#Wargame Wednesday – History to Wargame – Plan Orange (@RBMStudio1, 2015)

An aperiodic look at books and wargames that go together. The wargames and books presented here are both drawn from my personal collection and do not necessarily reflect the best of either category…but if I’m showing them to you I feel they are worth your time to consider!

Plan Orange

The Great Pacific War

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Photo by RockyMountainNavy

Plan Orange was the U.S. Navy’s contingency plan in the event of war with Japan. First developed following the First World War, when Japan was identified as the most likely naval opponent in a future war, the plan assumed that Japan would quickly seize control of most of the Philippines. The U.S. Navy would then launch a counteroffensive across the Mandates in the central Pacific with the goal of relieving Manila and blockading Japan. The plan was continually updated to reflect shifting alliances, improvements in naval technology, and the relative strengths of the fleets. (The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia)

Bibliography

Bywater, Hector C., The Great Pacific War: A History of the Japanese-American Campaign of 1931-1933, Bedford: Applewood Books, original copyright 1925.

Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War 1932-1935, designed by Mark Herman, published by C3i Magazine Nr. 29, 2015.

Miller, Edward S., War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991.


Feature image: “Two Vought O2U Corsairs of Marine Corps Scouting Squadron 14 (VS-14M) fly past USS Saratoga (CV-3) while preparing to land on board, circa 1930.” Courtesy navy.mil.

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

 

March #Wargame & #Boardgame Madness – but not really.

March was a bit of a slow gaming month here at Casa RockyMountainNavy.

IMG_0221The numbers are a bit deceptive; 23 plays of 12 different games but if you throw out the 11 plays of Quarriors (WizKids, 2011) than that is a single play of most other games. Quarriors dominated the family gaming time this month with many games played in the short time after evening chores and bed time. Great family filler game!

After flirting with Villainous, I picked up the expansion. It kinda fell flat. There is not anything necessarily wrong with the game, it just didn’t grab us. Same goes for Illuminati; mechanically the game doesn’t know when to end and my older version has political and social references lost on the younger generation (to their detriment).

Four of the wargames played this month, Great War at Sea: 1904-1905, The Russo-Japanese War, Great War at Sea: U.S. Navy Plan Orange, Plan Orange: Pacific War 1930-1935, and World in Flames (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), are larger games requiring more time to play. In terms of gaming hours each individual play takes up more time than a quick scenario of something like Commands & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution. Unfair accounting?

Speaking of Commands & Colors, there are some interesting developments in the series. I always understood that the main designer is Richard Berg, but didn’t realize until this month how the game license is divided up amongst publishers by era. GMT Games has Ancients, Medieval, Samurai, and Napoleonics; Compass Games has The American Revolution; Fantasy Flight Games has fantasy; PSC Games has World War I and space; and Days of Wonder does World War II. The question becomes who is going to do the American Civil War or the French & Indian War? This is important for my gaming budget!

#Wargame Wednesday – Strategist wargaming using Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War 1932-1935 (C3i Magazine, 2016) @markherman54 @RBMStudio1

A few posts back I took to task The Great War at Sea Volume III: U.S. Navy Plan Orange (Avalanche Press, 1998) as being too much of a tactical battle generator and not enough of a design to explore the strategic nuances behind Plan Orange. After playing that game and its sister Volume IV: The Russo-Japanese War (Avalanche Press, 1999) where I discussed Bruce Geryk’s notions of strategists versus recreationists, I looked around for another game in my collection that could satisfy my needs. I ended up pulling Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1932-1935 (C3iOps Magazine, 2016).

I am fortunate that I have already played this game a few times so I am past the point of being forced to concentrate on the how to play and instead can focus on the strategy of play. Although Plan Orange is based on Mark Herman’s previous work Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2005), I don’t own that game so I don’t play Plan Orange with a World War II bias or conditioning from that game. Thus, I feel empowered to explore the strategy of this war, liberated from trying to impose the next war on the game design.

3fcollid3dbooks_covers_026isbn3d978026203399226type3dThat said, to a large degree I was also motivated to play Plan Orange based on Mark Herman’s essay “Empire of the Sun: The Next Evolution of the Card-Driven Game Engine” found in Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming (ed. Pat Harrigan & Matthew G. Kirschebaum, MIT Press, 2016). When talking about the players role in EotS, Mark writes:

I wanted the players to be the important theater commanders in the Pacific. Specifically, I wanted the players to represent Nimitz, MacArthur, Yamamoto, Mountbatten, and their supporting staffs. I specifically did not want the players to control the decisions made in Washington, London, or Tokyo, but to respond to guidance and the resources allocated to the Pacific Theater. I also wanted to divorce this design from the choreography of a carrier battle by avoiding tactical detail, as that was not the decision space of a theater commander. I wanted to laser focus on running the military campaigns, not the battles. (ZoC, p. 135)

Mark Herman’s Plan Orange comes with only two scenarios. The core scenario, 15.1 Shanghai Incident January 28, 1932, kicks off with the Japanese holding the initiative and two Surprise Offensive cards, Philippine Offensive and Guam Offensive in hand. The entire game is only six turns (2 years) long. There are only a few ways to win:

  1. Capital Ship Ratio: If at the end of turn 4 the US holds a 2:1 ratio in battleships over Japan or Japan holds a 1.5:1 ratio over the US, that player wins.
  2. Japan surrenders due to conquest or blockade of their home islands.
  3. It is impossible to return an involuntarily repositioned HQ to the map.
  4. If none of the above are achieved, then victory goes to the player who controls all three Philippines surrender hexes.
  5. If the US player has not won by the end of turn 6, the Japanese player wins.

These few victory conditions very faithfully represent the thinking of the day; either achieve the Mahanian doctrine of naval superiority or control the Western Pacific through the Philippines.

All together, Mark Herman’s Plan Orange is well suited for a strategist game. For the Japanese player, the challenge is to drive out the US then hold off the inevitable counteroffensive. For the US, the decision is where to make the advance; Go North, Central Drive, Blockade, and Dash Across are all legitimate options. The question is, which one can you pull off?


Feature image: Back Cover, C3i Magazine Nr. 29 (BoardGameGeek.com); Zones of Control cover image courtesy MIT Press.

 

#Wargame Wednesday – Origins Challenge and the challenge of interwar innovation in Great War at Sea: U.S.N. Plan Orange (Avalanche Press Ltd.,1998)

I keep working my way through my Origins Award Winners challenge in 2019. The latest game in my queue is The Great War at Sea: U.S. Navy Plan Orange (Avalanche Press Ltd., 1998). This game won the Origins Award in 1998 for Best Historic Board Game. As a naval wargamer, Plan Orange covers something of a Holy Grail theme for me. Who doesn’t enjoy one of the greatest “what ifs” of history? This title allows you to explore what could of been if the US and Japan had clashed in the 1930s. When this game came out I immediately scooped it up and played the heck out of it!

But…

…my problem today is that as much as I love the theme of U.S.N. Plan Orange, the Great War at Sea (GWaS) system has increasingly disappointed me over time. In the late 1990’s, the Great War at Sea and its World War II counterpart Second World War at Sea (SWWaS) seemed to be the model for depicting an operational-level naval campaign in the early to mid-20th century. Although I viewed the game as innovative in it’s day, with age I am not so sure the game is as innovative as I remember nor models the reality of innovation during the interwar period to my liking.

Design Pedigree

Part of being a grognard for 40 years now is that I pay more attention to the design of a game. When I look at GWaS against other games in my collection I now see how GWaS melds several previous design concepts into a single package. Aircraft operations are like that used in Flat Top (Battleline, 1977). The simple battle resolution and searching is in many ways a refinement of that seen in Flat Top and Bismarck Second Edition (Avalon Hill, 1980). Plotting operations are strikingly similar to that found in Fifth Frontier War (GDW, 1981). I find it conceivable that in 1998 the Origins Awards judges found this marriage of theme with these melded mechanics interesting enough and accomplished in a sufficiently meritorious manner to garner an award. This is not to say that GWaS is a cheap copycat; just that the state of the art in wargame design has come a long way since 1998 and this game series is firmly rooted in the (even then) past.

Interwar Advancements

The book Military Innovation in the Interwar Period (Editors Williamson Murray & Allan R. Millett, Cambridge University Press, 1996) focuses on several interwar innovations including amphibious warfare, aircraft carriers, submarines, and radio and radar. In GWaS, amphibious warfare is treated in very little detail with rule 11.5 Unloading. Aircraft carriers are introduced in the Special Rule 19.0 Air Operations and 20.0 Air Combat. Submarines get another Special Rule, 22.0 Submarine Flotillas. The innovation that is missing is radio and radar.


Is is important for this discussion to take note of several other relevant rules. In the Great War at Sea series, rules 5.1 Plotting and 5.2 Missions represent the command and control of the fleet. To illustrate command and control limitations of World War I, players must plot ahead a certain number of turns based on the mission of a fleet:

  • Transport / Bombardment / Minelaying / Minesweeping missions are plotted at the beginning of the game for the ENTIRE scenario. The only way to change the mission is to Abort which states that, starting two turns ahead (16 hours), the fleet must move by the shortest available route and best speed to a friendly port. Once it reaches a friendly port, a new mission and new set of orders can be plotted.
  • Intercept / Raid missions are plotted two turns (16 hours) in advance. Only warships and colliers/oilers may be assigned Intercept or Raid missions.

Allan R. Millett argues in his “Patterns of Military Innovation” essay that, “Radio communications, communications intercept, cryptography, and radar probably represent the most dramatic, technological changes from one world war to the next”(Murray & Millett, p. 345). The U.S. Navy didn’t express any interest in radar until 1930 (Murray & Millett, p. 289) so it falls outside the realm of U.S.N. Plan Orange. Besides, the real change in radar was in the battle between ships, not searching for fleets in the broad ocean.

Albert Nofi in his book To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940 (Naval War College Press, 2010), points out that as early as Fleet Problem I in 1923 communications was identified as an area of concern (Nofi, p. 54). By Fleet Problem V in 1925 signals intelligence (SIGINT) was used to actively redirect forces:

Late on the 10th (2010-2030) several Blue submarines managed to spot elements of the Black Fleet. Shortly afterward, S-11 (SS-116) “fired” four torpedoes at some Black battleships. All four were ruled to have missed, and S-11 was promptly attacked and sunk by Black destroyers. Blue signals intelligence intercepted Black’s communications regarding this skirmish, and shortly after midnight the Blue Main Body altered course to intercept. (Nofi, p. 75)

The ability to quickly redirect the “Main Body” seems to be captured in the GWaS rules for replotting of Intercept or Raiding fleets though the game imposes a 16 hour delay – four times longer than that demonstrated at sea in 1925. But what about the ability to redirect other fleets (like an amphibious invasion force) around “known” enemy locations? By rules 5.1 and 5.2 the only way to “redirect” an fleet with a transport mission is to Abort. This may make sense in World War I, but by 1930 in Plan Orange is it still a proper implementation of the rule? I also note the same rules are used in the Second World War at Sea-series rules….

The use of tactical signals intelligence (SIGINT) was also changing. The U.S. Navy was learning to use SIGINT in ways far beyond how Jellicoe used intelligence in World War I when often, “The Admiralty, as usual, knew the Germans were at sea but did not at first know their objective” (Paul G. Halpern, A Naval History of World War I, Naval Institute Press, 1994, p. 313). For the U.S. Navy, SIGINT was used to good effect in Fleet Problem VIII in 1928:

Blue was able to secure fixes on the Orange light cruisers on several occasions, and adjusted its movements accordingly. Orange managed to use intercepts to break Blue’s code, but was unable to determine Blue’s course. (Nofi, p. 103)

The search and contact rules in GWaS do not take tactical SIGINT into account in any manner. Should it? To better reflect history maybe it should. Nofi tells us the advancements in cryptography and communications security were very important. In his analysis of “patterns” in the Fleet Problems between 1921-1941, Nofi specifically calls out cryptography and communications security by pointing out:

As a result of notable failures in communications security during Fleet Problems IX (1929), X (1930), and XI (1931), more secure procedures were introduced and tougher ciphers developed. This helped exercise the skills and enhance the experience of American cryptographers, laying the foundation for the enormously successful U.S. Navy cryptographically efforts against Japan during World War II. (Nofi, p. 293).

Plus Side – “Game in a Box”

One factor that is in U.S.N. Plan Orange’s favor is that it is a complete game in the box. Unlike later Avalanche Press GWaS boxed releases which are literally expansions that require ownership of multiple other titles to play, U.S.N. Plan Orange is self-contained. All components needed to play are included. This stand-alone ability makes the game attractive to own as a one-off title and allows players to explore the theme within the GWaS system without further (costly) investment.

To Play or Not to Play

The “complete game is a box” is a good reason for me to keep U.S.N. Plan Orange in my collection. Sure, I don’t play it as often as other games, but when I do it I can pull one box off the shelf and play it. When considering interwar innovations, I grudgingly admit that Plan Orange captures enough of the interwar innovations to keep me playing. One easy change may be to change the delay for replotting to one turn for Intercept/Raids and two turns for all other missions. Certainly I wish it did more, but then again, no game is a perfect model.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot #Boardgames in Winter

In preparation for the arrival of a few new games this Christmas, I was updating my BoardGameGeek collection pages and noticed my profile page. There are two lists given, one is my Top 10 and the other my Hot 10. Looking at the two lists, I realized I had a methodology for creating the Top 10 list (based on my personal BGG rating) but I did not have a system for the Hot 10. Giving it a bit of some thought, I decided to use my Logged Plays as a guide. The resulting list is actually a good reflection of my year in gaming.

My logged plays games are a bit unbalanced. From January to July it featured one or two wargames a month. Beginning in August, the RockyMountainNavy family started family game nights every weekend. In the last five months of the year my gaming changed from wargames to more family boardgames. The pace of gaming also accelerated; so far in December I have already played more games that all of January to July put together. So here is my Hot 10:

#10 – Agricola: Master of Britain

As much as I play wargames solo it is actually rare that I play solo games. Agricola: Master of Britain is an easy-to-learn yet hard-to-master game that uses interesting cup mechanics to reflect shifting allegiances of tribes. I also like the escalating victory conditions that constantly force you to achieve more – sometimes more than is possible.

#9 – 1775: Rebellion

A “lite” wargame that plays well with 2-4 players. In many ways 1775: Rebellion showed me that a “family wargame” should be.

#8 – Scythe

Scythe marked the real birth of family board gaming in the RockyMountainNavy this year. One of the heavier games we played this year, we have not played in a while and need to get this one back to the table soon.

#7 – Pandemic

An older game that we “discovered” this year, I am always amazed at the narrative power this game delivers.

#6 – Plan Orange: Pacific War 1930-1935

Probably the only “real” wargame in my Hot 10. At first I was a bit surprised this was in my Hot 10 but then I thought about it; I really enjoy this CDG-design and the shorter play time means it can land on the gaming table more often.

#5 – The Expanse Board Game

At first I was a bit negative on The Expanse Board Game but I have warmed to it. I want it to land on the table a bit more but in the last game Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy was ruthless on his brother who swore revenge. So far he hasn’t had a chance, but when it comes I’m sure it will be glorious to watch.

#4 – Terraforming Mars

Another game that exemplifies the arrival of family board gaming in the RMN family. This will be played many more times and there may even be a few expansions purchased.

#3 – Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (second edition)

If there is a wargame that connected my grognard past with my boys it is Conflict of Heroes. The Firefight Generator has led to several memorable games so far.

#2 – Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier Game

A lucky thrift-store find, I posted earlier how this is actually a reskinning of the Kinderspiel des Jarhres-winning Ghost Fighting’ Treasure Hunters. A fun cooperative game, it probably will be superseded in a future Hot 10 by Pandemic and demoted to the kids collection for Mrs RMN to use in her teaching.

#1 – Kingdomino

t355_b2138e70398567c86527fda049c52d5f
Courtesy Blue Orange Games

Given the short play time and our usual Dynasty play where we play three games in a sitting one could argue that this game is artificially high in my Hot 10. I disagree; Kingdomino fully deserves to be the Hot 10 leader not only because of my logged plays, but it is landing on the table with the RMN Boys even without me. Even the video-gaming oldest RMN Boy will join in!

So there is my Hot 10. This list helps me recognize what I have sensed all year; as much as I am a wargaming grognard this year I became more of a family gamer. This has resulted in many positive changes in the family. Not only do we spend more time socializing together, we also use games to guide our learning. The boys have learned so much more about the American Revolution and space exploration thanks to gaming. Even Mrs. RMN,  a non-gamer, is touting the value of board gaming to the parents of her students.

#WargameWednesday Breaking down South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier, 1942-43 (C3i Magazine Nr 30)

pic3260226_mdMark Herman’s South Pacific: Breaking Down the Bismarck Barrier, 1942-43 is the game included in C3i Magazine Nr 30 published by RBM Studios in late 2016. South Pacific (SPac) is actually a scenario (17.10) for Empire of the Sun (EotS, GMT Games, 2005).

The designer’s blurb for SPac pretty much sums up the product:

South Pacific (SPac) is an Empire of the Sun (EotS) C3i Scenario Variant that uses the full scope of its parent design. While South Pacific is a complete stand alone game all of the tactics that work in EotS work in SPac. What is unique about SPac is the smaller map region (see C3i 30 back cover image) focuses and significantly simplifies the strategic options available to the two sides.

Each side has a 24 card deck that are like the EotS cards except they have been renumbered. The counter mix is also identical, except we have aligned the set up and reinforcement markings to the four-turn scenario. In designing this new C3i Scenario Variant, I wanted to put you in the shoes of MacArthur and Ghormley/Halsey prosecuting the US counterattack, while still being impacted by interservice rivalry, China, and competition for resources in Europe. All of the relevant tracks have been redesigned by Mark Simonitch to fit on the tailored C3i Mapsheet surface that shines a spotlight on the turning point in the Pacific War.

Since this is a subset of the broader war each player is playing with a four rather than a seven card hand, and you will never reshuffle the deck allowing for high replayability. The practical result of this smaller hand of cards is South Pacific typically clocks in at less than two hours, so easily a one-session game.

If you learn to how to play South Pacific you will also know how to play its parent game Empire of the Sun.

pic2838345_mdHaving recently played Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1932-1935 (C3i Nr 29) I felt I was going to be familiar with the system and ready to try. Though I had a few issues with Plan Orange, overall I like that game and wanted to try more. Hence, my purchase of SPac.

Components: A-

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Sleeved cards (RMN)

The physical components are nice. The counters (~100) are nice if not a bit thin for my taste. The map is small (11″ x 17″) and does not take up a great deal of tabletop space when laid out. The cards are nice, and just fit “SMALL Gaming Card” (62mm x 89mm) sleeves. [Interestingly, the Plan Orange cards also fit these sleeves but are just a shade narrower with a little bit sticking out at the top] The package “form factor” makes SPac a good travel game.

Rules: B-

In SPac rule 1.0 Introduction, the Design Note states:

These are the rules to Empire of the Sun with some superfluous sections taken out to allow you to play the single scenario that comes with South Pacific. We have done this so if you learn South Pacific, you also know how to play its parent design.

Unfortunately, in the desire to “simplify” the rules for SPac this approach to the rules created problems. The reuse of parts of the EotS rulebook creates confusion, several key items were actually left out, and several rules are outright contradictory.

Section 3.0 General Course of Play includes the following Play Note:

If this is the first time the you are reading these rules, then is recommended that the player segregate the counters into  a set that have hex setup locations and those that have a game turn of entry. Take the units with hex setups and place them on the map where indicated. After completing this go to the comprehensive example of play and move the counters according to the narrative. It is our belief that this ‘best practice’ will facilitate your introduction into the game system.

There is no “comprehensive example of play” in the rulebook that covers the entire 4.0 Sequence of Play. The closest item is the Comprehensive Offensive Example found on p. 21. The problem with this example it that it is for EotS and covers a map area and units NOT in SPac. This makes learning for one unfamiliar with EotS – like me – that much more difficult.

Two missing rules I found most difficult to cope with in my early plays were the lack of a Terrain Key (not in the rulebook nor on the map) and the rules for Progress of War (essential for determination of Political Will and Victory Conditions). The designer has answered forum questions on both CONSIMWorld and BoardgameGeek which is helpful but I cannot help but feel that the product needed an good proofread/playtest by someone NOT familiar with EotS (i.e. like me, not that I’m volunteering but…).

An example of rules contradiction is Pre-War Units. In 1.3 Glossary, the entry for Pre-War Units reads:

Pre-War Units: Most of the units that start the game on the map (those with set up hexes on the counters) and certain others are denoted by a dot on their counters. These are defined as pre-war units. Pre-war units cannot receive replacements.

Yet later, in rule 11.0 Replacements section 11.1 Pre-War Unit Restrictions simple states, “Not Applicable.” I  can read rules 1.3 and 11.1 together in at least two different ways; 1) The restriction on pre-war units means that units with a dot cannot receive replacements, or 2) the restriction defined in 1.3 is not applicable to SPac. These are two radically different interpretations of the rules and clearly understanding which is correct is vital for the Japanese player. Per the scenario rules, the Japanese player has very few naval and air replacement points. There is only one naval unit in the game (BB Yamato) that is not marked as a pre-war unit. Strictly reading the (few) rules above, it would seem that only the BB Yamato can be “replaced” – or not? It that really the intention of the scenario?

Game Play: A-

Once familiar with the system the game flows well. The sequence of strategy card draws will always vary making no two games alike. The scenario only lasts four turns and, once the Progress of War rules are understood, puts great pressure on the American player to take the offensive and make things happen. I see SPac as a fast, tight game where one bad roll of the die could be fatal. Maybe too fatal? I don’t really know yet. I am still a newbie to the game engine and am still working past rules issues meaning I have not been able to fully explore the strategy of the game. Hopefully that exploration can come after familiarity – and not too much errata.

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All set up and ready to go (RMN)

In many ways that sums up my love/hate with SPac. I really like the card-driven strategy decisions and the simple, yet seemingly realistic, combat system and results. What befuddles me is the thought that the game supposedly builds upon a solid foundation in EotS yet, in the quest to simplify and tailor, there is confusion. I strongly feel that the designer, developer (hmm…no developer credited), editor (uhh…no editor credited) and playtesters (very few) were possibly too familiar with EotS and “filled in the blanks” where rules/items were missing or “intuitively understood” what is not necessarily written in the rules. I do not see the problem as fatal but they are VERY annoying.

Overall Recommendation: Keeper. Will (somewhat reluctantly) look for errata. Explore more for strategy.

All photos courtesy BoardGameGeek except where noted.

Mark Herman’s South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier, 1942-43, © RBM Studio Publications, 2016.

 

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.

#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.