#Wargame Wednesday – Alternate Stalingrad on the Mississippi with Mississippi Banzai (XTR Corp, 1990)

Alternate History is a finicky genre of fiction. There are a few titles out there I like such as Fatherland by Robert Harris or SS-GB by Len Deighton. Wargames are a form of alternate history fiction in that the historical outcome of a battle is not always the result. In my collection, I have several 3WW and XTR Corp titles that went deep into an alternate history setting for their wargames. Tomorrow the World (3WW, 1989) by designer Ty Bomba was set in an alternate 1948 world where the Nazi’s and Imperial Japanese won World War II and uneasily divided the world and especially the defeated United States (very Man in the High Castle-like). In addition to the strategic wargame Tomorrow the World, XTR Corp (publishers of Command Magazine then associated with 3WW) published several other magazine/folio games in the same setting. I have three of the games, Seven Seas to Victory (1992) which is naval combat around the Panama Canal in 1945 (US vs Nazi Germany), Black Gold (Texas Tea) (1990) recreating a 1948 offensive in the Middle East, and Mississippi Banzai (1990). Thanks to a random number generator, the operational-level Mississippi Banzai (XTR Corp, 1990) landed on my gaming table recently.

Reverse Stalingrad on the Mississippi

Mississippi Banzai envisions the opening offensive of the 1948 war against Nazi Germany by the Imperial Japanese with a strike in the heartland of American. Imperial Japanese forces, attacking out of western Missouri and Iowa, try to surround the German 6th Army at St Louis and secure the strategic towns of Ft Madison and Burlington to the north as they need to eventually march on Chicago. Designer Ty Bomba and developer Chris Perello are very up front that they wanted to design a game with lots of maneuver. Although the Mark Simonitch map looks more like a desert than the wheat fields of the American Midwest, the game design achieves what the designer wanted—lots of maneuver across a relatively open map with low counter density. The combination of maneuver and “elastic combat” in Mississippi Banzai make this low-complexity game, darkly themed game a rather enjoyable thinking challenge.

St. Stalin-Louis-Grad?

Small Game – Big Battle

Mississippi Banzai is physically a small game. The actual “map” of the battlespace takes up 3/4 of the 22″x34″ map with the remaining area dedicated to various game tables and charts. There are 300 counters of which about 20% are markers—not combat units possibly appearing on the map.The 16-page rule book is actually only 11 pages (triple column) of rules and five pages of front/back matter, setting background, and Designer’s Notes. Rules are not very complex with very simple movement and combat. Supply effects are determined at time of movement and combat. All told Mississippi Banzai is a rather small, uncomplicated game.

The real treat in playing Mississippi Banzai is in that simple play. The game last at least 8 turns after which a random roll determines if Winter Rains end the Japanese offensive. The game will automatically end after Turn 12 so time is not really on the Japanese side. The Japanese player also has limited reinforcements as only once PER GAME the Japanese player may Petition the Emperor for more units.

The German player in Mississippi Banzai starts with a smaller force but has access to reinforcements every turn. Once per game, the German player can Appeal to the Fuhrer for extra reinforcements. The German player is going to need every reinforcement they can get because they start off with fewer forces on the board and must rush in new defenders to stem the Japanese offensive. This dance between a juggernaught with nothing behind it and a defender desperately rushing in new forces to stop the rolling giant is what makes Mississippi Banzai an interesting, challenging game.

The New World Order – How Retro

The rules of Mississippi Banzai are in many ways built upon basic, even classic wargame mechanisms:

  • Air Power is abstractly represented by air chits that are used for Air Superiority, Interdiction, or Ground Support Missions. Chits on Air Superiority missions cancel each other and excess missions cancel enemy Interdiction or Ground Support missions. Interdiction units are played at the end of the owning player’s turn and represent areas which require extra movement points to pass thru. Ground Support provides column shifts on the Combat Results Table (CRT).
  • Supply is simple trace checked at the start of a unit’s movement or at the time of combat.
  • Stacking is a 4-unit maximum.
  • There are no zones of control rules but units cannot enter hexes with enemy units unless they are mechanized and conducting a Mobile Assault.
  • The most interesting terrain is Major River/Bottom Land. To enter a Non-mech unit pays 2 MP but a mechanized unit has to pay 3 MP. The cost is the same whether one is crossing the river or not.
  • Mobile Assaults (MA) are Mississippi Banzai’s overrun attacks. During movement if a mechanized unit wants to enter an enemy-occupied hex it (always) costs 3x MP for the defender’s hex. MA cannot be combined with attacks (i.e. each stack conducts MA independently—no combining attacks.
  • Prepared Assaults (PA) are conducted in the Combat Phase. Both MA and PA in Mississippi Banzai use a simple CRT with results that I describe as “elastic combat.” Combat losses are described by a number or “E” for eliminated. Implementing “1,” “2,” or “3” results has a nice twist—the number is the steps lost OR the number of hexes the ENTIRE STACK must retreat. The owner chooses how to satisfy the loss/retreat. Thus, combat is “elastic” in that sometimes the units stay in place but other times they “bounce away.”
  • A Concentric Prepared Assault is when a single hex is attacked by stacks from up to three hexes and awards a column shift on the CRT.
  • The Japanese player can use the Banzai Attack which doubles the combat factors (on attack or defense) but comes with a mandatory step loss.
  • Fog of War, or the ability to examine enemy stacks, is an optional rule?
  • Artillery fires in barrages at the beginning of each combat phase. In the case where a hit is scored and there is more than one unit in the hex, “put all of them in a coffee mug and draw. The drawn unit is the one that takes a step loss.”

Chrome rules, such as they are, in Mississippi Banzai are few but uncomplicated. The Germans have the Maus super-heavy assault guns which are great in combat but ponderous to move. German Leaders grant bonus movement and column shifts in combat. There are special units like “Amerindian Japanese Puppet Troops” and the “Kwantung Siege Army” as well as “Kempeitai Suicide Commandos,” “FLAK,” and airdroppable units.

In this dark comedy version of a Cold War Gone Hot, Atomic Bombs are also a part of Mississippi Banzai. It’s an optional rule, but if you’re already playing this game why hold back? At the start of each game turn a roll is made to see if a bomb is available. If yes it MUST be used! There is a 1 in 6 chance of a dud. If the bomb explodes there are game effects that stay on the board even after the blast. Units wishing to move thru an Atomic Bomb blast hex have to roll on the Blast Entry Hex Chart to see if they even can.

Victory in Mississippi Banzai is very straight-forward. Control of three locations by the Japanese determines victory. Ft. Madison and Burlington are one point (and one hex) each while to get the single Victory Point for St. Louis all four hexes need be controlled.

A Fascist Lovefest?

There may be a few amongst you who are appalled by Mississippi Banzai and the theme. Not only does the game have the stereotypical white-on-black Nazi SS counters, but the most numerous American ally comes in the form of KKK Calvary. Even designer Ty Bomba back in 1990 obviously got some negative feedback which he addresses head-on in his Designer’s Notes [Note: Emphasis text as in original]:

This is a game, which if it were made into a film, would fall into the genre of “Black Comedy.” That is, it philosophic purpose is to examine some aspect of the audience’s worst fears, and using satire, irony and (most of all) exaggeration, make fun of them. To the anal-retentive among you I say, “Remember it is only a game.”

Viewing and enjoying a movie like Dr. Strangelove or Fail Safe doesn’t make you an advocate of nuclear warfare. Likewise, playing Mississippi Banzai should not be taken as an indicator of pro-fascist leanings or a wish to revise the outcome of World War II. It is only a game.

From a more military science oriented perspective, I wanted to examine a situation wherein terrain was almost a non-factor (as in N. Africa in WWII), but where unit commitment was on par with the most savagely contested fronts imaginable (as in Russia in WWII).

Mississippi Banzai, Designer’s Notes

It seems to me that if Mr. Bomba wanted to use Mississippi Banzai to explore, “a situation wherein terrain was almost a non-factor (as in N. Africa in WWII), but where unit commitment was on par with the most savagely contested fronts imaginable (as in Russia in WWII)” he could very easily make a “Stalingrad on the Nile” or something to that effect. Yes, the thematic setting of Tomorrow the World makes for match ups that some may find very interesting but Mr. Bomba doesn’t mention that match up as a design driver.

Putting “History” Behind

At the end of the day I think I’ll just quietly pack away Mississippi Banzai and put both it an all my Tomorrow the World-related games on the shelf. If I want to study Stalingrad, or a Stalingrad-inspired situation, I’ll just get a Stalingrad game.

Which I don’t have in my collection.

Which I now have to find.

4 thoughts on “#Wargame Wednesday – Alternate Stalingrad on the Mississippi with Mississippi Banzai (XTR Corp, 1990)

  1. In a very very early issue of Command magazine, published about the same time as this game, Ty wrote in an editorial about “study hall wargames” – designs that were perhaps interesting matchups theoretically but had no basis in any relevant history, and nothing to teach besides how to get a 3-1 while pushing handfuls of cardboard around.

    Very much like the old AH game Blitzkrieg actually, which another game in this family – Black Gold – explicitly acknowledges as an influence, IIRC.

    He meant it slightingly, but here we are 30 years and many such alt-hist designs later, by many designers. I wish I could find the actual quote.

    Brian

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