Maquis Solo Board Game Review – Under the disguise of an action game, a clever worker placement

Note: Maquis is a Print-and-play board game available for free on BoardGameGeek. If you don’t want to print it by yourself, and/or want to support the designer, a very nicely produced retail version exists, that is worth every penny.

I’ve been trying a bunch of print-and-play games recently, in particular solo ones, as an attempt to quench my “board game purchase addiction”. Maquis is one I had been reluctant to try for a while, as I was initially under the impression that it was a sub-par Pandemic clone, for some reason. Spoiler alert: I was completely wrong. Not only has Maquis pretty much nothing to do with Pandemic (from theme to mechanics), it is very definitely not sub-par.

Maquis Solo Board Game – Theme and Gameplay

Maquis is a solo-only board worker placement game, in which you play a group of resistance soldiers under Nazi occupation in France, during World War 2. Your team has to accomplish two objectives (such as craft explosives to destroy a train, or distribute information/newspaper to the population) which usually mean crafting some specific resources, and having them at the right time, at the right place.

My team contemplating the objectives, far in the distance. Will we make it?

Each turn, you’ll position up to 5 workers in various locations on the village map. In typical worker placement fashion, each location will typically cost you some resource, to give you another resource in exchange. You can for example use a worker to get some food at the grocer, then use the food to recruit more workers.

You play in turns with the AI: you place one worker, then the AI places one of its pawns (through a randomized deck of cards), and so on until you’ve run out of workers to place. The AI will in general place at least as many workers as you, sometimes more.

The uniqueness of Maquis as a worker placement mechanic is that the AI can “arrest” your workers, depending on where it placed its pawns relatively to yours. You have to “secure” locations in such a way that a path exists between your workers and their headquarters, so that they can return safely to their base at the end of the “day”. If an AI worker (the police or soldiers) blocks that path, your worker is arrested, and you lost it for the rest of the game.

Maquis – components of the Print-and-play version

As a result, you are constantly trying to balance your need for specific resources, with the necessity of ensuring that some of your workers secure an otherwise useless location, just for the sake of clearing a path for your other units to survive. “Pont Leveque”, for example, brings you no resource, but is such a central position that you’ll often want to place a pawn there just so that your other pawns can escape through it.

It is possible to kill one of the police collaborators in order to clear a path to save one of your tiny dudes (assuming you have a weapon token available, weapons being another resource in the game), but that also has some negative consequences: it reduces the village’s morale (if morale goes to zero you lose) and brings Nazis soldiers, who are tougher than the police (basically, they can’t be killed). Nonetheless, you might have to do it at some point in the game (and it’s actually a goal in one of the missions)

Between killing opponent pawns, getting the right resources to achieve objectives, maintaining morale and not getting your folks arrested, there is a lot to think about each turn, which contrasts with the apparent simplicity of the game.

The player board in Maquis displays your town’s morale (you lose if it reaches zero), number of soldiers (these cannot be killed, unlike the police), and turn counter.

Maquis is a Worker-placement game cleverly disguised as an action game. In that aspect, it reminds me a bit of Under Falling Skies, which has the look and feel of a Space Invaders action game, but turns out to be quite the brain burner. Both games share that aspect, that you can choose to play them without thinking too much, which increases of course your chances to lose, but from my perspective helps with immersion (Final Girl is another game I would put in that category).

For example in Maquis you could clearly try to focus on one of your objectives first, getting the required resources at any cost. In one of my games I tried really hard to get enough explosives to destroy a train, ignoring everything else…and, that worked, until I realized there was no way I could survive long enough to achieve the second objective. It was great to, on the one hand, feel the rush of crafting the explosives as fast as possible, while realizing later in the game that I should have tried to work on both objectives in parallel.

Maquis Components and Art

I found the print and play version to be reasonably easy to assemble, with minimal work. I’ve had a few issues where my tracking tokens would move on my player board, and lost track of my team’s morale or the current turn number. It would probably help to replace the paper tokens with actual tokens to make it less fiddly, if you can. Of course, if you feel like splurging, the retail version addresses that concern, in particular with great cardboard slots that prevent the tokens from moving around (I love that!).

I should probably replace the paper tokens to make the whole experience less fiddly

Speaking of components, the Art of Maquis is really well done and immersive. It works well with the theme. The board is cute, the tiny printable workers are also better in my opinion than generic wooden meeples, because they actually represent resistance fighters, police, or nazi characters. All of this is even truer with the retail version, which enhances an already very good looking game.

Maquis – retail version is beautifully produced

Maquis Board Game – Opinion

As you might know if you’ve read a few of my other reviews, I love thematic games. Maquis does not fail here, as it cleverly hides its complexity under a very adequate theme. Resources make sense in the context in which they’re used, the Police and Nazis are definitely frightening, acquiring more members to your resistance group helps but also brings more attention to your activities (more police)… the game has yet to “break the fourth wall” for me: every time I play, I feel deeply immersed in the objectives of my resistance group, while not thinking too much about the “rules” and “mechanics” of the game. For me, this is the definition of a game that works 100% with its theme.

I probably need to emphasize here that when it comes to the theme of “Nazi Occupation during WWII”, this game feels closer to Hogan’s Heroes (without the humor) than This War of Mine. In other words, when I say Maquis is deeply thematic, I do not mean it is depressing 🙂

I’m also usually not a fan of worker placement euro games, especially solo, because many of them are about getting more victory points than the AI, or beating your own score. (I’m looking at you, a Feast For Odin). To each their own of course, but Maquis instead offers missions to achieve, and those are, once again, very thematic, whether it’s about acquiring enough explosives to blow up a train, or killing police collaborators to “send a message”. At the end of the day, all of these tasks are about acquiring the right amount of resources at the right time like any other worker placement game, but they work thematically so well in Maquis.

Maquis offers a variety of objectives that add to replayability and immersion.

The automa is also extremely simple while not being a bot that just competes with you for points. It’s on the contrary an antagonist that is going to capture your workers, block your path, disrupt your strategy, and generally make it much more difficult to achieve your goals. The fact that “killing” some of the AI’s pawns is actually part of the objectives just adds to the immersion. We’re definitely playing “against” the automa, not in parallel to it, here again, unlike many solo variants of worker placement games.

Maquis – Challenge and difficulty

Maquis can be tough, but not punishingly so. Occasionally a bad patrol card draw could mean you’re losing a precious member of your squad to an unfair arrest, but more generally the game offers a good balance between risk and reward: Don’t go too far away from your hideout to ensure a safe way back at the end of the day, and you’ll pretty much guarantee all your workers are safe and bring small rewards. Try to stretch a bit more, take the risk of not securing a critical location, and you could lose a worker, but you also have an opportunity to maybe complete an objective.

My guy (the pawn with a white base) is in trouble

Some objectives, and some objective combinations, are clearly easier than others. In my first gameplay, I had to objectives to complete, that involved crafting explosives. Having only one type of resource to manage made things really easier for me. Conversely, I’ve yet to handle the “assassination” objective which requires me to kill all antagonist police, while maintaining the village’s morale, and achieving the other objective (whatever it may be).

In addition to the objectives offering lots of variation on the difficulty (as well as gameplay), the rules suggest a lot of options to change the game difficulty, going from extremely easy to nightmare mode. There’s a lot here to keep all levels of gamers satisfied (although I won’t lie, I always prefer to play on “normal”, I feel like I’m cheating if I go in easy mode)

Maquis Solo Board Game Review – Conclusion

What I liked about Maquis

  • The theme works very well and I felt really immersed. The rules are simple enough that you don’t have to go back to the rulebook regularly, and work really well with the theme
  • The uniqueness of the “worker needs a path back to the base” not only works well with the theme, but adds another layer of gameplay which feels fresh for worker placement games
  • I’m not competing against the AI for “points”, but to reach objectives and survive. The AI is proactively attacking my folks and preventing me from accomplishing the objectives.
  • The variety of objectives make each new session pretty fresh
  • The game doesn’t overstay its welcome, with my sessions staying between 30-45 min so far

What I didn’t like about Maquis

  • Occasionally losing a worker to a bad card draw (when the police arrests her at placement time) can feel unfair… ironically, because it happens so rarely.
  • As often, the components of the print-and-play version are a bit fiddly. This can be easily improved by using wooden tokens and meeples instead of paper, for most components
  • The difficulty can feel a bit random if you get very tough (or very easy) missions. Thankfully the rulebook offers way to mitigate that.

Maquis is a very good solo game with a strong, immersive theme, that enhances its nice mechanics. As a worker placement game, it works exceptionally well because of its varied objectives, which to me feel much more exciting than the typical “beat the AI’s score or your own score” solo variants of many euro games. It also brings some unique mechanics such as the need for your workers to escape once their turn is done. With the constant threat of the “police/soldiers” and the possibility to kill them, Maquis gives a good feeling of playing an action game while really being about resource management. This results in many fun/crunchy sessions of 30 to 45 min of gameplay.

Games mentioned in this article

Maquis
Check on Amazon (affiliate link)
Pandemic
Check on Amazon (affiliate link)
Under Falling Skies
Check on Amazon (affiliate link)

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