New Arrival – Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons by Jon Peterson (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2021). This is definitely a hobby business history and NOT a history of D&D as a game. So all you Edition Wars fighters out there looking for Jon’s vote need to look elsewhere. I wish Jon would do the history of Marc Miller and Traveller someday. I know, not as dramatic but nonetheless of intense interest to a Traveller RPG fan like me.
Biggest Surprise – Really surprised that 20% of all my gaming has been Quarriors! or Scythe.
So, does this make me a better gamer than you? NO! I am just gaming in my own way and enjoying it. I’m not looking to compare myself to others but rather share with all of you the joy gaming has brought to myself and my family. It’s not important if you play one game a month or 100; the important part is to enjoy the hobby!
Not a YUGE snowstorm, but enough that the Federal and Local governments along with schools were closed. Road conditions looked pretty bad so the entire RockyMountainNavy family stayed in all day. Which means it’s GAMING time!
The first game played was actually the night before. Seeing that a day off was coming I pulled out Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 (Take Aim Designs/Revolution Games, 2019). I used the Historical Setup (again) but this game went nothing like my last. The Impulse part of the Area-Impulse mechanic ensured that the fortunes of war were fickle, especially for the German player. This time fate favored the Allies who won an Automatic Victory at the end of Turn 2.
For the snow day proper, the first wargame to hit the table was Brave Little Belgium (Hollandspiele, 2019). Again, the chit-pull mechanic made for a hard-fought battle. At first the Germans were neigh-unstoppable but in the mid-game the tide turned against them. However, in the late-game the End Turn chits came out before the Entente could counterattack effectively. The Germans won…just barely.
Going into the late afternoon and evening, I pulled out Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018) and set up scenario C.7 Pour La Patrie. This is an alternate history scenario which posits that France is Fascist and allied with Germany while Italy is Democratic and allied with the United Kingdom. The scenario runs from 1937 to 1942 (three turns). I really liked this scenario as it allowed me to explore the core game mechanic without any subconscious pressure to follow a “historical” strategy.
I categorize Pacific Tide as a “waro”-style wargame because it uses game mechanics beyond the traditional hex & counter with CRT* found in classic wargames. In Pacific Tide, each player (US or Japan) has cards which dictate movement or attack or reinforcement or the occurrence of events. Cards are arranged by years and broadly cover situations that historically happened in that timeframe. What I really came to appreciate in this play thru of Pacific Tide was how the cards drive a historical narrative that is close to history but not necessarily locked-in by the past.
Here is how my Pacific Tide 1941 played out. The game starts with the Japanese player holding the Pearl Harbor, SNLF Marines, Air Operations, and Yamamoto cards in their hand. The US has only Emergency Evacuation and Air Builds. The Year Card designates Japan as the first player and notes that all Japanese Naval and Land-based air roll 2 die per attack for each unit. On the other hand, US Naval and Land-based air roll only 1 die per unit. This is a nice way to show the relative combat power of the combatants at this time; a period where Japanese naval and land-based aircraft outclassed their American counterparts.
Like history, the Japanese started out with the Pearl Harbor attack. The attack uses the Special Pearl Harbor Attack card which is a 2d6 roll against a table. The US player will be able to strike back using the one Land-based air in Hawaii, but after the one attack the LBA is destroyed. Of the five US Fleet units present, three are sunk outright with a fourth damaged. The US LBA does better than historically and is able to down one of the five Japanese Naval air units. The rest of the Pearl Harbor card allows three areas to activate for MOVEMENT and for ATTACK or AMPHIB attacks in two areas. All these attacks add one extra die (surprise factor?). The Japanese attacks generally track with history; the US Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines is destroyed but the ENTRENCHED infantry remains while Borneo and it’s precious oil falls.
The Pearl Harbor card allows the Japanese player to either PASS the turn to the US or PLAY another card. Being on a roll (literally and figuratively) Japan follows up with the SNLF Marines which adds infantry for an AMPHIB attack – again at a +1 die in combat. In this timeline, the SNLF Marines land in the Philippines and defeats the Americans there. The turn (finally) passes to the US.
The US is totally defensive this year with only two cards to play – neither of which have an ATTACK or AMPHIB action. Historically, the US used Emergency Evacuation to pull out of the Philippines and save the Army. However, this timeline is different with American forces in the Philippines already defeated. So the first play is Air Builds which adds a Land-based air to Midway. Maybe the US was spooked by the Japanese CVs staying in the Northern Pacific areas? Regardless, the card is played after which the Japanese play Air Operations to beat up on Force Z in Singapore.
Now the US has the Emergency Evacuation card as the only possible play; but what to evacuate? Again, not fully thinking the situation through, the US uses the card to withdraw a damaged Force Z from Singapore. A very sub-optimal use of the card for sure. The poor choice is made all the more apparent when the Japanese play their last card, Yamamoto, to invade Singapore (seizing its oil reserves) and strengthen their defensive perimeter by taking Wake.
The end of 1941 in this timeline does not look that different from reality, but there are a few differences:
The US Pacific Fleet has lost the bulk of its surface force but its carriers remain untouched
Japan has seized the Philippines and ejected the US Asiatic Fleet and the US Army in the Far East
Japan control the oil-rich areas of Singapore and Borneo (control adds bonus Build Points in later years)
Wake has fallen
In the South Pacific, a damaged Force Z has retired to Fremantle but Japanese Land-based air is in New Guinea while Commonwealth Land-based air and fleets lurk in the Solomons and Timor Sea.
The biggest mistake I see is that the US failed to save any infantry units. This could cause a problem; looking at the cards ahead for 1942 the only way to rebuild infantry is the use of Marine Builds which adds three infantry. On the other hand, Japan gets Fortifications and Garrison Forces and Banzai Attacks as well as Tokyo Express; all cards that build up infantry or make their movement / attack deadly.
In 1942 Japan retains the initiative (first player) but there is tactical parity as both the US and Japan roll 2 die per Naval air unit and one die for each Land-based air unit in attacks. Most dangerously, Japan also has the Midway card for an extra maximum-effort attack. This is important as the Japanese achieve an Automatic Decisive Victory if at the end of 1942 they control their home areas (Japan and Okinawa) as well as Singapore (check), Borneo (check), the Aleutians, Wake (check), and Midway.
Pacific Tide may not be a “traditional wargame” but it certainly builds an interesting historical narrative. There is alot of depth – both narratively and mechanically – in this “simple” game. I also appreciate the fact the designer is very active on the BoardGameGeek forums. His BGG name is Sturmer and he answers many questions – often quickly – and has posted helpful clarifications for the game. This level of attention to his game and engagement with players is a great example of the best the wargame hobby has to offer.
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.”
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 VITPand Pacific Tideare nearly identical in their degree of complexity and how they portray the war and combatants:
2 out of 10
3 out of 10
Individual carriers or ships, air groups, infantry
Individual carriers or ships, army-level infantry, air groups
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 Tideplayers 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 TideRules of Play is a 16-page booklet but the actual rules are covered on the first 12 pages. The Pacific Tiderules 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 Tideoccurs 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:
The US wins a Decisive Victory if they drop the Atomic Bomb (2.1)
US wins Decisive Victory if they drop the Atomic Bomb and controls all starting areas except Japan (US Card 24)
US wins a normal victory if the game ends and US controls all areas on the map except Japan and Okinawa (2.0)
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)
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)
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.
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.