Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Pacific War: “Look at the size of that thing!”

I’ve played block games like Hellenes and Liberty… I’ve played Ogre and Star Fleet Battles… but I have never seriously played a “real” war game. I have always wanted to, but it just never seems to happen. I meet people that own a few games like that and I say, “yeah… that’s the type of game that you buy and then never find anyone to play it with– it just gathers dust on your shelf for twenty years.” And they look at me all shocked and say, “how did you know…?!” So… no more Mr. Nice Gamer! We’re unpacking Pacific War and we’re going to play it come hell or high water.

The basic concept of the game is to slowly move your units while the other player checks repeatedly for sighting– so there’s no down time here just like in the grueling Battlesuit game I played way back with MattV. The designer admits that Japan cannot win the mega-monster game even if they avoid a disaster such as happened at Midway. Just like in Axis and Allies, the allied production power is a clock on their capacity to stay in the game. There are several types of scenarios you can run with this depending on how far down the rabbit hole you want to go:

  • “The Engagement Scenarios focus on one-sided encounters and are primarily solitaire learning experiences.”
  • “The Battle Scenarios are famous naval battles, such as the Coral Sea, which use all rules concerning movement and use of military forces and are intended as competitive player encounters.”
  • “The Campaign Scenarios bring all the rules concerning extended operations to bear and highlight famous struggles for parts of the Pacific, as in the Guadalcanal Scenario.”
  • “The Strategic scenarios are the “war” itself, bringing the strategic level decisions into play, such as the US submarine and strategic bombing campaigns, as well as introducing control over reinforcements, replacements, and pilot training.”

Now I haven’t played, yet, but I’m going to go ahead and say that this type of organization is unbelievably useful. There are plenty of space games out there that come with hardly any scenarios– and those that do rarely break them down in such a way that it is easy to learn the system. (Striker is probably the worst offender here because you have to devise both the tanks, the setting, and the scenarios. Brilliant Lances gives you a setting and some scenarios, but does little to help bring you up to speed while forcing you to waste a lot of time filling out record sheets. Third edition revised Starfire is one of the rare exceptions because it comes with entire battle fleets specified for multiple factions, a set of scenarios that gradually doles out the rules to you, and the ships records are extremely easy to sketch up.)

Each unit has an Activation Point Cost that only matters in the Campaign or Strategic games. Here is a quick break down of what else is on the counters:

Ground Unit Counters

  • Anti-Air Strength — This is the Flak combat rating.
  • Steps — Number of men; relevant for “hit points”, transport, and the stacking limit of 48 steps.
  • Troop Quality — Roll this number or greater to pass a TQ check.
  • Other stuff — This includes unit designation, unit size, and unit type.

Air Unit Counters

  • Anti-Air Strength — This is used for Air Combat and Strafe Combat.
  • Anti-Ground Strength — This is used for Strike Combat against ground units and installations.
  • Anti-Naval Strength — This is used for Strike Combat against naval units.
  • Number of Engines — This is relevant for some Air Missions and also for the Replacement rules.
  • Range — Total number of hexes that can be flown in one move.
  • Status Level — Sounds like a slightly different system than the Troop Quality ratings.
  • Note that Long Range Aircraft don’t have combat strengths and are extremely useful for performing Search.

Naval Unit Counters

  • Anti-Air Strength — This is for conducting a Flak Attack.
  • Anti-Submarine Strength — This is for conducting (you guessed it!) Anti-Submarine Combat.
  • Bombardment Strength — This is for conducting Bombardment Combat against ground units or installations.
  • Gunnery Strength — This is for conducting Naval Combat; there is a different value for short, medium, and long range.
  • Hit Capacity — The number of hits it takes to sink the ship. Units marked with a “c” can be Crippled.

Okay! So far so good. I haven’t unpacked any of the rules, yet, but this should give you an idea of the scope of the game. I really like that there are both solitaire scenarios and two hour “battle” games. That is a big help and it mirrors what I tend to do when I’m trying to learn a new and complicated game. (Back when I was wanting to play Battlesuit, I played it solitaire several times. Then when MattV showed up and was into trying it, I was immediately able to set it up and teach him the rules.)

I think this one’s going to be fun….

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8 responses to “Pacific War: “Look at the size of that thing!”

  1. RogerBW June 25, 2012 at 6:53 am

    Do you have stats for any of the British Far East fleet, or is this strictly a US-vs-Japan game?

    I ask because, thanks to some interference by PCs, the battle involving Prince of Wales and Repulse went a bit differently in my WWII game – Hood was there too, and was sunk, but Prince of Wales survived (albeit crippled). Perversely, because there was a naval engagement before the bombing, the Royal Navy has learned not “we have to take air attack seriously” but “we have to take those long-range Japanese torpedoes seriously” – after all, everyone knows that air attack can finish off a damaged ship.

    As far as I’m concerned, a multilevel wargame is effectively multiple games – you can’t use the same set of rules for running the whole war and fighting one carrier duel, because they happen on different timescales and with different units of organisation. I quite like the idea of a series of interface definitions for joining games together. So using this particular game as an example, the Strategic game would generate a series of questions to be resolved by the Campaign game, and each of those would generate multiple Battle games. The downward interface says things like “at this location and time, these units meet”; the upward interface says things like “these units survive, these don’t, those are damaged”.

    The reason I think in terms of interfaces – other than that I’m basically a software guy – is that each level can potentially be replaceable! So if I just want the Strategic game, I can replace the Campaign rules by a very simple, low-resolution system that gives the same sort of answer the full-blown Campaign game would have. Or if I have lots of friends who are into the same game, I can use the Strategic rules to generate a series of Campaigns which other people then go off and play – and they can then in turn play, outsource, or condense the individual Battle scenarios generated by those Campaigns. From the other end, someone who only wants to play Battles can use a quick scenario generator that replaces the Campaign rules…

    • jeffro June 25, 2012 at 8:32 am

      First… your campaign is epic. And second… you should know that between Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who, people on this side of the Atlantic are ga-ga over anything British. Cardiff, Scottish accents, the nuances of the geography of London… we eat it up! “Top-hole. Bally Jerry, pranged his kite right in the how’s-your-father; hairy blighter, dicky-birded, feathered back on his sammy, took a waspy, flipped over on his Betty Harpers and caught his can in the Bertie” More…! More!

      Regarding the interfacing of games like that… it doesn’t tend to happen as each sub-game tends to go its own way or else there are too many artifacts as you shift between levels. (Federation & Empire generates lousy Star Fleet Battles scenarios, for instance.) As a design consideration, maintaining playability within a level always trumps translatability between levels. And worse… each type of game tends to have non-overlapping sets of enthusiasts anyway. (That would be the well documented Autoduel Champions phenomenon.)

      And regarding British units in the Pacific War: in the full-war campaign, the British reinforcement schedule for 1942 includes the Hermes, the Indomitable, the Formidable, the Warspite, the Resolution, the Ramilles, the Royal Sovereign, the Revenge, and the Norfolk.

      • RogerBW June 25, 2012 at 9:27 am

        I suspect that part of the difficulty with a realistic multilevel system is… well, one-sided battles aren’t much fun to fight, but a master player at one level will generate mostly one-sided battles in the level below. (I suspect the smart thing might be to use the quick resolution system when nobody wants to fight out the battle with the detailed system.)

        Of course, computer GM aids can take care of lots of details. Say you’ve got a really precise system for recording a ship’s damage status – you can say “right, this one is now in the shipyard, make the repair rolls automatically and spit back the detailed state of the ship six months later” without some human having to do the hard work.

  2. Karl Gallagher June 25, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    I used to do a bunch of wargaming, including Starfire. I don’t have the patience for it these days. The biggest lesson I’ve taken from wargaming is “this is why a commander has staff to track all the details.”

  3. Pingback: Pacific War: Relief of Wake Island « Jeffro’s Car Wars Blog

  4. Vix Sundown October 17, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Great blog! As a Star Fleet Battles fan, I can relate.

    So speaking of complicated war games that sit on the shelf and never get played, how about “Campaign for North Africa”? It’s the Granddaddy-Monster of them all! So when are you gonna get started on that one, huh? :)

    • jeffro October 17, 2012 at 11:54 am

      Hey, thanks for posting.

      My experiences with Pacific War and Dune have turned me against any vintage game that has a large learning curve just on understanding the rules. With both of those… I would read something, play scenarios, and then go back… and end up even more lost!

      Monster games like Star Fleet Battles and Federation & Empire are similarly epic… but extremely well tended. I think it takes decades of development and play in order to keep monster games playable.

      It’s not the playing times, the complexity, or the commitment– it’s the ambiguous and opaque rule books that kill me.

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