Task Force: Carrier Battles in the Pacific originally designed by Ginichiro Suzuki and republished in 2023 by Vuca Simulations uses a tutorial—or programmed—approach to learning the game. After having worked my way through the Pearl Harbor air raid in Scenario 1, the attack on Task Force Z in Scenario 2, and the Battle of the Java Sea in Scenario 3, I was ready to play Scenario 4 Carrier vs. Carrier (Fictional). As this is the last tutorial I not only “played-to-learn” but also used this opportunity to pause and consider my thoughts on the game.
The major new rules introduced in Scenario 4 are the heart of Task Force—the Aircraft Operations rules. In this scenario both the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and U.S. Navy (USN) bring a two-carrier fleet with each carrier accompanied by eight destroyers (4 units). The USN has a slight airpower advantage as their carriers each carry eight units of aircraft (3x Wildcat Fighters (F), 3x Dauntless Dive Bombers (DB), and 1x TBF Torpedo Bomber (TB)). Each Japanese carrier has six units of aircraft (2x Zero F, 2x Val DB, 2x Kate TB).
The first two turns Task Force Scenario 4 are night turns where ships can move but there are no searches. Turn 3 sees the first searches. Per scenario rules each side gets two searches each turn. These first searches fail to find the real enemy task forces. Per special scenario rule a “Misdirect” marker is called “No Contact.” Technically Scenario 4 is a two-player game so only the searched player sees the actual chit and calls out the result. I am playing this two-handed solo so I leave the searched TF unturned on the board.
The next wave of searches start finding the carriers. For whatever reason, I decided to go with the standard Recon Phase rules found in Recon Phase 4.4.2. Reports from the scouts this turn which ended up with both USN carriers detected and a single IJN carrier found.
Enterprise and Yorktown launch a combined strike on TF2 while Zuikaku strikes the southernmost carrier.
The strike against Zuikaku is resolved first. The Zeros on Combat Air Patrol (CAP) are allowed to split via a standard special rule in Task Force. The enables the Japanese fighters to engage more incoming raiders.
The results are not that good for the Americans with two units of Dauntless DB shot down at the cost of two half-units of Zeros.
The remaining raiders now face the anti-air defenses of the carrier task force.
The anti-air fire is somewhat effective. No raiders are shot down but their aim is definitely thrown a bit.
The result is still bad with nine (9) hits scored. Here is where I have to pause and take (slight) issue with the organization of the rule book for Task Force.
The rules for the Aircraft Operations Phase are found in 4.3 Aircraft Operations Phase. Rule 4.3.2 Raid execution is where the rules are for resolving the raids. In this case, we are looking specifically at the rules for 4.3.2 Step 2 which directs Air-to-Surface combats be resolved using 4.3.5. Rule 4.3.5 Air-to-Surface Combat Procedure is a 3-step process:
- The air unit selects a target
- The target fires anti-air defense
- The surviving air units bomb the target
The end of Step 3 is the number of combat Hits to be applied to the target…using rule 3.5 Handling of Combat Hits.
Rule 3.5 Handling Combat Hits starts with a large, undivided section of rules for the different damage levels (Undamaged, Minor, Significant, Critical , and Sunk/Destroyed). Rule 3.5.1 discusses applying hits to destroyers and transports, while rule 3.5.2 talks about how damaged units can withdraw from combat. It is not until rule 3.5.3 that we talk about “Carriers & Land Bases” and then, if you are still reading, you find rule 3.5.4 Amplified Damage. This rule is perhaps the most important in a carrier combat game…but it is buried away.
Rule 3.5.4 (which would make more sense as rule 220.127.116.11 but isn’t, or better yet just merged into 3.5.4) calls for an additional die roll when a carrier or land base with aircraft in the Ready section is hit. On a die roll of 1-3 (on a d6), aircraft in the Ready section are destroyed and they amplify the number of combat hits with each F adding 1 hit per 2 STEPS and each Bomber adding 3 hits per 2 STEPS.
In the case of the strike against Zuikaku, the single Val DB in the Ready section avoids detonating which leaves the carrier at “only” Critical Damage.
Now the IJN strike against Enterprise is resolved. If you have a keen eye, you might notice that the Enterprise CAP is defending all by itself whereas the Shokaku loaned its CAP to Zuikaku in the above raid. The rule for loaning CAP is found in 4.3.1 Aircraft Status / Air Unit Status / RAID Step A which allows loaning of CAP only if you are the first player in the phase. Alas, I was so caught up in finding and using this rule that I missed 4.3.2 Raid execution Step 1 / Allied Radar which allows the USN player to take a fighter in the Ready section and add it to the CAP.
The extra CAP might of made a difference because the USN would have at least had a chance to down some raiding bombers. The missed opportunity means a single Val DB and two Kate TB bore in…
The USN destroyers throw up a wall of lead that mightily distracts but doesn’t shoot any of the raiders down.
Enterprise was the only aircraft carrier at the start of World War II to survive to see VJ-Day. Not in this fictional alternate past. The combined anti-ship attack scores 9 hits—Critical Damage—but when we check for amplified damage…
The Ready section of Enterprise brews up for an additional 7 hits…ouch!
Enterprise is not the “Lucky E” in this timeline.
By the scenario rules there are still a few turns to go. The next turn sees an exchange of strikes where the Yorktown sustains Significant Damage but is able to sink Shokaku thanks to the Amplified Damage rule.
Even after the last exchange there is still one more turn. I ended the scenario here for I have learned all I can even though the scoring tells me this is a Draw.
Scenario 4 is the last of the tutorial scenarios for Task Force and now the “historical” gaming can begin. Looking at the rest of the scenarios certainly whets my appetite for more Task Force on the table:
- “Scenario 5 Battle of the Coral Sea” is a 2-player Beginner scenario that introduces Strategic Victory Points—scenario objectives beyond simply sinking enemy shipping
- “Scenario 6 Battle of Midway” is another Beginner scenario that introduces special night reconnaissance for the Americans, the Air Raid on Midway, Inexperienced American pilots, and B-17 heavy bombers with their special rules
- “Scenario 7 Battle of the Eastern Solomons” is an Intermediate scenario special fleet formation rules
- “Scenario 8 Combined Fleet vs. Pacific Fleet” is an Intermediate version of Scenario 4 with carriers and other surface combatants including the IJN battleship Yamoto and its special rules
- “Scenario 9 Indian Ocean Raid” is a fictional Intermediate scenario with the Royal Navy and night attacks
- “Scenario 10 The Battles of Santa Cruz Islands and Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal” is the only Advanced scenario in Task Force and has many special rules like Inexperienced Zero Pilots, Advanced Fog of War, Naval Surprise Attacks, and more extended range for land-based aircraft
- “Scenario 11 Solomon Islands” is an Intermediate scenario where players “purchase” their forces
- Scenario 12 is actually a design-your-own scenario system.
Balance of Forces
The first edition of Task Force: Carrier Battles in the Pacific was published in 1982 in Japan. After reading more than a few books on the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway, especially Shattered Sword: the Untold Story of the Battle of Midway (Potomac Books, 2005) I was a bit concerned if Task Force has any bias in its presentation of carrier combat. I am pleased to say that I find Task Force to be a balanced and not obviously biased version of history. Special rules, often derogatively called “chrome” in many wargames, don’t unbalance this game. Most chrome rules appear as special scenario rules and are added to recreate a historical situation.
[For other carrier battles games I have looked at, especially those featuring the Battle of Midway, please see my Armchair Dragoons articles “Shattering Operations in Fury at Midway by Revolution Games” and “The Chaos of Kido Butai: Japan’s Carriers at Midway (Dr. Richter Konfliktsimulationen, 2016).”]
Appraising TASK FORCE
As I have been doing this series of play throughs of Task Force I am inevitably asked if I like this game. My answer is a qualified “Yes.”
- YES – Task Force is fun to play
- YES – Task Force is relatively easy to learn
- YES – Task Force has a natural narrative emerging from play and delivers “believable” results.
- I wish the rule book was a bit better organized
- I like the tutorial learning approach but again I wish the rule book organization was more reflective of the programmed learning method it tries to deliver
- I am concerned that the title is overproduced, i.e. the extreme high-quality of the components is sometimes unnecessary
- Generic aircraft work fine…not every carrier needs named air units
- The scenario setup cards don’t need to be thick (more expensive) boards
- The mounted tutorial maps are likely to become (expensive?) “bottom of the box” components rarely pulled out again
- I have yet to play the historical scenarios and experience how they represent the history.
Even without playing the historical scenarios, I am comfortable making the assertion that Task Force makes for a great wargame that is not only fun to play but also teaches. I have already read some who question some of the design decisions and rules of Task Force “seems odd” or “feels odd.”
Here I’ll loosely repeat what I tweeted in response: Task Force is a generally simple, somewhat abstracted war game of carrier combat in the early years of World War II in the Pacific. The abstractions, while maybe not totally “true to history,” don’t get in the way of a playable game that still delivers a rich flavor of the combat covered.
Norman Friedman, in his book Winning a Future: War Gaming and Victory in the Pacific War (Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, D.C., 2017) talks about the advantages war gaming gave the U.S. Navy going into World War II:
Gaming offered another advantage. Those involved received practical experience in the way in which the different elements of a fleet—its ships and its aircraft and its shore supporting structure—worked together…It took games to give a cruiser officer like Captain (later Admiral) Raymond F. Spruance a sense of what carriers and their aircraft could and could not do. It took a game to show just how much (and what kind) of scouting a war spread out over much of the Pacific would demand (as well as the consequences of failed scouting plans)…In many games, one of the objectives was to familiarize students with the full range of ships, aircraft, and naval weapons, both U.S. and enemy. Using them, even on a game floor, offered far more insight than reading about them or listening to lectures about them.Friedman, p. 10
“Practical experience.” “A sense.” “Consequences.” “Took a game to show.” “Familiarize.” “Insight.” Task Force takes many classic game mechanisms and integrates and innovates them just enough to create a very playable war game. Task Force is not a hard-core simulation of carrier combat in the early years of World War II in the Pacific but a very enjoyable playing experience that also just happens to teach a bit along the way.
*The officer in charge of the ammunition line on the USS New Orleans reported that he originally heard the phrase during the [Pearl Harbor] attack. When he heard it, he turned around and saw Chaplain Forgy walking towards him through the line of scared man, patting them on the back and saying the famous sentence: “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”. The officer reported that it had an effect on the man and on him also, for he felt comforted and prepared. (warhistoryonline.com)
Feature image courtesy RMN
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2 thoughts on “Wargame SITREP 230227 N3 Ops: Final exam in TASK FORCE: Carrier Battles in the Pacific (Vuca Simulations, 2023) + Bonus Thoughts on this War Game”
Thanks for this report; also, I love how aesthetic VUCA games are…