Episode 353: Maquis
Release Date: June 19, 2020
Designer: Jake Staines
Art: Ilya Baranovsky
1 player | 20 min | ages 14+ | 10-15 min to learn | MSRP $25
You are a leader in the Maquis, the Resistance. Your small band of freedom fighters works to disrupt the Nazi Occupation of one small town in France.
Your agents sneak around - blowing up trains, cutting phone lines, publishing underground newspapers - while avoiding collaborators and soldiers patrolling the streets. It's a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. One rash choice and your comrades might be swept up, never to return.
Maquis is a solitaire worker-placement game with variable goals. You have 15 days to complete 2 Missions before the Occupation discovers you.
This isn’t WWII in a box. It isn’t even the Battle for France. Your decisions create the story of a brave handful of people, banded together in a struggle for freedom.
This makes for a game filled with tension and empathy, a hidden gem you can play in less than 30 minutes.
Read on to explore Maquis and discover all the reasons we think it earns our Spiel of Approval.
Written review continues after the break.
You are a member of the Maquis, the Resistance, a small band of freedom fighters attempting to dismantle the Nazi Occupation of France. The Axis-controlled government has installed a paramilitary unit called the Milice, tasked with policing the population and fighting the Resistance. Should the Resistance prove formidable, the government will not hesitate to call in the German Military to stamp out dissent.
Maquis is a solitaire worker-placement game with variable goals. You place your resistance agents on spaces around town to cause havoc - blow up trains, publish underground newspapers - but at the same time Milice collaborators and Wehrmacht soldiers patrol the area. Agents who can't make it back to the safe house at the end of the day are arrested, and never seen again.
You have 15 days to complete 2 Missions before the Occupation discovers you. If successful, the Resistance has won. However, if the town’s Morale drops to zero, or all 15 days run out, the Occupation succeeds in crushing the Resistance. It’s time to engage the Nazi occupation of France and throw off the yoke of oppression to free your homeland!
After France was forced to surrender to Nazi Germany in June, 1940, an underground resistance struggle continued against both the occupying army and the collaborative Vichy government. The goal was to unite the French people in opposition to their oppressors and aid the Allies in their attempts to liberate France.
At first, a handful worked mostly to commit small acts of sabotage and disobedience. Phone lines were cut and demonstrations held. As the authorities sought to clamp down on such acts, they imposed greater restrictions on everyday life and finally, resorted to imposing capital punishment on anyone caught.
Increasingly, more elements of French life came under the Nazi thumb. At first Jews, then Roma people, homosexuals, communists, intellectuals, all joined the list of those subject to deportation to concentration or work camps. Finally, young people were ordered to report to German factories as slave labor.
Many of these young people escaped instead to the forests, mountains and shrubland known as macchia, a term used in nearby Corsica to denote rough terrain. Living rough usually required stealing to live, and these people adopted the Corsican name for bandits, calling themselves Marquisards, or Maquis.
The Resistance movement grew with help from British, Free French, and American intelligence. Weapons, money, false documents, and radios were air dropped into locations, as well as agents to help with training and recruiting.
As the Resistance grew, a new force was created to hunt them down, the Milice. This militia was made up of fascists, criminals, and others, and grew to about 29,000 strong. Their task was to arrest, and, if possible turn their captives to get them to betray their fellow Resistance workers.
Resistance fighters played a significant role in both harassing the occupying forces,and in aiding the Allied invasions. Trains and roads were sabotaged, German fuel and ammunition dumps destroyed, and eventually, Milice and German army units were engaged in direct combat.
Measuring the importance of the Resistance is difficult in pure military terms. General Dwight Eisenhower estimated their value as roughly equal to ten divisions, or about 100,000 soldiers. No one can say for sure; most likely their numbers were at least double that. What is certain that France (and the entire Allied force) owes a great deal to the brave men and women who stood up to Nazi occupation with their efforts.
Maquis is played on a board which represents the 17 important locations in your little French town. Locations are connected by white lines, representing roads. The most important location is your initial Safe House, at the bottom of the board, as each worker must be able to trace a route back there at the end of each day.
Along the left side of the board is a track to mark the passage of days. Remember you only have fifteen days to complete the two missions dealt from the 14 card Mission deck. The Mission cards are placed at the top of the board, and sometimes act as extra locations where you must commit your workers.
Your Maquis are represented by white pawns: 3 to start the game and 2 more which you may recruit from a nearby cafe. But adding to your workers will attract more blue Milice pawns, who will seek to track down your crew.
As this is a solitaire game, the actions of the Milice are determined by a deck of 10 Patrol cards, which each show 3 locations where they may occupy and search.
Additionally, you’ll use a small card-sized board which tracks the presence of any Wehrmacht units(represented by the menacing red pawns), as well as the morale of the town. As if completing your two Missions wasn’t enough, you must keep up the town’s Morale. If they give up hope, the game is over!
Essential to some missions are the 6 Spare Room action tiles. Once built, these will allow your fighters to build explosives in the Chemist’s Lab, meet with a smuggler or counterfeiter, contact an informer of propagandist, or establish a second Safe House.
Finally, on some missions you’ll make use of the included yellow cubes to track your progress. In the SABOTAGE mission,for example, you must infiltrate the nearby munitions factory twice before completing your task, planting an explosive device on the third visit.
Maquis is a game in which you must dispatch your resistance fighters to gather resources and carry out actions to complete missions. Each day starts with your workers at the Safe House. From here, you place one initial Maquisard on any unoccupied location.
Next, place a Milice unit by flipping a card from the Patrol deck. The card will list 3 locations. Starting with number one you will place a blue pawn on the first unoccupied spot. If a location is already occupied by a white or blue pawn, skip down the card to the next location listed. At no time may a pawn be placed in a location with another pawn already on it.
Placement will go back and forth, first Maquis, then Milice, until the number of Milice units required by the Morale track is reached. When placing Milice, if all 3 locations are occupied, then you will go back to the top of the card. Starting from number 1, if one of the 3 locations contains Maquis, then that fighter has been arrested and eliminated from the game.
Now your Maquis will carry out their assignments, based on their placement. To the Grocer for food. The Black Market to trade food or medicine for cash. The Fence to buy a weapon. Or one of the distant Radio locations to contact the Allies and arrange an airdrop overnight to one of the fields south of town.
And sometimes you’ll place a fighter as a lookout, simply to block the Milice from cutting off your agents from the Safe House. They won’t return with any goods to help your Missions, but placed well, they’ll prevent the Milice from swooping in and arresting one of your agents.
Goods you get may be used to complete actions the same day. So, if you sent a worker to the grocery, and another to the cafe, you may use the food token from the grocer to recruit another fighter at the cafe.
Finally, each worker must be able to trace a route back to the Safe House. If Milice or Soldier units block the way back, then that worker is arrested, and lost from the game.If you have a weapon, you may choose to discard it to shoot a Milice blocking your path. Doing so means that a red Soldier pawn will replace the lost Milice the next day. Soldier units may never be eliminated, and each one added to the game drops the town’s morale by a step.
Once your actions are taken and workers returned to the Safe House, remove the Milice units, and advance to the next day. Note that some of the Day Track spaces are highlighted. On these days, the town loses a bit of hope, and their morale drops. Never forget that you are fighting to complete your missions, and for the hearts of the people!
Your missions are at the heart of everything you do in Maquis. To illustrate, let’s assume you’ve been dealt DESTROY THE TRAIN and LIBERATE THE TOWN as your two missions. The first is going to require 3 explosives, so you need to establish the Chemist’s Lab in one of the Spare Room locations. That will take 2 money, and frequent visits to the doctor for the chemicals to make the bombs.
DESTROY THE TRAIN is time sensitive, and the explosives must be delivered between days 6 and 9. Perhaps you should recruit an additional agent? It’ll be tight, but you must destroy that train full of Panzers.
LIBERATE THE TOWN is a game end goal. Acquire 3 weapons, either from the Fence, or airdropped by the Allies, and keep the town’s morale up to level 4 by the end of the game. Remember, their morale levels will drop 4 times over the next 15 days. You can foresee plenty of trips to the Grocer and Doctor to supply the Poor Quarter, and raise their spirits.
Other missions will take you to infiltrate the Milice, publish underground newspapers, or root out a double agent. With 14 total missions, and only 2 used per game, it will likely be quite some time before you have a repeat experience.
I should point out that Maquis isn’t perfect. It’s rulebook is a bit sparse on detail, and the combinations of some Mission cards will leave you at times searching the internet for definitive answers. But the experience is worth the effort.
What Sets This Game Apart
I would cite two factors, Tension and Empathy.
While you play Maquis you are creating the story of a brave handful of people, banded together in a struggle for freedom. You are engaged in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with the enemy. One rash choice and your comrades in arms might be swept up, never to return.
Because of the risk of being caught, few are willing to join your cause. You must watch out for one another, hoping to meet up at the Safe House at the end of the day. Your Maquis only have each other. You must work carefully, but you must work fast.
The Milice, your own countrymen, live to hunt you down. You’d love to eliminate them, but you know that won’t make things better. They’ll be replaced by Wehrmacht. The Milice are like a pack of dogs. The Wehrmacht are savage wolves.
All of this grinds on you. The time pressure. The threat of the patrols. The morale of the town. You feel it under your skin. You become invested in the fate of your little pawns, your people.
The success or failure of your mission is all upon your shoulders. Your only opponent is time, and a ruthless deck of 10 cards. The deck is stupid and cruel, like your oppressors. Play smart and live to fight another day. Otherwise, the system, the deck of cards, might crush you beneath its wheels.
Empathy is baked into a game of Maquis. Since you can’t win if the town gives up, you automatically have a vested interest in the morale of the people. The easiest way to raise their morale is to take food and medicine to the Poor Quarter. A good reminder that even in wartime we must take care of the poor.
And during my last play I experienced a genuine moment of compassion when I made a decision which cost our team dearly. Day 14, and I had just dispatched a worker to take money and food to complete the mission AID THE SPY. Milice sent a patrol to the Grocer, blocking our way home along the east bank of the river.
I could have chosen to send an agent to the Poor Quarter, supporting his fellows at the Mission and Pont du Nord. Instead, I chose Pont Leveque, and the patrol card revealed the Poor Quarter. Two of my agents were cut off and lost forever. Even though these were just wooden pawns, I almost wept over the loss of two brave Maquis fighters.
A game like Maquis seeks to depict a tiny portion of a much larger struggle. This isn’t WWII in a box. It isn’t even the Battle for France. It is the struggle, over a two week period, of a handful of resistors in a small town in a corner of France. By taking the struggle down to the level of individual men and women, we feel their hope, and their desperation.
This makes Maquis a small box gem of a game. In art terms, it's an exquisite miniature, with detail so small you must squint to catch the fine strokes. It’s in the actions you take, uncertain if the Milice will track you down, but necessary to the greater struggle. Every choice you make is infused with meaning, and danger.
The danger is reinforced by the art on the Mission cards and action tiles. Figures lurk around corners, hiding in shadows. Resolute Maquis poise to strike a blow, while facing menace on all sides. Part propaganda poster and part Film Noir. All set in what would otherwise be a sleepy little village.
Usually our gaming preference runs toward gaming with others. We enjoy the interaction of creating and gathering together. But sometimes that experience isn’t available to us. When gaming alone is on our menu, Maquis offer play infused with meaning and empathy. And that is strong medicine in our world.
Written by: Doug Richardson