[Spotlight on Games]


Mon Sep 24 11:16:28 PDT 2001




from The Atlas of the Ancient World by Oliphant In the sacred Vedic hymns, the god of war Indra (shown at left) is described riding a golden chariot drawn by two powerful horses (a symbol of the sun?). The chariot may have been the decisive war weapon that the Aryans brought with them to India. In Indra's right hand is a thunderbolt which can be used to destroy or to revive men fallen in battle. He essentially combined the functions of Mars and Zeus, being simultaneously war and rain god. He later gave way to Vishnu who took over most of his functions. (Source: The Atlas of the Ancient World)
As has been noted by many, on rec.games.board, the Game Cabinet and elsewhere, Maharaja does not make for an ideal 4-player game in the way that Avalon Hill's previous similar effort, Britannia did. There are historical problems which I will mention in a minute, but even from a pure play of the game standpoint there are very obvious objections to make. Most commonly cited is the unfortunate situation of the yellow who must remove 8 pieces on turn 8, a further 8 pieces on turn 9 and then do not get another side until the measly Dutch come along in turn 12, i.e. well into the player's nap. This can be solved simply by only playing the game when you are three or by application of the "Kisner Rule" found in The General, (Vol. 30, No. 2 1995), but alas this was not the only problem.

Certain races, especially, but not only, the Sikhs often had no chance in the game whatsoever, because when it was their turn to enter the mapboard, another player or cooperating players could stack up their pieces so as to force them to attack either at ruinous odds or in such devastating force that they lost most of their surviving counters to the Overpopulation rule. There was just no middle ground. A particularly pernicious way to do this was to abuse the Submission Rules so as to prohibit attacks on yourself by the invader and yet cover all his possible entry points. In this situation, not only does the invader not get a decent chance of coming on, he doesn't even get to come on! This cannot be the way to play the game. 1

There were also the problems with the last few turns of the game where factories are being built, weapons are being sold and the British are subjecting everybody. This entire rules area was an ugly growth on an otherwise fairly clean game system and deserves to be thrown away and never seen again. In Britannia one never gets past 1066, i.e. the game remains medieval in character throughout, so how can one justify all these modernities in Maharaja in the same game system? The game is meant to model a certain type of combat and combatant; stretching it very much out of that mold and all you're left with is something that just doesn't work. (It's true, the "Pre-Gunpowder" title is somewhat misleading as the British, Dutch and Portuguese do enter in during the last two game turns, but this pre-sage of the new era is slight.)

At the same time, I noticed that there were certain historical problems with the game as well, which will be plain to anyone who knows anything about Indian history, or even someone who just reads the historical background article which comes with the game. The background article, as far as it goes, is historical, whereas the game often is not.

You can see this right away by the treatment of the Aryans, who here are portrayed as a monolithic, homogeneous race under a single king. This was quite far from the truth however. The Aryans, upon entry to the subcontinent were more tribal than anything, hardly cohesive, and entered in waves, which were not always peaceful with one another, even though they would band together in the face of a common foe. The variant addresses this with Aryans who are now played by four players rather than one, which should provide a much more realistic situation. These waves are now correctly called the Aryans by the way, rather than the Mauryans which was the actually only the name of the successor kingdom of one of the groups.

Similarly, the old game failed to take into account what happened when empires such as the Mauryan and Guptan broke up. Before, one used to get in the first case a lateral transfer of power from the old empire to the new and then a simple disappearance (the yellow counter removal alluded to earlier). Of course, in reality these groups did not simply vanish from the earth one day and there seems little reason to have that happen in the game either. What really happened is that the empire broke down in to about sixteen smaller kingdoms. The game system can't tolerate showing all of these, but it now at least breaks both empires into three or four when they fall so as to provide a much more realistic feel for the situation.

Similarly, the old game has the Sinhalese sprouting up from nowhere on Ceylon, as if they were scarabs which the ancient Egyptians believed could spontaneously generated from nonexistence. In fact, these were more Aryans who had migrated to Ceylon and this too is now simulated in the game.

Other new sides now in the game include some very historically important ones. The Persians made significant conquests in the northwest and indeed it was in pursuit of these that Alexander ventured to India. The Bactrians were a successor kingdom to Alexander's empire in Central Asia; led by their king, Demetrius, they conquered large parts of India for a relatively short period. The Scythians or Sakas were Indo-European horse pastoralists from the steppes. The Kushans were a very important kingdom of Central Asia which grew rich from control of the Silk Roads between Rome and China and is generally considered the 4th wheel in the Rome-Persia-China trade cycle. Their leader Kanishka is mostly known only from coins. The Ephthalites or White Huns were probably an Indo-European people who first appeared as mercenaries in the history of the Byzantine writer Procopius, contemporary of Justinian. They later conquered large portions of eastern Persia and northern India as well.

To depict some of these groups, finer-grained turns were necessary -- otherwise they would appear and disappear all in one turn which is satisfying neither for designer nor player. The original game had a 500-year turn (!), a 300-year turn, eight turns of 250 years, a 200-year turn, two turns of a century and three turns of half a century. Comparison with Britannia may be interesting. There one finds a 65-year turn followed by ten 75-year turns, a 60-year turn, two 50-year turns, a 35-year turn and finishing up with a 15-year turn. The point is that one can see a lot more history happening in these finer-turned turns. Accordingly, in this variant there are three 300-year turns, followed by a 150-year turn, fifteen century long turns with the rest comprising 75 years each. It hasn't reached the Britannia granularity, but does come a lot closer without impossibly lengthening the game.

Another serious omission in the game is the significance of the Ganges delta and even the Lower Ganges River itself. To its owners accrued all the benefits of the all-important river trade, its fertile farming plains, trade up and down the east coast of the subcontinent, its timber for building, its elephants for both building and the army and its iron ore for technology. Once it was overtaken by Aryan invaders who knew how to exploit it, it should come as no surprise that over and over again the masters of India were kingdoms which began in this region. This importance is now reflected in the game by special rules for population growth.

All of the above is not meant, by the way, as a criticism of Avalon Hill. Rather, I would rather praise them for having enough daring to release a game on a topic which is somewhat obscure to the Western world. And, considering the marketplace, to not prominently include the British in such a game when British TV programs and films have made them so well-known would not have been wise. Unwise too would have been to include as many counters and rules as are suggested by this variant. Fortunately, the Internet has different cost limits and we are able to comfortably consider a more historical variant here.

I hope you enjoy the variant and welcome any and all feedback. If you try the variant, perhaps you can give me your thoughts on these questions for players.

Rick Heli
August 7, 1998

1 I am since informed of a General erratum to address this matter, apparently worded: "If an invading army is blocked by submitting nations it may attack from an adjacent foreign area; if still blocked, it may attack anyone." This ruling from issue 30-2 is absent from the Official Maharaja Errata on the Avalon Hill website. Other items omitted are prohibitions on direct travel between the following areas which are not adjacent: Lahore <=> Agra; Bundelkhand <=> Khandesh; Malwa <=> Gondwana. See also the Official Maharaja Q&A from The General. September 30, 1998

General Rules
The following rules are voided: 4.5-4.6 (factories, arms), 7.2 (indigenous invasions), 10.4-10.7 (certain reinforcements and removals), 11.2 (British alliance), 12 (factories, arms), 14.1 (nation control list). Other rules apply unchanged except where modified in these rules, the Revised Charts or Player Charts. There are some additional rules as follows:
Specific Rules, Charts and Tables
To play this variant, you will also need to print out the following pages: Counters
Thanks to Timo Sillgren for providing these great images which you can send to your color printer. New versions as of March 4, 2001.

Recent Changes to These Pages
Thanks to Academic Gaming Review for their review of this variant.
This variant is being played by e-mail (as of December 31, 2003).

Thanks for the help of playtesters Kory Heath, Mike Miyake, Eric H. Olender, Phil Apps, Ed Bryan, Larry Bryan, Jim Chokey, Timo Sillgren, and historical contributors Patrick Wamsley & Timo Sillgren.
If you have trouble printing these documents due to the colors, try using Netscape version 4.05 or higher. If this doesn't help, e-mail Rick Heli about this or any other comments and additions to these pages.