Maquis from Side Room Games is an unusual worker-placement game, set in Nazi-occupied France in World War II. It’s unusual, because unlike just about every other worker-placement game out there, Maquis is designed for solo play. That’s right, a proper Euro game that’s just you against the game.
The setting for Maquis sees you taking control of a small group of maquisards, the French resistance fighters. From your safe house each day, you send your people out to various spots in the city, aiming to collect resources such as money, food, intelligence, and maybe the odd explosive or two. The idea is to take all of those things and complete missions for La Resistance. Just don’t go thinking you’re going to have it all your own way. The militia – Milice – are patrolling the streets, and they’re looking for you.
Cul de sac
The worker spots in the small map are connected by streets, and those streets are vitally important. At the end of each round, any of your pawns that can’t trace a route back to your safe house is arrested, and permanently lost from the game. When you consider the fact that there are only two routes back to your starting safe house, the importance of keeping a clear route home becomes apparent.
Turns alternate between you and the Milice, and their turns are run by flipping the top card of their patrol deck. Each card gives you three locations, and they try to place someone in priority order, from top to bottom. If there’s already a pawn in a location, they move to the next on the list, and try again. Now, there are only ten of these patrol cards, which isn’t too many to be memorised. As you get more games under your belt you start to realise which cards are left, and how far you think you can push your luck.
That’s not fair
Your early games of Maquis don’t feel fair. You’re torn between wanting to visit the distant spots on the map to get the best stuff, and placing closer to home to ensure a safe route home. I lost track of how many times I thought “I’m going to risk it this once…”, and sure enough, I get blocked, lose pawns, and effectively end my game right there and then. Frustration isn’t the word. The odds can feel monumentally stacked against you.
Patience and experimentation (or reading this review) reveal a little secret. Maquis isn’t a normal worker-placement game. It’s a network building game. The way to ensure you survive the early game is to build chains. Branch out from your base and make sure there’s a safe route home. A bit like when you see video of people building human chains to pull people out of rivers.
This style of game isn’t going to suit everyone, because it means you’ll often find your first few turns of each game being carbon copies of the first few turns of your last game. And the game before that. You don’t have to play the game like that, you can risk it, but more often than not you’ll find yourself losing and resetting to play again.
If you’ve made it this far into the review, you’re probably thinking this game sounds like hard slog. There’s no denying, it is a difficult game, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to swing things in your favour. There are empty building slots on the map that can be upgraded to add new areas to visit, including safe houses, so you don’t have to make the perilous trip back across the river. You can even buy guns which let you eliminate the Milice, at the expense of stronger Soldier enemies replacing them later.
Maquis is a game of biding your time. It does a great job of tempting you to take risks. You can place your troops into any space you like, and you always place before the enemy. Tempering that temptation is the key to the game, unless you feel really confident (or you’re up against it), and go for a Hail Mary play.
Those moments of desperation will happen at times, because at the same time as trying to complete your missions, there are morale and days tracks adding to the pressure. As each of these progresses, the Milice presence in the city becomes stronger, and you’ll end up placing more and more enemy pawns, making the game harder the longer it goes on.
No-one ever said being the resistance was going to be easy.
I’ve made Maquis sound like a hard slog through an unforgiving game. It’s true – it is difficult, and it takes patience, but it’s worth it. The setting of wartime France looks great, and the map is tense and claustrophobic. When you make it back safely at the end of a day, it’s like a mini victory, and you’ll find yourself breathing a sigh of relief at your own safe return.
My biggest criticism is the early game. You’ll find yourself setting things up the same way for the first few rounds, and it can feel like a by-the-numbers preamble to the game itself. I mean, you could just go for broke and send someone right across the map, but it doesn’t matter how well you know the patrol deck, you cannot know the first few cards to come out. With no weapon at the start of the game, the only way you can ensure it’s not game over in the first few minutes is to safely build your route, a link at a time.
Maquis is a really clever game. The combination of network building and worker-placement is really nice, and it all comes wrapped up in a small box packed with quality components. There’s loads of variety in the missions, and plenty of options for making things trickier if you’re some kind of masochist. I love these games that are designed from the ground-up to be a solo experience, and Maquis is one of the very best.
Review copy kindly provided by Side Room Games. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
Maquis: 2nd Edition (2021)
Designer: Jake Staines
Publisher: Side Room Games
Art: Ilya Baranovsky, Jake Staines
Playing time: 30 mins