Game of the Week – Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Revolution Games, 2015) – Theme & Game Mechanics

I love war-games on naval warfare. The Admiralty Trilogy Games (Fear God & Dread Nought, Rising Sun, Harpoon) are amongst my favorite wargames of all time. I tend to like the more tactical-level of naval combat but always am on the lookout for games about other levels of war. I have most of the Avalanche Press Great War at Sea / Second World War at Sea series in my collection that try very hard to marry tactical combat resolution with an operational-level campaign game – and ends up doing neither very well. Thus, it was with both hope and trepidation that I picked up Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Bonsai-Games/Revolution Games, 2015) a little over a year ago. I need not have worried; Pacific Fury delivers a highly thematic game using a set of game mechanics that doesn’t emphasize combat, but planning. If that sounds boring to you and you skip this title then you actually are missing out on a great game that is not only fun to play, but provides a unique view into a pivotal naval campaign in the South Pacific in late 1942.

Pacific Fury is played out over four turns with each turn composed of five phases. The simple sequence of play builds a strong campaign narrative each turn through the interaction of four key rules:

  • 8.2 Form Task Forces
  • 9.7 Counting Operations
  • 10.7 Applying Hits
  • 10.8 Return to Base (Forced Return)

8.2 Form Task Forces

This rule is really the heart of every turn. In this step players have to plan their turn – everything after this is execution, not planning. Players plan their turn by forming either Amphibious, Bombardment, or Carrier Task Forces (the Japanese can also form the special Tokyo Express). Each Task Force (TF) is placed in one of seven Operations Boxes. The Operations Boxes are the order in which the units can enter the map (9.1 Sortie) during the turn. Need a carrier? Better hope it’s the next up on the track!

9.7 Counting Operations

In every Operations Phase a TF can “Sortie” to enter the map. The TF in the lowest numbered box on the Operations Track enters the map. Other possible actions, “Move,” “Landing,” Naval Bombardment,” or “Air Strike” can only be used by TF already on the map. When taking an action other than Sortie, every TF in the current Operations Box is “bumped” up the track. It is possible to actually “bump” TF off the end of the Operations Track, meaning they won’t ever get a chance to enter the map (Sortie) that turn! This simple mechanic of Counting Operations creates a compelling dilemma for players; do you enter/sortie a TF or use one already on the map? Is the one on the map the right one needed for the mission? Do you lose time getting the right one in position? Or do you fight and maybe never get the right one into the battle?

10.7 Applying Hits / 10.8 Return to Base (Forced Return)

These two rules go hand in hand. 10.7 specifies that any ship hit but not sunk is “damaged” and placed on the Turn Track to return later as a reinforcement. This removal of the unit from battle occurs after each round of combat. With only four turns, damaged ships may, or may not, return in time for a later turn.

The Forced Return rule is also very important. Under Forced Return, the attacking TF MUST return to base after the second round of combat or after the first round if there are no targets. This means attacking TF never hold ground. A defending TF that suffers no hits in either round of combat may remain. However, if the defending TF suffers even one hit in combat it MUST return to base. Combat in Pacific Fury becomes a game of damaging, not sinking, ships. Sure, sinking a ship is best (it cannot return) but often times it is enough simply to damage a ship and force a TF to return to base.

These four rules make Pacific Fury a much different naval combat game from many others. The game mechanics do a very credible job of reflecting the theme of planning a months-worth of operations by forcing the player to sequence the arrival of their forces. The challenge is not only to sequence their arrival, but to do so while trying to ensure the right units are available when needed. It is very easy to build one mega-TF with all the carriers together that will sweep the sea areas early in the turn…but once it attacks it returns to base and leaves the map – potentially depriving another TF of vitally needed cover.

In Pacific Fury choices really matter. The choice of what ships go into what TF, the choice of which Operations Box a TF is placed, the choice of what action to take, the choice to engage in combat – every choice matters. By emphasizing planning, the real objective of the campaign is brought to the front. The game highlights quite clearly that it is not the number of ships sunk that matters, but only who controls Henderson Field at the end of the game. The winner in Pacific Fury will be the player who plans the use of their dwindling forces the best.

Game of the Week – Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Revolution Games, 2015) – Out of the Bag Impression

Almost exactly a year before this post, I wrote my thoughts on Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Bonsai-Games/Revolution Games, 2015). In the time since, the game has landed on my table four times, including three times in the past two days. Every time I play the game I fall more in love with the simple design and totally enjoy the campaign narrative every game delivers.

At first glance, the game doesn’t look like much. Pacific Fury is a simple folio (bagged) game with a paper 11’x17″ map, 50 counters, an eight page rule book (double columns), and a cover sheet.

Map

Nicely done, save for a few spelling errors and holding boxes that are too small. That is not a problem, as stukajoe  was kind enough to upload a print-it-yourself replacement.

Counters

Apparently, I have the published version with “Japanese” counters where the ends of the ships are cut off. Personally, I am not sure one really needs the full-length ships given how small the counters are. What Pacific Fury really needs are blocks instead of counters!

Rule Book

According to 12.0 CREDITS, Scott Muldoon, recently famous as co-designer of Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018) did the rules translation. As good a job as he did, certain sections of the rules, like 10.0 COMBAT, require a very careful reading to catch all the nuances. To help myself when playing, I turned the eight pages of rules into seven flowcharts that step me thru the turn and each combat type. I probably could use an eighth page to extract the Opposed Landing Table for 9.6 Tokyo Express and the Sunk Table in 10.7 Applying Hits but seeing as those are the only two tables not on the map it seems like overkill to add an extra page!

Playing Time

According to the publisher and BoardGameGeek, Pacific Fury is rated at 60-120 minutes. In my plays I tend towards the low end of that number, and when playing against my arch-nemesis “Mr. Solo” and using my flowcharts I can get the game down to as little as 30 minutes. This means I can try (and retry) many different strategies. As I will discuss in a later post on Game Mechanics, it is the simple operational planning aspects of the design that really make the game shine.

Pacific Fury has become a must-pack game when I travel. I totally enjoy pulling the game out in the evening and running through a campaign. This works because the game has a small footprint but builds a large battle narrative. More about that in a near-future post!

#GamesPlayed October 2017

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BoardGameGeek My Played

October 2017 was actually a relatively game-filled month for me. Of my twelve games played, nine were “actual plays” while three are what I call “rules exploration” or “familiarization play.”

The Saturday Game Night was mostly boardgames (i.e. not wargames) with Terraforming  Mars getting to the table two weeks in a row. In a lucky turn of events, what should of been a “familiarization play” of Command & Colors: Tricorne became an actual play.

I got two good solo plays in, The Expanse Board Game and Pacific Fury. I really need to get more wargaming going. With the coming of winter (hard to tell with unseasonable upper 70’s outside) I hopefully will get more tabletop time to do so.

Looking forward to November, my niece will be visiting. Last time she was here she became obsessed with Ticket to Ride. This time the RockyMountainNavy Boys want to get Scythe to the table with her. We shall see.

 

Why Navies Fight – #PacificFuryGuadalcanal1942 (Revolution Games, 2016)

One of the smaller games I got last year was Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal 1942 from Revolution Games. After my first play thru I took issue with the historical accuracy of the game but generally liked it. This past weekend I pulled the game out again and ran thru the campaign again. This time I payed more attention to the rules. After this second play thru, I see a lot more depth in the game and like this particular design a lot more!

Pacific Fury simulates the naval battles off Guadalcanal in late 1942. Each turn is a month, and each player must allocate his forces to up to seven Operations each month. Once Operations are allocated, the forces can only enter in that order. But operations can be more than just a Sortie to enter the board; to move and fight also takes Operations. Every Operation is a choice – enter more forces or execute an action with a deployed force. This is one layer of depth that makes Pacific Fury an interesting game; the timing of forces entering and (usually combat) actions. How long do you allow for the carriers to clear the area? Will that bombardment mission disrupt Henderson Field and allow a follow-on landing? Do I have a strong enough force to hold Ironbottom Sound? what about the Tokyo Express?

Another layer of depth – and one I misplayed my first play thru – is Hits and Sunk ships. The combat system is very simple – for each “firing” unit roll d6; if the number is less than or equal to the Combat Factor THAT NUMBER OF HITS is scored. Hits are then apportioned by the attacker with the number of hits allocated to each target compared to the Defense Factor. There are two possible results: Sunk (removed from game) or Hit (moved to Turn Record Track to return later).

The practical impact of this game mechanic to strategy is very important – although sinking ships is good to simply “damage” the ships might be more effective. The Japanese player can return ships two turns later meaning a ship damaged in Turn 3 will not return before Turn 4. In contrast, American ships with better damage control and closer repair facilities return the next turn. Thus, like the real battle it portrays, Pacific Fury becomes a furious battle of attrition.

Another design decision in Pacific Fury that makes it very interesting is the victory conditions. There is only one way to win this game; control Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. This may seem like blasphemy to a naval gamer – many of whom only think in terms of sunk ships – but it actually reflects the reality of the battles fought from August to November 1942.

As I recognize how these game mechanics reflect aspects of the campaign often overlooked (or glossed over) in other games both my respect and enjoyment of Pacific Fury has increased. In my most recent campaign play the result was a draw. Actual losses on both sides were small; the Japanese lost Zuikaku, Shokaku, Ryujo, Nagato, and Nachi while the Americans lost Saratoga, Wasp, South Dakota, North Carolina, San Francisco, and Chicago.

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End of Game Condition

The Americans were actually a bit lucky that they were able to even get the draw. On Turn 3 (October 1942) the Japanese had retaken Henderson Field but at a cost a many damaged ships – ships now effectively “out of the game.” In the Event Phase of Turn 4, the Americans rolled IJN Overestimated which returned a “destroyed” carrier to the battle (incidentally, a carrier originally destroyed in the Event Phase of Turn 2 when the Japanese rolled three (!) Torpedo Hits and elected to sink that carrier). With the Hornet back, the Americans were able to use airpower to destroy the Japanese force patrolling Ironbottom Sound and get a bombardment force in to disrupt Henderson Field just in time for an amphibious force to land in the very last Operation of the game.

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Courtesy  goodreads.com

Pacific Fury reminds me that it is not enough to just “learn the rules” but it is also important to step back and understand the “why” of a game mechanic or rule. Usually these are hinted at in Designer’s Notes but in Pacific Fury such notes are lacking probably because the original game was published in Japanese. So in this case I had do do a bit of (enjoyable) discovery on my own. I am glad I pulled this game out again as I have deepened my understanding of not just the game but of the entire naval campaign for Guadalcanal. Pacific Fury is actually great compliment to what has to be one of the best books on the subject, James D. Hornfischer’s Neptune’s Inferno. Enough so that I need to stop typing away here and resume my reread of that book….

#WargameWednesday Pacific Fury Playthru

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Courtesy BoardGameGeek
I played my first real scenario of Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Revolution Games) over the holidays. The game is an operational-level treatment of the naval battles off Guadalcanal. Counters represent major combatants (CV/CVL/BB/BC/CA) and transports. Each turn is one month. The game starts in August 1942 with the Americans lodged on Guadalcanal and Henderson Field operational. Each turn players must first allocate forces into one of seven “Operation Box.” Turns then consist of seven phases; in each phase the player can do only one of the following: sortie a Task Force (TF) from an Operation Box, fight or move a previously sortied TF, or airstrike from Henderson Field. The game lasts four turns (August-November 1942) and the only determination of victory is who controls Henderson Field at the end of the last phase of Turn 4.

I played an entire scenario and had extensive notes tracking unit assignments and combat actions so I could have a good AAR. Looking through the rules one more time after play, I realized I had made a few mistakes so I am not going to give you a detailed battle report because I feel the rules flubs are enough to invalidate the game results. What I will give you is my impressions of the game.

Components: A-

The map has a few annoying spelling errors (“Turn Record Truck”) but the counters are top-notch. They are thick and punch out with nice rounded corners and almost no tuft! Play space needed is small; I used a desktop with about 24″ x 18″ of real estate. The rule book is a whole 8 pages and fairly easy to follow along with. This will make a good travel game!

Game Play: B+

  • Form Task Forces/Operations Phase: The Form Task Forces step is the heart of the game and the most challenging. Each Admiral needs to decide in what order his forces will enter the game. Every Operations Phase is a choice between sortieing a new force (enter the board) or using what is already deployed. The trade-off is that using a force on the board delays the entry of new forces; wait too long and a Task Force may not get into the fight this month!
  • Combat: This can be a bit fiddly. It took me a few tries to catch on to the different to-hit and damage roll modifiers. Basically, one has to roll the Combat Factor or less to hit, with the die roll being the number of hits. There are modifiers to the Combat Factor and number of hits (which was confusing to me at first). Then, to determine damage one compares the number of hits to the Defense Factor and rolls again. If the range of the roll is correct (depending on if your hits are greater than, equal to, or less than the Defense Factor) the ship is sunk. This is where I really messed up, for according to the rules, “Any ship not sunk is still considered damaged, as long as it suffered at least one hit.” What the rules mean to say is any ship “hit” but not “sunk” is “damaged.”In my play thru I was so focused on sinking ships I forgot to assess damage too!
  • Return to Base: Another area I struggled with, especially 10.8 Forced Return. This was in part because I was struggling to clearly differentiate between a “hit,” “damage,” and “sunk.”

Historical Accuracy: B

After playing thru the scenario, I went back and looked at the orders of battle for each side.  I was curious because the only reinforcements for the Americans is the carrier Hornet on Turn 2, and the Japanese can get the super-battleship Yamato and small carriers Junyo and Hiyo as special event reinforcements. The scenario obviously starts after the Battle of Savo Island (8/9 Aug 1942) since the “American” cruisers Canberra (Royal Australian Navy), Astoria, Quincy, and Vincennes are not included (they were all sunk). After a cursory look at a few sources I also have questions over the inclusion/arrival times of several Japanese ships. The American side looks a bit better, but the inclusion of, for example, Indianapolis is intriguing because the ship was not present in the South Pacific at any time during the period covered. Without designer notes it’s hard to tell if these choices were the result of design decisions, play balance, a bit of “what if”, or simple oversight.

Overall, Pacific Fury is a tight game of interesting, tense decisions. Victory will go to the better planner – although a smiling bit of Lady Luck is always helpful. The combat system is not very deep, but then again the focus of the game is the planning and getting your forces arrayed on the battle seas at the right place at the right time. Although there is only one scenario, there appears to be a fair amount of replay because, I don’t think, there will be a perfect strategy to deploying one’s forces and there is just enough Luck involved that an ironclad strategy will be hard to assemble.

Verdict – Recommended

 

#WargameWednesday My 2016 Wargame Revival

I have been a grognard wargamer longer than I have played roleplaying games or family boardgames. However, in recent years I have fallen off in buying new wargames, partially because of the prices (generally expensive) and partially because I have spent more time and money on RPGs and family boardgames. With the rise of the online publishing industry, RPG games and supplements are way more affordable, and my family boardgames included game series like Star Wars X-Wing, Star Wars Imperial Assault, Memoir ’44, and more recently Tanks: Panther vs Sherman. These “light wargames” favor playability over complexity/realism, and in the case of X-Wing or Tanks are more akin to manual video games. These games sorta scratched my wargaming itch, mostly because I used them to introduce the RMN Boys to the hobby.

But although I was scratching the itch, I was not making it go away.

So in 2016 I made a concerted effort to return to true grognard wargaming. Looking back, my modest effort appears to have paid off.

pic1559499_mdBreaking the Chains: War in the South China Sea (Compass Games) [Naval Combat/Modern-era/Operational-level]. My effort to explore modern naval combat. Moderately successful; the game is a bit too simplified for my taste. Looking forward to the next (upgraded?) version the refines the combat system.

pic3090467_mdDawn of the Battleship (Admiralty Trilogy Group) [Naval Combat/Pre-WWI-era/Tactical-level]. A continuation of the Admiralty Trilogy-series and the first published after the break-up with Clash of Arms.

pic3163917_mdEagle of Lille (GMT Games) [Aerial Combat/WWI-era/Operational-level]. Expansion for Bloody April, 1917: Air War over Arras, France. I personally love operational-level air combat games but the prior planning and time needed to play is immense.

pic2958247_mdMBT Second Edition (GMT Games) [Ground Combat/Modern-era/Tactical-level] Jim Day‘s  Panzer (1979 Yaquinto Press) was my first-ever wargame. Love this implementation of his armor combat system to fight the Cold War.

pic2999397_mdPacific Fury: Guadalcanal 1942 (Revolution Games) [Naval Combat/WWII-era/Operational-level]. A unique game that got to my interest in WWII naval combat.

pic2838345_mdPlan Orange: Pacific War 1930-1935 (RBM Studio) [Strategic Pre-WWII-era]. Aligns with my interest in alternative naval war in the Pacific. Great use of the card-driven game (CDG) mechanic.

pic3236903_mdWing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 (GMT Games) [Aerial Combat/WWII-era/Large-scale Tactical-level]. A different, and very interesting, look at air combat. A nice mix of tactical and operational-levels of aerial combat.

Breaking it down, of the seven wargames purchased this year:

  • Plurality are Naval Combat (3 of 7)
  • Majority are Operational-level (if one counts the large-scale tactical of Wing Leader as “operational” (4 of 7)
  • Plurality are are WWII-era (3 of 7)

Interestingly, I bought no space/science-fiction games this year. That is, unless one counts my pledged

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Courtesy Ad Astra Games

Kickstarter for Squadron Strike:Traveller (Ad Astra Games) that was to deliver in July but I am still waiting on.

I have to say though that my biggest wargaming achievement of 2016 was introducing Little I to miniature-style naval combat using my old copy of pic253396_mdBattleship Captain (Minden Games, 2007). This is the game that really started Little I on the path to grognardia. He had played, and enjoyed, Memoir’44 but with Battleship Captain he started seriously studying the history behind the game. This Christmas season, his attention has been seized by  the Gale Force 9 Tanks game and he is seriously studying WWII armored combat now.

Here’s to hoping 2017 is a year of many more wargame experiences.

All images courtesy BoardGameGeek except where noted.

Christmas Gaming 2016

Here is my gaming haul for the 2016 Christmas season:

pic3236903_mdWing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 (GMT Games)Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s innovative “side-scroll” air combat game for the later half of World War II. Like its predecessor Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 this again made air combat games fun and interesting for me. The box is HUGE and very heavy – a welcome change from so many “light” games with a “heavy” price.

pic2999397_mdPacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 by Revolution Games. Originally published in Japanese and now translated into English. Emphasizes planning by using a very different system of assigning units to Task Forces and then resolving combat in sequence. Suffers from some production issues (very DTP-publishing feel) but nonetheless an interesting exploration of naval combat in and around Iron Bottom Sound.

pic3238660_mdThe Space Patrol (by Richard Hazelwood, published by Stellagama Publishing). A 2D6 OGL Sci-Fi/Cepheus Engine RPG book for playing Space Patrol characters. Includes a very detailed discussion of legal terms and interstellar law. An interesting look at yet another career option. I try to support the Cepheus Engine system as much as possible since I disapprove of the direction Mongoose Publishing has taken the Traveller RPG rules.

pic3293444_mdShips of the Clement Sector 16: Rucker Class Merchant from Gypsy Knights Games. Another in a great line of outstanding ship sourcebooks. Includes multiple variants highlighting the “odd job” characteristics of the ship. Topped off by evocative fiction this book will be very useful in the Clement Sector setting or any 2D6 Sci-Fi/Cepheus Engine setting.

We wouldn’t be the RockyMountainNavy family without the kids getting games for Christmas too:

pic132447_mdRMN A got Command & Colors: Ancients (GMT Games). This is technically A’s first wargame that he “owns.” He is studying history and very interested in the period. Looking forward to facing off across the battlefield from him (but first he needs to put all those stickers on)!

pic3239100_mdRMN T got Endless Vigil: A Sourcebook for Sentinels for the Force & Destiny segment of Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPG line. Looking forward to exploring the Star Wars RPG universe of urban settings and encounters for the Force.

pic2933710_mdRMN Little I got Tanks: Panther vs Sherman (Gale Force 9). This starter-set game plays to two of his interests; WW2 armor and models. The price entry point is very low ($19.99) but he will surely be spending a good deal of his earnings over the next year on the expansions (i.e. models). He already has several 1/100th scale Zvezda armor – look for him to make his own stat cards soon!

pic3105185_mdAlmost forgot – RMN T also got King of New York: Power Up! (iello). This is an expansion for King of New York OR King of Tokyo (which we own). Beware Mega Shark!

pic691901_mdRMN Little I also got Memoir ’44: Breakthrough (Days of Wonder). Just remember, the battle always takes place at the junction of two maps! Between Memoir ’44 and C&C looks like the younger gamers are fully-involved in Richard Borg war games.

(All images courtesy BoardGameGeek/RPGGeek)

Merry Christmas and Happy Gaming to all!