|General Ulysses S. Grant|
During the night of 3 May, Federal Forces, 119,000 strong, moved out of their bivouacs and began to march towards the Rapidan River east of the rebel army’s main positions. Alerted almost immediately that the Union army was moving towards the lower fords east of his camps, Lee confidently ordered the Army of Northern Virginia, numbering almost 64,000 battle-hardened veterans, into motion the next day to meet the familiar and completely expected threat of a Union flanking maneuver to turn his right. The Confederate commander, while he did not discount the enemy threat, was unimpressed. He had defeated Federal armies as large as the one he now faced before — both at Fredericksburg and again at Chancellorsville — and he fully expected, as did his men, that he would do so this time, as well. Unbeknownst to General Robert E. Lee, however, he now faced — perhaps, for the very first time — an opposing general who also viewed the coming campaign with supreme confidence; U.S. Grant meant to march his army to Richmond, and he was determined that, whatever the cost, the Union soldiers that he commanded would not be turned back.
The two color hexagonal-grid game map represents the region of Northern Virginia in which the historical campaign actually took place. Each hex is 4.5 kilometers from side to side. The map terrain types that actually affect play are limited to Rough, All Sea, Coastal, River Hexsides, and Railroads. This minimalist approach to terrain certainly keeps things simple for the players, but it is a little unsettling to see that the “wilderness” (scrubby woodlands) of the game’s eponymous title actually appear nowhere on the game map. In addition to traditional types of terrain, certain locations are designated as man-made fortifications; however, because these “part terrain/part combat unit” strong points can be reduced through assault, they are — like the regular combat units in the game — further represented by fort counters of varying denominations. Lastly, along with traditional types of terrain, major military and political centers are surrounded by belts (of varying thickness) of shaded hexes which represent the “command zone” of each of these special military/political centers.
The basic game mechanics for THE WILDERNESS CAMPAIGN — particularly for those players who are unfamiliar with THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR (1972) or LEE MOVES NORTH (1973) — are unusual enough to be interesting. Zones of control (ZOCs) are “rigid” but only “semi-sticky”; that is to say: units may not move directly through enemy ZOCs, but may enter and exit enemy ZOCs by paying a movement penalty. In addition, since ZOCs do not extend into friendly-occupied hexes, phasing units may gradually ooze through a gap in an enemy line by stacking and then unstacking while adjacent to an enemy unit or stack. Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the game is that, except for leader and fortification counters, all of the units (including dummy and cavalry counters) are inverted unless revealed either by an enemy cavalry probe or as a result of an enemy attack; hence, the importance of the aforementioned “Hasty Attack/Probe Segment”. Cavalry, it should be noted, represents a special case: these weak but flexible units, when inverted, are treated just like infantry for command and control purposes; but, if deployed on the map face-up, they are allowed to operate independently of a friendly leader. In any case, the inevitable effect of the game’s “inverted counter” mechanic is to insure that, unlike most of the other games produced during this period, limited intelligence and misdirection heavily influence the turn-by-turn decision-making of both players.
|General Robert E. Lee, |
painting by Mort Kunstler
Victory in THE WILDERNESS CAMPAIGN is determined, on the basis of the opposing players’ final victory points tallies, at the conclusion of the last game turn. Because of the different strategic objectives of the two sides, these points can be amassed through the capture or occupation of geographical objectives, and through the destruction of enemy combat strength points. Like John Young’s other Civil war title, LEE MOVES NORTH, victory in this game comes in several different “flavors”; hence, different levels of victory ranging from Marginal to Decisive are all potential outcomes. Finally, I feel compelled to note that the game’s victory conditions seem — at least, based on my experience — to be skewed somewhat in favor of the South. This last is not really a fatal defect, but it does lead to a peculiar game anomaly; that is: based purely on the game’s victory conditions, Grant actually lost to Lee in the historical campaign.
THE WILDERNESS CAMPAIGN offers three different game situations: the Wilderness to Cold Harbor game; the Cold Harbor to Petersburg game; and the complete Campaign game which ties the two shorter games together. In addition, the designer has included a number of what if? scenarios that can, at the discretion of the players, be applied to the various games to vary play or to adjust play- balance. There are no other “optional rules.”
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
|Battle of Cold Harbor|
|General Grant in the Wilderness Campaign, |
May 5, 1864 painting by
Henry Alexander Ogden
Finally, I should also note that THE WILDERNESS CAMPAIGN was designed by one of my favorite SPI game designers: John Michael Young. This title is only one example of the many games designed by John Young during his relatively short career at SPI. As evidence of John’s versatility, his many designs dealt with historical topics as varied as ancient Rome, the first wide-spread individual use of firearms, the wars of Napoleon, the Crimean War, the American Civil War, and all the way up to, and including, the Second World War and beyond. I confess that — even after all these years — I am still a big fan of almost all of Young’s many games for the simple reason that his designs are usually innovative, interesting, playable, and fun. Thus, in spite of his tragic and untimely death many years ago, John Young has left behind a library of some of the best game designs that, in my opinion, SPI ever published.
- Time Scale: two days per game turn
- Map Scale: 4.5 kilometers per hex
- Unit Size: corps/divisions
- Unit Types: leader, infantry, cavalry, fortress, railroad, dummy, and information counters
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: below average
- Average Playing Time: 2-3+ hours
- One 22” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Sheet
- 255 ½” cardboard Counters
- One 6” x 11½” map-fold style Rules Booklet
- Two 11” x 14” identical copies of a back-printed, combined Scenario Set-up Sheet, Combat Results Table, and Supply Effects Chart
- One 6” x 10” Turn Record/Reinforcement Track
- One 6” x 12½” Terrain Effects Chart
- One 4” x 8½” SPI Order Form
- One small six-sided Die
- One SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat-pack style 24 compartment plastic Game Box with clear compartment tray covers and Cover Sheet
Related Blog PostsSPI, LEE MOVES NORTH, (1973)
SPI, THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR, (1972)
Recommended ReadingSee my blog post Book Review of this title which is strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.
THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU .
Also see my blog post Book Review of this definitive three volume work on the officers of the Army of Northern Virginia by Douglas S. Freeman.
Also, for those interested in battlefield maps, the "museum book" collection of historical Civil War maps by William J. Miller, released in 2004, or the atlas compiled by Stephen Hyslop in 2009 of Civil war battlefields are worth collecting.