PBEM v.s. Jason of Point 2 Point, Late 1758…and the end.

August 29, 2011

Over the course of the summer, Jason from the Point 2 Point podcast and I continued our leisurely but regular pace in our Wilderness War match via PBEM. You may remember that I cut the French turn down to size  in the first turn and consolidated my gains in the second turn, but a daring foray by Jason into New Hampshire set me back on my heels a bit in the third turn. However, things started looking up in late 1758.

1758 Late Season Hand (British)
Provincial Regiments/2, Cherokee Uprising/3, Fieldworks/1, Ambush!/1, Call Out Mililtias/1, Northern Indian Alliance/2, Colonial Recruits/2, Stingy Provincial Assembly/2, Mohawks/1

(Similar to turns two and three, I have no British regulars coming across the pond to help me. Looks like my provincials will have to make do with some Mohawk allies. I begin to despair of ever making substantial gains.)

We open the second half of the year with General Levis and his French army hightailing it for the Green Mountains to avoid getting attacked after their dastardly foray into New Hampshire (which put Jason up to French +1 VP at the end of last turn). I play a card and activate General Monckton, who again misses his opportunity to breach the thick walls of Louisbourg (now renamed Minas Tirith in my mind).   Then panic strikes me and my hardy British troops as the French land their reinforcements at Quebec! This means I’ve got a decent sized force breathing down my neck.

But then…annus mirabilis indeed! I make one last desperate push to take the Impregnable Fortress of North America ™ and…Monckton gets the job done and TAKES Louisbourg. The British rejoice (+3 VP to me) and my lobsterbacks are now up 2 VP. Jason sees the writing on the wall and leaves one regiment at Quebec as a speedbump as the other two join his main force at Ticonderoga. He then moves my provincial assemblies to supportive from enthusiastic to stop any further British provincial regiments from being raised. In the meantime, the Mohawks ally with the British. I plan to do a bit of raiding up north if I can spare the cards.

A bit later, General Levis heads back into New Hampshire to beat up on Loudon, one of my worst generals, and a lonely detachment of British regulars. I’m thinking he’s hoping to take another stockade and defeat my troops in battle to boot. I let him move into my space, call up the militia, and play Fieldworks in a desperate attempt to fend him off. Jason rolls the dice, checks the results table and sees that, yup, my worst general just beat his force (British now at +3 VP). They retreat in shame, and Jason concedes the game, knowing it’s pretty tough for his French to snatch up 4 VP in two more hands.

And thus ends our blog v.s. podcast smackdown. It was a lot of fun, but I will admit that a lot of card draws and dice rolls went my way. Jason is a good-natured and talented opponent, and I greatly appreciate him taking time to play me. And there’s already talk of a rematch…

The last battle. While I feel sorry for Jason, I did have to laugh at his consistently bad dice-fu. Nothing can explain it

The final map. The British take Louisbourg and only inch up the Hudson Valley corridor, but it's enough to send the French a-runnin'.

PBEM v.s. Jason of Point 2 Point, Early 1758

July 26, 2011

Well, it seems Jason from the Point 2 Point podcast and I have hit a leisurely but regular pace in our Wilderness War match via PBEM, finishing a turn every three to four weeks. I achieved some substantial gains in the first turn and consolidated them in the second, but the early campaign season of 1758 turned out to be a head scratcher of sorts.

1758 Early Season Hand (British)
Campaign/3, Western Indian Alliance/2, Coehorns and Howitzers/1, Bastions Repaired/1, Rangers/1, Northern Indian Alliance/2, Indians Desert/2. Amphibious Landing/1, Call Out Militias/1.

(Like last turn, it seems that the reinforcements have largely dried up. Still, I should be able to get a lot done with this hand. I held the Amphibious Landing over from last turn, so let’s try that out.)

Jason opens by playing British Ministerial Crisis, hoping to snag a reinforcement card out of my hand and drop it in the discard pile; as I don’t have any, this has no effect. Breathing a small sigh of relief (I just know that next hand I’m getting tons of reinforcements), Wolfe moves north at a cautious pace, heading first to Hudson Carry North to link up with a small garrison left there over the winter. Jason tries again, playing Smallpox on Wolfe’s force. Unfortunately for him, he rolls a 1 and I only reduce one of my units. My response is to raise another regiment of rangers at Hudson Carry North and quietly chuckle over his bad dice rolling.

A bit later, Montcalm and force move south to Ticonderoga. I raise Northern Militia, hoping to beat back the raids I imagine will come at some point. However, Jason shifts his focus to the western frontier and Indian raiding parties start  filtering south. To combat this, I build stockades in Easton and Concord. Eventually a few raids are launched against my string of stockades, but Jason’s bad dice rolling continues and they fail. Using the campaign card I received at the start of the turn, I move Loudon and a small force from New York to New Hampshire to help with border defense. I use the other half of the campaign card to activate Monckton in Halifax. His small army performs an Amphibious Landing and lays siege to Louisbourg, where there are no troops but there is one leader, Drucour. In previous games I’ve never seen the French player sacrifice a leader in a siege, but here it makes sense: Louisbourg’s fortifications already mean I’ll be rolling on the siege table at a disadvantage, and the wily Drucour makes it even harder.

However, I have an ace up my sleeve…Coehorns and Howitzers. I reveal this on the next card play and hope my doughty Britishers can batter down the fortifications. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite turn out that way, and Monckton’s force ends the year outside the city. And it is here, my friends, that I had made my mistake. I had two card plays in the season that were actually double card plays: first the Campaign which required me to also play Amphibious Landing, and then the activation of Monckton’s besieging force with the Coehorns and Howitzers card played alongside. This left Jason with two cards and no threat of a British response.

So he did something quite dastardly; he detached Levis and a small force from Montcalm’s  huge army at Ticonderoga, marched east, tromped into Charlestown, NH, and burned a stockade to the ground. And Loudon, who was also in the area, did nothing. Typical.

We ended the turn at +1 French VP. And I wept big salt tears, shook my fist at the sky, and swore revenge…

The map mid-way through 1758. Click for more detail.

PBEM v.s. Jason of Point 2 Point, Late 1757

June 20, 2011

With only a few interruptions, Jason from the Point 2 Point podcast and I continue our Blog v.s. Podcast smackdown. The first turn saw some substantial British gains, but nothing is certain in war!

1757 Late Season Hand (British)

Massacre/1, Amphibious Landing/1, Amphibious Landing/1, George Croghan/1, Raise Regiments/2, Governor Vaudreuil Interferes/3, Courier Intercepted/3, Call Out Militias/1, British Politics/3

(This turn I have a few more high cards to move around my slower generals. However, I’m missing any reinforcements from Britain…well, I think it’s rinse and repeat this turn; head up the Hudson Valley and do some damage.)

On the first play, Montcalm comes raging back south and his sappers remove my Fieldworks at Hudson Carry North. In a straight up battle (28 British strength points v.s. 31 French, Wolfe v.s. Montcalm), I defeat the French forces but don’t manage to kill any leaders. +1 VP to the British. Then I raise some provincials to make sure Wolfe is one column higher than Montcalm’s force on the combat results table.

A bit later, Jason allies with some Western Indians, while I bring Dunbar and his forces north to Hudson Carry North to make absolutely sure I can whomp on Montcalm. However, he replenishes some of his depleted units with a reinforcement card, which causes me to nix that idea. Realizing I’m likely not going to be getting further VPs this year, I concentrate on border defense, building stockades and raising northern militia as Jason starts sending Indians down to the Southern Department to raid.

Luckily, I beat off his Indian raids and decide to take a calculated risk–I send Wolfe and company north to Ticonderoga, hoping to take it from the French before year’s end. The French successfully raid and burn a stockade in Easton, but Wolfe takes Ticonderoga with no problems. +2 VP to the British. The season ends with Montcalm repairing to Quebec, and Wolfe to Albany. I elect to hold onto my last card so I can use it in Early 1758.

As 1757 draws to a close, I reflect on the fact that I’ve done pretty well considering I only had 1 infusion of British Regulars in 18 cards! I won two pitched battles and took a French fort, dropping the 4 VP gain the French begin with to 0. In addition, my raid into New France negated the only VP gain Jason was going to get by the Easton raid. But who knows if the gods of war will smile upon my hardy redcoats and provincials in 1758…

The map at the end of 1757. Click for a larger image.

Wilderness War: PBEM v.s. Jason of Point 2 Point, Early 1757

June 14, 2011

In mid-April, Jason from the Point 2 Point podcast and I agreed to wage the French and Indian War anew in a play-by-email game of Wilderness War. We decided to keep it simple and stick with the six-hand tournament scenario, Annus Mirabilis. This scenario has a great sense of asymmetry. The French have already made decent gains at this point in the war and are simply trying to hold on to what they have. The British are getting serious about winning and lots of reinforcements are streaming in from the homeland. However, they have a pretty limited amount of time in which to win some much-needed VPs. Jason takes the French and I agree to play the British.

1757 Early Season Hand (British)
British Regulars/3, Indians Desert/2, Provincial Regiments/2, Treaty of Easton/2, Rangers/1, Fieldworks/1, Amphibious Landing/1, Lake Schooner/1, Call Out Militias/1.

(I notice right away the problem with this hand: Very few 3 ops cards to activate the notoriously slow-moving British commanders. And while there are some nice reaction cards such as Fieldworks and Lake Schooner, using them as such means my opponent gets some free card plays at the end of the turn. Hey, at least there are some reinforcements. My plan is to increase militia presence in the northern sector, get reinforcements on the board quickly, and start moving a force toward Ohio Forks in the west if possible; it’s one of the two spaces I need to occupy to get the auto-win. Hopefully this last move will force Jason to move forces west, thus relieving the pressure on the Hudson corridor and giving me breathing space while I wait for a better hand.)

Jason opts for a standard opening move, shipping Levis and company from Quebec to join his best general, Montcalm, in Ticonderoga with a strong force in order to threaten my fort at Hudson Carry North. Not having a lot of “3” cards to use to jockey for position, I play my British regulars card and hope for the best. Lady Luck smiles upon me as Wolfe, my best general, arrives in New York. I split the three units between Halifax, New York, and Alexandria to keep my intentions secret.

Jason then orders Montcalm from Montreal to Ticonderoga–his large army is 27 strength points! In response, Wolfe heads up the Hudson and meets up with Webb in Hudson Carry South. Montcalm pushes through to Hudson Carry North, but Wolfe intercepts into the space. I set up fieldworks and beat him a bloody fight: French lose 8 unit steps, British lose 6. +1VP for me! I then place Rangers at Charlestown, NH so I can start raiding around Quebec, which is empty of forces at the moment.

The French general Drucor evacuates Louisbourg and heads for Quebec to back up Montcalm to the south. My rangers head to Trois Rivieres to raid–this is a space he can’t intercept into. This raid is successful as my boys burn some farms, steal some livestock, and get out of town. +1/2 VP, rounded up at year’s end.

Then Jason reinforces Montcalm’s bloodied troops with Victories from Germany. Dang. I think it’s pretty important to bloody the French early as it’s really hard for them to reinforce as the game goes on, but he had the right card for the job. The season ends with a fizzle, not a bang, as I build some stockades so my settlers are better able to fend off raids, and he sends troops from Quebec to reinforce Mr. Montcalm. I cause two Indians of his to desert, trying to drive down the size of his force.

All in all, I didn’t really achieve my original purpose, which was to dilute his forces between two or more avenues of advance. Nevertheless, it was a great campaigning season for the British! I’ll admit winning the first major battle was just a bit of dumb luck; I drew Wolfe early, aced the interception roll, and had Fieldworks ready, but I’ll take the victory point all the same. I was also pretty happy to have gotten some raiding in–that’s pretty rare for the British early on.

Look for more updates in the coming weeks as we battle our way through the second half of 1757. Oh, and if you want to hear about this all from Jason’s point of view, listen to episode 46 of the Point 2 Point podcast.

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.

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.

Summer Gaming Highlights

August 16, 2010

It’s been far too long since I’ve posted, but a master’s thesis and a baby on the way sidetracked me just a wee bit. But while those events meant less gaming, they did not mean that the quality of the gaming dropped. So, a few highlights:

Games Purchased: Well, let’s call them “games gifted.” I got both Cosmic Encounter and Dominion for my birthday and have enjoyed them both immensely. Just this week my brother and sister-in-law got me Washington’s War as a groom’s dinner present before their wedding. Best. Present. Ev-ar.

Games Sold: After a thorough analysis of my gaming spreadsheet, I realized that neither Wellington nor Last Night on Earth had been played in over two years. Ebay for those two. I’m rather surprised at the prices I got for both of them, around 50% of their original purchase value. I guess games depreciate more slowly than cars. Go figure.

Games Played: Summer is always obligatory cribbage season in my household, usually while camping or visiting the in-laws. I played most of my games this summer waiting around in the hospital for the baby to come. I’m winning in cribbage, but still no baby quite yet. Russ and I duked it out in Washington’s War back in mid-July, which was fun but a little confusing on the first play through. We’ll definitely make it up in the future, however. I’ve also gotten in a few games of Wilderness War, two online and one with Russ just a few weekends ago. I’ve learned a lot about British strategy and now am itching to play the French some more. (I also managed to start a large grease fire while cooking dinner for Russ and my wife in between game turns, but the dinner eventually turned out okay, and it didn’t affect my gameplay later that evening, so…). There was also a very memorable game of Dominion in late July with three attack cards in use and no defense cards. This led to a lot of good-natured cussing on everybody’s part, but a lot of laughter too.

Whether or not this will truly be a Summer of Victory is still in doubt, but a few weeks remains. More soon on how that all turns out.

Mechanics Mirror Reality in Wilderness War

April 13, 2010

Few games mimic the intricacies of a given conflict as well as Volko Ruhnke’s Wilderness War (2001). The designer uses several simple mechanics to good effect, elegantly showing the frustration players’ historical counterparts experienced in the French and Indian War.

Rivers as Highways: In early colonial America, thick forests and difficult mountain ranges necessitated the use of waterways as roads. Ruhnke emphasizes this by stating that units may move up to nine spaces via rivers, as opposed to the usual four by land. He even incorporates portages, allowing troops to move between rivers. Players quickly find themselves constructing fortifications at the confluence of two or more rivers to control these liquid highways.

A New Form of Warfare: The geographical and political circumstances of the French and Indian War ushered in a new era of warfare that confounded commanders who were stuck in their European ways. Wilderness War utilizes two types of troops, “drilled” and “auxiliary.” Drilled units need to construct fortifications to stay in supply, and suffer penalties when fighting in the wilderness without friendly auxiliaries–light, non-traditional fighters, including Indians, rangers, and French fur trappers.

Dilatory Generals: In this conflict, the British were plagued early on with slow-witted commanders who were unable to adapt to the new modes of warfare mentioned above. This is clearly mirrored in the game, as each general is assigned an activation rating. A higher rating requires players to play a high value card to activate him and his force. I’ve often sat staring at the board, gnashing my teeth as General Loudon and Abercrombie sit snug in their forts, afraid to march into the wild and take the fight to the enemy. No doubt British Primer Minister William Pitt felt the same when reading dispatches from the colonies.

Shifting Alliances and Unpredictable Events: Ruhnke also does an excellent job mixing on map realities with events on cards. For example, both sides’ Indian allies desired easy access to European goods. Thus, if I want an Iroquois Alliance (card #28), I’d better have my troops build a stockade/trading post near their villages! Likewise, if I want to Ambush (cards #11-12) my opponent, I need to have a greater number of auxiliaries than he does. Players find themselves working to maintain control of certain on-map elements to they can access card events later on in the game.

War is Hell: As I stated earlier, the French and Indian War was truly a new kind of conflict, which surprised its European participants with its unpredictability and brutality. This is also reflected in the design. Cards such as Ambush, Massacre, and Coehorns & Howitzers are powerful but rare. When they are used against me, I am surprised, but I never feel “robbed.” Likewise, leader loss is pretty high compared to most other war games, but again, this is in keeping with the historical realities of the war.

Montcalm was one of many generals who met his fate on the battlefield.

In short, these few elegant design choices serve to immerse players in the conflict in a way few other games do. When I’m playing Wilderness War, I don’t feel like a board game player, but a general, tired, bruised, and dirty, urging my motley forces through the forest to victory.

WBC, Day 3: John’s Perspective

August 5, 2009

There is a comic strip from Knights of the Dinner Table I remember well. In it, a group of players are around a table, playing a roleplaying game. Their characters are captured by the king’s guards and beaten within an inch of their lives (one hit point apiece!). Afterwards, they are thrown into a ditch. One of the player remarks, “Gee, I can tell I was being beaten by the best of the best. That was a quality thrashing.” I know most of my friends back home are snickering right now because they all get to rib me for not being nearly as good as I think I am at various games. I promise them I shall return to Minnesota a more humble man. However, remember this, people–we came to game with the best. And getting beaten by the best means…well, nothing really. But I can pretend, right?

8:30 AM: I showed up early for the Wilderness War, despite being dog-tired. We were quickly paired up, the best ranked players against the unranked players (more on my thoughts about that at another time). Before we began play, I shook hands with Jason from the Point 2 Point podcast and thanked him for getting me to come to the WBC. I was matched up with Paul, a two-time world champion. We rolled off to see who got what side; I headed for the English side of the table. In the tournament scenario, the English need to be really aggressive because the French start at four victory points. I was hamstrung early on by a hand of low-value cards that didn’t allow me to move my principal leaders. My one good leader (Wolfe!) quickly invaded Louisbourg and laid siege to it. This was horribly thwarted, however, when the ever-sneaky Paul left one measly French fur trapper outside the fort while the rest of his force retreated inside. He got to fire, rolled a six. No big deal, right? Wrong. This meant one of my units was injured (no biggie) but it also meant I had to roll to see if my leader got killed. I rolled the die (this is now a 1 in 36 chance, mind you) and that was that. Wolfe got a musketball through the heart and my hopes for Louisbourg were over for the first turn.

Play continued, and I learned a lot about the game in the process (remember, this is my second play ever). The French essentially raid with Indian units and keep an eye on the lumbering British forces. The moment the British get ideas and start heading north, the French burn down their forts to deny them to the enemy and head north. As this was my second game, I expected to get beaten, and I’m happy to report that eventually Louisbourg fell, though the French won, having only gained one more VP than they started with. Thanks to Paul for his kindness and patience.

11:30 AM: I stopped for lunch. Play of Wilderness War was to continue throughout the day, but there were other things to do. I met up with Nathan from last night’s Here I Stand game and ran him through a turn or two of Hammer of the Scots (rather poorly; I was running on six hours of sleep, a waffle, a bologna sandwich, and a can of Mountain Dew…disgusting, I know).

2:30 PM: The Hammer tourney got started a bit late. I was paired up with Lyman, a champion from a few years back [edit: Lyman later won the tournament]. Holy cow; we were done in 90 minutes. My Scots were begging for mercy pretty quick. I learned some new tricks, though

4:30 PM: Russ and I headed downstairs for a little pizza. We had a good conversation with Keith, founder and president of the Games Club of Maryland and a member of the WBC board of directors. Very nice guy. Russ and I were a bit surly at this point; we’d been getting beaten all day and it took a toll. Keith’s pleasant company and the food restored us.

5:45: I sat down to play Joe, the oft-mentioned “friend of the show” from Point 2 Point. I managed to last seven of nine turns. I made a pretty good run early on with the English, taking back a lot of early losses and making it to Buchan, but just fell asleep on the subsequent turn, made some stupid moves, and lost it.

Today was what I’ll call a learning day; in the future, I’ll have a lot more on what I learned! For now, I’m going to crack open Carcassonne (purchased yesterday) and see what’s what. Tomorrow morning will be some open gaming, Power Grid, and then Here I Stand in the evening. Wish us luck; we need it!