Volko Ruhnke‘s Wilderness War (2001, GMT) is a relatively simple game in terms of its rules, but at the same time it’s quite subtle in its gameplay. In fact, it’s the first game I ever set up and then stared at the board for an hour saying, “Okay, now what?” And there have been enough questions from newcomers to the game since its recent reprint that I thought it was worth cooking up a quick strategy guide for it. (If you’re looking for a post about the historicity of the game, head to this post; watch the sparks fly as folks argue about it at Board Game Geek.) Please note: This strategy guide focuses on the tournament Annus Mirabilis scenario, which is the most commonly played scenario.
As the scenario opens, the French are in a pretty strong position. Your historical predecessors have already bloodied the British at Ohio Forks and Oswego and command and control problems have kept them from doing much damage to you, hence the +4 victory points in your favor. The majority of your forces are concentrated in Canada proper, particularly at Quebec and Montreal. In addition, you’ve got a smattering of weaker forces in the western part of the map around the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley corridor. Last, the French have a pretty decent force holding down Louisbourg, a key fortress way up north in Nova Scotia.
Facing you across the frontier is a medium-sized army at Halifax, the jumping off point for an assault against Louisbourg, some strong but scattered armies in the Hudson River/Lake Champlain corridor in the center of the map, and weak and scattered provincial forces in the West busy holding down a string of stockades.
The key to this scenario is always keeping in mind that you start winning! If you can keep the British from making too many gains in the six hands of cards you two are about to play through, it’s all gravy. The other thing to keep in mind is that while the British will likely be receiving a lot of reinforcements and better leaders, almost your entire army is already on the map. King Louis and his buddies are done sending help to New France, and you need to fend for yourself from here on out. So this game is clearly not about defeating the British in huge pitched battles. Are your leaders better? Sure. But it’s ridiculously easy to get them killed in battle, so exposing great guys like Montcalm only when absolutely necessary is clearly important.This scenario is about fighting an orderly withdrawal while slowing down the British advance as much as possible and at the same time getting VPs through frontier raids. It’s a bit like running out the clock in a basketball or football game once you’re ahead.
In the opening hand, it’s usually best to do what the French did historically and come howling south toward Hudson Carry North with Montcalm. The small garrison there means you will likely a) besiege it and easily take the fort or b) force the British to destroy the fort and retreat. This will earn you 1 VP and make it much harder for the British to head north toward Montreal later in the game. It’s also a pretty sure thing if you move quickly, because there are no strong British leaders in the area.
After that, it’s time to start striking poorly defended settlements along the frontier. Ohio Forks is a great place to launch raids from, but don’t neglect the open spaces on the eastern seaboard either! Remember that each raid nets you 1/2 VP at the end of the year rounded up, so you’ll need to stage three successful raids to earn 2 VP. This can be difficult to do especially against militia, but every battle you fight where you damage the militia is a victory of sorts. Use Indian Alliance cards to restore your losses and you’re golden.
Keep Your Eyes Open for…
The British player usually isn’t able to move with any sort of speed and he’ll be telegraphing his moves once he starts building supply lines. Knowing when to stand and fight and when to run is crucial here. Sometimes it is possible to spoil an advance by swinging behind his main force and destroying his supply line. Another tactic is to leave a small leader with a good tactics rating and a clump of auxiliaries to act as a “speed bump.” The force might get wiped out, but you might also be able to knock off enough strength points from the British force to shift them one more column left on the CRT. A clever British player will move along more than one avenue of advance at once; I think it’s often best in this case to pick which corridor to commit your forces to, as splitting them will usually result in defeat at both places.
Another big question is what to do with Louisbourg. You’ll want to keep spoiler cards like Fieldworks and Foul Weather for a push against this fortress. However, I think it’s wise not to place too large a force there, as you can’t retreat from the space and thus losing there will greatly cripple your army.
With only six hands of cards in the tournament scenario, the British really have to move quickly to win. If you can get yourself 2 VP every year between raids and other methods, you’ll do well. Look for the British strategy guide in the next few months once I finish up playing some online games against folks who read this blog! (Don’t want to tip my hand too much…)
Also, if you’re looking for more strategies to try out, you may want to read some reports of the World Boardgaming Championships final rounds: interesting stuff there.