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Maharaja came out to a fair deal of interest as the first professional Britannia variant. My first thought was that the box-art was curiously white and colourless, as if faded by the Bengal sun. I guess I was hoping for a broad spread of Forster and Kaye, with naughty statuary, black holes, piles of Golcondan gold and diamonds on tiger pelts, cavalry charging across dusty plains and brave chaps defending the outpost with the flag tied around their middles. And Flashman running away in the background. The art inside the box was much better, though the lettering has been done in an exotic, hard-to-read font and the British counters look like French Foreign Legionnaires, instead of like the pith-helmeted sergeant-major in ``Zulu''. The game has sixteen turns which I divide into three phases, early [turns 1-7], middle [8-11] and colonial [12-16] and there is a rumbling amongst gamers is that Maharaja is the world's first three-and-a-half player game, due to the inactivity of the yellow side after turn eight.

The Aryans are dominant in the early period, sweeping to and fro in the the northern plains. The only other pre-colonial races on the yellow side are the Sinhalese, who spend the game much attached to Ceylon/Sri-Lanka, with hardly a Tamil insurrection to liven things up. They can get guns from their teammates the Dutch on turn 13 (and advocaat too, if only The General would print my variant rules for distilleries.) After turn eight the other three players (should this have been a three-player?) are scoring points and having lots of fun, hopefully not killing Sinhalese.

Other grapevine chatter about Maharaja is that the blue side's Marathas are undoubtedly the ``Welsh'' of the game due to their dominance in the jungly hilands of South India. At first glance the Blues Bros seem very tough opposition, as they comprise the powerful Muslims and Afghans as well. The low-caste members of the team are the Harappans, who start on board and get run over by an initial Aryan onslaught, sharing the fate of the Belgae in Britannia. However they are better at gaining points, as it is easier to kill Aryans than Romans. Cross-referencing the scoring on turns 13, 15 & 16 shows that the Marathas, Afghans and Muslims have antagonistic scoring regimes, i.e. they score for the same areas at the same time, which balances their strength. Also the Muslims alternately get points for areas in north then south India, which simulates their historically flaky demeanour from 1600 on. Rex Martin mentions this in his scholarly historical commentary, an unanticipated surprise at the back of the rules. The French are the blue colonials, often at odds with the British.

The green team is unusual. Their main point-scorers are the Mughals who have the unparalleled advantage of being the last non-colonial on the block. Alexander's army arrives on turn 4 and may or may not be combated by a Mauryan rearguard. The Pandyas are similar to the Purple Cholas, in that they are put-upon stone-age types who have to run south to survive. The Pandyas and other threatened races can submit to any aggressors just for that turn, and this simulates the impossibility of populous races being displaced or destroyed. However, this can cause gridlock in the close terrain of southern India. The green colonials are Portuguese, dominant at first under the leadership of Viceroy Albuquerque. I wonder if he should try to take out one of the first British units, to encourage anti-British moves by others?

Imperial purple is the colour of the all powerful British who should score lots of points and establish the Raj in the colonial phase, hopefully seeing off the other European types with weight of numbers. The purple player should try to preserve a Chola area [like Kerala] until the colonial phase, and its worth biding one's time with the Sikhs until they have a good chance of getting to the coast. Empty spaces count as British-controlled, so shooting hostile natives is not impolitic, and may force alliance. The Rajputs do OK in the early phase and then are swamped by Muslims and Mughals, though they have the protection afforded by submission.

The order in which players resolve attacks is very important in Maharaja, and points for killing leaders seem to be scored less frequently than in Britannia. One reason why Maharaja is not liked is because the early and middle games are completed in a length of time comparable to a short Britannia game. At this point players soldier on through turns 13 and 14 with their eyes on the door and then give up. However, this is a mistake, as turns 15 and 16 are probably the most important of the game, which takes nearer four-and-a-half hours than three to complete, especially for beginners who will find the rules on factories and guns hard to grasp.

I would say Britannia is characterised by variations on central themes that occur during the game. Maharaja is more extreme. The south is static with a similar appearance from game to game, whereas the north is always wide open without much pattern, and these situations can co-exist with the colonial game laid on top. The colonial phase can go in any direction, and really is a game within a game. Thus decision-making in Maharaja takes longer than in Britannia. I think this is why Maharaja appears to be the better solo game, as decisions are either obvious, or leaps into the unknown, where self-reproach doesn't follow failure to the same degree.

House rules are few, in fact singular -- we only place boats in those sea areas initially adjacent to the boat-builder's units. Only Muslims, Marathas [blue] and Mughals [green] can possibly attack colonials at sea. This suggests that the French have serious naval back-up on turns 12 to 14, due to Muslim/Mughal distribution on coasts, but this seems not to happen in practice. For the same reasons the French have better factory-building opportunities.

The lack of separate Turn Record Charts is an obvious omission: it is really necessary to photocopy the chart on the board for each player. Harappans should fight to the end and concentrate for defence between turns. The British should reduce continental contingents still further, especially if sole units can be picked off. The yellow player needs a schizoid approach, playing the early phase like Sauron unleashed and the middle and colonial game like a housebound Saruman, hoping to snatch victory without being noticed. Use the Himalayas to protect survivors from dead races, but try not to block your own invasions. Traffic jams can also happen in Gandhara and Kashmir if you have people coming in via central Asia. The land areas of Golconda and Malabar, both synonyms for Gatesian wealth, possess the valuable advantage of being adjacent to two sea areas, and so are the best factory locations. The great population of India was nurtured by the protection of the surrounding seas, and all invaders of old entered and first fought in the northern areas. Maharaja is a rather bellicose experience, and this combined with the extension of the submission rule renders diplomacy rather unimportant.

Overall Maharaja is something of a gamer's game, which means it will support many interesting playings. Boredom for the yellow player is probably inevitable. My thoughts turn to the next in the series which might be China. This would require rules for greater expansion in time and scale, similar to those in Maharaja that admirably upsize one thousand British years to three thousand years on the Indian subcontinent.

Andy Daglish

next up previous
Next: ADVANCED 6-TAGE RENNEN Up: Sumo 20 index Previous: MAHARAJA
Stuart Dagger