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.


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.

Here I Stand: The Minor Powers

August 23, 2010

In Here I Stand the players command one of the six Major Powers in the game. However, there are also four Minor Powers that play a big part in how the game unfolds. They can be allied to some powers, conquered through war or used as pawns during diplomacy. Below are some of my recommendations of how each Minor Power, and the cards that affect them, can best be used.

Sorry Luther, but you’ll have to sit out this strategy discussion. Also, first up is Hungary/Bohemia which is only relevant to the full 1517 scenario. The discussion of the others powers is pretty relevant regardless the scenario.

• Keys (units): Belgrade (1 Regular), Buda (5 Regular) and Prague (1 Regular)
• Spaces: Breslau, Brunn, Pressburg, Agram, Mohacs and Szegedin
• Major Powers: Ottoman and Hapsburgs
• Activation: Diplomatic Marriage and Defeat of Hungary-Bohemia
• Deactivation: None

The Hungarians act as a buffer for the Hapsburgs against the Ottomans. The typical start for the Ottomans sees them sieging Belgrade and then moving to wipe them out in Buda with a fairly easy field battle due to the 5 regulars present. This gives the Ottomans 6VP (2 Keys and War Winner) and starts the war with the Hapsburgs. It also gives the Hapsburgs a key, Prague, due to the new alliance with the Hungarians.

Taking a look at the power cards and board, I think it is in the Ottomans best interest to hold off on the Buda field battle. The Ottomans need 1 key to give them an extra card which they will get with Belgrade. The Hapsburgs need 2 keys. If the Haps take Metz, the Ottomans defeating Hungary gives the Haps their 2nd key and that extra card. The Ottomans are better off holding their cards, building forces and potentially taking out the Knights of St. Johns before giving the Haps a gift.

Unless the Hapsburgs draw Diplomatic Marriage in the 1st (or possibly 2nd) turn, there isn’t much the Hapsburgs can do about the Hungarians. If they are able to activate Hungary right away, it will slow down the Ottoman advance. The Haps can control the 5 regulars in Buda to force an Ottoman siege versus the field battle. The Ottomans will have to spend more time and/or CP than they would like to march West, but it certainly won’t stop the Turkish advance. I would recommend saving that marriage for another minor power…

• Keys (units): Venice (2 Regulars, 3 Squadrons)
• Spaces: Corfu (Fortress, 1 Regular), Candia (Fortress, 1 Regular)
• Major Powers: French, Papacy, Ottoman and Hapsburgs
• Activation: Venetian Alliance, Diplomatic Marriage and Papal intervention
• Deactivation: Venetian Alliance, Diplomatic Marriage

In my opinion, Diplomatic Marriage, should almost always be used by the Papacy, French and Hapsburgs to activate Venice. The Venetians can be a powerful ally against Ottoman piracy with their 3 squadrons and two fortresses. The Venetian fleet can also help gain naval superiority for assaults on ports. And in winter, moving the regulars in Corfu and Candia in Venice give you a fully defended key.

Since one of the ways to activate Venice is by a Papal intervention, this is often used by the Pope during negotiations. The French or Hapsburgs would be my first choice for a Venetian declaration of war (DOW). These powers may be declaring war on other powers and they may have an extra CP to discard. This way they can get something from out of it. The Pope benefits because he can hang excommunication over their head if they don’t follow through on all the terms of the deal. The Ottomans could be used for a Venetian intervention as well, but the Pope is likely no match for a strong Ottoman force if the deal goes bad. Plus, the Pope can not excommunicate Suleiman.

If the Pope draws Venetian Alliance after Venice is already an ally, they can use this 4 CP card for the event to build up to 6 CP worth of units. I would guess that the card would be used for CP rather than the event in most cases.

Once allied, deactivation is always a possibility but would require the right powers – Ottoman or Pope – to get the right cards. And even then, it may not be worth the CP to do this. This is yet another reason that Venice should be the favored ally for these powers.

• Keys (units): Genoa (2 Regulars, 1 Squadron, Andrea Doria)
• Spaces: Bastia
• Major Powers: French, Papacy, Hapsburgs, Ottoman (kind of)
• Activation: Andrea Doria, Diplomatic Marriage
• Deactivation: Andrea Doria, Diplomatic Marriage

The Genoans are a strong ally as well. With Andrea Doria, as the only non-Ottoman naval leader in the game, the other powers in the Mediterranean certainly want to have him on their side. However, Doria can cause problems: If one of the other two powers (able to) plays Andrea Doria for the event, Genoa is deactivated AND reactivated to that power. This swing in units, keys and VP can be dangerous.

For this reason Genoa should be activated near the end of the game. It would be wise to hold the card Andrea Doria as long as possible to activate Genoa. In the tournament scenario this may easier to do than the longer scenarios. If the French or Pope draw Andrea Doria they should highly consider spending the 5 CPs on a war and assault on Genoa than activation. Once Genoa is conquered you won’t have to worry about it switching control with the play of a single event card.

The second part of the Andrea Doria event card will likely never be used. A power would have to activate Genoa earlier in the game, and go to war with the Ottomans, and move Doria into a sea zone with two Ottoman controlled ports. Then when Andrea Doria is played you have the chance to take away up to three piracy VP and draw a card. The power playing the event also draws a card. I can see this event occurring for the Hapsburgs as they would likely already be at war with the Otts and try to position Doria near them to prevent piracy. However, 5 CP can probably be spent else where.

• Keys (units): Edinburgh (3 Regulars, 1 Squadron)
• Spaces: Stirling, Glasgow
• Major Powers: French, English
• Activation: Auld Alliance, Diplomatic Marriage, French intervention
• Deactivation: Auld Alliance, Diplomatic Marriage

Scotland will play a part of every game of Here I Stand. Obviously, the English should use Diplomatic Marriage to activate Scotland as an ally if they draw it early. They’ll get a squadron, 3 regulars and save the time and trouble of a war. However, chances are the typical English strategy early in the game will be to kick those pesky Scots off their island.

The French should carefully consider intervening if the English declare war on the Scots. The French could negotiate a deal with the English: France will intervene in an English home card DOW and move the Scottish troops to Glasgow. The French get 3 Scottish regulars come winter and the English should have an easy time taking an empty Edinburgh. The French should look for an alliance on the following turn.

But be wary of the English asking the French to intervene, they may just be looking for a free DOW on France. If a satisfactory deal can’t be struck, the French may just want to let Scotland defend itself. The English may spend more CP than they would like trying to take out 3 units in an assault.

If the French do intervene, England should be sure to take political control of both Glasgow and Stirling. If France and Scotland are allies, the French can use Auld Alliance to bring 3 French regulars onto any Scottish controlled home space not under siege. Used later in the game with an English alliance, these 3 Catholic troops can wreak havoc to the Reformation in England.

• Don’t be in a rush to knock out the Hungarians.
• Venice should be your number one choice for an ally.
• Activate Genoa towards the end of the game.
• France and England need to discuss Scotland.

Battle of the Brothers – French Perspective

November 19, 2009

Last Sunday three sets of brother sat down for a friendly game of Here I Stand (read the twitter feed for some play-by-play commentary). I was really looking forward to the game for many reasons. One, the sibling rivalry aspect – I would play the French and my brother (Russ) the Protestants. We shouldn’t tangle too much, but we’re brothers, anything can happen. Two, this would be my fourth game of Here I Stand so I was feeling really good about the play and rules aspect of the game. And three, I analyzed all the possible plays, cards, etc. to get the VP necessary to win as the French. I was ready!

Turn 4
The deal was bad: I got 5 cards for a total of 10 CP, well below the 2.7 CP/card average. I would need some help. I allied with the Hapsburg in exchange for Besancon. Not too important, but I was really just looking to keep the Haps off my back. I knew I was going to war with the English. The English would DoW Scotland with their home card and I would vacate it. In exchange, I would get a card draw the next turn. Sounded like a good deal and if anything changed, I could just hold Scotland.

The action phase progressed as expected. I took Milan and the English DoWed Scotland. However, after the English rolled a 6 on the pregnancy chart and got a healthy Edward and 5 VP, I wasn’t going to give him another easy 2 VP. So I held Scotland and sent an explorer who went off to discover the Amazon! 7 VP in one turn! Things were looking up.

Turn 5
Going into this turn, I knew the English would try to press me. I got decent cards and decided on a pure defensive strategy. I was near the lead and didn’t want to draw any attention. My hand was decent: Potosi Silver Mines and Plantations should net me cards for Turn 6 and I could use Auld Alliance to defend Scotland. I was also able to get a Franco-Ottoman alliance this turn. He would play Swiss Mercenaries on my behalf and I would loan him a fleet. I would build my forces and gain the cards necessary for a turn 6 win.

The English player went for Metz and Bordeaux (with the crafty play of Charles Bourbon and moving out some fleets). He forced the use of my home card for CP, but my defensive plays and his bad dice roll on the assault in Metz forced him into an odd position on his final play of the turn. With his 1 CP card should he assualt Bordeaux or Metz? I still held one card in my hand and no one knew what it could be – Mercenaries Bribed had already been played. I put on my best poker face. He finally chose to assualt Metz and I played my combat card: Mercenaries Grow Restless! The renegade leader and his ragtag bunch of mercenaries were wiped out! After that huge success I was riding high and hoping for great things in the new world. Then Lady Luck left me. I had invested big in the New World and got nothing. No extra cards.

Turn 6
We dealt out the cards and and I got a decent CP hand, but no good events. The negotiations were intense. The Hapsburg player (Joe) was in the lead and had 11 cards in his hand. Having won the previous two games, he already had a huge target on his back – this just made it bigger. The Ottoman, Papacy and Protestant powers wanted either the English or the French to go to war with him to block his win. With the promise of a card play and a couple of mercs I could easily stop the Hapsburg player. However, I would also need an alliance with the English to also give myself a chance at the win. The English player knew this and refused. My next best bet was to go to the Hapsburg. I would give up a card draw for an alliance as well as the transfer of Navarre to the French. He was interested in the deal but also spoke to the English. During the announcements, my hopes of winning were crushed. The Hapsburgs took the English deal instead and I was on my own. My only chance at victory now was to go to war with the Hapsburgs and the English.

The action phase began. I took Navarre right away and then turned to defending against the English onslaught. The English player took Metz and then stormed on to Lyon. I did the best I could with my few remaining CP, but it was of no use. The English took Lyon. I could only build Chateau for 1 more VP and finished at 20. Good enough for fourth place. The English player made all the right moves and with luck in the new world, rolled himself to a great victory.

Game Over
The Turn 6 diplomacy was the win or lose moment of the game. All 6 powers had legitimate shots at winning the game going into the final turn. The Ottoman player could win with Vienna and Piracy. The Hapsburg player was in the lead and held 11 cards – I still can’t believe the luck in the new world! The Pope was doing well against Luther, but the religious game can swing so dramatically it is hard to tell. The English and French had made big moves and only needed another key or two.

And this is why that diplomacy phase lasted way too long and was way too intense. Everyone had a huge stake and wanted someone else to stop the Hapsburgs. But no one wanted to give up much to allow that and throw away their own chances of winning. Having Russ at the table and knowing how to push his temper didn’t help matters either. I couldn’t blame him for throwing his hands up and leaving the table for a few minutes at one point. This was supposed to be fun?! It gave me a headache and I wanted to stop.

A few days later I composed my thoughts for this blog. I thought this was the best I’ve played a game of Here I Stand. I knew all the right things to do and made good moves during the negotiations. I think 2 extra cards from my colonies would have won it for me. The atmosphere was intense; every power had a shot at victory; good diplomacy can give you the power to win. This left me thinking: when’s the next game?

WBC, Day 2 continued: John’s Perspective

August 4, 2009

This is going to be a short post, because I am tired. We finished our Here I Stand game not too long ago. I lost as the French, but came in second (22 VP) behind the Protestants (24 VP). With much wheeling and dealing, I got four card draws from various players and took Metz and Milan. Genoa ended up as a failure, and my explorations didn’t do too hot. Despite this, this was  hands down the best I’ve ever played personally, and I am very happy with the way it ended up. Thanks to Phil, Dave, Nathan, Brad, and Dave for the great game, and congrats to second Dave for the excellent Protestant victory in turn five (and his “winner buys beer” motto). Very much looking forward to the next game on Thursday evening. My 22 VP should get me in a decent position to qualify for the semifinals. Okay–time to get to bed. My forays into multiplayer gaming are done for a bit. Tomorrow is Wilderness War and Hammer of the Scots.

Manoeuvre Session Report: Foiled Again!

July 25, 2009
Not even Les Grognards could help me.

Not even "Les Grognards" could help me.

I’ve been foiled again! Manoeuvre (4 and 5 record) is the bane of my gaming existence. In the three months since I opened the box and read the incredibly simple rulebook, I have been beaten by my Dad, my wife, my brother, and Joe. What’s most embarrassing about this is not the 4 and 5 record, but the fact that both Dad and Joe beat me as I was teaching them the game. Thursday night was no different. Over cups of coffee and a bowl of dry-roasted peanuts, Mike’s steely-eyed British came back from what looked like sure defeat to mop the floor with my Frenchmen. Oh the horror! Perhaps it was the fact that he was drinking from a General Grant mug, while I had chosen a “Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club” one. Maybe it was homefield advantage (his apartment). Or maybe I just suck at this game.

We used the setup for the 2009 WBC tournament, as I will be playing in it in ten days. Mike pulled out the Brits and the Frenchies, and I grabbed the Frenchies, hoping the Napoleon card could somehow make up for my lack of talent. We agreed to use the tournament/experienced play variant, which lets you shuffle through your deck to pick out five cards of your choosing. I took the north side of the map, we set up, and began play. Mike played a Spy card right off the bat to peak at my hand. Considering I had chosen it myself, he now knew the gist of my strategy; this was rather unsettling. However, I grabbed the high ground to the right with my Imperial Cavalry and Garde Imperial, and after some manouevering, we started trading blows.

I was able to knock out his strongest cavalry unit on the left early on by catching it between my Cuissars and Suisse infantry, and about halfway through the game, we were looking at Mike down two units. None of my guys had even broken a sweat, and I had captured a redoubt in the western woods on his side of the map. I thought I had this one in the bag. And that’s when things went terribly, horribly wrong.

We developed an interesting stalemate on the western side of the board. Mike had moved up a handful of infantry units into a long line. He was out in the open, and I moved several units to counter whatever he was planning. Instead of attacking, however, he built a second redoubt and sort of sat there. I was discarding, trying to find cards to punch out a unit or two, when he force marched some units on the eastern side of the board, surrounded a unit, and utterly destroyed it. Wow, I didn’t see that one coming, I thought to myself. Then it happened again as I was still trying to puzzle out what to do in the west.

I nailed another weak unit (take that, Dutch-Belgians!) with a combined attack from three sides. What I didn’t notice was that the unit required to advance was going to get crushed. One play later, Mike’s British took revenge for their fallen allies as he unloaded Wellington and two unit cards on me. “Let’s see, I roll 4d6+17 against…6. Okay…24 and they’re dead.” Then he took out another French unit in the middle of the board. Incensed, I trapped Mike’s 1st Regiment, weakened by an earlier cavalry charge, and smoked them.

Argh! Scots!

Argh! Scots!

If you’re keeping track, that put us at 4 kills apiece, with the next kill determining the winner. I began marching my Garde Imperial and Suisse regiments up the board to take out a lone cavalry unit of his when a good Forced March play on Mike’s part sent a howling horde of Scots at my poor Swiss! He laid two unit cards and a Committed Attack; I was not able to counter with a single defense card. And that was the game.

On the drive home, I thought about why I haven’t quite grasped this game yet:

  • It is abstract in the extreme, a bit like chess. This is not a historical simulation by any means. This abstraction is difficult for me.
  • I usually spend more time trying to make my current hand “work” than discarding a hand that doesn’t do much for me at the moment. This is especially true for special event cards, like Resupply or Forced March. I may not need it in the next three or four turns, but I’m really loath to get rid of them. This usually limits my options.
  • I am often so concentrated on setting up the perfect attack that I’ll make stupid decisions. I’ll leave a weak unit in danger of being surrounded and destroyed for the sake of that perfect coordinated attack. This almost never works out!

Luckily, I’ll be able to play this at the WBC this year; I’m excited to learn from the masters (though I’m definitely learning from my local group too!)

[Cross posted at Board Game Geek]