Whitetail Wilderness: Woodland Pursuit is the fruit of labour of Kevin Shaud, who you may recognize from the 1 Player Guild on BGG and from our own Grumpy Gamer section - he has contributed some great posts as a guest writer. This is a solitaire game about deer hunting, a theme that I'm guessing won't appeal to everyone. Heck, even I was a little hesitant at first, and I'm not a vegetarian. Kevin probably anticipated this reaction, and explains in the rulebook that deer population in the woods has to be kept in check from time to time. He also talks about fond memories of going hunting with his late dad, implying that hunting can be much more than the thrill of taking down the prey.
In any case, here we have a hand management and dice rolling game which I found to be very thematic, at least by imagining what a real hunting expedition might feel like. The game was for me an emotional rollercoaster: I got excited when I spotted some deer and managed to identify what they are, frustrated when the deer sensed my presence and fled. Excited to come close to a big buck, frustrated that I missed the shot and didn't have enough cards to mitigate my bad roll.
The game comes with 6 scenarios that give you a different objective each time, for example, to find the lair of the Legendary buck, or just head in the forest and shoot the largest buck possible. Setup is fast: you make a grid of locations, seed the deer deck, and draw a hand of 6 cards. These cards can be used either for their designated action (hunt, identify, hide or shoot), or for movement, or to help you with your dice results. As soon as you move to a new location, you reveal it and then roll the dice to determine three parameters: Activity, Cover, and Vantage. Activity shows if there any deer in the area, Cover shows how easy it is to remain hidden, and Vantage helps you identify and shoot.
If there are indeed deer where you are standing, you will play your cards to try to hunt them. Each card you play gives you a number of dice which you add to your pool along with the dice from the Activity, Cover, or Vantage rating, depending on the action you are doing. For example, let's say you want to identify a deer, you are at medium range and have an ID card of value 2 in your hand. If Vantage is also 2, you will be rolling 4 dice, and hoping you get 5s and 6s: the only successful results. If you roll, say, a 4, you may discard a card to add 1 to it and make it a 5.
Managing your cards so that your deck doesn't run out too soon is key to winning, but if the dice gods aren't on your side, things won't be easy. The deer deck has a lot of young does which you can't hunt, so you'll always be on the lookout for big prey. Some Gear cards in your deck may come in handy in boosting your rolls, and offer nice thematic touches too (like covering your scent or spraying attractant). The artwork is beautiful and really transports you in a forest where your targets are white silhouettes: hard to catch, like ghostly apparitions.
I must say that, even though the rulebook is for the most part clearly written, I had difficulty in understanding how the range works and had to consult the excellent diagram by usfbrown. The game is available to purchase from the Game Crafter, and if you reside in the US, I would recommend ordering the published version instead of PnP-ing it, unless you are a PnP master. It's quite a lot to print, and the result won't likely have the beauty of the ready-made product. It is obvious that Kevin has done all he could to recreate the hunting activity in board game form, and he definitely succeeded. If you have a deer head trophy in your living room, or just want to feel the thrill of the hunt, do check it out.