Carrier – Scenario 3: Climax at Santa Cruz

Continuing on with my learning of Carrier from Victory Games (1990), I have just tried scenario 3. This scenario is meant to teach movement of ships. In this game, Japanese task forces are given objectives that they are attempting to reach so the good news is that not everything out there is trying to sink your little carrier force. On the other hand, letting the bad guys drop off thousands of fresh troops on Guadalcanal will probably not help your victory point tally at the end of the day.

Scenario 3: The Battle of Santa Cruz

There are basically two kinds of enemy forces of various sizes in this game – carrier forces and transport forces. Japanese carrier forces will tend to try and approach and attack your carrier if it is within a certain range. Transport forces will run straight for their objectives and hope for the best. The big problem for the player in Carrier is to sort out which force is which and determining how big these forces actually are. Reports of enemy contact are represented on the board and these might represent anything from a large carrier task force to a coral reef that some jumpy airman reported back to base as a large ship. These reports gets more accurate and detailed as you send out search planes and get intel back from other sources.   The catch is that you don’t have time and resources to search through every piece of intelligence so you take what you can get and react to the situation as best as you can.

In this scenario, you luckily start off with enough information to know who is out there and where they are. It is October, 1942 and the Japanese have two carrier forces. Force 1 is CV Shokaku and Zuikaku with CVL Zuiho and escorting surface ships. Force 2 consists of CVL Junyo and two destroyers.

Japanese forces – Force 1 (left) and Force 2 (right)

At intelligence level 4, we have precise information about the composition of these forces. Force 1 starts off in hex 1921 and Force 2 is in 2024.

How the historical battle played out

The US has two carrier task forces. TF 16 has CV Enterprise and BB South Dakota with a host of escorts. TF 17 consists of CV Hornet and a healthy complement of ships. The scenario lasts for one game day (12 turns). The Japanese are undetected at the start and not located. A table from the scenario regulates what the Japanese forces do in terms of whether they attack or are located. For the first two turns, the Japanese carriers just move. After that, the gloves come off.

Add TF 16 and TF 17 ready to go with CAP launched.

Starting off 12 hexes away from the US fleet, the Japanese move towards our position. My plan is to try and “slide” both carriers around the Japanese axis of approach so that I can bring all my planes to bear on one enemy carrier while being further out of range of the other. On the other hand, I need to be careful not to move too far away from either enemy carrier force because the Japanese will simply then move towards their objective, which is Guadalcanal.  CAP is launched immediately with four steps of F4Fs circling above the carriers. Each carrier places another two steps of fighters on deck just in case we get attacked by the Japanese.

Starting Positions – Scenario 3

On Turn 3, we catch a lucky break and detect and locate Force 1. Air Strike 1 is assembled and brought up from servicing and then launched.

Air Strike 1 in Servicing while planes marked for Air Strike 2 in Hangar. F4Fs on deck in case of attack.

One turn later, the strike arrives and makes contact with the Japanese carriers.

Air Strike 1 about to make contact with Force 1

Despite a Japanese CAP level of 4, we take no step losses. The Japanese AAA is also ineffective. We get 3 rolls and decide to split them up with 2 rolls on the Shokaku and 1 on the Zuikaku. The Shokaku takes a whopping 6 hits (heavily damaged) and the Zuikaku takes 2 hits. Air Strike 1 turns around just as Force 2 moves towards our carriers and it is located. Air Strike 2 is hurriedly assembled and launched.

As Air Strike 2 approaches Force 2, we roll for surprise and get a “10”. There are planes on the deck of the Junyo. CAP is unable to shoot down our planes and there is no AAA. With two rolls against the carrier, we score 3 hits on each roll. CV Junyo is sunk and goes to the bottom of the Pacific.

Air Strike 1 has fueled up and launched again at Force 1 to take care of the rest of the Japanese carriers. Meanwhile, the Japanese finally make a move against the Hornet.Two steps of Japanese planes are shot down as they approach. CAP kills off one and AAA takes out the other. None of the Japanese planes make it through. Air Strike 1 arrives over its target a short while later and gets three rolls again. This time, the Shokaku is sunk and the Zuikaku is heavily damaged. To my chagrin, the Japanese CAP and AAA take a chunk out of my attacking force.  I threw up Air Strike 2 again and finished off the Zuikaku before the end of the scenario.

Three Japanese carriers at the bottom of the Pacific. The counters at the bottom show the hits. Upper right on the unit counter is the hit capacity of each ship.

Nothing feels quite as good as sinking three Japanese carriers in a single day. I managed to pull it off in scenario 3 but the difficulty level is still pretty low at this point. I’m facing a couple of targets with precise information. I wonder if things will go this well when I’ve got a series of unknown forces coming for me? I guess we will find out in scenario 4.

One thing I love about Carrier is how it really makes you feel like a commander. You make your best decisions based on the intelligence you have and then you fling your pilots out to face the enemy while biting your nails and waiting to hear back how they did. You have very little control over things once your aircraft arrive on target except to decide where to take losses and how to allocate attacks. Great stuff!

Now treat yourself to a nice video about the historical battle. Here ya go:


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