Maharaja Revisions

Starting in the 1970s, The Avalon Hill Game Company often bought simulations such as Kingmaker from other companies, rather than develop them in house. In 1986, TAHGC acquired Gibson Gamesí Britannia. Designed by Lew Pulsipher, it became a bestseller. As with other popular concepts, it spawned newer efforts based on its system, in itself possibly derived on Excalibre Gamesí Ancient Conquest (1975) and Ancient Conquest II (1978). Newer Britannia-type games include Peninsula Italica (Camelot Games, 1993), Hispania (Azure Wish, 1994), Chariot Lords (Clash of Arms, 1999), and Rusí (Simulations Workshop, 2000), with some others under development. A more detailed Britannia ludography is available at Pulsipher's page and Rick Heliís site.

Avalon Hillís success with Britannia all but mandated an encore, with Craig Sandercockís Maharaja (1994) being it. This one was set in India, but unlike its predecessor Maharaja went beyond the Middle Ages, entering the gunpowder era and ending in 1850 with the British paramount on the subcontinent. Another difference is that Maharaja is seen as unbalanced, with Blue and Purple the favorites and Yellow as the underdog. This disparity in player strengths has generated several rules revisions and generous discussion in two ConsimWorld folders. Other analysts believe it is best not to try the standard 4-player game and instead use the other scenarios provided (3-player, 3-player short, and 5-player) with the game. These all suffer from the disadvantage of a playerís countries not matching his color. For example, in the 3-player short game, Player A controls three green powers, but also a yellow one, thus causing a certain amount of confusion as the game progresses. Fortunately, wargamers are designers at heart, and several have tried their own fixes of the situation.

Minor Revisions

Avalon Hill customarily highlighted a new product in a dedicated issue of The Avalon Hill General, and Maharaja received its due in Volume 30, Number 2, published in 1995. The issue included analyses of each of the four colors, a series replay, and errata. The latter changed several rules and is currently available at Web-Grognards. There was also a Britannia variant which added Ireland to that game. Aside from the rule changes in the errata, two other attempts at balancing the game were included in Steven deVoreís article on Yellow strategy. DeVore suggested allowing Yellow to use the third Dutch army counter (included in the counter mix but not used in the game), and delaying Gupta removals from turns 8 and 9 to turns 9 and 10. He admitted freely that this unbalances the game towards Yellow, and hurts Blue a lot, probably fatally. In a rejoinder to deVore, John Kisner, who also had a strategy article in the issue, agrees with deVore about the effects of delaying Gupta removals, and instead offers the Kisner Variant. The KV says that any nation that needs to remove armies may substitute two armies from its force pool for any one removed from the board. For example, this allows the Guptas to take 16 units out of their force pool, and permanently out of the game, as a substitute for taking 8 units off the board. This allows the Guptas to hang on for a few more turns. Kisner points out that this can help other nations as well, since the Afghans, Greeks, Mauryans, and Mughals also have removal requirements.

For such a simple rule, the KV has two problems. First, the example given in the General seems to be wrong. It says to take 12 out of the force pool and 4 from the board to meet the Gupta turn 8 requirement of removing 8 units. The rule indicates that 8 from the pool and 4 from the map should be sufficient. The other problem, discovered by John Strand, is that one could first remove some armies from the board, thus adding them to the force pool, and then make the remaining withdrawals from the newly enlarged pool. Strand likes this version better since it keeps the Guptas around slightly longer.

Another gap was filled when Michael Ward designed 4 and 5 Player short games, using the rules in section 14.2 and posting them on ConsimWorld. The first assigns the Sinhalese, Portuguese, and Mughals to Player A; the Marathas, Rajputs, French, and Sikhs to B; Cholas, Guptas, and British to C; and Pandyas, Muslims, Dutch, and Afghans to D. In the 5 Player version, A gets the Rajputs and Portuguese; B has the Sinhalese, Muslims and French; C gets the Cholas, British and Sikhs; D plays the Guptas and Mughals, and E has the Pandyas, Marathas, Dutch and Afghans.

Steve Burt, in a 1997 rec.games.board posting, recommends giving the Afghans to Yellow, thus hurting Blue which he sees as the favorite. In the same thread, Niek van Diepen suggests removing only half (round in the Gupta's favor) of the Gupta armies on turns 8 and 9, and allowing the Guptas to increase in nonremoval turns after that. He also suggests giving the Dutch two armies as reinforcements. Another common internet fix is to forego the Gupta removal on turn 8, and instead just remove 8 armies on turn 9.

The Lawler Variant

Maharaja is historical in the broad sense of the term, but there is substantial abstraction involved. One example of this is that the designer combined many nations in order to get the number of nations down to a manageable seventeen. The following chart will illustrate his thinking:

Green
Pandyas represent Dravidians on turns 1-3, Pandya (4-16), Cera (4-12), Vijayanagar (11-12), Travancore (15-16)
Greeks--Macedonia (4), Bactria (5)
Mughals--Mongols (10), Tamerlane (11), Mughals (12-16)
Hyderabad (14-16), Baluchistan, Bengal, Kashmir, Oudh, Sind and several smaller northern states (15-16)

Blue
Afghans--Afghanistan (15-16)
Marathas--Shatavahana (5-6), Vakatava (7), Pallava (7-9), Chalukya (8-10), Rashtrakutas (8-9), Marathas (12-16)
Harappans--Harappans (1-2)
Muslims--Omayyads (8), Ghaznavids (9), Ghurids (9), Delhi Sultanate (10-12), Bahami Sultanate (11), Deccan Sultanates (12-13), Mysore (15)

Purple
Cholas--Dravidians (1-5), Chola (6-10), Vijayanagar (11-12) Sikhs-Sikhs (13-16)
Rajputs--Scythians/Sakas (5-6), Kushans (5-7), Ephthalites/White Huns (7), Malwa (8), Harsha (8), Rajput States (9-16)

Yellow
Mauryans--Aryan tribes and kingdoms (1-3), Magadha (2-3), Persia (3), Mauryans (4-5)
Sinhalese--Pihiti/Tamils (8-12 ), Rohuna/Sinhalese (4-12), Kandy (13)
Guptas--Magadha (6), Guptas (7-8), Bengal (8-10)

Even this listing is somewhat abstracted. India possessed dozens of small states at any point in its history and most of these have been left out.

There have been two attempts to include additional powers in Maharaja. Jim Lawlerís version was presented in the April 2000 issue (Volume 5, Number 2) of The Boardgamer. His variant, which also aimed to balance the game, added the Ahoms to the Yellow side. Since they appear on turn 12, this gives Yellow something to do besides play with the Dutch. Lawler also recommends adding the 3rd Dutch counter on turn 13, using the Kisner Variant, and had some minor rule changes.

In addition, Lawler adds seven more powers to the game as Red countries. Essentially, each player takes one and uses it as his own, making each game different. The new powers include Asmaka (an Aryan kingdom), Harsha, Magadha (the first one), Pallava, the Sakas, Shatavahana, and Vijayanagar. Lawler provides a counter sheet with armies not only for his variant, but also for the Irish scenario for Britannia. More information on this variant and interesting Maharaja discussion can be found in the Eurobrit (covers Britannia style games), and Maharaja Yahoo groups..

The Heli Variant

Rick Heli offers Pre-Gunpowder Maharaja, the most extensive revision of it by far, here. He starts with the premise that the game suffers from its extension into the colonial period, the length of time covered by each turn, and the exclusion of too many nations. Thus, his game ends in 1650, in the middle of turn 13 in the standard version.. Most of the twenty-seven turns represent a century, and thirty nations are included. Gone are the French, Marathas, Sikhs, and Afghans. Now in are Scythians, Kushans, pre and post Gupta Magadha, Malwa, three more Mauryan groups, four Aryan kingdoms, Persians, Ephthalites, Bactrians, Tibetans, and Ahoms.

Much of this is an attempt to break up the more abstract powers. For example, the Mauryans of the standard game are now split into nine Aryan, Mauryan, and Persian nations, which reflects the situation better. The Rajputs no longer represent the Kushans and Scythians. The latter two are now separate groups, and the Rajputs do not appear until the disintegration of the Gupta empire. Heli does slight the central powers though, as no one represents Shatavahana, the Chalukyas, and Pallava, but he probably assumes that Aryan and Mauryan tribes will drift down to the Deccan Plateau and set up shop, eventually forming those three nations. It is worth noting that one can play this variant with the standard game pieces as Heli simply recycles unused armies when needed. For example, the four Aryan nations use Mauryan, Mughal, Rajput, and Muslim counters, none of which will be needed elsewhere for a while. Vijayanagar is also missing as the designer depends on the Pandyas and Cholas to fill the gap.

The variant is quite complete, and has revised Player Cards, Rules (with changes regarding submission, Ganges income, and Mauryan and Gupta removals), and a Game Turn Track, plus Order of Play, Victory Point, and Turn Record Charts. All of these and designer notes can be downloaded from his website. The scenario has been extensively play tested and one cannot do better pricewise.

Some Suggestions: (Use at Your Own Risk)

(1) Add the following powers:

Persia (Blue)
Maharaja treats Persia in the Mauryan group, but in practice Persia and the Aryans were enemies. The Persians enter on turn 3 with 4 armies from Afghanistan. 2 more are in the force pool. Use the Afghan counters. They move after the Greeks. VPs are 2 for Gandhara and Baluchistan, 1 for Punjab and Sind. They can receive VPs on turn 3, and then on the normal VP turns. Using Persia makes the game more accurate, and gives Blue something to do before the Marathas arrive.

Tibet (Green)
Tibet was a regional power in the 6th and 7th Centuries, fighting successfully against the Tangs, controlling Nepal in the 500s, invading Kashmir in the 600s and 700s, and raiding into the Ganges. They enter on turn 8 with 3 armies from Tibet and 3 more in the pool. Use the Greeks who should be gone by then. Armies may be retreated to or kept in Tibet indefinitely, and do not count when determining overpopulation. They move after the Guptas and receive 2 VPs for Kashmir, Ladakh, and Nepal, and 1 point for any other area on VP turns.

Ahoms (Yellow)
Assam took its name from these people after their conquest in the 1500s. (They claim it happened in the 1200s, but that is iffy.) They enter with 3 armies from Burma on turn 12, with 3 more armies in reserve. Use Mauryan counters. Armies may be retreated to or kept in Burma indefinitely and do not count when determining overpopulation. They move after the Muslims and receive 3 VPs when they control Assam on VP turns, and 1 VP for any other area.

Vijayanagar-Purple Option (VPO)
For two centuries, this Hindu state fought to keep the Delhi, Bahami, and Deccan Sultanates at bay, finally succumbing to the Mughals in the 1500s. The presence of Pandya and Chola in the game make simulating this difficult since Vijayanagar covered most of southern India, Chola was gone by 1279, and Pandya was reduced to a few cities on the southern tip of the subcontinent. One way to recreate this Hindu power is to use Chola to represent it. To do this, simply allow Chola to resume population increase on turns 11 and 12. Chola objectives stay the same. Use this version if suggested rules (4) and (5) are not used.

Vijayanagar-Yellow Option (VYO)
Most people believe that Yellow is the weakest color. Bringing in the Ahoms helps a little. Giving Yellow Vijayanagar does more. On turn 11, 4 armies appear in Golconda via internal invasion rules. Keep 6 more in the force pool. Use Mauryan or Gupta counters. Vijayanagar receives 2 VPs for Golconda, Karnatak, Malabar, or Mysore, and 1 VP for any other area in south India on the VP turns. Use this if you use either (4) or (5). Vijayanagar moves after the Marathas. Note that historically Vijayanagar covered the southern parts of Bidar and Bijapur, but starting in either of those territories would put the country too far north. Lawler does use both as that powerís homeland. One could also try starting Vijayanagar in Mysore instead of Golconda.

(2) Use the Kisner Variant, with the interpretation being that force pool removals must be done first.

(3) Add Sweden and Austria
Both conducted commercial operations and built forts in Kerala for a brief period of time. To represent their presence, allow the Yellow player to use the third Dutch counter. It enters on turn 14 in the Indian Ocean and can be used to build factories. However, it cannot join with the other two Dutch counters to attack anyone.

(4) Strengthen the Rajputs
The Rajputs represent the Kushans and the Scythians/Sakas. Both were extensive empires that covered much of northern and western India. The 12 Rajput armies cannot cover the same territory that their historical counterparts did. To fix this, increase the Rajput counter mix to 16 for turn 6. Use the Sikh counters. On turn 7, reduce the number of Rajput counters on the board to 12 if they have more than 12 at this time. It is suggested that you do not use this if the VPO is used.

(5) Simulate Missionary and Commercial Activity
Several Indian nations promoted missionary and trade activity in Southeast Asia throughout the period covered. To simulate this, allow the following powers to forfeit some of their population increase and instead divert it to missions or commerce. Each population point may be turned in for 1 VP. For example, the Mauryans control 10 areas. Yellow uses 9 population points to build 3 armies, and the 10th is turned in for a VP immediately. A player is limited to 2 VPs per power per turn. It is recommended that you do not use this rule if the VPO is used. The following countries can score this way:

Mauryans on turn 4. Ashoka after his conversion financed Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain missionaries throughout Asia. Points cannot be taken if Ashoka is dead.
Rajputs (6-7). The Kushans controlled part of the Great Silk Road and prospered accordingly.
Guptas (7). Traded widely and spread Indian culture wherever it could.
Marathas (8-9). This represents Pallavan trade and missionary work in Southeast Asia, especially in Vietnam.
Cholas (8-9). They waged economic and naval warfare against several countries, including Srivijaya, a major commercial rival.
Muslims (10-11). The Delhi and Bahami Sultanates spread Islam strenuously. Among other places, Indonesia is Islamic as a result of their efforts.

Turn Record Chart Additions

Turn 3
Persia: 4 Blue armies in Afghanistan

Turn 4
Greeks can use the Kisner Variant. Mauryans can do missionary work.

Turn 5
Mauryans can use KV.

Turn 6
Rajputs can trade. Rajput counter limit at 16.

Turn 7
Rajputs and Guptas can trade. Rajput army limit goes back to 12.

Turn 8
Tibet: 3 Green armies in Tibet. Gupta can use KV. Maratha and Cholas can trade.

Turn 9
Gupta can use KV. Maratha and Cholas can trade.

Turn 10
Muslims can evangelize.

Turn 11
Muslims can evangelize. Mughals can use KV. Vijayanagar: 4 armies in Golconda (Yellow Option) or Cholas resume population increase (Purple Option). Mughals can use KV.

Turn 12
Ahoms: 3 Yellow armies in Burma.

Turn 13
If using the Purple Option for Vijayanagar, Chola population increase ends.

Turn 14
3rd Dutch counter appears in the Indian Ocean.

Turn 15
Afghans can use KV.

Just So You Donít Get Too Complacent

Hereís a simple Random Events Table to keep the games unpredictable. At the end of each complete game turn, roll a green and a white die. Then roll a third. The province listed gets hit with a civil rebellion if the third die is even, or a natural disaster (flood, monsoon, plague, famine, etc.) if odd. In the first case, all armies in the area rebel. Flip them over to the white side to indicate this. Any leaders in that area die immediately. Rebellious areas may increase population and must attack if they get overpopulated. Have them invade an adjacent area chosen at random. A natural disaster kills every army and leader in the area. If you lose a province to a natural disaster, you can reoccupy it. So can anyone else.

Die roll and area affected 11--Ladakh 12--Nepal 13--Bhutan 14--Assam 15--Baluchistan 16--Sind 21--Gandhara 22--Kashmir 23--Lahore 24--Delhi 25--Punjab 26--Rajputana 31--Gujarat 32--Malwa 33--Agra 34--Oudh 35--Jaunpur 36--Bundelkhand 41--Bihar 42--Bengal 43--Magadha 44--Orissa 45--Khandesh 46--Gondwana 51--Maharashtra 52--Berar 53--Bijapur 54--Bidar 55--Andhra 56--Malabar 61--Golconda 62--Mysore 63--Kerala 64--Karnatak 65--Lanka 66--Simhala

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Note: The original version of this review appeared in Strategist 33 (July 2002):3-6. The Strategist is the newsletter of the Strategy Gaming Society.


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