Monday, August 6, 2012



 - Stolen from BGG

About a year ago, my best friend and I had a Bacchanalian weekend full of Manoeuvre, culminating in our starting to break apart the game quantitatively, as a step towards handicapping the different armies in very precise ways. Well, as so many of these sort of projects go, we never got back to it after that first big push. So, rather than wait to make further progress that will never happen, I'm going to just share the spreadsheet we created with the community. While we didn't get to finish our full analysis, I think you will find even the raw data very worthwhile:

A few high-level takeaways from our work are below. I don't claim to be a super expert, but I have played a couple/few dozen games and won a tournament at GMT West a year or two ago:
1. There is a fairly clear pecking order between the different armies, in a few different groupings. We sensed this pretty accurately during play, but looking at it quantitatively added more depth and concreteness, along with some surprises, to the assessment:
(In order, the below numbers are averages representing: Full Strength per Unit, Reduced Strength per Unit, Movement per Turn, Attack, Defense):
France - 6.625, 3.75, 1.25, 7.5625, 5.2
Great Britain - 6.625, 3.375, 1.25, 7.625, 5.225
Note: France is just a hair better, but these two are evenly matched. Neither has a weakness, and they are significantly better than all the other powers.
Russia - 6.25, 4.875, 1.25, 6.75, 4.9231
Note: A strong third that is a clear step better than those below it, the Russians are incredible resilient (far the best Reduced Strength of any army) makes them one of the most fun powers to use (along with the Ottomans) to try extreme tactical approaches that are optimized for them specifically.
Ottoman Empire - 6.625, 3.5, 1.5, 6.5625, 3.825
Prussia - 6, 3.5, 1.25, 7.0313, 4.55
Note: The Ottomans are a blast to play with all their cavalry and an extremely strong and straightforward hand of cards. They also have a strong Full Strength army. Prussia is fairly balanced - albeit a little weak on Full Strength - but have two strong cavalry that can create big problems when used well.
Spain - 6.125, 3.875, 1.25, 5.8438, 5.225
Austrian Empire - 6.25, 3.25, 1.25, 6.0294, 4.05
United States - 6, 3.375, 1.125, 6.2188, 4.525
Note: These three are all miserable, with no notable strengths. Spain's best asset is their defense (both in rating and redoubt cards); Austria is the most plain-vanilla army in the game with little of distinction; the United States is just plain awful. Although, playing their Ambush cards can prove enjoyable!
We wanted to do a formal handicapping of the armies to allow for ongoing competitive play, but it really requires quantitively interpreting the HQ cards which we did not get around to. It would be a great project for someone else to pick up.

2. The best general strategy around playing your cards is to cycle through them as quickly as possible. Of course there are times when you want to coordinate a couple of cards for a decisive and critical attack. But in general, the more you are "doing" the better off you will be.
   When you draw two or three cards for that weak infantry sitting in A2 (chess notation) and there are no antagonists one or two squares away, just discard them and try to get cards more relevant to the action. Not only are you wasting moves and meaningful opportunities for tactical manoeuvre if you try to bring them up for an attack, not only are you "blocking" yourself from drawing cards that might correlate to more vital pieces that can have an immediate impact and cause trouble for your opponent, but you will almost certainly not succeed with your lumbering attack.
   Why? Because any opponent with a pulse is going to catch on to your slow advance and know you are coming up to use attack cards! Thus, they will be prepared for your attack and likely negate it in one way or another. Why bother?
   The beauty of cycling through cards is that a much higher percentage of your plays cause trouble for your opponents and make them worry about countering you as opposed to executing their plan. In addition, by cycling through the deck quickly you get ANOTHER PULL at the deck. Whereas a slow-moving opponent will only get a maximum of five unit cards for their best piece, if you get into your deck a second time you will get up to TEN cards for your best unit!
   Sure, you get more cards for your weak units as well. But since you're cycling quickly, you really don't care. I've heard some players talk about the "advantage" of being the last to exhaust your deck, to be able to "decide" when nightfall happens. Rubbish. As Sun Tzu said, "Opportunities multiply as they are seized." Plodding through the deck - especially at the end of the game - is going to leave you vulnerable to being outmanoeuvred, turn after turn after turn.

3. Cavalry with good Pursuit numbers are devastating. Not visible in the above analysis is the impact of Pursuit (France and Great Britain are the strongest here, then Prussia, then Ottoman, then Austria. The cavalry of the other armies all have inconsequential pursuit numbers.
   Why is Pursuit such a Big Deal? A good player in this game will "feint" smartly, positioning themselves to take attacks that are under 2-to-1 and retreat, in order to force their attacker into a poor board position where there can be a better counter-attack. Cards with a pursuit of 1-4 or 1-3 (and, to a lesser degree, 1-2) make it much harder to retreat strategically. It forces the defender to stand and fight more often (weakened, no less).
   This is another aspect we wanted to better quantify. The math wouldn't be too difficult but would also need to incorporate the two movement of the cavalry as well (making strong Pursuits even more powerful) in order to compare a pursuit attack with a conventional attack.

4. Unless you're a good, experienced player, beware of redoubts. I'm quite convinced redoubts are the worst card in the game for most players, unless you're lucky enough to draw them toward the end of your deck when nightfall is approaching in order to entrench. People treat redoubts like they have Superglue on them. Once a redoubt is down, players feel compelled to "stick" the unit in them, not wanting to "waste" the defense. This can be a big problem, for a few reasons:
   - Players hold the cards for the unit in the redoubt for DEFENSE purposes, hoping to "surprise" an attacker and flip them on an attack. The problem is, most players simply ignore the unit in the redoubt for much of the game, targeting more accessible units instead. That means that cards for the unit in the redoubt are jamming up the hand of the player and preventing their other units from making attacks. At some point, they will get frustrated and just attack out, thus losing the redoubt. They should have simply done that from the beginning.
   - Players don't take advantage of holes in their opponent's lines that simply stepping out of the redoubt would create. "Cannot. Leave. Redoubt." Even with experienced players, I've found I can treat the redoubt largely like a lake square and leave gaping holes in my back lines. Sure, you can't get too cocky and get 3-way surrounded including the redoubt (that can get ugly) but other than putting yourself in position for a coordinated attack, in my experience you can march around the redoubt as if it were a stump in the ground and it is unusual the opponent makes you pay for it.
   - The redoubt is a magnet for an OVER attack. Opponents will see a redoubt and treat it like a magnet for a coordinated attack. Before long, that +3 defense bonus is bloodily negated as two or three units attack in unison, hitting it a lot harder than they even need to. Why? Because the redoubt LOOKS intimidating. Sure, the +3 makes a difference, but the psychological impact on inexperienced attackers has a much greater impact. It is usually an either/or, so if your opponent isn't just ignoring your redoubt for a while (typically more experienced players), they are coming after it with enough firepower to potentially do a lot more than just flip your unit (typically inexperienced players).
Personally, I generally use the redoubt as a blind, either attacking out of it if the opponent is ignoring me, or proactively attacking with that unit or others if the opponent is subtly trying to knock me out.

Alright, that's all the Manoeuvre strategy I have in me tonight. I hope you find the spreadsheet worthwhile, and your mileage may vary on my strategy points. While I believe everything I said, the emphasis and sarcasm is for your entertainment purposes only.
I won't claim to be the best Manoeuvre player (still sitting at 4 wins and 5 losses), but the fact that this game baffles me a bit has me thinking about it a lot. One of the critical elements to master is proper hand management. Unlike many other card-driven games, your Manoeuvre turn starts with a discard phase in which you can ditch up to your entire five-card hand to pull new ones from your deck. This element is made more interesting by the nightfall rule. If one player fails to kill five of his opponent's units, the game ends when the second player exhausts his deck. The first, once he's cycled through everything, just reshuffles and keeps going. If you add the optional "experienced/optional" rule, then there's even more to consider; you get to run through your deck at setup and pick your starting hand.
Manoeuvre DeckAll of this begs the question: is it usually better to play your hand conservatively, letting the cards dictate your movements on the board, or is it better to play the hand aggressively, and discard often to pick up the best cards? After reflection and discussion with Mike, Dad, and Joe, I don't think this is really an either/or thing. Instead, it's dictated by the situation and what country you're playing. Certain countries are more defensive in nature, and it seems best to set up good defensive positions and hold onto cards for those units. On the other hand, there are countries that really benefit from aggressive play and lots of discarding (the Ottomans, specifically, with all their cavalry and pursuit rolls). With these considerations in mind, here are a few of my thoughts:
 * Early Game: If you're playing with the "pick your starting hand" rule, pick a hand that will allow you to knock out an enemy unit quickly. This offers you more options while making some of your opponent's cards worthless. Once you've done that, usually it's time to discard quickly and set up a few more nasty assaults with your strong units.
 * Mid Game: If you find yourself ahead on the unit kill count, continue to discard aggressively and go for the attrition win. If you've suffered some losses, slow it down and discard more carefully. If he over-extends himself, it's time to discard aggressively again and counterattack.
 * Late Game: Much like the mid-game, if you find yourself ahead by quite a few units, go for the attrition win. However, if it's a close run thing, position yourself to control the most squares; this usually means not discarding as much. If this is the case, this will allow you to control the end of the game (when, as the second player, you reach the bottom of your deck).
There is also a strong relationship between hand management and initial placement. This was pointed out to me in a BGG thread; essentially the author's strategy is to place weaker units in the back row and discard any of their cards when they come up. This strikes me as sensible--less agonizing over what to discard early on. I'd love to hear comments on this--Manoeuvre is definitely a game I'm still learning.
Margin of Victory blog
Well, there are not so many startegy posts here, so I'll try to point out what I've learned from my several Manoeuvre plays.
Keep in mind that I could be wrong, so feel free to add your own experience!
Setup strategy for all nationality EXCEPT Ottomans and armies facing Ottomans:
As a rule of thumb placing units on the row closer to the middle of the map is good: in that way you are closer to the zone where points are awarded at the end of the game if night falls.
If I'm going first and thus I place units first, I'll try to move units as fast as possible and make them sit in good terrain, such as villages and hills in the middle of the map. Soon those places will be heavily contested, so gaining the upper hand is good! Plus, if you're able to entrench there, that can only be better.
I often use forced marches and supply as a way to move additional units and faster than my opponent, BUT don't overstretch yourself!
Moving a calvalry 3 squares can be dangerous, even if you moved on good terrain. It will take a LONG time to reinforce it, and the opponent will soon attack it from many sides. I've lost MANY units in this way, so be careful. Cavalry don't have good defensive cards, and are your best tool for attacking and eliminating units ( thanks to their pursuit rolls ), so keeping them on the defensive is both a waste and a risk of losing your unit due to the lack of good defesive cards.
I don't use to place ALL the 8 units on the "front" line, I often keep two of them as "reserve", to fill in the gaps or ( hopefully ) exploit the gaps my cavalry will create, so often I place them at right behind horses ( that can be dangerous in other ways, though! Dung anyone? ).
Ottomans are quite different to play with and against. Their extra cavalry makes them VERY fast and able to encircle, fill in gaps, conquer key terrain and roam in the enemy territory, so I like to put all the 8 units in the front line.
I use this same strategy to oppose Ottomans, creating a line of 8 pieces hoping to soak up the enemy's attacks and not conceding gaps in my line.
Feel free to add your own opinions!