Wilderness War – Boardgame Review
Wilderness War. Boardgame. Designed by Volko Ruhnke. 3rd Edition published by GMT Games. $60.00.
Passed Inspection: The hard-mounted map is just plain great. Good, balanced game play that ably recreates the atmosphere of the period. Great replay value as no two games will be the same.
Failed Basic: Movement rules are a little quirky.
Wilderness War is a re-release of a classic GMT game set during the French and Indian War. This was my first exposure to the game, and it is my pleasure to say that it is a fine card-driven game (CDG) game that most anyone can enjoy.
If you go by weight, this game is a winner. The hard-mounted map adds some heft to the boxed game, which also comes with 70 strategy cards, a set of dice, players aid cards, a rule book, a play booklet, and two sheets of counters (one with ½" counters and the other has a mix of ½” markers, round unit pieces and double-sized leader counters) that are nicely illustrated. There are also 20 plastic stands used to mount the oversized leader counters. These stands seem to be durable; putting the counters into and removing them is really rather easy and does not cause undo wear on the bottom edge of the counters. The hard-mounted map unfolds to lay flat and any divisions in the map sheet are very clean and match up between the edges is very tight with no apparent missing/erroneous map data (i.e. lines of movement that don’t quite match).
The game has a strategic feel. Each game turn represents a season (either early or late) and two seasons make up a year. Late season is similar to the early season except it has a few additional housekeeping tasks, such Indians & Leaders Go Home and Winter Attrition.
Winter Attrition is really draconian; if you over-stack a space you will see half the strength of every unit disappear. This can unfortunately happen if you are trying to prevent the fall of a fort and load it up with troops and cannot drop the troop level before you run out of cards to play to bring troop levels to a safe limit. The cards have a traditional operational value (1 to 3) and an event. Most of the events are strategic in nature but a few offer tactical advantages.
Each player can have as many as nine cards in his hand, and a turn continues until each player has run out of cards (a player can hold on to their last card and pass, thus carrying it over into the next turn). Blue cards have events for the French player, Red cards for the British, and some are coded blue/red for use by either side.
There are two levels of activities in the game: regular troops, who work to defend the frontier and destroy enemy strength; and irregulars, consisting of Indians, Rangers, and Cour de Bois raiding and trying to stir up trouble to gain or deny Victory Points and weaken the frontier stockades.
Players will find themselves constantly trying to decide how to use a card. Do you play it to activate an event or apply its operational strength to prepare an area to defend against an Indian raid you can see coming? The frontier is porous and the construction of forts and stockades is important. Reinforcements are key but so is the support of local government bodies, which are necessary for keeping British Provincial Drilled units in the field. Oh, decisions, decisions.
Many of the cards will be recycled, but a few are removed once the event is played. One really powerful card is Surrender, which offers the ability to have a fort/fortress just give up to a siege. The occupants march out with honor and are “allowed” to move to the nearest friendly fort while the attacker occupies the fort that had been besieged. Surrender also causes the card deck to be reshuffled, including discards.
For movement, there are four types of units: Drilled (Provincials and Regular troops); Militia (which can either be spread out to protect a region or massed in a specific space and unable to move); Auxiliaries (Rangers, Cour de Bois, and Indians) that have the ability to infiltrate; and Leaders, who can move many units while expending minimal operations points.
Drilled troops are the essentials who conquer enemy forts/fortresses and capture territory, but they are slow moving in the wilderness unless they have auxiliaries with them to “guide” the way. Auxiliaries are great for sneaking into enemy territory to terrorize the populace (thereby gaining Victory Points), destroy stockades and just generally unnerve your opponent. Militia can adversely modify an opponent’s die roll when they raid or, if no raid markers have been placed in a department (northern or southern), the owner can “call them out” and immediately place them in an area where a battle is to occur.
Leaders have three ratings. Initiative controls how many ops points it will take to get the leader moving. The Tactics rating provides a combat modifier in battles and sieges. The Command rating is the number of troops a leader can move that are stacked with him and (a really big “AND”) a leader can move other leaders who have an equal or lower Command rating, along with a number of troops up to their Command rating. So, if you have a Leader with an Initiative of 1 and a Command rating of 6 stacked with two other leaders with Command ratings of 3 and 6 you would have the potential to move up to 3 leaders and 15 Command points worth of units for the cost of 1 op point. Sweet!
The map has four types of terrain, Cultivated, Enemy Cultivated, Mountain, and Wilderness. This is where movement gets tricky. Areas are connected either by land (combination of land and river/lake movement routes), naval (port to port), and/or boat (rivers and lakes only). Friendly Cultivated areas offer no hindrances but Auxiliaries are only allowed to pass through one Enemy Cultivated space and must then stop in the next area unless stacked with a Drilled unit. Drilled units must stop in the next area after passing thru a Wilderness space unless stacked with Auxiliaries. Mountains require all units and Leaders to stop.
Units have a printed movement value, (usually four or six points) but if the unit moves entirely by boat it has a movement value of nine. There are two areas that can only be reached by Naval movement, the French Fortress at Louisbourg and the British Fortress at Halifax. The British are limited as to how they can enter four areas (Louisbourg, Baie St Paul, Ile d’ Orleans, and Riviere Ouelle) and usually will require the use of the Amphibious Landing card—of which there are four.
Battles are straight-up affairs. Each side totals its combat factors, adding any modifiers for terrain, leaders and/or cards, and finding the result on the Combat Results Table (CRT). You can be assured of inflicting a casualty if you have at least 6 strength points and no negative modifiers. The CRT runs from 0 points (a half-strength Indian unit) up to 28+ strength. Defenders can always choose to retire into a fort or fortress and refuse battle, leaving the attacker to conduct a siege and assault the position. Forts and fortresses have siege values that the besiegers must reach before any assault can succeed. For Every card round in which the besieger expends an operations point on a leader present at the siege he can try to raise the siege level. Once the siege level equals the siege value of the target an assault may be made on the CRT, with the attacker suffering a negative column shift. The besieged always has the option of coming out of the fortification to try to break the siege (and militia may “arrive” to participate).
This game is challenging, frustrating, and fun. The French have an advantage at the start of most of the scenarios, but the British will eventually have the numbers. There are four scenarios ranging in length from 6 to 16 turns and they can easily be played in a sitting, depending on a player’s familiarity with the rules. There is also a sudden death provision to the Victory Conditions that can shorten the longer scenarios. The cards definitely affect play, especially if some of the really big events (like Queberon Bay, William Pitt, or Louisbourg Squadrons) end up in the wrong hands. And no fort is ever really safe with the “Surrender” card sitting out there.
A nice feature of many GMT games is an extended example of play. This game is no exception as it has a full year (two game turns) laid out in the Playbook. It is a great asset for setting up the example and following along to familiarize yourself with the rules. As you follow along, you start to see other options which will just add to your interest in the game. Yep, decisions, decisions. The easiest decision to make is to buy the game.
Solitaire Suitability: 5
About the Author:
Michael Peccolo is a retired Armor Major from the US Army with overseas duties, Company commands and additional assignments in recruiting and ROTC. He lives in Tennessee where he raises horses with his wife.