Volko Ruhnke‘s Wilderness War (2001, GMT) is a simple game in terms of its rules, but at the same time it is 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 reprint that I thought it was worth cooking up a second strategy guide for it. (If you’re looking for the French strategy guide, go here. Also, you can check out a post about the historicity of the game; then watch the sparks fly as folks argue about it at Board Game Geek.) Note: This strategy guide focuses on the tournament Annus Mirabilis scenario, which is the most commonly played scenario.
As the scenario opens, the British are in a tough spot. French victories over the past years few years put them at +4 VP, which means you need to go on the offensive almost immediately in order to catch up. You start with a strong but slow-moving force in New York, and the beginnings of a large army in Halifax. However, out west it’s a different story, as weak provincial forces hold a string of vulnerable stockades.
Facing you is the might of New France: a decent army holding down the Gibraltar of the New World, Louisbourg, and two strong armies at Quebec and Montreal. The last thing you’ll notice is the large number of auxiliary units your opponent has. These pesky fur trappers and Indian raiding parties will be the bane of your redcoats. In short, there’s a lot of work to be done, commander.
The key to this scenario is keeping steady pressure on the French forces and consistently outscoring the enemy each turn. (Did I mention you start at a 4 point deficit?) There are many reinforcement cards for you in the deck, but it’s not a guarantee that you’ll see a lot of them–fortunes of war, and all that. However, you will see a few. Your game plan is all about building up large enough armies that you are relatively free to operate without French interference, and then lumber north, building up your supply lines as you go, for a strike against the heart of New France. The French have the benefit of short interior lines and a lot of speedy river movement, but if you can put pressure on them at two places, they won’t have enough forces to defeat you in both of those theaters.
There are three key routes to get at the enemy. The easternmost is the difficult and dangerous amphibious route through Louisbourg. The central route is the Hudson Corridor, and the western is up the Ohio River. Often a medium-sized British army is enough in the Ohio region (12-16 strength points) as long as you have some rangers to support them. (I tend to favor this route whenever possible.)
For the British, your first moves are heavily dependent on what cards you get; a hand with no “3s” can really slow you down. In all likelihood, the French will come south to lay siege to Hudson Carry North. If you’ve got the cards to move a large army up there, by all means defend it. But if not, it’s probably time to destroy it on your own (-1 VP) and bring in reinforcements.
I’d suggest quickly building up border defenses in the Southern Department. Get your militia boxes filled if possible, and if you can, create a string of stockades with colonial troops placed at every other stockade. This will let you get intercept rolls with every infiltrating French unit that comes your way.
As stated above, go on the offensive early and try to pick two avenues of attack. If I pull good leaders early, I prefer the Ohio River Valley because the French will likely not want to send huge numbers of troops that way, and capturing Ohio Forks will net you an extra VP.
Keep Your Eyes Open For…
Head for Louisbourg if the French abandon it, but keep in mind that it’s best to attack the “Gibraltar of the New World” in the Early Season. That way, if things go wrong, you can have another go during the Late Season and hopefully avoid Winter Attrition. With an Amphibious Landing card and Coehorns and Howitzers or Surrender!, you can take it out quickly (though that will deplete your hand size).
Also, if you see French stockades or cultivated spaces that are being left unattended, go for them! Moving your precious auxiliaries away from your armies might seem foolish at first, but Rangers near the St. Lawrence River or approaching the Great Lakes will really mess up the French player’s day. Sometimes it’s fun to send a small Indian/Provincial force with Johnson into the Great Lakes region to accomplish this.
Last, be aware of your supply lines and keep them safe from French raiders. There’s nothing worse than approaching Montreal, only to realize that the Iroquois just torched your link to ample supplies of hardtack and grog!