Wilderness War is a card-driven wargame, another
variation on the type of game pioneered by We the People
and containing such excellent games as Hannibal.
There are quite a few games of this nature by now, but at the time
of writing this review, Wilderness War is my favorite.
By "card-driven wargame" I mean a fairly typical wargame, with a
map of an area, cardboard counters representing various units, a
combat results table, etc. - with the addition of cards. Players
begin each turn with a number of cards and alternate playing one
card at a time which allows them to do various things. The advantage
of such games over the older style of wargame (in which you simply
moved all your units every turn) is that it adds a whole dimension
of decisions, making the game much more interesting. In addition,
such games can be relatively simple and yet attain some depth, a
very attractive combination.
Wilderness War is about the French & Indian war
that raged in North America 1755-1763. Britain and France fought
over control of a continent, both having Indian allies. It was a
strange and dirty war - the French frankly used terrorist tactics,
encouraging Indian raids on British communities. The British were
equally brutal in their ousting of French settlers in Acadia and
in their genocidal tactics against the Indians (Lord Amherst giving
Indians blankets from a smallpox infirmary, for example). The war
was important in U.S. history in that it set the stage for the
American War of Independence. (It's also the source of the quotation
from Ben Franklin, so relevant today: "They that can give up
essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve
neither liberty nor safety.") Many novels and movies have
been set in this war, such as Northwest Passage and
Last of the Mohicans - it's a rich period in our
The game includes:
You can see pictures of a portion of the map and some of the counters
at the publisher's link, above, and on boardgamegeek.com.
There are two basic types of spaces on the map, cultivated and
wilderness. You can make the wilderness more accessible by sending
troops there to build forts or stockades.
- A full color map, covering from Quebec to Virginia, Maine to Ohio;
- Over 250 pieces, including stand-up generals;
- 70 Strategy Cards (single deck - players don't have their own
- Rulebook, playbook including example of play, player-aid sheets, dice.
Four different scenarios are provided with the game, including a
fine ~two-hour scenario suitable for tournaments. You can play:
Two different set-ups are provided, one for those games starting in
1755, and one for those starting in 1757. My favorite is the early
war scenario: it's about a 4-5 hour game, which feels right to me
for a wargame, and is very exciting. The full campaign is a bit
too long for my tastes, and I don't care to play the final years
of the war that much, which feel like the British juggernaut rolling
over the dwindling French. Not my cup of tea. The tournament
scenario is excellent, though, and I'll happily play that when time
is an issue.
- the early war (1755-1759),
- the tournament scenario (1757-1759),
- the late war (1757-1763), or
- the full campaign (1755-1763).
Although I have little personal experience with the
scenarios that go until 1763, I'd be worried a bit about game
balance. The two scenarios that end in 1759 are remarkably
well-balanced games, with the British and French winning roughly
equally in our games. Sometimes it comes down to the last die
roll! I suspect the British may have an edge in the scenarios that
go until 1763, but I admit I could be wrong as I haven't played
Each scenario has separate victory conditions, clearly spelled out.
They're basically the same, but require different levels on the VP
To begin the game, choose a scenario, set-up the starting pieces as
directed in the playbook, deal each player seven cards (or different
number as specified by the scenario), and you're ready to go.
The Basic Course of Play
The French player has the first turn and must choose a card to
play, and say how the card is being used (see the next section).
If used to activate troops, he then moves those troops. If they
enter a space containing an enemy force or fortification, he attacks.
Once this is resolved, his opponent plays a card and resolves all
actions pertaining to the card play. Players repeat this until
one has only one card left. At that point, he may play his last
card or he may pass, carrying his last card forward to the next
turn. His opponent does the same, and when both have passed (or
are out of cards), the turn is over.
Once a turn is over, advance the turn marker. There are two turns
per years: an Early Season turn and a Late Season turn. If an
Early Season turn finished, simply deal out enough cards to bring
each player back to their alloted hand (usually seven), and begin
the Late Season turn.
When the Late Season turn ends, however, there are some additional
phases before going on to the next year. Winter is coming on, and
this is New England and New France: it can be tough. So all Indians
not inside a fortification go to their tribal homes, and unaccompaniend
leaders go to a friendly fortification. Any Raid markers accumulated
during the year are removed, scoring victory points for the
appropriate side. Units outside the fortification winter attrition
level are reduced. And finally, check to see if either side has
enough VP to end the game early. If not, then advance the turn
marker and begin the next year.
That's the general outline. The objectives for the British are to
capture key French fortifications: Louisbourg (off-map, handled by a
few holding boxes), Quebec, Montreal, Niagra, and Ohio Forks (site
of Fort Duquesne, now Pittsburgh). The French are basically trying
to avoid the British victory conditions, but they can also win
through accumulating enough victory points during the game to force
the British to concede their right to be in North America. They
can achieve a tie by besieging a major British city (such as Boston
or New York), even if they lose most of their own fortresses.
Victory points are awarded throughout the game. There is a single
VP track: every time the British gain a VP, the French essentially
lose one. You can gain Victory points for various activities:
If one side ever has 10+ VP at the end of a year, the game is over
early - instant victory.
- Defeating "regulars" in combat
- Capturing or destroying enemy fortifications
- Raiding enemy settlements
- Capturing key strategic points.
The Cards and Leaders
Ah, the cards! The cards, of course, are the heart of a card-driven
wargame, and these are done exceptionally well. Each card can be
used in one of two or three ways when you play it:
Each card has a number from 1-3 in a circle. The circle is colored
either blue (French event), or red (British event), or half blue,
half red (either side may use the event). Regardless of the color
of the circle, anyone can use the number in the circle: either as
an activation number or construction number.
- As an event, listed and clearly spelled out on each card,
- As an activation card, allowing you to activate one or more leaders and/or their troops,
- As a construction card, allowing you to build stockades or forts.
An activation number allows you to activate a leader with that
rating or lower. So a "1" card can activate a "1" leader only,
such as Wolfe or Montcalm. A "2" card can activate Wolfe or
Montcalm, but also generals who had less initiative, historically,
than either of those brilliant generals: Braddock or Drucour or
Shirley. Finally, a "3" card can activate any general on your side,
even such historically cautious types as Vaudreuil or Abercromby.
Each leader can control a number of units listed on his piece,
anywhere from 2-7. This number also represents his rank: you can't
have a "5" general lead your troops if there's a "7" general in
the same space, even if the latter is an incompetent buffoon.
Finally, each leader has a tactics rating from 0 to 2, the higher
the better. This number is added to the die roll in combat (and
in attempts to avoid combat), so Wolfe and Montcalm, the only "2s,"
are very valuable to their own sides. I find it interesting that
historically they were both mortally wounded in the same battle -
the battle that decided the fate of New France.
So you can activate an individual leader with a card, allowing him
to move the troops he commands. He can command other leaders, by
the way, allowing you, for example, to move a "4" leader with his
four units and the "2" leader he commands, and his two units. Or
you can activate individual units with a card, and not bother the
Using a card to construct forts or stockades is simple: you may
construct as many stockades (or fort steps) as the number on the
card. There are three levels of fortifications: Fortresses (printed
on the map), forts (take two steps to build) and stockades (one
step to build). Fortresses and forts must be besieged to be taken,
while stockades simply give the defender a bonus in combat and
However, this game shines in its events. Every card lists an event,
mostly historical. Some cards are removed from the game if played
as events, others come back when the deck is reshuffled. Events
range from major (such as the battle of Quiberon Bay off France,
in which the British defeated the French fleet, cutting off aid to
New France) to moderate (such as the Northern Indian Alliance joins
the French against the British) to minor (such as stingy provincial
assemblies requiring the British to remove one provincial troop).
Some of the events in the game are:
So there are many interesting choices to make every turn! Which
card do I play, in which order? Which card do I play as the event,
and which do I play as an activation card? If I do activate a
leader, which front do I focus on: Louisbourg/Quebec, or the
Champlain/Hudson corridor, or the Ohio Forks region in the west?
Do I raid or go for regular combat or sieges? And so on - a very
fine game in this respect: there's lots to do and not enough
resources and time to do it all, so where do you focus? This
enjoyable aspect of the game would be greatly reduced in a wargame
in which you can move all your units each turn.
- Reinforcements from Europe (regular troops)
- Raising local troops and militia
- Amphibious Landing, allowing the British to move against Louisbourg and then Quebec by sea
- Colonial Politics, affecting British provincial troop levels up or down
- Ambush, giving a bonus to combat in the wilderness
- Campaign, allowing you to activate two generals in the same round
- Small Pox, which hurts large troop concentrations - especially Indians
- Various events which give you a bonus in combat or sieges (these can be played out of turn)
- Courier Intercepted and François Bigot which allow you to take cards from your opponent's hand
- And many more
Advanced Rules and Troop Types
The game is largely straightforward and relatively simple, as
wargames go. Not as simple as We the People, but
much simpler and more playable than, say, Paths of
Glory. To me, this is good. At my advanced age, I
can't play the long, complex wargames I could in my youth. I like
'em simple, and Wilderness War is, for the most part,
within the range I like.
There are some optional advanced rules. Even these aren't too
complex, though, and I recommend you play with at least Avoiding
Battle and the Supply rules. They make the game much
better and more realistic. Don't be put off by the word "supply"
- the supply rules are very simple as supply rules go, and it's not
disastrous if you lose supply. You simply can't replenish lost
steps in any out-of-supply troops, they can't construct fortifications,
and they can't besiege a fort or fortress. These are all good
rules and necessary to prevent gamey abuse of the system, such as
a lone French unit besieging Philadelphia causing a tie ...
However, the number of troop types might give you some pause.
There are seven different troop types, all with their own
rules! This is a bit extreme, and can make for some confusion, I
admit. In fact, I had to make an expanded player aid
sheet listing all the differences in troop types in order to
understand them. Once I did that, though, I found it became clear
and fairly easy to remember.
There are three basic types of troops: drilled troops (based
on the European model), auxiliaries (who fought more like
Native Americans than like Europeans), and militia (the
National Guard of their day).
Militia are kept in separate holding boxes and only come into play
during battles or raids on stockades in their local regions, after
which they go back in the holding box.
Drilled troops come in three types:
Drilled troops can capture or build fortifications. They tend to
be better in normal combat than auxiliaries are. Regulars get a
bonus fighting in cultivated areas, but you lose a victory point
if they are defeated in battle. And so on - differences are spelled
out completely in the aid sheet listed above.
- Regulars (British and French units from Europe)
- Provincials (British troops raised in North America based on the Regular model, but not as good)
- Light Infantry (British troops trained to fight in wilderness).
Auxiliaries come in three types, also:
Auxiliaries can raid settlements, can move easily through wilderness,
are easier to activate individually, but are restricted in their
abilities to besiege and operate in cultivated areas.
- French Coureurs des Bois (woodsmen, voyageurs, etc. - many of
whom were part Indian and/or had Indian wives)
- British Rangers (such as the famous Rogers' Rangers)
So although I am now comfortable with the differences between the
seven types of troops, be warned that it took me a while to get
them all straight. This is really the only complicated part of
the game, however, and you shouldn't let it put you off.
Why Wouldn't You Like This Game?
Well, it's a wargame - you might not like them.
Conversely, if you are a wargamer, it may be simpler than
you like - many wargamers like monster games with very precisely
detailed rules, and this doesn't fit that description at all.
The seven troop types might seem like unnecessary complications to
You might have no interest in this time period or geographic setting.
Me, I love it. Not only as a period of history I've long had an
interest in, but also because I had ancestors in both Nouveau France
and New England at that time who must have been profoundly affected
by the war. (And you can see where I live, called White Mountains
Central on the map!)
Well written and organized rules: very clean and straightforward
for the most part. As in almost every game, of course, there are
errata, none of it very serious, though. You can find a current
list of them here: latest Wilderness
War errata file.
This is an exciting development in the card-driven wargame series,
and frankly the one that I find most playable, enjoyable and
accessible. Highly recommended if you have any interest in a
moderately complex wargame on this period.
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