I love unique treasures. When my friends and I are deciding on a gold value for a game, I always push for lower gold value totals with higher actual coin counts. Because UT's are treated as having a worth of 0 in the gold pool, this ensures that I can fit as many of these little buggers in as possible. My favorite of all time though, would have to be wolves. And it's a title well deserved, as this is one of the most useful pieces I've ever set down on the table.
Wolves makes the ultimate island guarder. Although it may be slightly less sound than a gunship, It can allow you to redirect your forces elsewhere in order to have the whole board covered, smashing any hope the opponent might have of victory
Strategies and game play:
Because it's a UT (and therefor mostly luck based) wolves' only real strategy is involved almost entirely during setup in the other ships and crew you choose to put in your fleet. During the game, all you can do is hope your opponent finds it, and then run in to block the next island your opponent would go to, or just head to the island and counter wolves, leaving you with the gold and your opponent frustrated and poor. If you find it first, hopefully it's at a time when you can easily counter it. Of course, there is the super sneaky way to ensure you never find it.
Combos with other miniatures:
The most obvious combo to put here is in the ability text; outfit a gunship with a musketeer, or a treasure runner with a marine. This makes your overall combat ability better, and allows you to get rid of wolves. Of course, the chances of having your musketeer-ed gunship handy are slim, and having to divert it could leave it sunk. If you go with a marine, then there is that price tag to consider. You can shoot wolves right when you find it, due to the marine's separate shoot action, but you still have to wait a turn to load the treasure, and by that time the enemy could have loaded the treasure themselves!
The next option is my favorite, super sneaky option. Simply play a fleet of fast gunships, such as the HMS Swallow or the San Cristobal (don't do any treasure running). You may want a few other evil UT's in here, like fruit or enemy of the state, to ensure that your opponent finds enough of them to seriously impact their treasure haul. This is generally the route I go, and I was once able to sink the entire enemy fleet before they got a single gold home! This may not be entirely wolves focused, but wolves make a great addition to any UT based fleet.
Forts. Big defensive ones, too like Paradise de la Mer, or Fortaleza Dorada. They let you get the treasure without having to load it, so they're perfect for wolves. Of course, this doesn't work as well should wolves be on the first island you go to, but you can always return later, as it's probably near your home island. Be careful! should your opponent manage to destroy the fort, then your left with even more untouchable gold, hoarded by wolves. You can always rebuild the fort, but if they did it once, they may be able to do it again, leaving you even deeper in the hole.
Treasure traders (After looking at treasure on a wild island, you may trade any one treasure from that island for a random treasure on any other wild island. This ship must load the traded treasure.) will let you send wolves to an island that your opponent is headed for, leaving them with nothing (since they won't know the new treasure until they find the wolves!)
There are a few Mysterious Islands that allow you to move one or two treasure coins from all islands onto this island, and they can be very effective if you include wolves in the treasure pool. There is nothing sweeter than watching your opponent's joy turn to horror as they pick up wolves from another island, and suddenly all of their riches are unobtainable. I once played a game where the first mysterious island roll brought wolves along with a heap of gold to the island, and then it triggered again when my friend went to build their fort! Needles to say the game quickly devolved into who could build their fort on the island and keep it there until the end of the game.
Unique treasures, are by definition, unique, and wolves is no exception. One more recent UT deserves recognition here though, and that is blood money. Although not similar at first glance, they both remain face up on their islands, and both make it effectively impossible to load the gold that they hide (a treasure runner's only real option with blood money is to eliminate a helmsman for 2 gold. Eliminating the explorer ends the action immediately, so you get nothing, and anything more expensive is probably part of a necessary combo) Of course, the best treasure runners in the game are Spanish, and what slips through blood money's net? Spain. The only real reason to play blood money over wolves is if you're playing Spain yourself. All the benefits with no draw backs. You could try bloody gold, but it's LE, and again may let some coins past.
Ways to counteract it:
If your opponent keeps using wolves, you may want to invest in a musketeer, although just having a fort handy is cheaper and more effective. Karmic idle will take care of all Ut's, but you may want to add maps of alexandria (turning all treasure face up) to ensure you catch wolves. Another thing you may find helpful are the above mentioned treasure traders to trade away wolves should you find it. The royal decrees let you just scoop treasure off of islands so that you can bypass wolves all together, or scoop up wolves to allow access to the island.
-Prevents an entire island of treasure form being loaded
-Costs nothing to put in
-Prevents an entire island of treasure from being loaded
-It's random who finds it first (or if it's found at all)
Artwork and aesthetics:
I love the idea of wolves as dangerous predators just waiting to grab you that this picture conveys, even if reality is much different. Because this came out in Barbary Coast, I always picture them in the desert, which clashes with the cold Eastern European scary wolf thing, but that's just me.
8/10. Somewhat bias, but I admit that the randomness behind wolves can make it a little annoying and ruin your plans. With a little bit of planning and luck though, it can be a game winning piece.
Edit: Mysterious islands are the best! And spelling!