Mark Herman’s South Pacific: Breaking Down the Bismarck Barrier, 1942-43 is the game included in C3i Magazine Nr 30 published by RBM Studios in late 2016. South Pacific (SPac) is actually a scenario (17.10) for Empire of the Sun (EotS, GMT Games, 2005).
The designer’s blurb for SPac pretty much sums up the product:
South Pacific (SPac) is an Empire of the Sun (EotS) C3i Scenario Variant that uses the full scope of its parent design. While South Pacific is a complete stand alone game all of the tactics that work in EotS work in SPac. What is unique about SPac is the smaller map region (see C3i 30 back cover image) focuses and significantly simplifies the strategic options available to the two sides.
Each side has a 24 card deck that are like the EotS cards except they have been renumbered. The counter mix is also identical, except we have aligned the set up and reinforcement markings to the four-turn scenario. In designing this new C3i Scenario Variant, I wanted to put you in the shoes of MacArthur and Ghormley/Halsey prosecuting the US counterattack, while still being impacted by interservice rivalry, China, and competition for resources in Europe. All of the relevant tracks have been redesigned by Mark Simonitch to fit on the tailored C3i Mapsheet surface that shines a spotlight on the turning point in the Pacific War.
Since this is a subset of the broader war each player is playing with a four rather than a seven card hand, and you will never reshuffle the deck allowing for high replayability. The practical result of this smaller hand of cards is South Pacific typically clocks in at less than two hours, so easily a one-session game.
If you learn to how to play South Pacific you will also know how to play its parent game Empire of the Sun.
Having recently played Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1932-1935 (C3i Nr 29) I felt I was going to be familiar with the system and ready to try. Though I had a few issues with Plan Orange, overall I like that game and wanted to try more. Hence, my purchase of SPac.
The physical components are nice. The counters (~100) are nice if not a bit thin for my taste. The map is small (11″ x 17″) and does not take up a great deal of tabletop space when laid out. The cards are nice, and just fit “SMALL Gaming Card” (62mm x 89mm) sleeves. [Interestingly, the Plan Orange cards also fit these sleeves but are just a shade narrower with a little bit sticking out at the top] The package “form factor” makes SPac a good travel game.
In SPac rule 1.0 Introduction, the Design Note states:
These are the rules to Empire of the Sun with some superfluous sections taken out to allow you to play the single scenario that comes with South Pacific. We have done this so if you learn South Pacific, you also know how to play its parent design.
Unfortunately, in the desire to “simplify” the rules for SPac this approach to the rules created problems. The reuse of parts of the EotS rulebook creates confusion, several key items were actually left out, and several rules are outright contradictory.
Section 3.0 General Course of Play includes the following Play Note:
If this is the first time the you are reading these rules, then is recommended that the player segregate the counters into a set that have hex setup locations and those that have a game turn of entry. Take the units with hex setups and place them on the map where indicated. After completing this go to the comprehensive example of play and move the counters according to the narrative. It is our belief that this ‘best practice’ will facilitate your introduction into the game system.
There is no “comprehensive example of play” in the rulebook that covers the entire 4.0 Sequence of Play. The closest item is the Comprehensive Offensive Example found on p. 21. The problem with this example it that it is for EotS and covers a map area and units NOT in SPac. This makes learning for one unfamiliar with EotS – like me – that much more difficult.
Two missing rules I found most difficult to cope with in my early plays were the lack of a Terrain Key (not in the rulebook nor on the map) and the rules for Progress of War (essential for determination of Political Will and Victory Conditions). The designer has answered forum questions on both CONSIMWorld and BoardgameGeek which is helpful but I cannot help but feel that the product needed an good proofread/playtest by someone NOT familiar with EotS (i.e. like me, not that I’m volunteering but…).
An example of rules contradiction is Pre-War Units. In 1.3 Glossary, the entry for Pre-War Units reads:
Pre-War Units: Most of the units that start the game on the map (those with set up hexes on the counters) and certain others are denoted by a dot on their counters. These are defined as pre-war units. Pre-war units cannot receive replacements.
Yet later, in rule 11.0 Replacements section 11.1 Pre-War Unit Restrictions simple states, “Not Applicable.” I can read rules 1.3 and 11.1 together in at least two different ways; 1) The restriction on pre-war units means that units with a dot cannot receive replacements, or 2) the restriction defined in 1.3 is not applicable to SPac. These are two radically different interpretations of the rules and clearly understanding which is correct is vital for the Japanese player. Per the scenario rules, the Japanese player has very few naval and air replacement points. There is only one naval unit in the game (BB Yamato) that is not marked as a pre-war unit. Strictly reading the (few) rules above, it would seem that only the BB Yamato can be “replaced” – or not? It that really the intention of the scenario?
Game Play: A-
Once familiar with the system the game flows well. The sequence of strategy card draws will always vary making no two games alike. The scenario only lasts four turns and, once the Progress of War rules are understood, puts great pressure on the American player to take the offensive and make things happen. I see SPac as a fast, tight game where one bad roll of the die could be fatal. Maybe too fatal? I don’t really know yet. I am still a newbie to the game engine and am still working past rules issues meaning I have not been able to fully explore the strategy of the game. Hopefully that exploration can come after familiarity – and not too much errata.
In many ways that sums up my love/hate with SPac. I really like the card-driven strategy decisions and the simple, yet seemingly realistic, combat system and results. What befuddles me is the thought that the game supposedly builds upon a solid foundation in EotS yet, in the quest to simplify and tailor, there is confusion. I strongly feel that the designer, developer (hmm…no developer credited), editor (uhh…no editor credited) and playtesters (very few) were possibly too familiar with EotS and “filled in the blanks” where rules/items were missing or “intuitively understood” what is not necessarily written in the rules. I do not see the problem as fatal but they are VERY annoying.
Overall Recommendation: Keeper. Will (somewhat reluctantly) look for errata. Explore more for strategy.
All photos courtesy BoardGameGeek except where noted.
Mark Herman’s South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier, 1942-43, © RBM Studio Publications, 2016.