My not-so-lazy Sunday was capped off by a solo play attempt of Beachhead: A Game of Island Invasions in the South Pacific 1942-1944 from Yaquinto Publishing in 1980. Beachhead came packaged in what Yaquinto called their “Album Game'” format; the game “box” was basically a dual LP record cover. Very thin – so thin you couldn’t store the counters in the sleeves of the “box” without warping the board! Beachhead was designed by Michael S. Matheny with a gorgeous cover by Roger B. MacGowan (@RBMStudio1 on Twitter). As I replayed this game I discovered it is not the game I remember; in some ways it is better, in other ways not.
As I reread the rules before play, several items jumped out at me. The first concerns serious gaming. Production of Beachhead was led by J. Stephen Peek, formerly of Battleline and obviously a serious gamer. So serious he didn’t call Beachhead a wargame but a “simulation”:
002 – BEACHHEAD As a Simulation
BEACHHEAD is a small unit level simulation of combat on an island in the South Pacific during the Second World War.
I pulled Beachhead out because I wanted to play a solitaire game. However, I quickly discovered that there is actually a fairly large degree of hidden information making this game not-so-solo-friendly.
4. All Japanese units are placed on the game board and are turned upside down. (102 PREPARING TO PLAY THE GAME-D-4)
2. Flip over all units that will move this Turn. (202 Basic Game Sequence of Play, STEP B.2.)
4. Return the moved units to the Face up [sic] position. (SoP, STEP C.4)
The next rule that was different than I remember is Sighting. The mapboard has many jungle hexes so as I read the rules I expected to see a rule about jungle blocking line of sight. Instead, I got this:
3. Hexes containing trees do not individually block the line of sight. Though the trees may be up to 25-40 feet in height, there are very few of them in each hex and so so not present a problem in sighting. They will present obstacles to combat. However, if the line of sight passes through three Tree hexes the line of sight is blocked. (205 SIGHTING-B-1-3)
This “terrain as combat obstacles” theme is also applied to buildings:
4. Hexes containing buildings do not block line of sight. There are very few buildings per hex and so do not present a problem for sighting. They will still present obstacles to combat. (205-B-4)
I did remember what made Japanese machine guns so deadly – Fire Lanes:
- Only Japanese Machine Gun, Infiltration Machine Guns, and Emplacement units have a ‘Fire Lane’ and are called Fire Lane units.
- The base of the Fire Lane is the numbered edge of the playing piece.
- The Fire Lane extends ten hexes through the hexside to which the numbered edge of the playing piece is facing.
- Any American unit that attempts to cross this ten hex line is immediately fired on by the Fire Lane unit. (This means that the American player will be attacked during the movement portion of his Movement Phase…. (205-F)
Another rule I missed many years ago is Aircraft Spotters (207 COMBAT-C). This rule allows one to use Airstrike units as spotters. A simple way to give the American player a complex choice; bombard or spot?
One rule I did remember and still enjoy is how Preliminary Bombardment is implemented in the game. This is another challenging choice; delay the arrival of landing craft to bombard and risk running out of time or land against more defenders? While rereading the rules, I discovered a little wrinkle that I had missed years before and it comes from the fact the Japanese player’s units are face down (hidden) from the American player:
4. In a normal Firing procedure the Firing player consults the Combat Results Table to determine the effects of fire. In Preliminary Bombardment the Japanese player consuls the Combat Results Table. The American player still rolls the dice, but is not allowed to know the odds column being used. (207 COMBAT–J. Preliminary Bombardment)
Victory Conditions (210 VICTORY CONDITIONS) are based on points differential. I really like the flavor text. It ties neatly back to the introduction where there is an emphasis placed on YOU. As the introduction states, “You are, in fact, on the BEACHHEAD.”
In the OPTIONAL RULES there are several items of “chrome” that I remember and really like such as:
- Randomly rolling to see what size naval guns are bombarding (303 BOMBARDMENT TYPE)
- Randomly determining what payload airstrike have (304 AIRSTRIKES)
- The Duke arrives as SGT. Stryker! (308 SGT. STRYKER)
Near the end of the rules in the HINTS ON PLAY there is a section on GAME ABSTRACTIONS. It directly addresses concerns over the game’s realism. It is interesting to read the designer’s perspective that Beachhead is essentially a game of points with units representing those points. It is a useful perspective that conflict simulations/wargames sometime forget.
Given the hidden information needed to play, my solo Beachhead game sort fizzled out. These days, this game is ripe for an implementation using blocks instead of face down counters.
More importantly, the rules of Beachhead, in a mere 16 pages, show a great degree of design elegance and certainly capture – and communicate – the theme of the game. The game is a great reminder that good things sometime do arrive in small packages. For some reason, this game, with its mechanical elegance and smaller footprint reminds me of many Hollandspiele games. That’s a good thing because it means there is at least one publisher is delivering elegant, smaller games to this very niche hobby market.
Now, to get the RockyMountainNavy Boys to play….