The game is played on the colourful Indian subcontinent from the Himalayas to the North down through the wide open plains of Northern India, the hard-to-travel Southern domain to the island of Ceylon. The pieces are of very high quality with Guptas, Muslims, Greeks and Murghals displayed in all their glory. The basic game mechanics are very similar to Britannia -- if you don't know what I'm talking about please try Britannia first -- as players control four or five of the races that shaped India. So I'll concentrate on the differences.
The biggest difference is the addition of the Colonials that gain points by setting up trading posts and can add to the fun by supply arms to their favourite native who just happens to be of the same faction. The French, Portugese and Dutch have limited influence until eventually they are overrun, along with the rest of India, by the British. Indeed, the map rapidly falls into British hands as as the end of the game nears it is advantageous to spread out to occupy land and then ally with the British as British allies can't attack each other.
The submission rules are strange. They allow certain races, usually the ones you want to wipe out, to submit when they are reduced to one or two areas. The problem is that submission only lasts a turn and these submitted races are then free to attack you and then submit again. To add insult to injury, one of the many grey areas of the game, is whether the dominant race gets the points for the areas occupied for the submitted region.
Maharaja also has some critical problems which revolve around the very weak yellow faction. I know, others have written that the same claims were made of the purple faction in Britannia but the trouble is that yellow is, on average, 30-40 points behind the others. The crucial difference between the yellow faction here and purple of Britannia is that there is no way yellow can make it up.
Like the purple Romans, the yellow faction starts with a domineering force -- in this case the Mauyrans. They sweep across Northern India destroying all in their path including the blue Harrapans, but since the Mauyrans don't have the dice bonuses that the Romans enjoy, they can run into serious trouble. All still looks well when the Mauryans turn into the Guptas and even have a major invasion to get more points. Then it all goes horribly wrong. First they lose the ability to breed and then they are forced to lose eight armies per turn. Even with a good or lucky player this results in a rump of three or four armies that can at best hide in the Himalayas.
The once mighty yellow is reduced to only the tiny Sinhalese in Ceylon and the Dutch at the end of the game. There is no way back. I've written to Avalon Hill and scoured the land for copies of the General for the solution but neither have produced answers at the time of writing. In the meantime, the consensus is that the 3 and 5 player games are OK, so the solution seems to be to play Maharaja when you haven't got four for Britannia!
SWD: Tony's view is also typical of the ones that have been posted on the Internet. The initial favourable comments that I reported on last time didn't continue. As people reached the point of having played the game enough for a considered judgement to be possible, disappointment set in, with the near unanimous verdict being that the 4-player scenario doesn't work. However, there have also been statements from players, who have tried it often enough to know, that the 3-player one is much better. I also saw a suggested possible improvement for the 4-player game and that was that the removal of Gupta armies on turns 8 and 9 should be made less severe -- either remove fewer armies on each turn or only remove armies on one of the turns. Whether this works or not I don't know, but if you want to play with four, it is probably worth a try. I have bought the game but after all the comments shall probably wait for the General and the hoped-for fixes before playing it. Meanwhile, one who has been playing is Andy Daglish, who supplies some comments to help you get started.