Thursday, August 03, 2006

Among Royalty (Maharaja, Princes of Florence)

4 Players this week, and what's a WAGS session without a new game?

This week's newest aquisition is Maharaja: Palace building in India. Bharmer bought it this weekend and was eager to try it out.

Maharaja is a Kramer and Kiesling collaboration (the same team which brought us Tikal, Torres, Pueblo, Mexica, etc). The board depicts 7 walled cities interconnected by paths and small villages. Each player is trying to be the first to build 7 palaces.

Each player will enlist the help of a noble on the first turn (though nobles will change hands over the course of a game). The noble confers a special power to the player and determines turn order. On a turn, players must choose 2 actions on a wheel (similar to the wheels in El Grande). There is a wide range of actions, some of them affect the acting player (building houses/ palaces, earning gold), others might impact other players (such as changing the order that the Maharaja will visit the cities, or exchanging character cards with another player).

Some things I liked:
1) Players are building houses and palaces in the various cities in order to gain majorities, so that when the Maharaja visits it they are rewarded with money (which is, in turn, used to build houses and palaces). However, houses are 12x less expensive to build than palaces, yet are worth the same when counting majorities! This leads to a very interesting balancing act as players try to get their palaces on the board yet still win majorities.
2) In our group, turn seemed to go by quickly. I suspect that is because the actions are determined in advance and are quite specific. However, there is real possibility of analysis paralysis if a player tries to think through every possibility and permutation when actually choosing their actions. In the end, though, there is too much chaos in the system to actually have that level of control, so it's ultimately not worth doing anyway.
3) It's nice to play a game which doesn't rely on tallying up victory points.

Some things I liked less:
1) The chaos, after one play, seemed a little high to me. I found it a little frustrating to have to plan 2 actions ahead of time, only to find out (repeatedly) that the Maharaja wasn't were I expected him to be, or that I was no longer the character I started with. As I alluded to in an earlier point, I find this to be an odd combination with the amount of potential analysis in planning out your turn.
2) It seems very difficult to do anything to stop a leader. Other players can't be directly affected, other than stealing their character card, so I kind of watched Brian coast to victory 3 rounds ahead of the end of the game... unable to do anything about it. I guess the idea would be to work together and try to prevent that player from gaining the majorities needed to raise cash and build palaces... but I suspect that's pretty hard to actually do.
3) On the surface, it seemed like there was at least two strategies available for earning income: Gaining majorities inthe cities, and placing houses on the roads to collect tolls. At least in our game, the houses on the roads were far too easy to circumvent, and did not really earn their keep. If they weren't necessary in order to get anywhere, I suspect players would soon stop playing them at all. I wonder if this will eventually lead to a game of "chicken" as players wait and see who will make the sacrifice and useup their turn to build there.

In the end, I felt like I was playing a combination of El Grande and Aladdin's Dragons. The area majority mechanic occupied most of my thoughts during the game, but I found myself constantly trying to guess what other players might do, and what I had to do in order to avoid getting messed up. I's a weird combination of deep strategy and guesswork. I made the wrong decisions far more often than I should have!

I did notice that Bharmer made extensive use of the character card trading mechanic, and that he made a point of building a palace on all but one turn. I lost sight of the goal of the game early on (building palaces), focusing too much on gaining majorities. This was despite Bharmer's warning at the beginning of the game not to do that! He won quite easily, but I would expect much stiffer competition in a second game.

In the end, Maharaja strikes me as potentially a very good strategy game. It seems to be aiming for depth of strategy combined with enough chaos to keep it from being dry/ predictable. Time will tell if it succeeds!

We followed up with a game of Princes of Florence, which Bharmer hadn't played yet. In my mind, there is no game which so much about optimization of resources, and that's why I love it. It also means that it's nearly impossible for a new player to compete. I went for a "jester + lots of works" strategy, but I faltered and produced at least 1 work too few to win the game. Shemp, who isn't a huge fan of the game and often does poorly, used a very well balanced strategy of a little bit of everything and won the game! Bharmer? He did come in last, but not by much. It was quite a tight game, and I'd say he did really well.


  1. I really liked Maharaja. Good mechanics, good flow, good production design. I think one or two more plays would assist with a better evaluation, though, especially with regard to leader-stopping strategy/feasibility.

    At the moment, I like it better than El Grande, but that may change with repeated plays.

  2. Yeh, I've figured out what to do in Princes of Florence - it's a veriation on the George Costanza strategy; determine what I want to do, and then do the opposite! (THE OPPOSITE, JERRY!)

    After placing last umpteen million times in PoF, I've now won twice in a row. THE OPPOSITE! Remember that. If you are sucking at a particular game, trying the opposite sure can't hurt.