Wilderness War Strategy Guide: French

April 29, 2011

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.

Setup

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.

Basic Assumptions

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.

Hopefully this is what you'll be doing a lot of...hit and runs, etc.

Opening Moves

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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A Sense of Complacency

April 18, 2011

I had an excellent time playing Joe in Twilight Struggle last week. We talked about how we hadn’t played it nearly as much as we would like as of late. Today I’m looking back at my records and realizing I only played Twilight Struggle three times in 2010. More surprising, however, is the following:

Twilight Struggle, Dec. 2008-Mar. 2011
Total games played: 19 (14-5)
As U.S. player: 13 (11-2)
As U.S.S.R player: 6 (3-3)

What I like about these numbers is the percentage of U.S. wins! They are generally considered a bit more challenging to play, and this used to be even more true with the older version of the game, which is what we played up until late last year. On the other hand, it’s quite clear that I am not so hot playing the U.S.S.R. Another note on this is that most of my Russian wins came when I was playing against a less experienced player.

This brings us back to last night’s game. When we sat down, I specifically requested to play the forces of Communism, as I wanted to learn more about how to play them. With the exception of a few bonehead plays, I thought during the game that I wasn’t doing too poorly. However, it still wasn’t enough to stop Joe from winning on turn 9 after locking up Asia. Once we ended, we started talking over the game and then it dawned on me: I had been playing the wrong side. I  let several key opportunities to coup on the first action round and deny Joe military ops slide by. I  scattered my influence in several non-battleground countries. Worst of all, I  got into a few fights in which I threw more and more influence at a region, hoping to outspend my opponent, not realizing he had far more high-value cards. Lulled into a sense of complacency by my previous successes as a U.S. player, I played like the other side (though the board and the cards were screaming otherwise) and lost.

The lessons for the evening? First, when playing a game with asymmetric sides, try to play them an equal number of times so you’re competent at all of them. Second, have a clear idea about the strengths, weaknesses, and common strategies for the side you’re playing so you don’t look like a fool out there.

Third (humorous) lesson: Take the opportunity to ditch CIA Created when you can. I had a shot, did something else, and spent turns 3-9 holding onto that baby. Man I hate the CIA.


Wilderness War: PBEM Game with Jason from Point 2 Point

April 18, 2011

I am starting a game of Wilderness War online against Jason from the Point 2 Point podcast, which is the best wargaming podcast out there. I met Jason very briefly during the 2009 World Boardgaming Championships, and am very excited to…well, get schooled by him, probably! Stay turned for updates as we work our way through the campaign scenario.


Manoeuvre Toeurnament: Groeup Phase Complete

April 16, 2011

Another update on our Manoeuvre Toeurnament since the Groeup Phase is complete. Here are the final results of each Groeup. I’ve added some recaps of the games I witnessed.

Groeup A: Rick, Sara, Hai
#1 Rick (Russia) vs. Hai (France)
I initially underestimated Hai’s abilities and tried for some quick kills. Hai played well and was able to capitalize on my eagerness. After taking out 4 Russian units and only losing 2 of his French, Hai was on the verge of victory. In his excitement, a couple of mistakes were made. The hardy Russians used these to their advantage and took out 3 more French units for the Victory.

#6 Sara (French) vs. Hai (Russia)
Sara and Hai sat down for their first game and it was a good one. They each played cautiously and only traded a couple of eliminated units. As nightfall approached we knew it was going to be a close one. Final score: 16 to 16! However, Sara only lost 2 of her French while taking out 3 of Hai’s Russians for the tie break.

#8 Rick (Prussia) vs. Sara (Russia)
Sara continued her success by crushing Rick in a 5-1 elimination victory. It started out Ok, but quickly went down hill for Rick.

#16 Sara (Prussians) vs. Hai (Ottoman)
#17 Rick (French) vs. Hai (British)
#18 Rick (Ottoman) vs. Sara (British)
Sara, Hai and I go together to finish out our games. We had a fun night of duking it out. Although I have to apologize to Sara for dragging the last game out. I was doing well most of the game. I was ahead on units and with 3 cavalry nearing nightfall I thought I had this one. My weak Irregular Cavalry stumbled moving into position though and I ended up losing them. Sara had gone through her cards and I was near the end of my deck handicapping me from playing anything. I took quite a bit of time trying to salvage a victory but there wasn’t a way out.

Final:
Sara 4-0 (-11)
Rick 2-2 (+7)
Hai 0-4 (+4)

Sara went 4-0 while I barely escaped my group with a .500 record! The number next to our names is a “strength of schedule” value. A high number represents using weaker armies against stronger armies and is used for tie-breaking similar records.

Groeup B: John, Russ, Aaron
#5 John (Ottomans) vs. Russ (Austrian)
#7 John (Russians) vs. Russ (British)
Russ took back to back losses to John. These games were going on at the same time as game #6 above.

#9 Aaron (British) vs. Russ (Prussians)
#10 Aaron (Prussians) vs. Russ (Spanish)
A week or so later Russ took Aaron on in back to back games to put himself back up to 2-2. Good enough to tie for the 4th best record in the toeurnament.

#14 John (Prussian) vs. Aaron (French)
#15 John (British) vs. Aaron (Ottoman)
Then John finished as strong as he started with back to back wins against Aaron.

Final:
John 4-0 (+1)
Russ 2-2 (+1)
Aaron 0-4 (-2)

John also goes 4-0. For those of you who don’t know: John and Sara are husband and wife. But the only way for them to play each other now is to meet in the finals!

Groeup C: Joe, Jess, Brad
My wife, Jess, hosted their groeup’s initial game night so I got to spectate the following matches.
#2 Joe (British) vs. Jess (Russian)
#3 Joe (Prussian) vs. Brad (Russian)
Joe found himself facing the Russian army once more, this time against his Prussians. The game was fairly close with the units lined up in the middle of the battle field trading shots. However, timely supply and restorations prevented the Russians from finishing off troops. The dice were also not with Brad he failed an improbable number of bombardments, volleys and pursuit rolls. To give you a taste, he bombarded a weakened Prussian unit (strength of 3) from a hill (+2 to his roll) with a d10… and failed. Joe racks up another victory.

#4 Brad (Austria) vs. Jess (Ottoman)
Brad and Jess then finished off the night with the Austrians and Ottomans respectively. The ‘weaker’ army choice was a strategic move for them save their stronger armies against their current group leader Joe. The battle was fairly evenly matched. However, the Ottoman cavalry took too many chances and Brad served Jess her second loss of the night.

Another game night with the groeup at our place:
#11 Brad (Prussians) vs. Jess (British)
This was a long game, but Jess happily won this one to keep from being shut-out.

#12 Joe (Russians) vs. Jess (French)
Joe clinches a position in the elimination phase with his win against Jess.

#13 Joe (Ottoman) vs. Brad (American)
Brad took a gamble by choosing the weakest army. He also picked out an unusual field of battle which included the lakes, marsh, and fields. However, Brad had all the right cards and his dice (unlike the last game) were on fire. He hit well above average on all of his rolls. The Ottomans faced strong defenses on most of their attacks. In fact, the only way Joe was able to eliminate any units was by surrounding them. Nightfall was approaching and the Ottomans were regrouping to wait it out. The Americans hadn’t even made it to the other side of the board. Then the wily Americans sprung an ambush. Only a 10 would give Brad the choice in the result and he amazingly rolled exactly that! Brad scores an impressive win.

Final:
Joe 3-1 (+1)
Brad 2-2 (0)
Jess 1-3 (-1)

Joe takes the top seed in Groeup C, while Brad joins his brothers at 2-2. Because of the ranking systems we used I would advance. However, there is some consensus in our gaming group that the Ottoman army should not be ranked second to last. If we re-rank the armies Brad’s strength of schedule value would shoot up and he would advance. So, Brad and I will choose from our remaining armies and have a play-in elimination game.

More Numbers
Here’s a summary of the armies used and their record in a Country Win/Loss format:
French 2/3
British 4/3
Russian 4/3
Prussian 4/3
Austrian 1/1
Spanish 1/0
Ottoman 1/5
American 1/0

I think the most interesting stat is the Ottomans losing 5 of their 6 games. Perhaps we over estimate the strength of the Ottoman army.

Groeup Phase Complete
That about wraps up the Groeup Phase. Brad and I will have a play-in game and then the Elimination Phase will begin. Sara and Joe will duke it out while John faces the winner of the play-in game. These semi-final matches will be the best 2 out of 3 games. All of the armies have been reset for this phase. However, during the semi-final and final matches each army can only be used once by each player. It should be exciting.

And one last thing, the trophy will now be unveiled. The winner of the 1st ever Margin of Victory Manoeuvre Toeurnament will win this:

Risk pieces are good for something.

Manoeuvre Toeurnament Champion Trophy


Manoeuvre Toeurnament: Half-way Through the Groeup Phase

April 5, 2011

We are actually more than halfway through the Groeup phase of the Manoeuvre tournament but here are the results after 9 games. I’ll post some more updates at the conclusion of this phase.

Groeup A:
Sara 2-0
Rick 1-1
Hai 0-2

I think I need to eat my words on my initial assessment of this group. I barely squeaked out a victory against Hai in the first game after being down 4 units to 2. Then Sara trounced me in our match. She’s the one to beat now.

Groeup B:
John 2-0
Russ 1-2
Aaron 0-1

John took two quick victories against Russ to start his tournament. But Russ pulled off a victory against Aaron so he’s got a chance. This group could still go 2-2 across the board.

Groeup C:
Joe 2-0
Brad 1-1
Jess 0-2

Jess’s gut reaction when she saw her grouping has unfortunately been correct after losing to both Joe and Brad in one night.

So far the Russians have been the most used army. I think most people are using them to feel out the skill level of their opponents – pick a strong army but save the strongest in case they will need them in the re-match.

This has been a pretty exciting tournament so far stay tuned for more updates.


World at War: Chieftains on the Warpath Session Report

April 1, 2011

25 May, 0800 hours: Colonel Rickanov hurled the small handheld radioset at the interior wall of his command BMP. Between the pouring rain and the change in orders, he knew he would have to drive extra hard to achieve his new objective, the shattered remains of the West German village of Faulbach. As he barked orders to his subcommanders, his IFV was rocked by explosions. The colonel peered through the viewport and saw a platoon of T-80s smoldering not 100 yards away. “Report! Where did that come from?” he shouted over the radio network, but the confused replies from his division were drowned out by the shrieking roar of enemy aircraft…

With our wives away at their book club, Rick and I sat down last week to immerse ourselves in the sixth scenario in Mark Walker’s World at War: Blood and Bridges game. The Soviet and British forces start at opposite ends of the map, and both are charging hard for Anhausen. As the British player, I was in command of three platoons of powerful but slow Chieftain tanks, a unit of Scimitar recon vehicles, and a mortar carrier. One airstrike and jamming equipment served as early reinforcements. After taking a look at the map, I planned to head not for Anhausen (my Chieftains wouldn’t make it in time), but for a screen of trees northeast, then to a large, wooded hill about a kilometer from the town. From there I would set my Chieftains up in good cover to rain death down on Rick’s forces as they sped up the road to Anhausen. If they made it to the town, I planned on swinging east, using the hill as cover, and leapfrogging between tree cover to destroy the rest of his force. I faced a relatively strong force of T-80s, BMPs, infantry, and various missile systems.

On the first turn, Rick cruised north, turned west at the village of Haln, and started heading for his objective. Unfortunately for me, the Chaos table came into play and a heavy downpour started, dropping movement by one hex. I began to sweat at this point, as that meant my ponderous Chieftains were even worse off, while his speedy T-80s weren’t hurt too much. But his cautious approach gave me time to get my forces in position on the wooded hill. My Tornado air support came in and destroyed…well, nothing, before it got chased off by Soviet missile fire.

My luck turned for the better about five turns in. With my tanks in position, I began directing plunging fire into the Soviet lead tank platoons, disrupting and reducing a few. Then disaster struck for Rick–a special scenario event rolled meant his objective had changed entirely! He now had to take Faulbach instead. Slowly his entire formation halted, turned around, and headed northeast in sight of my guns. By the time he was out of range, most of his tanks were gone. I quickly shifted my small force from the south to the north edge of the hill and waited. Eventually the Soviet infantry dismounted and began firing missiles at my tanks, causing me to lose half a platoon, but by then it was too late; my Brit tankers destroyed the rest of his units and headed back to base whistling merrily.

Rick’s dice were definitely against him in this game. He fired at my Chieftains several times and only managed to score a disrupt and a reduction on one of my platoons, while it seemed like my tanks couldn’t miss. However, I will say that it would have been a much different and bloodier outcome for my Brits had I not set up on the wooded hill. This gave my force two extra defense dice (1 for being at a higher elevation than the enemy forces, 1 for the woods) and thus a much better chance of ignoring hits. I think my use of the hill to slow down his force, then shifting positions to keep that good cover underscored one of the things I like about this game–that the terrain really matters and you need to plan ahead and use it to your advantage. Using it to mask or protect forces from enemy fire is key, but so is knowing when to move out of it.

Stay tuned for more World at War action on here in the near future. Russ and I will probably be playing again soon, and we’re talking about creating a campaign of sorts.