THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY continues to fascinate me. I think in the pantheon of naval wargames Midway is akin to the Bulge or Waterloo for land gamers – its the World War II naval battle game that everybody does. It’s been done so many times that one can feel that there is ‘nothing new under the sun’ when a new game rolls out. Fury at Midway (Revolution Games, 2020) by designer Yasushi Nakaguro thankfully foils this thinking by delivering a wargame that is both a classic, yet modern version of the iconic battle.
Fury at Midway was originally published in Japan by Bonsai Games. Roger Miller of Revolution Games took the game and made a few changes:
Changes in this Revolution Games version include making it a two map game, one for each player, which makes for an increased degree of hidden information regarding air strikes, damage, and combat air patrol. Four additional event cards were added to better cover the range of historical events of the battle. Anti-aircraft fire was reduced and rules for hitting the wrong carrier force were introduced. The map areas were expanded a hex row and the counter art was redone as well as many other small changes.
Here is how Roger Miller, developer and publisher of the game, describes Fury at Midway:
The game system is primarily one of air operations. When to strike and with what planes is the primary question of the game. This is balanced by how you defend your own fleet and the island of Midway for the Americans or the invasion fleet for the Japanese. The Japanese have to either take Midway or win the carrier battle to win the game and having two objectives really challenges the Japanese player to make a good plan while the American situation is simpler but his forces are not as well trained and errors in navigation, strike coordination, escort, etc can take a toll. Surface forces are not shown in the game except in their effects in AAA, bombardment, or the slight chance of an abstract night surface battle. This is a simple yet pretty accurate version of Midway that was a lot of fun during testing.
Fury at Midway uses a classic ‘carrier ready’ approach to air operations. Aircraft move on the Carrier Display between the Hanger, Deck/Runway, and Combat Air Patrol (CAP). Only aircraft on the Deck/Runway can launch an Air Strike. Those strikes move across a hex map to attack using a simple resolution mechanic; roll 1d6 per Step with rolls equal-to or less-than the unit Strength scoring a Hit. There are very few modifiers to the roll possible. Yes, it’s a form of ‘Yahtzee dice’ combat but it’s dead simple – and it works.
The ‘modern’ twists in Fury at Midway are Concealment, Air Operations, and the Event Cards. Concealment is a key game mechanic as players ‘see’ the location of other fleets on their board but further enemy information, like aircraft on Combat Air Patrol (CAP) or formed up in approaching strike groups or even actual damage to carriers is kept hidden on the other player’s board. Air Operations recreates the ‘optempo’ of each force; the US has a Search advantage and will likely get more Air Operations in each turn. Event Cards represent the intangibles of war. There are 13 Event Cards in the game divided between US-only, Japanese-only, and both player types. All card draws are from a common deck making it quite possible to draw a card you cannot use. This is a great feature, not a bug, for as the rules put it:
If the US player draws an event card that can only be used by the Japanese forces (or vice versa), that card cannot be used. Drawing such an event keeps it out of the hands of your opponent and give you knowledge it won’t be played later.
I am impressed that even the very small rule book (12 pages double column) brings out the doctrinal differences of the fleets. For instance, a Strike Group is composed of aircraft launched from a single carrier. However, to reflect Japanese training of the time, the Japanese player can use Midair Assembly to combine strike groups from different carriers if all are launched in the same Air Operation. Another example is dive bombers which gain +1 Strength when attacking a carrier with aircraft on Deck. If the Japanese attack with a Strike Group composed of both D3A dive bombers and B5N torpedo bombers, the torpedo strikers gain +1 Strength to reflect the practice they had delivering a combined strike. There are a few more examples but my point is Fury at Midway uses simple game mechanics to deliver a very rich game experience.
My first few games show that Fury at Midway can deliver both historical and a-historic outcomes. I am a bit concerned that a Japanese player committed to the historical sequence of strikes (i.e. hit Midway first) is at a disadvantage. A better strategy might be to search for the US fleet first, strike it, then turn to reducing Midway. In Fury at Midway this may be the default basic strategy because, unlike the Japanese admirals at Midway almost 80 years ago, the Japanese player knows there are three US carriers out there. Fortunately, the game plays fast enough that players probably can play more than one game in an evening creating the opportunity to try out different strategies for yourself. Try the historic way and see if you can do better!
Fury at Midway is a light, fresh take on the Battle of Midway. I appreciate the quick play yet depth of decisions packed into this small footprint wargame. One can play the game solo but doing so loses the element of surprise – and the surprise of discovering for yourself what strikes are inbound, or where the CAP is, and which carrier has planes on deck is the best part of the game.