I went up to San Francisco yesterday to give Matt a rematch in Wilderness War. If you recall, we played the full campaign not too long ago, after which we swore we would have to play again soon. For some reason, Wilderness War always seems just a touch on the fiddly side, and it needs repeated play to get the rules internalized (even after all this time, I still get confused … how do you infiltrate a fortification? Can Militia deploy to block such infiltration? How exactly does interception work with multiple interception opportunities? What exactly are the penalties for being out of supply?). I’m not sure I’m there yet.
Anyway, after the slightly mixed review of the full game, we went back to playing the AM scenario, which does make a virtue of being short. Whatever its failings, it clocks in at 3-4 hours tops, it plays well in that it engages you the whole time so it doesn’t drag, it’s tense, it presents you with lots of options … all good stuff, despite the slight fiddlyness.
Still, though, despite the good stuff I’m in no hurry to move it up from 7th place on my list of my favorite such games (bearing in mind here that many of these games are really, really good of course). As I commented last time, and as I was reminded this time … man, there is a lot of blind luck in this game. This time out, it was the French who received zero, count ’em, zero Regulars as reinforcements the entire game (although they did get three steps replacements once). Then when the Brits slapped down Quiberon Bay on turn 3, it was pretty clear the French were going to have a tough time of it. The interesting thing is, that despite a quite substantial luck factor, it still seems there is tremendous scope for good and bad play, which is what makes the game still pretty good despite these issues I think (although having said this, my mind wanders to Paths of Glory, in which a huge amount rides on what turn the CP get the Tsar Takes Command, assuming the Guns of August route … so I dunno, although in PoG it seems to me things have more scope to even out over a longer game).
Anyway, Wilderness War is a game I do enjoy for all the same reasons I enjoy Hannibal – it’s tense, it’s got few downtime issues, it’s got tough choices, it’s got good historical flavor, it’s got that “guile” factor above and beyond calculating the odds. It’s just not quite as well-executed from a balance perspective as the better games in this genre, and it’s got a little too much chrome that is used too rarely to be easily learned. But it is still good.