Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Re-Writing History (Wilderness War x2)

I've been thinking about war games recently. Some time ago we played Midway, and although I had issues with the game, I could tell that there was something in this genre which was appealing to me. Other than ASL, two types of wargames appear to be well liked at BGG: Block games and Card Driven Wargames. I recently picked up Napoleon and quite liked it (enough to now order Rommel in the Desert), so I was really looking forward to the opportunity to give a Card driven wargame a shot. As it happens, Kozure owns Wilderness War.

Wilderness War covers the war between the English and French for control of North America. Being French Canadian, the setting held obvious interest. Beyond that, the game is held in very good regard as an excellent GAME.

I spent a bit of time reading the rules leading up to the session. It's complicated, but not overly so. The base systems are fairly easy to absorb, however there are enough exception and small fiddly rules that it's impossible to remember everything at first. Luckily, in play the pace is such that the rules can be looked up as they become relevant (which we did quite a bit), and once they are put in practice they make sense and can be remembered.

We gave ourselves the entire evening, since the playbook estimated 2-3 hours for the tournament scenario we assumed a learning game would take 4-5. Things turned out differently. Read on.

Predictably, I played the French while Kozure took the British. All I knew from reading reviews was that the French have to hit hard and early if they want to win. My opening hand, in retrospect, was quite good. I was able to put some drilled troops down in Quebec and make an agressive push down the Hudson river to the heart of the face off there. Kozure hadn't fully grasped the implications of river movement, and therefore didn't see this coming. On the western front, I saw the masses of (mostly) undefended stockades and decided to raid as much as I could.

I followed though on that plan and was on the receiving end of fabulously good luck with the dice. Dumas laid waste to the stockades and forts in the south west. Combat routinely went my way. Sieges were resolved quickly and without much losses. The net effect was that the British were on the defensive the whole game. Being so difficult to activate, they couldn't keep up with the damage and I was raking in the victory points. A surprise seige attempt in (I forget the name of the city, but it was the South-Eastern most fortress) nearly made matters even worse for the British, but Wolfe came along and kicked the French out (this would mark the only time die rolling didn't go my way, as I could have had the opportunity to assault the fortress prior to Wolfe's arrival but the siege took longer than it could have). Poor Kozure did not manage to move an inch on ANY front, nor make any attempt on Louisburg. By the end of the first year, the French achieved an automatic victory with 12 points (note: I was going for broke. If my offensive failed, the British would have cleaned up in the spring due to my depleted forces)

The whole thing only took 2 hours, so we tried again, armed with a better understanding of the rules (and hopefully for Kozure) more evenly distributed luck.

In the second game, my hand had a number of Indian Alliance cards, but no French Reinforcements. I decided to play the Indian angle much more strongly than I did the first game. Kozure's hand seemed pretty decent, and he forced me to takes things more slowly this time around by shoring up his defences in the weak spots I had identified previously. I now had a large contingent of auxilleries heading to the south west. My own error in understanding the terrain led to a successful block of Dumas, and he essentially had to retreat and hide for the rest of the game. The Indians successfully raided one city, but then the british sent (insert name of leader here) to attack a second group before they could do any more damage. The indians were hopelessly outclassed. 2 of them vs 4 drilled troops. Should have been a massacre. Somehow, they won!!!. This would be the start of another enormously one sided game in the French's favour, from a die rolling point of view (and a string of really bad showings by that particular british leader). Those plucky indians proceeded to rack 4-5 raid markers, completely unassisted, against all odds.

My advance down the Hudson was slower, but over the course of the game almost all of my able bodied soldiers and auxilleries found themselves there. A few massive battles were fought, with the French being pushed back once and then returning for the kill.

You guessed it, the first year ended with another automatic victory for the French. The second game took approximately 2 1/2 hours.

So, there you have it. Two sessions which never made it past the first year. From reading reports and reviews, I can tell these were uncharacteristic games. The French are meant to hit hard, yes, but normally spend the majority of the game afterwards simply trying to slow the inevitable British advance. Here, the British were essentially unable to advance at all! In future games, where luck will inevitably be more balanced, I would guess that all out French assaults on the british will be fewer (and less successful). I also suspect that the intricacies of using terrain to our advantage, according to unit type, would come more into play. I would also expect to see more action and Louisburg and in the north west (which both went unused in these games).

I am left with one question, however. In our games, forts/ fortresses and stockades seemed like more of a liability than an advantage. For the french, these are easy targets for victory points! Stockades are at least cheap, so you do get some return on your investment by using them as a method to cross terrain more rapidly and provide a place to fall back to during retreats. But Forts are expensive to build and provide no (?) advantage that I can think of... certainly none in combat! I bet I'm missing something, so if anyone knows please fill me in (I know they play a critical role in wintering, but not having had to play through to a second year yet I don't fully understand the impact of the change in seasons. Do stockades help with wintering?)

Anyway, I had a great time and I look forward to playing this game again. I'm sure the British are already planning their revenge.

1 comment:

  1. (This response cut and pasted from my strategy post at BGG)


    ...Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Poutine

    I played two full games for the first time over the July 1st Canada Day long weekend.

    Fought as the British both times; lost both times in 1757. Neither of us had played before. Basic rules used in both games.

    Terrible? Yes. I accept full responsibility for both horrendous losses. How could I possibly lose both times in the first year? Lemme explain...


    The first game, I had no idea that the French were so much more mobile. I mean, I had an inkling that they'd be running circles around me, but it wasn't paintfully apparent until a quick boat move and a few short hops put Montcalm and another leader within siege range of Boston with a moderately sized force about midway through the Early Season of 1757. Although I drove off the sieging force with large losses to his army, it drew enough of my forces from the defenders at the top of the Hudson that I was vulnerable to his later attack.

    In addition, Dumas and a small detachment of French marines wreaked havoc in the south. It didn't help that he got a number of great rolls versus the scattered defenders there. Then, I lost Hudson Carry North to a massed force from Montreal. The loss of stockades, a few land battles lost and the capture of the starting fort in Will's Creek put him over the top. 11 VPs and the game was over after four hands of nine cards. I was stunned at my own defeat.

    What had I done wrong?

    1. I didn't apply enough pressure at Louisbourg. Worried by Dumas' initial successes, I sent a leader with a number of the New York city Royal American regiments by Naval movement to Alexandria. This, combined with the weakening of the force at the top of the Hudson by sending both starting units and reinforced units to rescue Boston, allowed him to win the campaign for the top of the Hudson Valley. I should have moved the soldiers overland and dropped some off in upper Pennsylvania to protect the stockades there.

    Lessons learned: Protect the top of the Hudson. Put pressure on Louisbourg. These two factors influence each other directly! Remember that you can drop off units to garrison stockades along the southern department wilderness border when moving a force.

    2. I spent a lot of my 2 and 3 cards to reinforce. This left me sitting for several turns on my hands while Dumas raided in the south and Montcalm's army threatened Boston. Montcalm used boat movement down the Berkshire mountain valley to get to Charleston (undefended at the time), then through the White Mountains to approach Boston. I should have reacted more quickly. Although I had a lot of good leaders, Highlanders and regular force units both in the north and south at game's end due to the frequent reinforcements, and I would've whomped him in the following turn, the VPs he had picked up from lightning raids and fort assaults had already won him the game in 1757.

    Lesson learned: Don't get carried away with reinforcements early on in the first year. Use some of your 2 and 3 cards to get your leaders off their asses and stop flanking attacks and raiding parties. Watch the river valleys – it’s easy to forget about boat movement.

    3. One benefit of using a lot of my 3 point cards to reinforce was that I got all but two of my leaders out in the field very quickly. Wolfe, Bradstreet and other 1-point initiative leaders are fantastic to break you out of the static mindset that you tend to fall into early on. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, using three point cards to get leaders and reinforcements cost me mobility of the leaders already on the board, and consequently the game.

    Lesson learned: Try to get at least one 1-point initiative leader out early, but don’t go too nuts.

    4. The French move quickly. They especially can mass a lot of troops down to the Ticonderoga area and threaten the Hudson North Carry. Don’t underestimate the French ability to mass early on, and keep a force in reserve in New York to move up the Hudson when necessary. When I moved all of the regulars out of New York, some to the south to stop Dumas and some to the north to fend off Montcalm’s push on Boston, I left the top of the Hudson more or less open for assault.

    Lesson learned: Keep a reserve force, and remember about boat movement to get them around quickly. Keep in mind how quickly the French can get around. One or two slip-ups in positioning and they’ll be behind you raiding and pillaging faster than a Montreal stoplight.


    The second game, I thought I would take the lessons learned from the first and apply them. To a large degree, I did, but I failed on another account.

    This time I was determined not to lose as many points to raiding, so I used far fewer 2 and 3 point cards on reinforcement and got my forces moving. It looked like it was working… but then…

    1. I sent Loudoun with all of the New York Royal Americans to Alexandria again. I had a few 3 point cards, so I knew I’d be able to move him again. Luckily, my opponent banked on me not being able to move him again, so he left Dumas’ Marines in a position to be attacked. I struck. 9 strength points of Royal American fury vs. 2 weeny French Marines. He played fieldworks. I rolled a 1. He rolled a 6, modified to 7. I was driven back to Winchester. 1 VP to the French. I smacked Loudoun around for losing to such a numerically inferior force (backed, admittedly, by field works, but still…) and got on with the game. Dumas withdrew to lick his wounds. My opponent played a mess of Indian alliance cards and sent a number of them (6 in all) down towards the fields of Virginia (4 units) and northern Pennsylvania. (2 units). Fortunately, Loudon’s force hadn’t been badly hurt, and a VICTORIES IN GERMANY card built them back up to full, so I sent them out after the 4 unit Indian raiding party. Even with the –1 DRM, I though, a 9 point force should beat a 4 point force. Nope. I rolled a 2, modified to a 1. He rolled a 6 again. Loudoun is thrown back to Will’s Creek with losses. Another VP to the French. 6 French VPs at this point.

    Lesson Learned: Bad die rolls can really suck.

    2. I was frustrated that I had zero opportunity for auxiliary troops in the first game (except for Rogers’ Rangers, which seem bottled up), so I made a special effort to get some into play the second time around. Once again, though, only two cards made this possible: I got one unit of Rangers out fairly early on, then Johnson’s Mohawks made an appearance nearly at the end of the late season. I sent the second Ranger unit up through the northern Green Mountains and tried to raid the stockade in St. Jean, but came away unsuccessful (and with a step loss). The Mohawks came out too late for me to do anything with them.

    Lesson Learned: British Auxiliaries are rare and precious. Don’t attack stockaded areas with them if you can help it. You won’t get many auxiliaries during the course of the first season or two, but don’t overlook them either.

    3. I attacked the French fort at Ticonderoga successfully in the Late Season of 1757, driving off the field force. My opponent elected not to retreat anyone into the fort proper, instead mounting a successful counter-attack to break the siege in one of his subsequent action phases.

    Lesson Learned: Although I earned a VP for the defeat of the enemy in Ticonderoga, my subsequent defeat in the counter-attack negated any benefit. In addition, the blocking force at Hudson Carry North was substantially reduced. Don’t attack Ticonderoga too early in the game.

    4. Because of Loundon’s failure both to contain Dumas and drive off the raiding Indian parties, the large group of Indians swarmed into Virginia and Pennsylvania, destroying two stockades with lucky rolls, and successfully raiding undefended areas in three others. I have to say that although my somewhat poor strategy and Loudoun’s unlucky double defeat permitted this possibility, my opponent’s die rolls were astounding, sustaining only one step loss in six different raid/attacks, one of which was actively defended by provincials and militia. The loss of two stockades and three successful raided areas yielded another 5 VPs, bringing him to 11 VPs and winning him the game at the conclusion of the 1757 Late Season, as few of my leaders were in a position to win battles to earn back VPs, and no enemy fortification or objective was vulnerable.

    Lessons Learned: A massive Indian raiding blitz, combined with excellent die rolling, can get the French a lot of VPs quite quickly. Don't let it happen! When you think about the fact that a stockade defended raid should only be successful one in three times statistically (absent other factors), a 5 out of 6 success rate seems pretty remarkable in this case. BUT it was my poor strategy and unit placement which allowed this to be a possibility in the first place.

    This is a very enjoyable game. I look forward to playing it again, especially as the British to regain what little honour I have left after these humiliating paired defeats. Both games were excellent learning tools in that I learned exactly the strategies which would not work for the British, and what tactics benefit the French to a great degree.

    Cold comfort, however, as I looked with slack-jawed wonderment at the hypothetically redrawn political map at the conclusion of hostilities in 1757, and wondering if France instead would have become the superpower of the 20th and 21st centuries.