~ Maria ~
::: By Richard Sivél :::
Wow. At first blush this is top notch, with an elegance nearly unmatched among wargames.
You aren't considering leader positioning to bestow morale boosts, nor comparing panels of stats. You aren't mapping lines of sight obscured by shelter or focused by elevations, nor applying an ancillary combat bonus or malus—in their stead exists a distribution of numbered cards in four suits governing the fates of many. These cards are bids for political shifts, blows traded in combat, ransoms for harried supply lines, and reserves for reinforcements. They giveth and taketh and are ingenious in their simplicity and intricate uses. Even the most straightforward wargames adopt nuanced rules for the sake of realism. That's not to besmirched, but merely all the more telling. Maria eschews such facets but remains evocative of the shifting trials between the powers that be in its period setting.
Maria's uncluttered spatial elements should be lauded. Here, terrain modifiers are absent in lieu of the zigs and zags of point-to-point movement. This sprawling and tangled weave effortlessly conjures up a vast and arduous character for its topography, and emphasizes the main goal of fortress conquest. Beyond that, players can invoke currents across the geopolitical landscape via sparse-yet-impactful maneuvers. We did not manifest most of them, yet concluded tantalizing revelations upon further musings: "Oh, -that- is why France would cede Austrian territory, and -this- is why Prussia would annex Silesia!"
Even our initial notions behind respective major powers’ motivations were challenged: early on, we felt Frederick’s schizophrenic role to be the most complicated, but pressing forward revealed it was Maria at the confluence of playing all sides (and who, historically and against seemingly insurmountable odds, did succeed...but was unable to do so in this game). There weren't nearly as much armistice dealings as warranted, but that's sure to change in future plays.
Sadly, for all this harping, we cannot speak much towards Maria's numerous subtleties from just one, albeit compelling, play. Here's to being able to address that sooner than later.