I make no secret of the fact that wargames using the chit-pull mechanic are a new favorite of mine. In the past two years I have acquired awesome games like Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018 and Runner Up for the Golden Geek Wargame of the Year in 2018) or The Dark Sands (GMT Games, 2018). I also enjoyed the excellent Battle Hymn Vol. 1: Gettysburg & Pea Ridge (Compass Games, 2018) and the small-but-strategic Brave Little Belgium (Hollandspiele, 2019) or Jour de’ Gloire – The Battle of Issy, 1815 (C3i Magazine, 2018). This past week I took delivery of The Dark Valley: The Russian Campaign 1941-1945 (GMT Games, 2019) and have started exploring that game.
Using the Advanced Search function of BoardGameGeek, I was messing around and randomly decided to look at what Chit-Pull Mechanic games are in my collection. According to BGG I have 18 games with the chit-pull mechanic, ranging from my top ranked Battle Hymn (8.25) to Operational Cannibal: Burma 1942-1943 (Avalanche Press Ltd., 1996) with a paltry 4.0 (Not so good, it doesn’t get me but could be talked into on occasion).
Operation Cannibal? What’s that? So I pulled the game off the shelf and took a look.
Operation Cannibal is a game about the December 1942 to April 1943 campaign along the west coast of Burma. It is a small game with a single 17″x22″ map where each hex is 4km. Units are Battalions/Companies and shown using 140 counters. There is also an 8-page rulebook that includes four scenarios. Stated game play time is 1-12 hours.
The impulse and chit-pull mechanic in Operation Cannibal is interesting. Every turn, the Japanese player rolls for the weather. The result is the number of impulses in the forthcoming turn ranging from six to zero (Monsoon). The Japanese player will pick a number of impulse chits equal to the weather result MINUS ONE (but never less than three) and adds them to the cup. The British player picks chits equal to the weather result MINUS TWO (but never less than two) and adds them to the cup. Every impulse a chit is drawn from the cup and then executed. Consecutive impulses are allowed but never more than three in a row (14.4). It is possible that in poor weather turns (3 impulses or less) that one player might not get any actions.
Even when an impulse chit is drawn, there is variability. There are four types of action chits; FULL, ATTACK, CHOICE, or HALF. What you can do is dependent upon the type of chit drawn. I seem to recall this part of the game was what I disliked. I vaguely recall confusion and a slowness of play because I was unsure what could, or could not, be done on each action chit. Of course, a simple quick reference card, like that found in the files section of BGG, can make all the difference. I never downloaded that content until now (never had a reason to).
I played the first scenario, Donbiak, to see how Operation Cannibal plays. This is a two-turn scenario that is very useful for learning the game. After playing the short scenario I must admit that I have to reconsider my opinion of Operation Cannibal. The game is not as bad as I remember. I really like the variable number of impulses. With a player aid it is easier to process the different actions available on the different chits.
That is not to say the game will jump to the top of my chit-pull games. Operation Cannibal is fairly easy to play but component-wise it is a bit gaudy and unappealing. The camouflage (Jungle-capable) units are hard to read and the map is very uninviting. The rule book lacks any sort of helpful graphics. There are some good thematic elements (Japanese supply lines being different than British) but in the end the game lacks that “X-Factor” that makes me want to play. More specifically, nothing happens in the game – the battle is B-O-R-I-N-G.
So I will be revising my BGG rating for Operation Cannibal to a 6 (OK – Will play if in the mood) mostly because it can be a smaller game. I worry about the longer scenario; 12 hours for a game this small seems excessive. I note that many of the negative ratings on BGG are not related so much to game play but to the boring topic chosen. I note that the same system in used in MacArthur’s Return (Avalanche Press Ltd., 1994), another game sitting on my shelf.
As I hunted the Avalanche Press website for a good link to Operation Cannibal I came across this old page. Very insightful.
We published Operation Cannibal in 1997, alongside Red Steel. I chronicled the misbegotten birth of Red Steel in an earlier piece but the circumstances around Cannibal are far worse. Publishing it was just as bad a decision, but that might have been the least of its problems.
After all that, Operation Cannibal turned out to be a weak seller. Its low price point carried it through its first months, but the fact is, the game’s best scenarios are in the 420-piece version. It’s not so much that the game is flawed, it’s that it models its campaign too well: a slow, painstaking British advance through the jungle. It’s the sort of thing we put in our wargames these days for the sake of completeness and as a historical illustration, not because we intend them to be the centerpiece of the game’s play.
I’ll be glad to see this one burn; while I’ve written a sheaf of content for games like Red Steel, Imperium and America Triumphant, when I even think about Operation Cannibal the burning in my guts that had me hospitalized for much of 2000 and 2001 is back. I should never have green-lighted it for production, and I should have made the decision to cut our losses and spike it on the drive back from Ozzie and Harriet’s. Callie’s good deed went for little gain.
“…models its campaign too well…” is a very good description. After my replay I think the publisher is being a bit harsh in wanting to “see this one burn;” the game mechanics are decent they just need a more exciting topic.
Feature image BoardGameGeek