Skip to main content

Wilderness War is probably the best CDG (review)

One attribute of a good war game is that it opens up rather than narrows down the more you play it. Each time you play you see there is more strategic depth than you thought there was. When I first started playing Wilderness War, a card driven wargame design (CDG) on the French Indian War by Volko Runke, I thought it was simply a case of the British building a large kill stack and marching it up the Hudson and the French trying to get enough victory points (vps) from raiding to win before the inevitable. The outcome would likely be decided by card play and who got the reinforcement cards when they needed them.

The game is afoot. 

Four games later I have realised that this is not the case. Yes the British will sometimes win by marching a big army up the Hudson and sieging out Montreal, but a lot of the time things will play out quite differently. Maybe the French strike first, perhaps the British realise that going up the Hudson is going to be a slog try another route. Either way the players of both sides start looking around the board for things beyond the obvious. I think it was in our third game that we realized that the French could grab about half or more the VPs they need by capturing or destroying the border forts and stockades on the oft poorly defended Maryland and Virginia frontier. Suddenly using your irregular troops as an actual independent military force starts to look like it's not such a bad idea.
Native American allies of the French pour across the frontier

At this stage the options for both sides in this game feel greater than ever, there are more ways to thrust and counter thrust than I thought possible. The game also overcomes the key card deck issues I have had with CDGs in the past. The card deck does not tell you where to go. In Empire of the Sun if you draw an event card for the Invasion of New Guinea you should probably postpone your planning invasion of Burma and do what the cards tell you. This is a brilliant way of simulating the over bearing hand of superiors and subordinates on Pacific command but it can give you the impression that the game is playing you rather than vice versa. In Wilderness War the cards simply determine your resources. They limit your troops, marching resources, Indians (Native Americans), combat bonuses and commander availability. Actual historical events are limited to a few naval actions and the ability to attack Louisburg. The game also avoids the Twilight Struggle pitfall of making the player choose between history and not history at ever card.

Finally the game has about the right amount of randomness in it. It is not like Hannibal Rome vs Carthage where a single bad die roll can put you at the pointy end of the spear neither does it quite feel like Amateurs to Arms which often forces you into long odds or attrition combats. The combat can be random and rather cruel but you are rarely quite out of it and often in with a better chance than you might think. Equally I am convinced this game has a relative low amount of luck in the card draw. Reinforcement cards are not the panacea many might think. If they are not in your hand something else that might be more useful will be. This is a game that requires a bit of creative thought and the willingness to take some risks.

The assault on Louisburg stalls

It passes the history test too. I have only read one book on the subject, The Battle for Quebeck 1759 by Matthew C. Ward (recommended). Within the frame work of a medium complexity CDG it does a good job of simulating the kind of conflict described in the book without being overly reliant on event cards to tell the story. The sloth of some of the senior British commanders, the vagaries of French support for the war and the harshness of the winter and the pox are all in there, It certainly does a better job of the interesting yet not entirely convincing A Few Acres of Snow ( a game by Martin Wallace).
My opponent celebrates after my pincer movement through the Lakes and Louisburg falls but inches short on each front.

If you are a fan of CDGs I recommend picking this up and If you are looking for an entry into the genre or even wargames as a whole this isn't a bad starting point. We play the short scenario and it takes us about two the two and  half ours in the pub with a beer. The rules are marginally more complex than Hannibal Rome vs Carthage. This would be a step up from some games usually recommended to new wargamers but its not insurmountable. 


  1. Giving him the rods! Thanks for putting that photo up..

    I agree all respects. I think it is also worth mentioning that the game tends be quite tense in the third year (if you make it that far, Simon) and it is not uncommon for it to come right down the last card or two. You can feel out of it in the early and mid-game but keep at it and you can really make the other guy sweat.

  2. I like this game because quite often at one point in the game both players feel like they are on the edge of defeat.

  3. Sounds like a good game- wouldn't mind playing it sometime (you can never have played too many games)- though it is from a milieu that I am unfarmillar with.




Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Quick Looks; Red Star / White Eagle

I generally hate it when people describe designs or ideas in games as dated, because many of the most innovative games  are older than I am. Equally it implies there is something innately good about new designs, which I don't think there is.

Dune is arguably the best multiplayer 'war' boardgame and the 70s basic DnD is in my view still the best RPG. I wasn't born until the late 80s and didn't discover these things to the mid 2000s so this isn't nostalgia doing my thinking, its just that some old ideas are better than new ones, despite our apparent 'progress'.

But having said all this Red Star / White Eagle is a dated game design. And this matters if you are looking at popping £70 on a new reprint of it from Compass Games. I am a wary cheapskate so I picked up a second hand copy with a trashed box of ebay for £20. It was worth it, but only just.

Red Star / White Eagle is a GDW 1979 Hex and Counter wargame covering the 1920 Russo - Polish war. Everything …

Quick Play Thru: Washington's Crossing

Being a man who likes diversity I bought / pre-ordered 4 games for Christmas about dudes in flashy coats with muskets marching around road networks. I’ve already Quick looked at Nappys Nemesis 1813, Metz is yet to be released from P500, Autumn of Glory is on the shelf, so this weekend I have played Washington’s Crossing.

The Patriot opening more or less followed the script. Washington moved with his stack, crossed the Delaware with decent movement and ferry rolls and come morning was sat just outside Trenton next to Rall’s Hessian garrison. The American gets a rather scripted +5 to surprise rolls when attacking Trenton, plus it being dawn and a prepared attack gave Washington very favourable odds but the roll was terrible and Rall escaped with only 25% losses and a retreat.
Further south Greene collected a few detachments of militia and drove the other Hessian garrisons north.

The Hessians forced marched out wide forcing Washington to either hunt them down for a few extra vps, or look el…

Quick Looks: The Pacific War: From Pearl Harbour to the Philippines

Imported games have the allure of being foreign and expensive, they also often come with the glamorous trappings of bad rules translation. Pacific War is all of these things but first the good;
It’s short. I’m not being factious here, generally Pacific Theatre war games are long and complicated, which is fine but it leaves the shallow end of the dream pool rather empty. The Pacific War clocks in around 2-3 hours and feels engrossing for this life span.
You’ve got a point to point map, pretty and functional but no pageant winner, a deck of cards, and a load of counters representing ships that come in on a historical reinforcement schedule. Each year long turn you get a variable number of cards. Players take action rounds discarding a card to win the privilege of doing something and then either play an event card, or move some ships, or resupply some ships (so they can move again). Once out of cards they roll off for priority in taking more actions but if they roll doubles the year ends.