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A review if GMT games' Wilderness War

For seven long and difficult years, two giants stood toe to toe in a struggle for dominance of the North American continent in a series of conflicts known as the French and Indian War or the Seven Year’s war. Although this war was an extension of European wars between the French and the British, this particular conflict was ignited by the desire of both nations to wrest control of North America from the hands of the other nation. As the two nations struggled for power the allied tribes of the Algonquin and Iroquois were caught in the middle of these powerful forces and were forced to choose sides. One of the important results of this war was that it prepared many Americans (like George Washington) for the fighting which was to come during the American Revolution.

Wilderness War is a two-player boardgame, based on this historical conflict. By combining historical events and leaders, Indian raiding, stockade building, and militias, designer Volko Ruhnke and GMT games provide a game with plenty of accurate historical flavor.

The game follows the card-driven format that was first made popular in games like “We the People” and followed in others such as “Paths of Glory.” Each card can be played as a historical event or the numerical value can be used to activate leaders or forces (including construction of stockades or forts.) An example of an event card would be the “Smallpox” Card that allows one to reduce the number of troops, especially Indian allies congregated in a single space. Some cards are combat oriented and can be used to grant an advantage in combat. The cards are beautiful to behold and extremely well balanced. The difficulty for the player is deciding whether the card should be played as the event, to activate a leader and his forces, or to build stockades, etc. The result of this quandary means that no two games of Wilderness War are ever exactly alike. In fact, after a multitude of games, I have yet to see two games that played alike. The card play keeps the game flowing and the other player guessing what you will do next. It also creates limitations that are both beneficial to game balance while at times adding frustration to the military commander.

Wilderness War is a complex game that is fairly simple to learn. This means that it is satisfying to both the veteran and the beginning wargamer. While players who expect something as complex as “Paths of Glory” may be disappointed the game offers complexity without being daunting to the beginning wargamer. Even the “advanced rules” which primarily deal with such items as supply lines, avoiding battle, and interception of enemy troops are not very difficult to comprehend. This is not your typical grandfather’s “takes-a-military-genius-to-understand” wargame. My opponents and I have used the advanced rules for all of our games with no added measure of difficulty.The sixteen-page rulebook is extremely well written and easy to navigate using the large, bold-faced headings. I will voice one complaint about the rulebook, however. Despite the simplicity of the rules and game mechanics even the veteran player must occasionally go on a quest for a specific rule. Most of the time the table of contents is sufficient to assist the player in locating the rule or explanation he is seeking, but a simple alphabetical index would do a great deal to make those rules even easier to locate.

There are two basic unit types in the game. Drilled troops and Auxiliaries. Drilled troops are the Regulars, Marines, Provincial regiments, Light Infantries and Militias. These all represent the normal military troops active in the era. Auxiliaries include Indians and the frontier woodsmen of the day, British Rangers and French Coureurs des bois- “Runners of the Woods.” Units may freely stack together and participate in battles, etc. One prohibition is that only auxiliary units may raid.

As in the conflict that this game is based on, Stockades will play an important part in this game. It takes a great deal of strategy game in order to get drilled troops in a location where they can actually do combat because drilled troops cannot retreat into wilderness spaces. After losing a battle troops must retreat into the space from which they entered. If this space is a wilderness space with no friendly stockade then the troops are eliminated. In order to prevent such losses, players must erect stockades in wilderness and mountain spaces. Players may also opt to destroy any or all stockades they wish on their action phase in order to prevent such stockades from falling into the hands of enemy forces. Captured stockades provide victory points. Stockades also provide a way through mountain regions. Any units (yes, even including Indians) that enter mountain regions must immediately stop, unless there is a friendly stockade in that hex. Players will be forced to build stockades that they will have to destroy on later turns.

Players must earn the aforementioned victory points in order to win the game. Victory points are earned by raiding, winning a Battle against a stack of regular troops with more than four units, Capturing enemy forts, fortresses, or stockades, or capturing various strategic locations (Ohio Forks and Niagra). Historically the French urged their Indian allies to commit acts of barbarism in order to strike terror into the hearts of British Colonist. It is good strategy for both sides to send their Indian allies out raiding. This is especially true for the French side as there are times when they seem to have an endless supply of Indian allies. Those dead Indians just keep coming back due to the cards which allow them to be placed on the board. Even the British player will achieve half a victory point (rounded up) for each successful raid his Indians or Rangers conduct. Counters showing raided areas are placed on the board and counted at the end of the year. Of course, such raids often end in failure. Normally, the odds against a raid being pulled off successfully are less than 50 percent. The success of a raid is determined by a six-sided die roll with certain positive and negative modifiers. An example of a positive modifier would be a general with a good tactics rating who accompanied his Indian brothers on a raid. A negative modifier would be granted if there were more than one militia unit in the department the raid is conducted within. An important limitation is built into the Indians raiding. Once Indian Units have attempted a raid, whether it succeeds or not, surviving raiders are returned to their home settlement. This prevents these types of forces from raiding too deeply into enemy territory.

Historically, British General William Johnson seemed to have had a special understanding of his Indian allies. When General Braddock chose Johnson to lead the expedition against Crown Point he raised an army of about three thousand volunteers from New York and New England, plus about five hundred Mohawk allies. To reflect this within the game, Wilderness War allows this leader to command any number of Mohawk or Iroquois Indians without counting these forces against his command rating (which normally determines the number of troops that can be under his command). This simple mechanic continues to reflect the designer’s effort at creating a game that accurately reflects the historical period.

As the game progresses, it is very likely that the French’s ability to raid more frequently will increase. At the same time, the British troop strength will also grow as the game continues. A wise British player will try to stall most straightforward battles until later in the game as his reinforcements grow. Combat resolution is straightforward and uncomplicated. Both sides roll a six-sided die and refer to a chart based on their combat strength, adding applicable positive or negative modifiers to the die roll. The chart indicates the number of step losses suffered by the enemy forces. Any natural die roll of 1 or 6 (except those that result in No Effect) causes the opposing leader to roll the six-sided die for each of his leaders involved in the battle. At that point, the odds are one out of six that each leader will die as a roll of a “1” will kill that leader. Losers must retreat.

Wilderness War does a remarkable job of giving each player a home-cooked meal of historically accurate flavor and an adequate helping of satisfying action for each side.

David "the preacher" Wilson