Slicing up the Mahanian Orange #Wargame – Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1932-1935 (@RBMStudio1 Nr. 29, 2016)

MARK HERMAN’S PLAN ORANGE: PACIFIC WAR, 1932-1935 (C3i Magazine Nr. 29, 2016) is a challenging game. The challenge is not in the game design; mechanically the game is not that complex as it is another implementation of Mr. Herman’s (@markherman54) wonderful Card Driven Game (CDG) series. Nor is the challenge that it is a monster game; though derived from Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2005, 2015) it covers nearly the same area of conflict but in a much narrower focus. It’s that narrower focus that is the challenge, because if one goes into Plan Orange expecting to play Empire of the Sun you will get a rude awakening. This is because Mr. Herman has focused the game design of Plan Orange around Alfred Thayer Mahan.

Mr. Herman tells us what he is doing in the Player’s Notes to Plan Orange:

This is still the era of the battleship. Jutland was the battle of record and deeply studied in this period. So, while planes had firmly gained a role as long range reconnaissance and raiding elements in naval warfare, the arbiter of decision was still large caliber rifled guns carried by the battleships. What you will notice is the smaller zones of influence (ZOI) and combat power of the land based air reduces them to a supporting role in the war. This one factor makes Plan Orange a very different experience than Empire of the Sun.

9781591140375.jpgDoubling down on this difference, the victory conditions in Plan Orange emphasize the vision of the times that a naval conflict between the United States and Japan would be decided by a giant clash at sea. This really was the thinking of the day, especially for the Japanese as Sadao Asada explains in his book From Mahan to Pearl Harbor: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States (Annapolis, Naval Institute Press, 2006). When talking about the course of study at the Japanese Naval Staff College in the 1930’s, Mr. Asada points out:

Student officers were schooled in the tradition of Mahan. Taking a leaf from Mahan’s Influence, their manual, the Kaisen yomurei, (Naval Battle Instructions) held that “war once declared  must be waged offensively, aggressively.” Day in and day out they conducted war games against the American fleet that culminated in a decisive Mahanian engagement in the manner of Tsushima. In commencement exercises officers conducted war games in front of the emperor, simulating a magnificent main-fleet battle based on the principle of “big battleships and big guns.” Mesmerized by Mahan’s strategic doctrines, officers developed an obsession with the decisive fleet battle that would annihilate the enemy armada at one stroke. Their bible was the aforementioned Naval Battle Instructions, initially developed by Lieutenant Commander Akiyama Saneyuki at the Naval Staff College and sanctioned in 1910. Reflecting Mahan’s doctrine, it stated, “The battleship squadron is the main fleet, whose aim is to attack the enemy’s main fleet.” “The key to successful naval operations is initiative and concentration.” This manual, though revised five times, essentially remained intact until the mid-1930s. (Asado, p. 163)

In Plan Orange there are five ways to win, two of which are directly influenced by Mahan (but don’t be fooled, the others are too):

  1. Capital Ship Ratio: If at the end of Turn 4 (Jan-Apr 1933) or later, the US has 2 times or more battleship steps on the map than the Japanese have on the map, the US wins an Automatic Victory.
  2. Capital Ship Ratio: If at the end of Turn 4 or later, the Japanese have 1.5 times or more battleship steps on the map than the US, the Japanese win an Automatic Victory.
  3. Surrender: If Japan surrenders due to conquest of Honshu or blockade of the Home Islands the US player wins.
  4. Control the Philippines: If at the end of Turn 6 if either side controls all three Philippine surrender hexes, that player wins.
  5. Outlast the Americans: If at the end of Turn 6 no player has met any of the above conditions, the Japanese player wins.

I played Plan Orange twice this weekend. As I’m playing solo (and CDGs are not the best for solo play) I generally chose a ‘strategy’ for each side at the beginning and try to stick to it. For the Japanese I tried to follow Mr. Herman’s ‘Fabian strategy’ he mentions in the Player’s Notes where the Japanese conquers the Philippines, close out the US western bases, and set up defenses to delay the US advance. The Japanese need to hold onto the Philippines and take any opportunity they can to knock out the US Fleet Train when possible.

In the first game, for the US I tried to implement a quick ‘drive for home’ strategy focusing on hanging onto Midway and Wake, then trying to “strike for Japan’ via Marcus Island and Iwo Jima in order to impose a blockade. This didn’t work from the beginning in great part because I concentrated on bringing the US carriers in first. As a result, I had fewer battleships available and the Japanese hand was full of Zengen Sakusen (Attrition Strategy) cards which ended up taking away precious steps of battleships. This forced the US into a catch-up game and some degree of hesitancy as they were unwilling to risk the decisive battle without a clear battleship advantage. Although the US avoided a Japanese Automatic Victory they also failed to threaten the Philippines and never blockaded Japan. Clear Japanese victory.

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I reset the game for another go. Keeping the same general Japanese strategy, this time I dedicated the Americans to a true central thrust through the Marianas to get to the Philippines. Battleships and troops were given priority. This strategy almost worked, and probably would have if not for a heroic stand by the Japanese Army at Manila/Corregidor. As luck would have it, the Japanese hand for Turn 6 included Samurai Spirit which is the only card that gives the Japanese any sort of real bonus in ground combat. It was enough to disrupt the final push on Manila. The Japanese won, but just barely.

I absolutely love the strategic tension the victory conditions create in Plan Orange. The American player must attack and try to retake the Philippines. If they don’t the Japanese win by default. The Japanese in turn will have to defend, but usually have to decide where and when is the right place to make a stand because in a war of attrition they cannot afford to lose too much. By the same token the Americans must attack but cannot be reckless lest they hand the victory to the Japanese. Although both sides want to preserve their fleet, they must risk their fleet for a win. All this in a relatively short two years, or six game turns.

Awesome game.


Feature image courtesy C3i Ops Magazine

 

#Wargame head-to-head – Victory in the #PacificTide (@compassgamesllc, 2018)

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Compass Games

With a winter storm forecast for Saturday, it was a good day to stay in and play some wargames. The latest arrival in my collection is Pacific Tide: The United States versus Japan, 1941-45 (Compass Games, 2018). This game, by designer Gregory M. Smith, is a “compact. strategic-level game covering the struggle betweent he United States (including some Commonwealth forces) and Japan in World War II.” The game “features a card-based combat/build system.” The game can also be played solo using a “personality-driven solitaire bot system.”

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Avalon Hill

Besides playing Pacific Tide, I also worked on my 2019 Charles S Roberts Wargame Challenge. As luck would have it, the next game in my queue was Victory in the Pacific (Avalon Hill, 1977). VITP is a strategic simulation of the naval war in the Pacific starting with the Pearl Harbor attack and going into 1945. Thus, both Pacific Tide and VITP cover a nearly identical gamespace and therefore gave me a good opportunity to not only explore Pacific Tide but to think about how far the wargaming hobby has come since 1977.

Both VITP and Pacific Tide are nearly identical in their degree of complexity and how they portray the war and combatants:

VITP

Pacific Tide

Complexity

2 out of 10

3 out of 10

Time Scale

2 turns/year

Yearly Turns

Map Scale

Area

Area

Units

Individual carriers or ships, air groups, infantry

Individual carriers or ships, army-level infantry, air groups

Average Play Time

5h

2-4h

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Sample Map (Compass Games)

Pacific Tide needs less table space than VITP. The 17″x22″ map and 5/8″ counters for Pacific Tide are make for a smaller footprint than the 22″x28″ map and 1″ counters in VITP. Further, the large reinforcements entry cards in VITP are absent in Pacific Tide. I have said before that I think VITP could use a graphical refresh. If that ever happens, I hope they look at Pacific Tide and the nice artwork by Ilya Kudriashov for inspiration.

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Sample Cards (Compass Games)

What really sets Pacific Tide apart from other wargames like VITP is the use of the card-based combat/build system. It really is a card-driven game. During each yearly turn in Pacific Tide players play cards back and forth to Move and/or Attack in order to Control areas. At the end of the year players Repair fleets under certain conditions, get new cards for the coming year, and earn Build Points. The Build Points are used to purchase previous year cards and place those cards into the deck for the coming year. In effect, there is a bit of a deck building mechanic in Pacific Tide.

The rules in both games are remarkably similar in volume. My 1981 2nd Edition rule book for VITP is eight pages long. The actual rules are on six, triple-column pages. The Pacific Tide Rules of Play is a 16-page booklet but the actual rules are covered on the first 12 pages. The Pacific Tide rules are written in a very conversational style (not the every-paragraph VITP formal 1. / 1.1 / 1.1.1 pattern) which is both a blessing and a curse. In the boardgame segment of the gaming hobby there is a definite trend for a more conversational tone of rules. However, for wargames (outside of some waros) I don’t think it really works. To me, wargame rules are more structured by nature and cross-referencing is often necessary making a more formal layout (and tone) necessary.

In the case of Pacific Tide, the writing of the rules is sometimes wonky. For instance,

“INF and Guerrilla units never roll dice against Fleets, CVs, or air units. They only attack other ground units.”

This seems backwards to me. I understand rules better when they state the positive portion first and the negative/exception second. Thus, the above rule would read,

“INF and Guerrilla only attack other ground units. They never roll dice against Fleets, CVs, or air units. Exception – See AA FIRE.”

In Pacific Tide, each combat factor rolls one or two d6 roll each. There are only a few other modifiers like naval gunfire support adding a die in infantry combat. Hits are scored on a roll of 4-6 with a 6 giving damage priority to CV units if present. One hit will destroy a CV or Air but two hits are needed to destroy a Fleet. Infantry are usually one hit per point unless they are Entrenched when the first hit is negated. This combat mechanic is not that different from VITP where units roll a number of d6 equal to their Airstrike or Gunnery Factor with hits on a 6 (unless they have the Attack Bonus which adds +1 to the die roll). Each hit then rolls a d6 for the amount of damage inflicted. In effect, combat losses in Pacific Tide occurs more often but each hit is less swingy than VITP.

I am actually having a hard time figuring out how to determine victory in Pacific Tide. I am going to quote 2.0 Victory Conditions in total as well as the text on US card 24 THE ATOMIC BOMB so you can (hopefully) see what I mean.

2.0 VICTORY CONDITIONS

The US player wins if he controls all areas on the map, with the exception of Okinawa and Japan. The Japanese player wins if he prevents this.

2.1 Decisive Victory

The US player wins a decisive victory if he drops the Atomic Bomb. The Japanese player wins a decisive victory if he controls Okinawa and one of these 3 areas: Iwo Jima, the Philippines, or the Aleutians.

The Japanese player also wins an automatic decisive victory if he controls the following areas at the end of 1942:

  • All starting Japanese areas plus the Phillippines, Singaore, Borneo, the Aleutians, Wake, and Midway.

US Card 24 THE ATOMIC BOMB

If, after playing this card, the US player controls all starting areas except Japan, the game ends and the US Player wins a Decisive Victory. Otherwise determine victory normally.

If I’m reading this right then:

  1. The US wins a Decisive Victory if they drop the Atomic Bomb (2.1)
  2. US wins Decisive Victory if they drop the Atomic Bomb and controls all starting areas except Japan (US Card 24)
  3. US wins a normal victory if the game ends and US controls all areas on the map except Japan and Okinawa (2.0)
  4. Japan wins an Automatic Decisive Victory at end of 1942 if they control all staring Japanese areas plus the Philippines, Singapore, Borneo, the Aleutians, Wake, and Midway (2.1)
  5. Japan wins a Decisive Victory if at game end they control Okinawa plus one of three other areas (Iwo Jima, the Philippines, or the Aleutians) (2.1)
  6. Japan wins a normal victory if at game end they control Japan, Okinawa, and any are other than Iwo Jima, the Philippines, or the Aleutians (2.0)

Conditions 1 and 2 look almost the same but are not. So which is it? In condition 5, does Japan also have to control the Japanese starting area? It seems logical, but unlike the other conditions its not explicitly stated. So what is it? This confusing wording appears to be the result of the too easy-going conversational tone taken in the rules. Yet another example of where tighter wording could be helpful.

Overall, and contrary to the complexity ratings above, I feel that Pacific Tide is actually the less complex of the two games. This in part may be because Pacific Tide does not have the different Patrollers or Raiders movement nor the Day or Night Actions combat distinctions found in VITP. The use of cards and unnamed ships and fleets for reinforcements means Pacific Tide is a level of abstraction above VITP. For a fast-play, strategic look at World War II in the Pacific that abstraction is perfectly fine for me.

One note about the solitaire bot in Pacific Tide. The bot here is very simple and really guidelines on how to play cards based on a die roll-determined “personality” that can shift every turn. For wargamers more familiar with the various bots in the GMT Games COIN-series the Pacific Tide version will likely be a bit of a disappointment. Not that it doesn’t work; it’s just not very complicated. Yet another simplification that tries to make Pacific Tide more accessible in spite of the sweeping topic.

Pacific Tide is a relatively uncomplicated (rules-lite?) and fast-playing strategic wargame view of the Pacific War. The graphics and components help players immerse themselves in the game and convey the theme more than adequately. The card-driven mechanic introduces the right amount of fog-of-war and helps the game run like, but not identical to, history. The game is very enjoyable to play but the conversational tone of the rules book leads to some problems. Nothing a really good reformat and careful editing couldn’t take care of. I just wish that happened before the game was released.


Afterward

One may be better off comparing Pacific Tide to Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2005). EotS is a card-driven, strategic hex & counter wargame of the Pacific War. Be warned though, EotS is rated 7 out of 9 in complexity and needs more like six hours of playtime to fight the whole war. I don’t own EotS so I cannot make a further comparison.

 

 

#FirstImpressions of Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2nd Printing, 2015)

I was fortunate to pick up Washington’s War by designer Mark Herman (@markherman54 on Twitter) during GMT Games 4th of July special sale. They had three games on sale at a deep discount; I already own Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection by Harold Buchanan and The American Revolution Tri-Pack so I rounded out my collection. I’m fortunate because GMT Games is now out-of-stock for Washington’s War.

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Guess we won’t see this for a while (Courtesy GMT Games via BGG.com)

I am ashamed to say I am late to the party, for Washington’s War has all the elements of a great game that meets many RockyMountainNavy Family Game Values; an awesome mix of mechanics and theme that teaches as much as it entertains and is playable in an evening.

Washington’s War (WW) is the GMT Games update of the Avalon Hill’s We the People (by…Mark Herman!). For many years I passed on We the People, and WW, because they are Card Driven Games (CDG) and CDG is just not my cuppa tea. I think this is because CDG’s are hard to play solo. However, my gaming tastes have changed over the past two years and the RockyMountainNavy Boys are my game group. As such, we don’t usually go for classic hex & counter wargames favoring instead more varied mechanics. So WW looks like it could be a good addition to the game collection.

Now, my first impressions are not the greatest because the RMN Boys are traveling this month and I have no built-in game group. So my impressions are based on several solo walkthrus of the rules and game mechanics.

Components

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Courtesy BGG.com

The game board is functional and thematic but not to the degree that Liberty or Death or Supply Lines of the American Revolution is. Artist Charles Kibler and a supporting cast delivered a very good game board that not only has the map of the area in question but also many game-related spaces for cards or counters or the like. The result is a good balance of theme and functionality. Of the counters, I really like the oversize, tall standees for the Generals. The gives WW a very “Kriegsspiel” look and feel.

The rules are in two books; a Rulebook and Playbook. The rules are not overly complex and contained in the nice 24-page rulebook. There are lots of nice color illustrations and examples of play and a handy index, meaning the rules themselves are actually quite short and succinct. I also think as this is the Second Reprint of a 2009 game based on a title first published in 1993 the rules have been criticized and torn apart and reworked and generally exist now in a very good state.

Game Play

Now, I said above that CDGs have not been my thing, but I see beauty in the mechanics of WW and this game could exist without CDG. The choice of Event Cards or Ops Cards (with different values) makes for a ton of choices. Developer Joel Toppen (@PastorJoelT on Twitter) also makes this important observation in the Player’s Notes:

Like the American Revolution that the game models, Washington’s War, is both a political conflict as well as a military conflict. In my opinion, the biggest challenge that the players will face in this game is balancing political initiatives with military action.

So, as I write this blog post, I am asking myself, “Do I dislike CDG because its not solo-friendly, or is it that I have been too in love with just hex & counter wargames?”

I am more than just a grognard!

Washington’s War has arrived at a time of gaming change for me, and I now see that as much as I love hex & counter, that very love has blinded me to some really great games. As my wargaming has evolved into boardgaming, and especially family boardgames. I am embracing games with a much broader set of mechanics than hexes and a CRT. Game mechanics that turned me off years ago (CDG!) I now recognize are actually wonderful, playable games/models that teach me (and the RMN Boys) more than a hex & counter military simulation can deliver.

So thank you Mark Herman, and GMT Games, and all the other game publishers out there that keep advancing the hobby and delivering quality gaming for not only die-hard grognards (guilty as charged) but also family strategy boardgamers.

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Courtesy nohighscores.com…but I’ve seen this many places around the interwebs

 

#WargameWednesday – Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal First Impressions

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Courtesy BGG

Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal – The Pacific 1942 from Academy Games is a 2016 Golden Geek Award Best Wargame Nominee. After reading some of the buzz and looking at comments on BoardGameGeek, I picked this one up in the hope that I could eventually play this with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I like using wargames to teach a bit about what the situation or combat experience was like. In CoH:G what I found was a game of war that challenges many of my perceptions of what I see as a wargame.

CoH:G bills itself as a combined-arms squad-level game. The focus is on the US Marines battles on Guadalcanal from just after the amphibious landing in August 1942 through the arrival of regular Army units in October 1942 (and playable as an expansion). This was my first challenge; I needed to get past my bias for armor over infantry (always a Panzer/88/Armor fan over Squad Leader).

My next challenge was the price; CoH:G retails for $80. Although I saw it in my FLGS I was reluctant to pull the trigger at that price point. Searching online, I found it for less and ordered.

Opening the box, I was stunned at the components. The high quality (huge) counters and mounted mapboard along with full-color glossy books and play-aids and even an organizing insert immediately made me realize that the asking price is actually not unreasonable.

The rulebook is 23 pages which includes many examples. This means that CoH:G is not a complex game. The rules are tied to scenarios (firefights) and use a building-block learning approach to teach players the game mechanics.

What makes CoH:G – and apparently all the Conflict of Heroes series games – interesting is the use of Action Points in Rounds and Turns. Players alternate activating units (or groups of units) and expend Unit or Command Action Points to move or fire. Thus, the classic IGO-UGO turn sequence is overturned. Both players remain engaged through out the entire turn.

Combat is very straight-forward; roll 2d6 and add the Attack Rating of the firing unit. If the AR exceeds the Defense Rating of the unit (modified for terrain) the unit is hit. For each hit a chit is drawn. The chits (about 20) cover everything from no damage to immediate KIA. Once a unit gets a second hit it is eliminated.

Conflict of Heroes also uses cards in play. Command cards, Bonus cards, and various Capability cards bring a bit of randomness and detail flavor to the game. I have written elsewhere about how my perception of Card Driven Games (CDG’s) has changed. CoH is not a CDG, but effectively uses card-driven elements as chrome.

A unique mechanic in CoH:G and not in any other CoH series game is Bushido Points. Bushido Points modify available Command Action Points (CAP) for the Japanese player. Bushido is gained/lost through certain actions. In order to gain Bushido Points (and add to the CAP pool) certain actions must be taken that may not make the most tactical sense, but are in keeping with the “spirit of Bushido.”

In concept the game is very simple; in play the layout is beautiful. I like it…sorta.

The game mechanics are very clean and although I was worried at the chits and markers used in play the board does not get cluttered with the markers. Like in MBT (Second Edition) or Panzer (Second Edition) the markers don’t get in the way. The hit chits actually create a great variety of damage results that make even getting hit interesting. The back-and-forth play keeps the battles moving and demands a players attention at all times.

I am not sure about the Bushido mechanic. I mean, I see what Bushido is supposed to do I’m just not sure I like how I as a player is hamstrung by Bushido. In CoH:G, Bushido is gained/lost for certain actions. Thus, in order to gain/maintain Bushido points (and not always be behind in Command Action Points) certain “sacrifices” must be made. In my several plays to date, the rules specify that Bushido is gained for loss of a Japanese unit is Close or Short range combat. So…to get Bushido the Japanese player has fight – and lose – at very close ranges. This supposedly simulates the Japanese affinity for close assaults.  The player need not make these sacrifices, but doing so gains Bushido points which in turn gives Command Action Points which in turns allows for greater tactical flexibility. The Bushido rues mechanically succeed in making the Japanese player act more is accordance how the Japanese historically acted – I’m just not totally accepting of this loss of “player agency.”

CoH:G is not without a few other challenges. Hexes are VERY hard to see (nee invisible) and with the given countermix (huge counters – but actually very few units) the variety of scenarios is limited.

CoH:G will probably get more plays in the RockyMountainNavy household. As the oldest RMN Boy was leaving, he walked past the board and was immediately taken in by the components. The game is easy enough to teach that I think even the youngest RMN Boy (13 years old) who’ll be able to easily play too.

In the end, I feel that CoH:G is a good game of war. I am a bit reluctant to call it a wargame in my book because the mechanics are so much different than what I usually expect. I am reluctant to totally embrace the Bushido mechanic – it feels like it is forcing me into certain actions. It will get played – it’s too visually stunning not to – but I will tread lightly on using this game to teach the RMN Boys too much of what island combat in the South Pacific was.

Mechanically I guess CoH:G is another step on my path to modernized wargames; I was late to the CDG mechanic, enjoy the COIN series from GMT, and now have exposure to CoH.

RockyMountainNavy Verdict: Explore more; order Storms of Steel: Kursk 1942 (Second Edition) to see what they system is like for armor and without the Bushido mechanic.

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Courtesy BGG

 

#WargameWednesday Retrospective – Victory in the Pacific (Avalon Hill, 1977 Second Edition)

pic188896_mdVictory in the Pacific (VITP) is one of the oldest games in my collection. Originally published in 1977, it won the Charles S. Roberts Award for Best Strategic Game that year. My copy is a Second Edition with a 1988 Avalon Hill Game Company catalog inside. For many years the game sat on my shelf partially because – as itself states – it is an Introductory-level wargame and my personal tastes run to other difficulty levels. However, with the RMN boys now getting into more wargaming, I pulled VITP out to see if it would make a good game for them. What I discovered is that VITP is a “diamond in the rough.” The game itself (mechanics and gameplay) are wonderful, but the game suffers from early wargame publishing issues that present challenges.

1.0 Rules

pic669500_md1.01 The rulebook for VITP is short but difficult to understand. It is laid out in the old SPI style (numbered paragraphs) that should make it easy to cross reference. However, the arrangement of the rules is not intuitively easy to follow; finding even basic game concepts like the Sequence of Play or the Combat Round Action Sequence [my term] is very difficult. It’s all there, but buried within walls of text with little real cross-reference or even logical order. I do not want to turn this game over to the RMN boys “as-is” because the rules will likely create confusion. Even if I was to introduce the game to them, I eventually will need to let them go it alone; the rules as written are not very supportive of that course of action.

Mapboard

pic669499_mdThe mapboard is functional. The colors are very 1970’s – not totally hideous but abstract in a classic Monopoly sort of way. The mapboard is in some ways too big; there is some real estate around the edges that could possibly be used for port holding boxes (like Yokosuka or Truk or Ceylon or Pearl Harbor). This would certainly help with stacking counters on the map!

Counters

pic175059_mdSpeaking of counters, they are nice and big. This makes them easy to stack or sort. The counters themselves are a great example of functional simplicity with easy-to-read factors. The color palate is a bit bland, but once again it was the 1970’s!

Game Mechanics

Reinforcements – Movement – Combat – Control. Speed Rolls can be a bit confusing because the Speed Factor on the counter is not a “speed” in terms of areas moved but number that must be rolled under to move an additional area. Combat resolution is from the school of “Yahtzee combat”; roll a number of d6 equal to your Attack Factor and try to get 6’s (or 5-6 if the firing unit has an Attack Bonus). A 5 Disables, a 6 is a Hit with another d6 rolled for the amount of Damage. When Damage exceeds the Armor Factor (defense rating) a ship is Sunk (removed from the game) or an air unit/amphib destroyed (to return two turns later). Doesn’t really get much simpler.

Now that I look at it, I see that movement is “roll low” but combat is “roll high.” Another rules area of potential confusion?

Gameplay

Although VITP is an Introductory-level game, I was pleasantly surprised (and delighted) with the “historical feel” of the game. At the strategic level, the Japanese start out dominating in force but must husband ships for the long conflict. This is neatly in contrast to the Allies who over the course of several turns build up huge forces. Thus, the Allies will likely favor a longer view of battle (i.e. the Allies must be patient and not rush for a quick victory). This in turn drives a strategy that is very historical where the Japanese player pushes out to establish a defensive perimeter and then tries to attrite the Allied player as they start the island-hopping campaign across the Pacific. Having the US move second in each phase also is a nice nod to the historical intelligence advantage the US possessed.

At the operational level, the choice of Patroller or Raider makes for an interesting dynamic. Patrollers move first and can control an area at the end of the turn. Raiders move later in the turn (after Patrollers have been set) but cannot control an area. Like at the strategic level, having the Allies move second is a nice nod to the operational advantage intelligence gave Allied commanders.

At the tactical level the choice of Day (air strikes) or Night (surface gunnery) actions is evocative of the era. Even the use of a simple Attack Bonus creates the feel more capable/better trained/elite forces.

All that said, it is indicative of just how “game changing” the Japanese battle plan for the opening of the war was that it requires special rules to handle. The Turn 1 Pearl Harbor Air Raid and Indonesia rules actually “break” the game to force a more historical opening. I look forward to playing where the Japanese forego the Pearl Harbor Air Raid and see how that war develops.

Metagaming

pic207078_mdIf I had to pick a weakness of the game, I would point to the Order of Appearance charts. Not that they are ahistorical, but I wonder if they give too much information to the players. The Japanese player can easily see that the forces they start with are pretty much going to be it for the war, whereas the Allied player will see his forces grow turn after turn. This potentially creates a metagame situation for the players; does knowing what reinforcements are coming unduly influence player decisions? I understand that this is addressed by the Japanese player bidding Points of Control at the beginning of the game, but this is a mechanic to balance between players and in effect recognizes that the game (like the historical situation?) is not balanced. In effect, VITP is “play with what you get” not necessarily “what you need.” Does this make it a failed game? No, but it explains other strategic Pacific War games that introduce resources and variable reinforcements. It certainly gives me a new appreciation of the Card Driven Game (CDG) mechanic used in games like Mark Herman’s Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2005) which has, to borrow an RPG term, more player agency (and complexity).

Conclusion

Even given its warts, VITP is a good introductory-level wargame. Like I did for GDW’s Mayday game before, I come back to my “simply complex” characterization; the game is simple in mechanics but complex in the depth of gameplay. That said, on the scale of game vs. simulation VITP certainly falls on the game side of the spectrum. That doesn’t make it bad, but highlights to me how I need to frame any “history lesson” that my boys may derive from play. I will eventually hand VITP over to the boys, but not before I search grognard.com or ConSimWorld for some player aids to help “smooth the edges” of this great game.

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All images courtesy BoardGameGeek

#WargameWednesday -Finding the CDG Pathway in Paths of Glory (GMT Games, 1999)

My recent acquisition and play of Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, Reprint Ed. 2016) as well as Plan Orange: Pacific War 1930-1935 (C3I Magazine Nr. 29) and South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier 1942-1943 (C3I Magazine Nr. 30) got me to relook at the Card Driven Game (CDG) mechanic. These recent CDGs have captured my attention – and imagination – because each player holds cards in their hands that can be played in many different ways, often in some form of Event, Operation, or Resupply.

pic93623I actually have two much older CDGs; For the People (GMT Games, 1998) and Paths of Glory (GMT Games, 1999). Given Little RMN is studying World War I in school right now, I pulled out PoG and gave it a whirl. In doing so, I rediscovered a gem.

I must admit that when I first got PoG nearly two decades ago I was not very enamored with the game. At the time, I (stupidly) saw the CDG mechanic as hindering my self-initiative. Why should I let a card tell me, ME(!), what I can or cannot do. If I want to conduct an offensive at Verdun, then I can conduct an offensive at Verdun and I don’t need a stupid card to tell me how many units I can use. Sure, the historical Events are interesting, but all of that is just chrome that distracts from the battlefield.

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Central Power Cards
How wrong I was.

Many of us who play wargames see ourselves as students of history. The difference between regular students and us grognards is that we grognards play out recreations of the battle in an attempt to learn more. To try and make the game more “historical,” the common approach was to create a special rule. What I now see is that CDGs bake many of these special rules into the cards. Whereas 20 years I saw CDGs as limiting, I now see how they are great teaching tools that subtly recreate historical limitations and opportunities.

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The “Guns of August” Event Card in Play
For my game, I played the Introductory Scenario. The first turn was a bit rough as I stepped thru many rules mechanics. Turns 2 and 3 were much more strategy and less rules mechanics.

 

And it was fun.

The Mobilization Deck is very interesting; lots of chances to bring more troops into the fight (Reinforcements) and many Events to play. The end of the scenario is really just the beginning as the next phase is Limited War, with may other nations drawn into the conflict. 

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HMS Barnham (Pintrest)
As an old Navy guy, I still wish there was more naval play in this game. As a strategic game it seems criminal to me that the naval side is glossed over like it is. But PoG stands well even without the naval aspects of the war. I’m really glad I dusted this old game off and look forward to playing out the full war.


All images courtesy BoardGameGeek except where noted.

Ted S. Racier’s Paths of Glory, GMT Games LLC (1st Edition, 1999)

 

Extended Playthru Thoughts on Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1930-1935 (C3i Magazine Nr 29)

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Which game is it? 1930-1935 or 1932-1935?

On the last day of my winter vacation I got Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1930-1935 published by RBM Studio in C3i Magazine Nr 29 on the table. Unlike the first time I played (which was really more a learning game to get familiar with the rules) this time I tried the campaign scenario. By the time I was finished, I found I (equally?) liked and disliked the game.

I really like the Plan Orange situation. The game gives players an interesting look at the strategic challenges facing both Japan and the United States. The game brings to life Edward Miller’s War Plan Orange: The US Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945 as well as Hector Bywater’s The Great Pacific War: A History of the American-Japanese Campaign of 1931-33. In the 1930’s, aviation (especially naval aviation) is still in its infancy and not the dominating power it would be only a decade later. Plan Orange reflects this situation by keeping naval power supreme over air. I also really like the use of the CDG-mechanic because it give players challenging decisions to decide not only what they want to do, but how to use the cards to make it happen. I appreciate the CDG mechanic because it represents the planning and execution of plans that don’t always perfectly match the commander’s desires.

Plan Orange is also best described as a version of Empire of the Sun (GMT Games). The rules for Plan Orange appear to be almost a cut-n-paste version of EotS:

PLAY NOTE: In several places in the rules it will state that a particular section or step is ignored or left blank in Plan Orange. These are sections that have rules in the parent design Empire of the Sun and I wanted to avoid creating a new numbering scheme that might confuse players if and when they are playing the original design upon which this is based. – Plan Orange 1.21 Inventory.

Which brings me to the part I disliked. I don’t own – and never played – EotS so I came into Plan Orange depending totally on the rule book provided. Unfortunately, the rules are very confusing in places, or totally lacking. For example, I cannot find the rule for when to reshuffle the player deck! I wonder if this is because the Plan Orange version is cut down too much or if this was an oversight in the original rules. I hope it is the former, because to repeat a mistake 10 years later is unacceptable!

For my play thru, I was able to complete five turns (out of the six-turn campaign) before I had to pack the game away. Plan Orange is fun, though I find I am still reaching for the rulebook often and spending much time searching for a rule or trying to interpret it. I feel the game system should be easy, but the rule book keeps tripping me up. I want to get to the point the I know the rules enough to focus more on game strategy than “the system.” Unfortunately, the rule book is not being the most helpful.

Verdict: Keeper Worth Exploring More. 

Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1930-1935, ©2015 Mark Herman/Studiolo Designs and RBM Studio/Rodger B. MacGowan.