was most interested in two things; 1) Rules should be clear and simple with the player’s mastery of the game mechanics the key to victory, not being the person that had the rulebook over the weekend. 2) In a wargame SOMETHING needed to be done to provide a fog-of-war feeling without sacraficing playability. Today it is obvious, cards! But it seemed like a breakthrough to me (and apparently to everyone else at the time). Sure there were a handful of card-driven games like Successors, We the People and Hannibal among others, but they were not as prevalent as they are today.

The final piece clicked in while I was driving to my mother-in-law’s house one August afternoon. I let my mind wander to a game a friend, Joe Roush, had presented in to our group some months before. In the 30 minutes it took to get there, Joe’s basic idea was co-opted and the entire game was created on a stack of 3×5 notecards. Within a week I had a prototype and what was to become Manoeuvre began enthralling my group with its depth of tactics, uncertainity, risk assessment, and the different options provided by the different nations.

So what is Manoeuvre? At it’s heart, its a chessboard grid with 8 units per side and a deck of 60 cards unique to each of 8 nations that drive combat and special actions. Setup is easy enough to remember, you can set up your 8 pieces anywhere in the back two lines of your chosen terrain. Each player gets a starting hand of 5 cards (I still say that each player should choose the 5 cards they want to start with). And off you go.

Play is made up of only a few steps. 1) Discard any cards you don’t want, this is important when you end up with cards from units in your dead pile. 2) Draw your hand up to 5 cards. 3) Move 1 unit either 1 space for infantry or 1-2 spaces for cavalry. forced March cards allow a unit to move one extra space and a Supply card can allow a move with an additional unit. No one moves diagonally and there is no stacking. 4) You may initiate and resolve one combat using a card from that unit from your hand to do so. Units have to be adjacent to volley or melee. Units may bombard up to two spaces away. No units attack diagonally (or didn’t the last time I saw the rules). Each unit only has 5 cards so use them well. 5) If you have a unit on its reduced side, you may restore one unit per turn by either playing a Supply Card, one of the unit’s combat cards, or rolling within a leader’s Rally range on a d6. The game ends when either one player has lost 5 units or the turn when both player’s have exhausted their draw pile. Victory is either Attrition (Eliminate 5 opposing units) or Territorial (Each space you occupy on the opposing side of the board and all non-contested adjacent spaces on the opposing side you influence).

The next installment will highlight the French capabilities in the game.

Part Two, the French

Manoeuvre: The French

This is the second part of my attempt to shed some light on GMT’s p500 offering Manoeuvre. The game revolves around eight nationalities, each of which are different in style and capability. The French were the first nation completed and most of the other nations used the French as their measuring stick.

The game does not focus on a specific battle or even a specific period of time other than the general time of Napoleon and his reign. The values and capabilities assigned to the units were a synthesis of about a dozen books on the tactics of the era, four well-done websites, and my old collection of Military History magazines combined with a verification system utilizing two miniatures systems and a handful of Napoleonic war games. I made a conscious effort early on to not copy units values directly from other games but to use these games as a sort of fact-check after the assignments were made. On more than one occasion, units I gave one grade to substantially differed from that in some games. If this happened, I looked for more information that might warrant a change. Sometimes I found it, sometimes not. In the end, some units were downgraded a notch or bumped up simply for competitive concerns. This is especially true for the French who are very strong as is, but might have been nigh unstoppable if I remained faithful to the resources used.

THE UNITS The eight units chosen for the French were the Imperial Guard, 2nd Legere, 8th Legere. 19th Ligne, 45th Legere, 4th Suisse, Guard Cavalry and 1st Cuirassiers. This mix of six infantry units to two cavalry became the game standard and six of the eight nations adhere to this ratio. Only the Guard units were chosen without hesitation, I just knew they had to be in there. The others were harder to decide upon and honestly I could have chosen any of a dozen or so units and the game would have been the same. In the end I took represenative units that I had the best information on. Not much needs to be said regarding strengths. The units are all strong and each has the capability to launch attacks. The French cavalry pursues better than most everyone else. The artillery capabilities are above average. Both Guard units are able to refuse to advance into undesired terrain after a successful battle (most other units must occupy a position if the successfully dislodge an opponent).

THE LEADERS Each leader card can be played for one action a game. These are combining multiple units adjacent to an enemy unit into one combined attack, adding a combat modifier to a unit on either attack or defense, and rallying units that have been flipped to a reduced side during the Recovery Phase. The leaders included in the French deck are Davout, Soult, Ney, Murat, Lannes, and Nappy himself. Napoleon and Davout unite four units into one combat against a single, surrounded opponent. All of the others can combine two or three units into one attack. Napoleon and Davout add 5 to a unit’s combat value, Ney 4, Soult and Murat 3, and Lannes 2. Ney, Lannes, Murat and Bonaparte can rally a unit on a roll of 1-5 on a d6, Davout and Soult do so on a 1-3. If Murat leads a successful cavalry attack that ends in pursuit, he lends an helphul modifier to the pursuit roll. Napoleon can assemble the grand battery which allows a massive bombardment attack from any unit on the board.

THE UTILITY CARDS The French have the most vanilla set of utility cards in the game. All of the cards are useful, but there is very little up their sleeves. The steamroller you see is generally all you have to worry about. There is one sapper card that negates the defensive bonuses of redoubts, one redoubt card that adds +3 to a unit’s defense, 3 Forced Marches that allow an extra movement for a unit that already moved in a turn, 1 Skirmish to try to draw out defensive cards of an opponent, 4 Supply cards to either move an extra unit or restore a reduced one, and 4 Withdraws to allow retreat from undesired combats.

THE PLAY In game terms, the French could be compared to the Evil Empire (not the Yankees, the other one). Their attacks are punishing and able to breech the toughest lines if they set their mind on it, on defense they are as tough as any nation in the game, their elite units are the best units in the game, their leaders are numerous and above average. The biggest drawback is that old bug-a-boo of being able to do too much and getting over-extended. Between equal players the French should be used against the British, Russians or Prussians for even matches. If a handicap is desired, say to tempt a newcomer, the inexperienced player should be given the French against the Austrians, Americans or Spanish. I have left out the Turks here since they are almost a specialized army. A player who is experienced with the Turks can defeat the French about half the time, but someone that does not understand or like the style required to play the Turks successfully will lose every time.

WINNING WITH THE FRENCH The French pose the least problems to a player. Victory can be achieved about 55% against the other big 3 led by equally experienced players and rises to about 65% if all other 7 nations ar included. 4 Supply cards and 4 Withdraw cards make the side fairly forgiving of mistakes. The strong leaders and strong units allow a player to choose about any strategy and expect to at least be in the game to the end. The biggest benefit of the French to the game is the ability to handicap a game. The ‘forgivness’ factor of the French works wonders when a new player is allowed to use them. Mistakes will be made and the French resilience allows that player to remain in the game. Victory will probably not result (although it can), but the new player will not feel cheated when a unit is lost 5 minutes into a game. The remaining units can more that hold their own and keep that player involved for the duration.


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