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Subject: Wilderness war – the forgotten CDG rss

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Paul - the
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Wilderness war – the forgotten CDG?

It has always amazed me that there’s so little talk about this game. If you mention Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage or Paths of Glory everyone knows what it is and probably knows what it is about, but if you mention Wilderness War you’ll usually get a blank stare. Why is that? Why is this game not more popular than is the case?

I love CDGs and after having played the above mentioned sister games a lot I heard that GMT had put out another similar game. I had to check it up of course and saw it was about some Indian fighting in North America during the Seven Years’ War in Europe. It didn’t sound that exciting after having moved Elephants across the Alps bringing the war to Rome or having crushed the French armies on the west front and marching in to Paris. So I did what most other people did and forgot about it. That is until I one day found a used copy cheap. I bought it on a whim; regretting it at first. To me Indians are so 70-ies, bringing back memories of old Western movies that finally got aired in Sweden, always starring John Wayne.

Well, I came home opened the game and began reading the rules, not expecting the gem hiding beneath the beige lid.


So let’s take a look at the game.

Wilderness war depicts the struggle for control between the French and British in North America 1755-62, known foremost as the French and Indian war. There’s nothing epic about it, at least not to me. It’s all about small forces traversing the wilderness, fighting over small forts or trying to raid the small patches of cultivated land behind the defending stockades. Doesn’t sound like much fun does it? Just you wait…


The Map



The map depicts part of the eastern coast of modern day USA and Canada, from Virginia to Québec stretching inland as far as Lake Erie. It’s your standard point to point map at first look but there are some twists here. In addition to the normal land and naval moves (for the British) you find in other games there is also boat movement. This is quite exciting, if you travel on the plenitudes of rivers and lakes you can travel much faster than on land, making quick relocations of your forces possible.

At the start of the game France control most of the inland wilderness and the Indians tribes while the British control the cultivated coastlands. This gives a “front” that stretches almost from corner to corner straight across the map. Some bigger cities are classified as fortresses, which mean they will have to be besieged to be taken.


The Units



This is where WW has gotten most complaints. There are seven different units in WW, all with different abilities and special rules. These seven units are divided into three groups, Drilled troops, Militia and Auxiliaries. The drilled troops are the backbone of the army and consist of Regulars (professionally trained infantry), British Provincials and Light Infantry. Only forces containing drilled troops may enter spaces containing enemy forts and fortresses. Militia is the home guard for the cultivated lands of both sides. Finally we have the Auxiliaries which consist of Indians, Coureurs des bois (“Runners of the woods” – trappers and such fighting for the French cause) and British Rangers.

It would probably have been possible to simplify this, but once you get used to it, it all makes sense and adds some nice flavour to the game. Units have Strength and Movement Allowance ratings. It goes from the powerful but slow 4-4 Highlander units to weak 1-6 Indians. All units are double sided with one normal strength side and one reduced side.

In addition to the units we have leaders. All leaders have three ratings, Initiative, Command and Tactics. Initiative is how easy it is to activate them (1-3, 1 easiest). Command is how many units they can command for movement (2-7, higher is better of course) and finally Tactics is their talent for combat and is added to the die toll when fighting, conducting sieges and raiding (0-2).

Montcalm, the best French leader to take an example has a 1/6/2 rating.



In addition to the units there are also markers for Stockades and Forts which play important roles in the game.


Gameplay

You have a single 70 card strategy deck that both players draw from. The discussion whether it’s better to have one single deck (We the People, Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, Here I Stand, Twilight Struggle) or one player one deck (Sword of Rome, Paths of Glory, World War II: Barbarossa to Berlin) usually crops up here. I have problems deciding which I prefer myself. Sure, the game can get flukey at times in one deck games but on the other hand the planning in PoG that you will hold a certain card at some point during the game doesn’t really feel right for 18th century warfare. So if you accept that once in a while you simply won’t get the cards you need (that is reinforcements) you shouldn’t have any problems.



Cards are rated 1 to 3 and have an event on them. Some events can only be played by the French, some only by the British and some by both. The cards can be used in three ways:

1) Activate units, either individual units up to the number on the card or a general with equal or lower initiative. Indians count as half units here so easy to move and raid with.
2) Construction. You can build forts and stockades.
3) Play the card for the event.

Each year is divided into two seasons and each season you get new cards (usually nine but some events may change this). All cards save one must be played that season, but you’re not allowed to save cards two seasons in a row. So every other season at least you must empty your hand. This rule is there so it won’t be possible to keep certain cards out of the loop for the whole game.

You win by either amassing more than 10 Victory Points (VP) before the end of the game or by fulfilling certain victory conditions which mostly includes holding certain key fortresses and areas. For example if the British hold all Fortresses on the map and the Ohio Forks and Niagara spaces they win. There’s just one VP track and if no auto victory has happened whichever side has at least 1 VP wins. It’s not unusual to see the French leading in VPs and the British go for one of the special victory conditions making for an exciting game.

VPs are awarded for taking enemy fortifications (fortresses (3 VPs), forts (2 VPs) and stockades (1 VP)), winning certain battles (1 VP) and by raiding. Skipping some details you can say you take enemy fortifications by moving a force there and winning a battle (stockades) or by besieging and making a successful assault in a future activation (fort and fortresses).

Battles are conducted by moving your force or unit into a space with one or more enemy units. You have the usual possibilities to intercept and avoid (at least in the advanced rules which I really prefer and recommend). Should both sides stay in the space you sum up the strength of you combat units and determine which column on the CRT to use. Then roll one die with certain modifiers. The side which caused the higher losses is considered the winner (defender wins if equal). Losses are counted in steps with each step being a flip of a unit to its reduced side or by eliminating it totally if already reduced. This is where the game gets even more interesting. You have a precious short supply of drilled units, especially as the French and it’s vital to preserve them. You can get events that restore reduced units but if they are gone they are gone for the rest of the game. So you always try to have a mixed force of units to share the losses. Drilled units are also vital to keep alive as they are needed to besiege enemy forts and fortresses as mentioned earlier.

Raiding is another way of generating VPs. To raid you have to move an auxiliary unit to an enemy stockade, Indian tribe or cultivated space and then roll on the raid table. If you succeed you burn the stockade, destroy the tribe or simply burn the crops or whatever in the target space. Place a raided marker in the space. It can’t be raided again until next year. For each successful raid at the end of the year you’re awarded ½ VP. Doesn’t sound like much perhaps but it does add up. After a raid the raiding unit goes home with the loot and has to be moved all the way back to raid again.


Now what’s so great about Wilderness War? First of all I must say it’s the asymmetrical sides. The French have very few drilled troops but lots of Indians and other auxiliaries while the opposite is true for the British. The French have a strong initial position with good leaders and have to use it to gain points before the British reinforcements begin to show. So for the French it’s all about raiding and perhaps trying to take some forts before the tide turns. After that it’s mostly trying to keep the superior British forces away from their heartland while the British try to defend against the raids and force their way up the river to Québec and Montréal. The British can of course raid themselves should they get the opportunity and the French can often launch attacks of their own even late in the game as they control the inland waterways.

So Wilderness War is a game where you have to adapt all the time. Concentrate on raiding and you force your opponent to do something about it. Move a strong force towards his fort/fortress and see him spring to the rescue and so on. It’s all about being active and forcing the other to react instead of coming up with plans of their own. The way the reinforcements arrive is also important.


Scenarios

There is a grand campaign game stretching 1755-62 as well as some other smaller scenarios. You usually play the 1757-59 Annus Mirabilis scenario which is very balanced and playable in three hours time. A game which is playable in one evening is a great plus to me. Some claim that the replay value for WW is lower than that of other CDGs. I digress but I can understand the feeling. The first few times you play the game you seem to have limited options at start and it might feel somewhat scripted. Some more play would show this is not the case. This feeling is true for many other games as well, so nothing specific to WW.

You could say that WW is a bit like Hannibal here. If you take away the other scenarios and keep the AM one, you have a game similar to Hannibal. Playable in three hours time and with some scripted decisions at start. In Hannibal you have to decide if Hannibal should go to Italy or not. In WW you have to decide if Montcalm should head south and try to take the forts north of Albany before the British reinforcements arrive or not.


Verdict

If you like CDGs and haven’t tried it out yet you owe yourself to do so. It’s not for everyone. If you can’t stand the occasional flukey game and never getting any of your reinforcements you should look for another game, if you can look past that it’s an incredible game with one of the best written rulebooks around. Wonderful work by Volko Ruhnke and Rob Winslow.

I give it 9/10.
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Mark Gray
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Well, I have it pre-ordered, but it seems like it might be awhile before we see it in print again.
 
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Niko Ruf
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Let's hope that this review convinces more people to preorder the reprint. At the very least, it tells me that preordering was a good decision.
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Wade Broadhead
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Forgotten?
I have a shrine to WW in my foyer and bow every time I pass, except I am not able to get it to the table as often as I like. WW is my favorite CDG so far!
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Richard Young
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It has some issues that keep it from being in the same class as H:RvC, but it is a decent game and faring a lot better in the p500 lottery for reprint than is Sword of Rome. I wouldn't be concerned, it'll be back.
 
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Pat H
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WW was one of the first CDGs I picked up, and still one of my favorites although it doesn't get as much play any more. I also really like that it is such an asymmetrical conflict.

The subject material is pretty fascinating too. Pick up a copy of "Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766" by Fred Anderson if you want to learn more about this interesting period of pre-American, American history.
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John Foley
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Wilderness War remains for me personally the GOLD standard for Card Driven Games. It has one of the most readable and clear rules sets ever written and has hardly any errata after all these years. The Tournament Scenario in WW is about as perfectly tense and balanced and exciting a scenario as there is in the CDG genre.
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Andy Daglish
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Bubslug wrote:
It has some issues


mainly with the way it is played.

Quote:
that keep it from being in the same class as H:RvC


Wilderness War is as playable as Hannibal, but it is a serious treatment and as such Hannibal beats it here and there in terms of excitement. But Hannibal is ultimately boring because it isn't sophisticated, and occasionally fails on the way [eg. Varro beats Da Man with a lonely Probe]. Both games owe a great deal of their success to the fascination of the military situations they portray.
 
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Charles F.
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I think WW firmly falls into the second-tier of the CDG family. So I think it's perfectly justified it hasn't received nearly as much attention as Hannibal or PoG. People just like those and a few other better (including me).
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Jeff Coon
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Preorder people! I want my copy.
 
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Doug Adams
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I forgot it for a reason
 
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Alpha Mastrano
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Give it another try, Doug, I'll show you how it's meant to be played
 
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Randy C
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WW is my favorite of the CDG's.

The many different types of units, each only slightly different in ability than the next, is to me the best part of the game.

I have a saying "I like my CDG's the same way I like the game of Blackjack, single deck. Paths of Glory and Shifting Sands, with their multiple decks, include an aspect of "deck management". Both games I enjoy, but I prefer the unpredictable aspect of a single deck game.

I have another saying around my local group. I will never turn down a game of WW.
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tiger tiger
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Great Review!

I have yet to hear a convincing arguement for why Hannibal is better. I have played both and think both are great games. WW does a really good job with the events, feeling important, and giving the game a flavor of the period. Some CDGs they just seem made to fit the game. With many events either too powerful or too weak,( and never get played).

One reason I think it gets passed over is the theme. Not as many gamers are interested in F+I, as say Napoleon, (Nappy Wars), WWI POG, WWII BoB.
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Chee-Yan Hiew
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Hi Doug,

I will give you a game of WW anytime you afre free. It is a great game !

 
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Paul - the
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Wonder if WW would have fared better if it had only included the AM scenario? My guess is that many people got the game and thinking the grand Campaign is what it's all about as in most other games, trying only that and feeling a bit underwhelmed.

To me WW is AM and not the other scenarios. I have played the GC a couple of times but it' simply not as fun as the AM scenario.
 
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Tom Volpe
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Wilderness war is one of my favorite games.

I play war games to "live" the history and for historical feel and flavor Wilderness War is tough to beat.

I'm not sure what "issues" people have with this game. The AM scenario plays very well and is balanced (my favorite). The campaign game seems to be much less forgiving and more sensitive to bad card draws and mistakes early in the game.



 
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Tom Volpe
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charlesf wrote:
I think WW firmly falls into the second-tier of the CDG family. So I think it's perfectly justified it hasn't received nearly as much attention as Hannibal or PoG. People just like those and a few other better (including me).


Thanks for speaking for the rest of us.

Maybe we can leave open the possibility that others may not agree with you?
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Charles F.
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Cosmid wrote:

Thanks for speaking for the rest of us.

Maybe we can leave open the possibility that others may not agree with you?


I mean people in general - as backed up by statistical evidence. There's no denying the aforementioned games are more popular. That doesn't imply some do not prefer WW over those games. A matter of common English usage...

I really want to like WW more than I do. Indeed, I live it, but not nearly as much as those other games for the reasons I mentioned.
 
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Poochie D
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You know how when you get near the bottom of a bag of chips, there are those crumbs and little particles of flavoring that didn't stick to the rest of the chips, and you hold the bag of chips over your mouth and get a super-concentrated dose of flavor? That's what Wilderness War is like. This game owns your face.
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Andy Daglish
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Cosmid wrote:
The campaign game seems to be much less forgiving and more sensitive to bad card draws and mistakes early in the game.


WW is perhaps the strongest example of a game where you'll suffer multiple guilty twinges, either by pointing out opponent's less-than-optimum moves, or by keeping quiet and exploiting them, like its your good play or good luck. There aren't any bad card draws for players who know what they are doing, and anyway this is a design where both players can retrieve a losing situation in the same game. These are hallmarks of greatness not shared by PoG or Hannibal, where single examples of calamity may not be unforgiving so much as immediately game-ending. Back in the summer of 96, as Hannibal lost his last CU, my opponent of very many games said "I'm not playing this f***ing shit any longer" on several occasions. He did though, because at that time it was the best there was.
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Tom Volpe
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aforandy wrote:
There aren't any bad card draws for players who know what they are doing


I'll agree to disagree with you on this point. However, I do think this is one of the best (and most exciting) aspects of card driven games. The fun is making the best out of what you have each turn.

I think we do agree that WW is one of the best CDGs out there.
 
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Donald Wilbur III
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In the campaign, your luck will come around. The real luck swings are in the shorter scenarios.

Listen to Andy. This is a great game.
 
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aforandy wrote:
Bubslug wrote:
It has some issues


mainly with the way it is played.

Quote:
that keep it from being in the same class as H:RvC


Wilderness War is as playable as Hannibal, but it is a serious treatment and as such Hannibal beats it here and there in terms of excitement. But Hannibal is ultimately boring because it isn't sophisticated, and occasionally fails on the way [eg. Varro beats Da Man with a lonely Probe]. Both games owe a great deal of their success to the fascination of the military situations they portray.


I enjoy both games.

History: My early impressions of WW is that it has more staying power, and more historical "substance"--a truly nebulous terms--than Hannibal. When anyone designs a game on the 2nd Punic War, one is limited in the sources. You begin with Polybius, add Livy, pick odds-and-ends from a few others, and end with Polybius. There are too many unanswered questions to make a highly detailed game. The history has holes large enough to drive through an aircraft carrier or two. And, as his been pointed out, some strange things worthy of an X-Files episode can happen in Hannibal. The love of the Big Barca overshadows reality too often.

Wilderness War, by comparison, is much better covered in the books. For anyone who wants to do the homework, there are many solid ideas and personalities that one can bring to the design. There is more for the designer, and the gamer, into which one can sink one's teeth.

Rules & Complexity: Hannibal's rules are clearer, better written, and the game, as a whole, is less complex than Wilderness War. The "less complex" factory may have something to do with those aircraft carrier sized holes. Once you learn Wilderness War, it plays well, but Hannibal will be learned more quickly.

Fun: Both games are fun.

goo

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Jack Shanahan
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C'mon. Ive been playing board games for 30 years. WW is an excellent game . What reason could you have to not enjoy tis game?
 
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