The French & Indian War (and its parent the Seven Years War) is a particular passion of mine. Having taught 5th grade for over a decade, I’ve enjoyed taking the extra time to teach the war that would help lead to the American Revolution. French and Indian War staples like Wilderness War and A Few Acres of Snow have been around for a few years, but this conflict has been getting more and more hobby love recently. Enter Wilderness Empires, Worthing’s card-assisted block game designed for simple, stream-lined play.
After playing a few other Worthington titles, I got the impression that most Worthington games had good albeit not great components. That’s not the case here. Wilderness Empires is impressive. The artwork on the cards gives a real flavor for the time period. The mounted board is great, covering the upper Colonies to New France and through to the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes. The point to point map may have limited options, but it’s broad enough to cover the British three prong strategy they historically implemented while still allowing for some strategic movement for the French.
The stickers on the blocks are simple and easy to read. The locations on the map are cut to accommodate the blocks, but you’ll be able to stack units far larger than will fit in a single stack. You may feel like your pushing a stack of poker chips across the board at times, but it’s not a major issue. I do really like the dice in the game, wooden cubes that mimic no effect, refuse to fight, and losses. The rules are straightforward and well written. It doesn’t take long to set up and understand each side’s objectives.
Despite the unwieldiness of the stacks, the game is quite impressive during game play.
The objective of the game is for the British to own 10 more points of objectives than the French, while the French must prevent the British from doing so. Though cards are used, it is not a card driven game, both leaders can move all their armies every turn. The heart of the game may be move and attack, but there’s more to the game than that. The cards are used to add reinforcements, provide bonuses in battle, or even assassinate leaders. Hand management does play a role and a well-played card can help turn the tide of a key battle. Leaders are also important to the game. Leaders are needed to engage in battle, and the side with the leader advantage (highest rated leader in battle) gets to add a special die (or dice) to combat. While the special dice are no more deadly than the normal dice, it is a great bonus since the maximum number of regular dice that can ever be rolled in a round of combat is five. Each special dice collected is a bonus shot at the enemy.
Native Americans are allied with both sides, though the French have considerable more at their disposal. Both sides have cards that allow their Natives to conduct attacks without a leader. Other cards French allied Natives can conduct raids, robbing the British of valuable strength points, while British famine cards hurt the French and their allies as British blockades take their toll on French supplies. The native population played a significant role in the war, and Wilderness Empires does a good job of replicating that.
Keys to victory come down to the capture of at least two of the three main French cities: Louisbourg, Montreal, and Quebec. Of those, Louisbourg is the most important since its loss prohibits French reinforcements. French reinforcement of the area is a top priority, but a particular card draw can lead to Louisbourg falling on the first turn. The British always recruit and move first. Should the British gain reinforcements for Halifax and attack Louisbourg immediately, the French have no way of responding, especially if they fail to draw any battle cards. It’s a minor gripe, but it should be noted that the game becomes near impossible for the French if they lose Louisbourg early.
The French are guaranteed a win if they hold on to each of those three main cities, but it wouldn’t be advisable to hole up and await the British army. The British will gain more reinforcements and simply playing a game of attrition won’t gain the French a victory. Selected attacks against smaller British forces is important to keep pressure on the British. The French have plenty of tactical options at their disposal.
Meanwhile, the British strategy is more straightforward. Pounding Louisbourg is a priority. Marching up through Fort Carillon or Fort Frontenac to put pressure on Montreal is as well. The British problem comes through consolidating their forces and working with inferior generals. The inept Braddock starts in a precarious position along the frontier with little support behind him. Should the French break through the lines of British forts, plenty of victory points lie unprotected throughout the American colonies.
There’s plenty of game play options for both sides, especially in terms of handling your deck and maximizing your attacks. It’s a lighter block war game, but it does it fairly well.
The overall goal of the game will never change. The French must hold on to at least two of the three key cities. The British must drive to capture them. But the deck of cards will alter the strategies used to get there each time. Early French reinforcements may prompt a more French counterattacks. If General Wolfe arrives early, the British can afford to be a bit more aggressive. The war may generally follow the similar path with each play, but there’s enough here to keep the game fresh.
Historically, the French suffered from a lack of supplies and reinforcements as the war drug on. Louis XV turned his attention to the war on the continent while the British navy wrecked havoc with French supply lines. Still, the French have a decent chance at victory in this game. The game certainly favors the British in the long haul, but too many costly defeats can keep the British from winning.
When it comes to owning more than one game from the game war, I always try to look for something to make that game standout. So why bother with this game? After all, Wilderness Empires isn’t the best French & Indian War game available. Still, it is playable in less than two hours. It has great components. The cards allow for plenty of strategic variety. I’m happy it’s part of my collection, and it’s worth a look for those that enjoy this period of history or are looking for a lighter block game.