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Subject: A review after a year of playing WW rss

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Martí Cabré

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I don't usually write reviews after only four plays of a game, but I fear that I won't be playing again this game for a time, so I'll write now my thoughts about it.

I've been playing from July 2011 to July 2012. First the Campaign Game and then three Full Campaigns, two with the French and one with the British. The four games have been PBEM, which is a really good way of playing CDG. Usually. So, why I am not going to play again, at least PBEM? Well, because I did not like it.


Frugal description
Wilderness War depicts the Seven Years War in North America, a war sometimes called the French and Indian War (1754-1763), obviously not by the French nor the Indians. It is a wargame with a map that depicts what now is the northeastern USA and Canada, with British, French and Indian military units.

It is a Card Driven Game (CDG), specifically a classic CDG as defined by Mark Herman's line of games. This one has a shared unique deck for both players, like For the People. Every turn is half a year of military operations and during a turn both players alternate using cards for either their event or to spend operations. Operations can be spent to move single units, move stacks or build stockades and forts.

The terrain is very important in the map, maybe too much. Moving outside the rivers is so difficult that it's only worthy for the Indian tribes. The drilled troops must stick to the river and dare not go away from friendly fortifications (more on this later). The rivers are usually bounded by mountains, which stop movement, so the map does not give a lot of movement options for the troops. The positions in the map are depicted using a point-to-point system. Different kinds of units have a different number of movement points and different rules for movement (eg. a grosso modo, the Indians must stop upon entering an enemy cultivated space, while the drilled troops must stop upon entering a wilderness space).

Victory in the game is determined by winning Victory Points (VP). These points can be scored by winning battles against drilled troops, capturing fortifications and capturing some specific points in the map.


Austere thoughts
I bought the boardgame some time ago and the presentation is a good "deluxe" product from GMT: mounted map with good style and colors, nice counters with information quite clear, the tables are also clear and the rulebook is quite short and concise. We did not have any doubt upon reading the rules and have played three campaigns for a year almost without consulting the rulebook. So the game has really some points in favor: if you expect a low-complexity light-play CDG, WW is the way to go. The problem is if you expect more.

And I bought WW expecting something more, maybe for the BBG hype around it, maybe because they were promoting Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ? and it was a side effect, who knows. The thing is that I was coming from a series of plays of For the People, Pursuit of Glory and Paths of Glory. Ok, I know. These are ones of the best CDG out there, all high-complexity. Comparing them to WW is like comparing ATS to M44. It's not fair. Ok. But when I was on my third PBEM campaign I was still like "Ok, let's give it a third campaign try. Maybe you've had very bad luck. You don't know how to play. It HAS to be better". And in the third campaign I simply resigned on Turn 12, still having options to win. But I was SO booooored...

I have a GeekList about how the games you play are good to play using PBEM. I play PBEM a lot and not all games are good for PBEM. Some are better PBEM than FTF, some are better FTF than PBEM, some are equal good or bad on any way. That list is here: http://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/66152/pbem-did-it-play-wel...

This list is open for anyone to add games, but why did I create it? Because some games are better than other when they have to be played PBEM, and I feel that WW it's not one of the best in this sense.

Bear with me: we usually send one card a day, maybe two days, so to play an eight or nine cards hand it's usually a matter of two weeks. A month for both turns of a year, and this is important because in WW every year you must retreat your units to the winter positions, and start the campaign again next spring. Couple this with the movement system of WW: stacks can only be activated by leader units and leaders cannot grab units while they move. They have to start in the same place as the units. This means that every time you receive reinforcements, if they do not receive a leader you have to send a leader there and move back, four spaces a time if not along a river, a task that can consume four cards if the leader was not nearby the reinforcement area. Half a hand to move some units to the front.

And usually each spring you just move some leaders around to fetch the units scattered during last winter, make a nice supermegastack of twenty units, move it to the front, advance one space, build a fortification, advance another space, build another fortification, attack the enemy (a battle which will be totally random as the way to get positive drm is also random), retreat or not, spend a couple of reaction cards, advance again... wait! Winter is coming! Time to scatter the units again less they get attrition. And so on. Maybe spending an afternoon like this with 30 seconds between card plays is somewhat fun, but spending a month to achieve almost nothing is not my idea of fun.

And if you happen to lose a big battle to, say, rolling 1,6 and then you have to retreat to a wilderness space... your whole army just disappears! Even if there's a huge fortress just in the next space. I find it odd, but I also found odd the OSS rule of Paths of Glory, until I understood that it forces the player to use WWI strategies, always keeping a line of units. Blitzkrieg does not work. But this similar rule in WW forces the players to build fortifications everywhere, even if the enemy cannot reach your supply line because of the mountains that block movement. And the game flow turns so slow...

So, I did like the physical boardgame, including the map, the counters and the rules, but I did not like the flow of the gameplay, specifically using PBEM. But that's not all. If this was my only complain, maybe I should just try it FTF and compare. I have another issue, though. When playing many CDG, I feel like I learn something. In fact, when playing most wargames I learn a lot of things, usually only related to a specific battle, but with CDG the learning arc broadens including politics, economy, diplomacy, etc. That's why I like to play CDGs. And after having played Wilderness War four times, I can't say I've learned many things. Ok, that there was an American theater of war of the Seven Years War. But I knew that from reading Umpah-Pah. But what about the important military leaders? Important campaigns? Technical achievements? Significant events of the war? The cards are so generic that I can't say that I'm satisfied on that front. I expected more, much more.


Stern conclusion
So after one year of constant playing I'm disappointed. The game has good components but a boring gameplay and it's too shallow to make me comment the state of the game during my conversations, as I usually do with other CDG.

Was it because of the PBEM? I don't know.

Maybe I won't know.
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Oscar Oliver
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Great review, as always.

Maybe we should try Quebec 1759 to compare
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Eric Alexopoulos
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Good review, but I'm going to play Devil's Advocate. I just started my first game of Wilderness War, and it just so happens to be PBEM. I'm playing the British in a full campaign.

First, I agree with you that the components for this game are absolutely beautiful. The rulebook is also excellent. cool

Second, it seems to me that you need to pick up your PBEM play. IMO this game is meant to be played at a quicker pace than 'normal' CDGs. Any game can seem to drag if a player(s) do not maintain a pace respective to the complexity of the game. As far as CDGs, this game seems less sophisticated. Afterall, I think it was one of the first CDGs and subsequent games have gotten more complex as the designers gained experience with the mechanic. Right now I'm playing at least 2 cards a night and on weekends we get through a full year. Seems like a good pace and I'm enjoying the game.

Next and this is probably the crux of it, IMO you are disliking the time period more than the game. The movement, combat, winter attrition and supply rules reflect 18th century warfare. Back then armies were slow and severely limited by terrain, depended on water routes for transportation, at the mercy of the seasons, had poor communications, and had clunky supply mechanisms. I rather like the interaction of the movement rules with the terrain, and the abilities of the different units. It's refreshing in a CDG. Yes, this past weekend I was the victim of losing a huge force to the retreat rules. cry However, it was a calculated risk, a gamble I chose to make and it failed. Similar events have happened in other games as well, but for this game it's a circumstance a player needs to learn to mitigate. IMO the retreat rule feels right for the time period.

Lastly, CDGs have always been knocked for a lack of history/chronology. I'm not very verse on the French & Indian War, but IMO the game covers the history adequately. Granted, the the cards don't have as many captions as other CDGs but sometimes the title says it all. The rulebook and playbook also go into some detail about the time period. IMO this game covers the history just as well as other CDGs cover their respective time period.

I hope you get a chance to play FTF, hopefully it will be a much better experience for you. I'm definitely looking forward to getting this one to the table.
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Adam Deverell
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I'll also add that you need to play the AM Tournament Scenario before you throw away the game.

This is six turns, extremely tight, full of tension and, more importantly, quick. You can knock this game over in a PBeM in a similar time to, say, Twilight Struggle.

On average it is around 48 cards each for the game, and you generally don't need to wait for your opponent's reaction apart from combat. This means you can speed through a game. I haven't played this game ftf for around five years!

The mechanics of the game are pushed to the limit in the Campaign Scenario. I agree it can get a bit tedious and repetative, although I disagree that it may lack historic accuracy. This is actually a very good sim of warfare in 1750s North America.

I've only played the Campaign twice, but I've played close to 25 games of the tournament scenario, and am more than happy to keep playing it exclusively. I understand that game was originally designed with the AM tournament in mind, and while some may disagree, it is the best of the four scenarios offered.

Winter attrition and drilled troops' inability to retreat into wilderness it simply a simulation of the period - Braddock's annhilation along the Monongahela River, for example, and the severe weather that caused havoc through illness during winter are both simulated well through these rules.

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Andy Daglish
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Quote:
I understand that game was originally designed with the AM tournament in mind, and while some may disagree, it is the best of the four scenarios offered.


It presents a malformed version of the campaign game, which is all thats worth playing. IMO, though there's a few Geek converts.

marticabre wrote:
So, why I am not going to play again, at least PBEM? Well, because I did not like it.


its not in keeping with the nature of the game.

Quote:
The terrain is very important in the map, maybe too much.


too many notes trees. Terrain is important but its not an obstacle to combat.

Quote:
Moving outside the rivers is so difficult that it's only worthy for the Indian tribes. The drilled troops must stick to the river and dare not go away from friendly fortifications (more on this later).


the trick is to use three provincials, whose defeats & losses hardly matter.

Quote:
The rivers are usually bounded by mountains, which stop movement,


stockade
Quote:

(eg. a grosso modo, the Indians must stop upon entering an enemy cultivated space, while the drilled troops must stop upon entering a wilderness space).


unless on a river or accompanied by the suitable type.

Quote:
and have played three campaigns for a year almost without consulting the rulebook.


but its a useful consideration.

Quote:
maybe because they were promoting Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ? and it was a side effect,


its more of a satire, now that 70% of Homs has gone.

Quote:
These are ones of the best CDG out there, all high-complexity. Comparing them to WW is like comparing ATS to M44. It's not fair. Ok.


its fine given that they have all sorts of problems, some serious, whereas WW has various unrivalled strengths, such as the CRT.

Quote:
because in WW every year you must retreat your units to the winter positions,


which gets interesting if the last cards include Messenger Intercepted and Foul Weather.

Quote:
Time to scatter the units again less they get attrition.


clearly you don't want to do this. Nine-space river movemnt plus carries from friendly areas means you don't have to, or not very much.

Quote:
but spending a month to achieve almost nothing is not my idea of fun.


if its a simple design whose majesty is beating the player then it belongs on a very short geeklist.

Quote:
and then you have to retreat to a wilderness space... your whole army just disappears!


this is the only problem, but temporary stockades are the order of the day.

Quote:
And after having played Wilderness War four times, I can't say I've learned many things.


I think there's more here than in Paths of Glory, not least because its a much smaller conflict which is consequently seen in some detail. And a far more successful one. Appropriately-named forts would have been nice, but also a complication.
I didn't discern any politics in PoG but here there's various different levels of it. As with all games a certain degree of background knowledge is useful, like for example the relationship between the French, their Coureurs and the Indian tribes.

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Randy C
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I agree with your conclusion. If it's not fun don't play it.

A negative review with thoughtful reasons why you don't like the game is extremely useful to someone considering the game.

But I do like it. I have played over 100 game of WW. Both FTF and PBEM and it is one of my favorites.

I find there are many opportunities to move outside the rivers and into the wilderness. And there are many different ways to gain points to win.Building stockades for your army to advance represents cutting a supply line thru the wilderness. There is a a lot of tension when both sides have to go into winter quarters, but who will go first? You never really know if your last card will have to be discarded due to enemy card play.



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Mike Szarka
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When it is your turn to send a VASSAL move, the wait is excruciating. When it's my turn, well, I've been busy.
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One of the things I find fascinating about this game is that despite its supposed simplicity, I find it hard to play well. The rights strategies are far from obvious to me.
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Dampenon Fabien
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Rookies talk about strategy, Grognards about Logistics
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Advice of an AH Microbadge owner must always be listened...

Your review is complete and clear, you don't have fun playing this game. So, you're right, we must spend our playing time with games which provides fun (or competitive play, like chess, but now I'm knowing boardgames, I have no fun playing chess).

But I think you have learned a lot of things by playing WW during one year :

- Don't move your soldiers too far away from fortifications and rivers ;
- Terrain is more important that number in countryside ;
- A potent navy is the key (think about French shortages after Quiberon naval defeat).

May be because I'm French (and I secretly dream about keeping Canada from British greedy hands) but I will always be happy to play this game.

I like playing games after having read about historical period, so I may advice you to read this book and try another WW game :



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Martí Cabré

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Speaking out loud that one does not enjoy a game is sometimes hard to do. But a man has to do what a man has to do.

So thanks for the advice and wise words you're providing.

In a few weeks I'm going to try No Peace Without Spain! to see if the problem is the epoch more than the game. And if I play WW again, it will be the AM Tournament Scenario, to see if it's better than the campaign.
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Oscar Oliver
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Do we have "No peace without Spain" ?

Uh oh...
Quote:
like chess, but now I'm knowing boardgames, I have no fun playing chess


Obviously.
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Martí Cabré

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Well, we have no peace with Spain, but I mean that next week we'll have the boardgame "No peace without Spain".
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Adam Deverell
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Quote:
In a few weeks I'm going to try No Peace Without Spain! to see if the problem is the epoch more than the game. And if I play WW again, it will be the AM Tournament Scenario, to see if it's better than the campaign.


I'm married to a Spanish girl, and I can confirm that sometimes there definitely can be Peace Without Spain!

Try the AM Tournament Scenario. I know Andy in his post above isn't crazy about it and much prefers the Campaign, but I think the AM scenario does work better with the game system. I've played 30 AM scenarios and only two Campaigns, and while I enjoyed the Campaigns my opponents didn't.

The Campaign is definitely the most historical, as the The AM scenario has gamey situations such as the French having his troops decimated and the British knocking the Montreal's door, but the FR still winning the game. This is because the BR are trying to replicate the historical "Year of Victories", rather than winning the war.

But it is very tense, the sides are asymmetrical, lots of bluffing and risk and because of the inconsistent draw for reinforcements, the strategies are not always straightforward for the BR.
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Michel Boucher
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Dampenon wrote:
now I'm knowing boardgames, I have no fun playing chess.


It`s the really lousy terrain rules...blackwhiteblackwhite...who ever saw a battlefield like that?
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Ik ben een kleine boefje
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marticabre wrote:
Well, we have no peace with Spain, but I mean that next week we'll have the boardgame "No peace without Spain".


snore
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GeeKenny GeeKenny
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The problem of this game and a lot of other games is the fact that the subject/war/time area is very difficult to transform into a boardgame.

Most developers make boardgames almost 100% historical. As a result of this most games are scripted, read always the same.

For most players it would be fun if they make games more arcade. As a player you should have the chance to change history.

 
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Juha Helin
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You have rised excellent points that someone thinking about buying the game will appreciate to know in advance. I would appreciate if similar reviews would be voiced from other games as well because overly positive reviews seldom offer insights to possible defects.

Especially the points about troop management and seemingly hard progress are good. WW is not fast paced, nor it is a game where both sides are symmetrical.

That said, WW is my cup of tea, because of those reasons. Without your review I would have wrong expectations.
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