Pacific War – Scenario 1: Pearl Harbor

December 7, 1941 – the day that would live in infamy. Mark Herman’s 1985 classic “Pacific War” (Victory Games) covered the topic in the first scenario of the game. This is a tiny solitaire battle that has the player take on the role of the Japanese in a limited engagement.

The scenario lasts two Battle Cycles with most of the setup (weather, time, etc.) following the historical situation. The only real decision for the Japanese player to make here is how many planes to allocate to hitting the battleships or the airfield.

And that’s okay, because this game can seem intimidating when you open the box and feast your eyes on the 55-page tome of rules and the nine counter sheets of playing pieces.

This first scenario eases you into the game  and keeps you focused on the first part of the book, which covers the rules needed for playing the smaller scenarios.

So when you get to the end of that first section and realize that the final 21 pages of the rules are dedicated to the campaign scenario, it’s a big load off. You could easily play and enjoy Pacific War for your entire life without having to worry about the campaign, which is great news for anyone who doesn’t have monster amounts of time to dedicate to something like that.

Let’s take a look at the setup here:

The playing time is 15 minutes, which is actually a bit longer than you’ll need once you get the hand of the rules.

We use Map B for this scenario but you don’t even need that. There’s only one real hex in play here through the entire thing. I usually just line my units up on the edge of the mapboard and roll away.

Game length is two Battle Cycles. The first battle cycle (BC) has all sorts of nice advantages for the Japanese player due to the surprise attack. In the second battle cycle, things become much harder as the Americans are alerted and ready for a fight.

Special rules:

  • Allied search cannot be conducted beyond two hexes (which means they are not going to find the Japanese carriers and launch a counterattack).
  • Each hit on an Allies airfield eliminates 2 (instead of the normal 1) Allied air steps.
  • No Allied CAP or Flak allowed during the first BC.
  • Allied naval and air units cannot move.
  • Lighting conditions for both cycles are Day.
  • The Japanese have Advantage for both BCs.
  • All hits on the Allied naval and air units during the first Battle Cycle are doubled.
  • US units are not activated.

Victory Conditions:

The player wins if the Japanese get 4 or more hits on each of the 6 of 8 US battleships and destroy 12 Air Steps. Any other result is a loss.

Setup:

The Japanese get the historical CVs. The air steps are included in brackets:
Akagi (5), Kaga (5), Shokaku (6), Zuikaku (6), Hiryu (4), and Soryu (4)

and escorts:
BB Hiei, BB Kirishima, CA Tone, and DD Kagero

All in hex 3159

The US gets its historical setup too. The subs are listed in the setup here even though they don’t come into play at all. I suppose Mark Herman put them in there for historical completeness or maybe to help the player get comfortable with the various units in the game. Either way, I don’t see the point in listing them here.

Port: Large airfield with:
1E-CV-L1 (single engine – CV capable – Level 1 Quality) aircraft (6 steps)
1E-CV-L1 (3)
1E-L0 (6)
1E-L0 (4)
2E-L0 (3) – B-18s
4E-L0 (1) – B-17s
2 x LRA (long range aircraft)

Surface naval units:
BBs California, Maryland, Oklahoma, Nevada, Tennessee, West Virginia, Arizona, Pennsylvania,

CA New Orleans, CL Brooklyn, CL Omaha

DD Mahan, Farragut, Bagley, Porter, APD1 Paulding/APD2 Paulding

All this is in hex 2860 in Oahu.

Battle Cycle One:

Most of this is already decided here but just for fun, let’s go through it:
Lighting Phase – Day
Advantaged Determination – Japan
Advantage Movement – No movement
Advantage Air Mission Phase:

The Japanese declare an Air Mission – an Air Strike versus hex 2860 (Oahu).

Preliminary Procedure:
Place a Target Marker on 2860. Done.

Place all air mission units in their airbase hex. Sure.

Determine whether or not the mission is coordinated:

  • This doesn’t really matter because there is no chance of CAP or interception here but let’s check for fun anyways. We have to roll equal or under 3x the lowest Status Level unit in the mission. The Japanese have all L2 units so we need to roll under a 6. We roll a 4. This mission is coordinated.
Move units:
  • The Japanese player moves all the air units into the Oahu hex. The Americans can roll for detection. They get an 8 and the entire raid is undetected. It wouldn’t have mattered anyways as they couldn’t have done anything about it according to the Special Rules.
Air Combat, CAP, and Flak are all ignored according to Special Rules so we move on to the Strike Phase.
Four Japanese air units (2 x 6-step units and 2 x 5-step units) are assigned the job of hitting American battleships. Two Japanese air units (2 x 4-step units) hit the airfield.
Let’s do the battleships first.
First attack: 6 step air unit vs. Nevada: -> No hits!
Second attack: 6 step air unit vs Penn. ->  8 hits! The BB is sunk!
Third attack: 5 step air unit vs. Oklahoma ->  2 hits!
Fourth attack: 5 step air unit vs. Arizona ->  4 hits!

Now the airfield:
First attack: 4 step air unit vs airfield -> No hits!
Second attack: 4 step air unit vs airfield -> 2 hits! (4 Allied air steps are eliminated)
We eliminate 4 steps of the 1E-CV-L1 air unit.
Well, with only two of the six required battleships at 4 hits and with a measly 4 air unit steps eliminated, there is probably no chance for a Japanese win but we can see what happens with the second Battle Cycle.

Battle Cycle Two:

Lighting: Day (as per scenario rules)
Advantage: Japanese (as per scenario rules)
Advantage Movement: None
Advantage Air Mission:

Once again, Oahu is our target. Big surprise. This time, the issue again is how best to split up our planes. The Americans know we are coming now so they can intercept our air units and there’s also the little matter of Flak. Since surprise is lost now, we no longer double our hits on the Americans. Tough cookies.

We’ll try the same thing this time. Four air units vs. the battleships and two vs. the air units. We check for coordination and roll a “0”. The strike is coordinated.

As the Japanese move towards Oahu, the US player has a 2-hex detection range with his LRA. The detection rolls for the two hexes beyond Oahu are a 7 and an 8 – both a failure. However, we roll a 2 for detection in the same hex and the incoming Japanese are detected.

CAP

The US sends up a single 1E unit on CAP to intercept. The 1E-CV-L1 (3) is sent up. Now the Japanese player must designate an Escort unit. We’ll throw up a 1E-CV-L2(4) against it just to keep things interesting. The Air Combat takes place without any modifiers from the other alerted American fighters. A roll of 7 results in no losses for the Japanese.

Flak

Now the Japanese face Flak on the way in the target hex.

The total flak number is:
3 for the port
3 for the airfield
19 for the surface ships

for a total of 25. Wow!

We roll an 8 and score 3 hits on the Japanese. We’ll take these hits on a 4-step air unit. It aborts.

Air Strike

1E-CV-L2(6) vs Nevada: 2 hits!
1E-CV-L2(6) vs Maryland: 2 hits!
1E-CV-L2(5) vs Oklahoma: 2 hits! (total of 4)
1E-CV-L2(5) vs Arizona: 4 hits! (total of 7 – sunk!)

1E-CV-L2(4) vs. airfield: No hits!

End Result:

4 of 8 battleships take the requisite hits for victory. Two of them – the Arizona* and the Pennsylvania are sunk)

*historical result

Only 4 US air steps are destroyed of the 12 required.

Conclusion:

It’s actually pretty difficult for the Japanese to win here. It takes a ton of luck to reproduce what happened historically. I have managed to do it once with some superior die-rolling (plenty of “0” results on the first battle cycle).

More importantly, the scenario takes a lot of the mystery out of the game and shows you that – yes, this thing is very much a playable mini-monster.

Enemy Coast Ahead: The Dambuster Raid – The Campaign

I just finished my first full campaign game of Enemy Coast Ahead: The Dambuster Raid 1943. . Although I had played the first five scenarios of the game that focused solely on the bombing runs, I was excited to try the full campaign game that features a planning phase, flight phase, and the bombing runs. It was everything I thought it should be – it was tense, exciting, and full of decisions with consequences that rippled their way through the entire affair. I also should mention that I failed spectacularly and I still loved the experience. Here’s how it went:

Planning Segment:

Throughout my three planning turns, I tried my best to allocate most of my resources on getting my aircrews, upkeeps, and ground crew ready for the raid.

On the first turn, I requested an additional 30 RP on my first turn (for a total of 90 RP), which allowed me to get about 10 bombers, 7 upkeep, and 22 crew, about half of whom were veteran and the rest seasoned. This was a bad idea. With less than half the number of bombers as aircrews, the consequent -1 training modifier really hurt me in the end, causing quite a few damaged and crashed bombers.

Although I didn’t lose any aircrew, I didn’t get my seasoned or veteran crews advancing very fast, except in the navigation box. I did get a few elite crew members out of these training incidents but I also ended up pulling a Spy marker out of the cup too. I would either need to live with the possibility of a very high security risk or use extra RP in the next turn to try and get rid of the spy. I didn’t have the groundcrew I needed to work on the Lancaster modifications and I didn’t want to fatigue anyone on the first turn so I let them wait for the next turn.

On the second turn, I got a few extra groundcrew and 10 additional bombers and 12 upkeep markers. I again requested 30 additional RP for this turn, which raised my security risk higher and pretty much mandated that I use RP to get rid of the spy marker, which I did by using the Transfer the Barmaid option. All was well again in 617 squadron now. Training recommenced and with only a couple of damaged Lancasters this time around and several great rolls on the navigation and altitude & speed track resulted in several elite crewmembers getting drawn. Unfortunately, my bad luck prevailed with the chit pulls and this time I pulled a Jinx marker. Guy Gibson’s dog is run over and the squadron takes it as a bad omen.

I decide to keep my groundcrew fresh for next turn, when I plan to launch the raid. One groundcrew gets assigned to the Aldis Lights modification box and although I spend several RP trying to get two sixes, the best I can get is a single roll result of six. Next turn will be the one where I need to dedicate some serious effort into getting the modifications done.

By this point, I have reconned the Mohne Dam and the Sorpe Dam and came up with some alarming findings. It seems the Germans have gone ahead and built flak towers to protect both dams. In the case of the Sorpe, it appears the Germans also have taken the precaution of placing balloons and searchlights. Many of the other dams appear to have some kind of defense as well.

On the third planning turn, I decide to use my remaining RPs to requisition additional groundcrew. I’ll need to repair damaged Lancasters, train up my aircrews, make modifications to Lancasters, and then do flight prep. So much work and no time to do it in. I could wait another turn to get all this done but I’ll lose the advantage of moonlight during the raid.

All goes well enough in training and we suffer only 1 damaged Lancaster. The seasoned and veteran aircrews are doing extremely well in their Navigation skills. with the seasoned crew up to level 4 and the veterans at level 5. The veterans get 3 chits for altitude and speed checks while the seasoned crews get 2 and the greenies get only 1. At combined training level of 11 total, we are just one level shy of the Wallis bonus, which allows for the Upkeep bombs to always do the maximum damage when they hit a dam. The worst training results, as always, are in the bomb aiming and release training. This has been poor all three turns and as a result all our crews have a +1 bonus only.

Things go haywire while trying to get modifications done. All six groundcrews are thrown into repair and modifications and all but one are flipped over to their fatigued side by the end of the planning phase. Although all Lancasters are repaired and we successfully get VHF communications, we get neither the Aldis Lights or the Dann Bombsight, which will have significant impacts on our aircrews during the raid. Without Aldis Lights we are unable to draw Altitude chits.

During the Flight Prep, things go very well. One aircraft is grounded and a lucky roll of 12 results in no ordnance being grounded. Only two aircrew are grounded, which means that pretty much everyone can fly except for two Green aircrew that I hold back.

Final Recon brings the Flight Map recon in the Ruhr, Weser, and Dutch Coast to level 2. I spend the remaining RP on checking out the dams. The Mohne and Sorpe Dam go up to recon level 2 while the rest of the dams are brought up to level 1 if they haven’t been reconned already in previous turns. Things look tough as most of the dams have at least one kind of defense. None of the water levels are full on any of the dams.

The final security risk comes out to a high level. Despite not having a Spy marker anymore, I have made enough noise with the extra requisitions, the round-the-clock work by the groundcrews, and the presence of veteran aircrews that people have become curious and rumors are spreading around town. Not even the rumor I have spread as commander of 617 squadron (the Tirpitz Rumor marker denotes that 617’s target is the German battleship is our rumored target) has done much to stop unauthorized people from prying.

I arrange the aircraft into three waves. There’s no real reasoning behind this other than I am new at the game and decide to play it safe by following the historical raid setup. Gibson leads the first wave with five bombers while Ottley leads the second with his five. The remaining wave is led by Brown and the Jinx marker is placed on one of the bombers in his wave.The major difference here between history and the planned attack is that the third wave will not be a reserve force sent in after the Germans are already alerted by the first attacks but will be given its own set of targets to attack at the same time as the first and second waves.

The bombers take off into the night sky. What will happen? Who will come back? I have a bad feeling about this and it’s not just that Jinx marker that’s causing it. I should have pushed harder to get at least the Aldis Lights done. Without them, hitting the dams will be very tough. It may have been worth spending another turn just to get that modification done. The abundance of flak and balloon markers on the Flight Map also makes me queasy. These guys look to be flying into a death trap.

Flight Segment:

We have enough groundcrews to sortie everyone at the same time so at least we have a cohesive raid package going out.

Primary and Secondary Targets are assigned as follows:

First Wave: Primary – Mohne Dam, Secondary: Bever Dam
Second Wave: Primary – Sorpe Dam, Secondary: Eder Dam
Third Wave: Primary – Eneppe Dam, Secondary: Eder Dam
Target of Last Resort: Lister Dam

The Mohne has a flak level of only one and no other defenses. Its water level is high and it has the second highest rv (reservoir value) on the map (8 rv) so it’s my first obvious target. The Sorpe is worth a considerable 5 rv and it is also the only dam on the map that has a full water level. Maybe I can take it out. The Eneppe Dam is worth only 3 rv but it’s lightly defended and in the Ruhr flight zone. The Eder Dam has the highest rv of all the dams (9 rv) but it’s in the Weser flight zone, a very hazardous location to fly. It still might be worth a shot if the raid on the other dams go well enough so I assigned it as a secondary for both the second and third wave.

Things go smoothly enough for the first couple of flight turns although we suffer a faulty controls and an unfit aircrew marker on our Jinx plane in the third wave. Things get much more serious on the third flight turn when a crew in the first wave suffers a Compass Card marker and a plane in the second wave is shot down by flak. By the time our men reach the Ruhr, we’ve lost another plane to balloons in the third wave. We also have two map errors in the same wave and our formations keep getting compromised.

The Attacks:

The first wave acquires the Mohne Dam and makes an uncoordinated attack with Gibson going first and getting damaged by Flak on his first attack run. On the second run, he dodges the flak and everything looks okay but a roll of 4 on the release causes a concussion damage to his Lancaster, which destroys the plane and the crew. The remaining bombers make their attempts. One plane is destroyed by flak and two others are damaged and miss with their Upkeeps. By this time, however, the Flak marker has been reduced to zero so the final plane goes in and makes a beautiful release, managing 6 damage on the dam. If the Mohne had been full, it would have caused a breach. Since it is only at Rising level, however, we’ll need 2 more damage points to do the trick.

The second wave arrives at the Sorpe and things go bad immediately. The Germans have improved their defenses and while the Flak level remains at 1, the balloons marker is set to level 3. There are also Searchlights here at level 2. The Close box and the Climb box get one balloon maker each. The wave leader makes his attempt and is damaged by the Flak and then destroyed by balloons. I should have just aborted at this point but I thought my gunnery would be lucky enough. However, none of my planes from the second wave survived the attempt. The planes were destroyed either by the balloons, the flak, or a concussion from releasing the Upkeep with such heavy modifiers from the spotlights. No one made it out alive and although one plane managed a release from the far zone, nothing hit the Sorpe at all, much to my frustration.

At this point, I was horrified by my own losses and worried that I would not be able to breach any dams by the end of the game. I decide to use the wireless phase on the next turn to send my third wave to the Mohne instead of the Eneppe. Luckily, the planes pass their roll and on they went to the new target. Only two planes still survived the third wave, one of whom were the Jinxed aircrew with piles of negative modifiers like a plague of locusts stuck to their plane. Of course it missed the dam and was damaged by the concussion after releasing its Upkeep. My other veteran aircrew in the wave managed a nice 3 chit pull of both airspeed and altitude markers (got the altitude marker after exchanging it for a dummy run) and the result was +8 modifier on the release. A roll of 11 sealed the deal and the Upkeep hit for 4 damage. At 10 damage, the Mohne was breached.

The Mohne Dam breached – note the balloon defenses set up after the attack.

The Aftermath:

Things did not go well when checking for RTB. Most of my Lancasters had been damaged and afflicted by hazard markers (I should say here that I missed out on the rule of discarding the remaining hazard markers after a plane is destroyed in the Resolve Hazards phase, which could definitely have skewed the result here). The result was that only two Lancasters made it back to Scampton. The rest were damaged and then destroyed by the reroll of 1-4 on the Missing table. I rolled very poorly during this check. The end result was a total VP of zero. A court martial was held and the squadron commander took the blame for the failure (adding insult to injury, since he died in the raid!).

Conclusion:

I really enjoyed this game and I thought it was excellent the whole way through. In many ways, the planning and flight segments are just as exciting as the actual attack. Having to make key decisions about how to allocate resources and when to push your groundcrews to their limits is just as important as weighing the need for security. It is a difficult balancing act. The next time I play this, I would requisition more groundcrew in the second planning turn and set them loose on modifications. You absolutely need to have the Aldis Lights going to make a successful run. The lack of them really hurt me here. I would also have changed my targets according to survivability of the aircrews. If there are balloons at a dam, I would seriously reconsider whether it’s worth the probable loss of at least one or more bombers to score a hit. Add in searchlights and flak to the target and you’ve got a non-starter. Don’t even think about sending your men there or you’ll have a bloodbath on your hands.

Enemy Coast Ahead: Attack on the Ennepe Dam?

On May 17, 1943 a lone bomber codenamed AJ-O piloted by Flt. Sgt. Bill Townsend was circling the dark skies over Germany awaiting orders. In the early morning hours, the aircrew finally received the message they were waiting for. Their target was the Ennepe Dam. In the fog and darkness, the pilot and navigator finally arrived near what they thought was the Ennepe Dam and circled around to pinpoint it on the ground. After making several passes to get the altitude and trajectory right, the custom-made dam-busting bomb codenamed “Upkeep” was finally dropped. With the other men of 617 already having made their bombing runs on the other dams in the Ruhr, Townsend decided to head home to England.

What really happened that night is still not really clear. Years later, eyewitnesses reported that another nearby dam (the Bever Dam) was attacked. Reports from the aircrew of what they had sighted on the ground are consistent with landmarks near the Bever Dam. In the fog and darkness and confusion of the night, it seems that Townsend may have mistakenly hit the wrong dam.

Scenario 5 from Enemy Coast Ahead is a beginner scenario that features a lone bomber attacking Ennepe Dam (the ambiguity is removed for the sake of newbies) in clear weather (also changed to help out the newbies) with a veteran aircrew. There is also the choice to take off the training wheels and have the scenario setup much closer to its historical realities (fog, green aircrew, uncertainty over which dam is being attacked).

As a new player of ECA, I found this scenario was an excellent starting scenario for me. It shows you how to procedurally go through each step of an attack run through to release and return to base. I’m providing this article to anyone who is curious about how this game plays. An an aside, you’ll have to forgive the unclipped counters – my kid decided it would be a gas to hide the counter clipper on his old man!

The biggest factor here working for us is the skill of the crew. For newbies, we get to start with a veteran crew, which gives significant bonuses to everything from navigation to altitude & speed as well as bomb-aiming. Green crews use the “2” spots for these tracks, which give far less of an advantage.

Our veteran aircrew is attached to AJ-O Lancaster, piloted by Townsend. Luckily, we have a good bomb-aimer, Sgt. C.E. Franklin, on board.

And here is the portion of the map we’ll be using. As you can see, each square of the map is meant to show the plane’s relation to the target dam. Our plane starts in the circling near box and then makes its run by going into the Far box. We can decide to release anywhere along the track – either close, near, or far. Once we decide to release Upkeep, the bomber goes into the release box and the release procedure commences. Finally, the bomber climbs and then circles near in order to find its bearings and head for home. This is a basic rundown of the attack part of each turn.

AJ-O starts off in the circling near box with its Upkeep marker. The reverse side usually has two numbers on it, representing possible damage done to the dam if the bomb hits it. We will have no idea what the reverse side of this marker says until the Morning Reconnaissance is performed in the morning.

AJ-O then makes its run and moves into the far box. We roll a six-sided die to determine how many chits we get to pull for altitude and speed. We roll a “1” and cross-reference this number with the chart to find that the number of chits we can pull for speed reduced by 2. Since our veteran crew can usually pull 3 chits, this means we can only pull one speed chit. We get to pull our usual number of altitude chits (3).

For speed, we are doing 231 mph and we can choose one of our three altitude chits. Of course, we want the one that will let us pull more chits later on for when we release so we pick the 60ft chit and put the other two altitude chits back in the cup.

I could opt to release now at this point. I would pull four chits from the cup and hope that the release bonuses they give me would be enough to help contribute to a successful release. However, I’ve decided that I want a really good number of chits. Since the dam has no defenses, there is nothing really stopping me from moving closer and trying for a better altitude so I go for it. I put the plane into the near box and exchange the 231mph speed chit for a 220mph speed chit. This will give me 3 chits to pull for the release instead of just 1.

I decide that things are not going to get any better for my aircrew. We’re at pretty much the optimal altitude and speed so its bombs away! We try to release Upkeep and now we pull our 6 chits from the speed and altitude cups (3 chits each).

We take the best altitude and the best speed chit and get (did I pull four altitude and two release chits by mistake? – whoops, looks like it. Oh well.) one chit with a +4 and another with a +3. We roll 2d6, add our release modifiers, and crew skill modifiers. The die result is a 6 modified by release chits to a 13. We add +1 for our bomb aimer to make 14 and the crew skill level adds 2 to the release roll for a final tally of 16. Since we need 15 or greater for a successful release, our Upkeep is dropped and hits the dam.

There are no other planes circling to assess damage so we put the Upkeep marker face up on the dam’s damage track and we will turn it over later after the Morning Recon is performed.

In the meantime, it’s time to get the hell out of Dodge. AJ-O goes to the climb box. The visibility table is consulted after rolling a “5” on 2d6 and we get fog. The plane goes into the Circling Near box and we roll to see if there are any German nightfighters spotted. Lucky for us, we roll a “10” and there are none nearby. AJ-O attempts to return to base. We roll an 8 and the plane lands safely at Scampton just as the sun begins to rise over England.

It is time to see what kind of damage we have done to Ennepe Dam. We flip over our Upkeep counter to find it has a 5 on one end and a 4 on the other. If I roll even on a d6, the dam takes the four damage. If odd, it takes 5 damage.

I rolled a 1 and the dam takes 5 damage. Astonishingly, we have a chance to actually breach the dam. As per the track on the map sheet, the dam is breached at 6 damage when it is at full water level. I need to roll a final d6. If the roll is a “1”, the final damage is reduced from 5 to 4. If the roll is a “6”, the final damage is increased from 5 to 6 and we’re suddenly heroes.

I roll a d6 and get a “2”. Ennepe Dam is heavily damaged but not breached.

According to the mission result in the scenario, we get a result of “good show”. Townsend is awarded the DSO and the confusion over what really happened that night remains long after the war as it did in real life.

It is incredibly hard to breach the dams, just as it was in real life. I have played through most of the scenarios several times and can’t ever remember scoring a breach – though I have come close. Sometimes you can have the best rolls on the attack and release but the Upkeep just doesn’t have enough oomf to get the job done. The scenarios with multiple planes are a bit more interesting as each crew takes its run at the dam and hopes for the best. Although I haven’t yet tried the full campaign yet, I suspect this is where the game really shines with more decisions to make early on that ripple down through to the actual attack run.

Enemy Coast Ahead: The Dambuster Raids

Enemy Coast Ahead (GMT, 2014) is a solitaire game designed by Jeremy White that simulates the RAF no. 617 Squadron’s May 1943 raids on German dams in the Ruhr. This game held a special interest for me because as a kid, I read Paul Brickhill’s book and I remember being fascinated by the technical problems of the bomb design, the raid, and marshalling together the right men and training in secret to do something that had never ever been done before.

Reading up on it now from the vantage of age, I was surprised at how ineffectual the whole thing was on the German war effort. The civilian losses and the POW deaths that resulted from the bombings are pretty appalling too. In the end, it seems the main effect of the raids was to boost British morale, which would have been much needed in those dark days. At the time, however, the raid was seen as a chance to strike a serious blow to Germany’s war-making capabilities as its industries in the Ruhr industrial heartland would be rendered destroyed or inoperative for months or even years.

One interesting aspect of the game is how the reality of today’s sensitivities can often clash with the historical realities of the past. Yes, I’m talking about the dog. For those of you not in the know, the men of 617 Squadron had a dog who served as their mascot. Its name was a racial slur. The dog’s name is mentioned in the rules one time and the dog has a counter but the text on the counter reads “Jinx”. This is because the dog died shortly before the raids and its death was kept a secret from the aircrews so they wouldn’t see this as a bad omen.

If the Jinx counter is pulled prior to the raids, the news of the dog’s death spreads throughout the squadron and negatively modifies die roll result selection. Although there are a few people who take the inclusion of the dog’s name in the rules as objectionable, most reasonable people have understood that using this kind of terminology is an unfortunate but real part of history. Jeremy White has chimed in on this subject many times and his explanations and justifications for keeping the dog in the game are sound, sensitive, and reasonable. I think it was the right choice.

King George visits 617 Squadron at Scampton airfield just after the raid.

Moving beyond all that, the game is a real pleasure to play. There are no hexes or maps in the game. There are a series of playing aids with sequential rules that tell you what your bombers can choose to do next. Outcomes are determined by chit pulls and die rolls. There are 10 scenarios in the game, the last of which is a full campaign game that involves selecting, training, and planning the missions before carrying them out. Everything is played out on a paper mat and although that may not sound exciting, it works very well for the kind of game this is.

This is very much a game of risk management and opting for the least unpalatable option out of the many available bad ones. Some dilemmas you might encounter during the game

  • Do you spend another turn circling around again for a better approach to the dam and risk being discovered and shot down by a German nightfighter? Or do you take what’s given and drop an “Upkeep” from a less than optimal altitude or speed and hope for the best before heading for home? 
  • Do you turn on your Aldis lights for a more exacting bomb release altitude and risk alerting the Germans to your presence? Or do you approach in the dark and reduce your accuracy? 
  • How do you keep the mission secret if it appears someone is talking after having too many beers while out on the town? If you quarantine the base, you end being unable to bring in replacement aircrews or ground crews. 

Here is an extremely rough account of what the game can be like – I have intentionally skipped out on a few important details for the sake of brevity:

A typical beginner scenario mission goes through turns, each of which are broken down into phases. You start off circling the target then going to the Run phase. As your bomber gets closer to the dam, you pull chits to check your altitude and speed. Based on this, you can decide to release your “Upkeep” (codename for your dambusting bomb) or continue with the approach and release nearer to the dam, adjusting either your current speed or altitude. In some cases, you’ll get shot at by flak and have to deal with balloons. Meanwhile, your gunners will have the chance to shoot at dam defenses to make your lives a bit easier.

When you decide to release, you pull a number of speed and altitude chits and check their release modifiers then add these to a 2d6 die roll. Other modifiers to the die roll are made based on crew training, bomber damage, and a host of factors. If the modified die roll result is above a certain number, your Upkeep successfully releases and damages the dam. If it’s below a certain number, you either miss or end up with the bomb damaging your plane upon release. As you turn away from the dam, you have to check for German nightfighters before heading for home.

If another bomber is on hand to assess the damage, you turn over your Upkeep chit and it tells you what kind of damage it does. If not, you turn over all the Upkeep markers on a particular dam at the same time when Morning Recon is performed. In either case, you roll a die for each Upkeep marker and it may add or subtract a damage point to the dam. If the dam accumulates enough damage, it is breached and the mission is a terrific success. Each scenario gives a very prosaic account of the result of the mission and how it affects your men. This is by far one of the coolest things I have seen in a game.

Eder Dam right after the May 1943 raids

If you don’t like these kinds of games where the system is nakedly out there for you to sit down and work with, you probably won’t like this game. It is a very procedural game with “pull this chit at this time” kind of flow to it.

However, if you can live with a very procedural game approach and let it go to work on your imagination, you’ll build up a tense story in your head of what’s happening as your bomber crews die in the darkness or arrive back home as heroes. I would say it would depend a lot on whether or not you are familiar with and enjoy any of the source material that the game is based on. If you’re like me and you grew up with the story, you’ll fall in love with it as soon as you open the box.

The Hunt for Red October – North Atlantic Convoy

The third scenario from Hunt for Red October is pretty straightforward but I really like it. The NATO player is trying to get a merchant convoy from New York to Le Havre to help keep the supplies going to fend off a Soviet invasion of western Europe. The Soviets use their submarines to try and sink as many of the merchant ships as possible.

Alfa class submarine – a deadly ocean predator
The scenario lasts 5 turns.  Short and sweet!

The NATO convoy is protected by Task Force Bravo, which consists of’:

  • 4 Perry class frigates
  • 4 Knox class frigates
  • 2 Spruance class destroyers
All of these ships have decent detection capabilities (rating of 4) and ASW helos to help take on subs. On top of this, NATO has 4 Los Angeles class submarines to help whittle down the Soviet submarine threat.
The Soviets get:
  • 4 Victor class submarines
  • 2 Alfa class submarines
  • 3 November class submarines
  • 1 Akula class submarine
NATO gets points for sinking Soviet subs while the Soviet player gets 2 points for sinking a NATO merchant ship (one of which can be sunk with only a single hit) and NATO warships (which will take 2 hits to sink).
This is a nicely-designed scenario. I played it several times and got different results with it – everything from a stalemate to a substantial victory for each side. Here’s one of the plays that I documented.
Setup
The Soviet player sets up first, putting four subs in the deep waters just east of New York harbor where the NATO task force will be leaving. He then places two more lines of 3 submarines each to the east in the mid-Atlantic and closer to the coast of Spain.
NATO puts two Los Angeles class subs near the first line of Soviet subs closest to New York and another pair of subs in the mid-Atlantic. The idea is to use the LA class subs aggressively and sink as many Soviet subs as the task force moves towards Europe.
Turn 1
The Soviets roll 3 for initiative while NATO gets 1. NATO is given the first move and Task Force Bravo moves out of New York harbor. During the move phase, the Soviet subs rush into the TF space and get ready to attack. In the ensuing battle, a Knox class frigate is damaged and 2 merchant ships are sunk by Victor class submarines. NATO ASW efforts are great and the destroyers manage to sink a November. 
TF Bravo moves gingerly out of New York and into unfriendly seas during NATO move, turn 1

Turn 2
NATO rolls for initiative and gets a 3 while the Soviets get 4. NATO is again given the first move and Task Force Bravo nears the mid-Atlantic. 2 Victors and and Akula move into the task force hex. All the Soviet submarines get detected. The Akula damages another Knox frigate while one of the Victors get sunk.  The Soviet player decides to switch tactics and stop going for the escorts as this tactic is proving fruitless.
TF Bravo in the mid-Atlantic as Soviet and American subs nearby
Turn 3
The Soviet player once again wins initiative this turn and the NATO subs come into play finally. A pair of Los Angeles submarines move into the same space as a November and Alfa and easily sink both of them. However, the Soviets have moved their second line of submarines into attack position on the NATO convoy and score a hit on one of the merchant ships for 2 VPs. 
Turn 4
NATO finally gets its crap together and wins initiative with 7 Detection markers while the Soviets only gain 1. The Soviets move first and form a ring around Bravo with their submarines, trying to anticipate where it will go next. Bravo reaches the Spanish coast. The Los Angeles submarines go on the prowl and start picking off the Soviet subs. Two Victor class submarines are sunk but at the price of one Los Angeles class submarine. I doubt that is a fair exchange for the Americans.
Task Force Bravo nears the Spanish coastline
Turn 5
Final turn and the NATO convoy is reaching towards its objective. NATO wins initiative by rolling 6 while the Soviet player has a measly 1.  The Soviets are given first move and they park their November, Alfa, and Akula in Le Havre. This is shallow water so everyone gets detected. During the ensuing battle, the Akula and Alfa go down. The November survives the first round of combat and shoots at a merchant ship but misses. The NATO convoy has arrived more or less intact at Le Havre and troops and supplies are sent off to the front to try and halt the advance of the Warsaw Pact.
TF Bravo reaches Le Havre but has 3 Soviet subs trailing behind it.
Conclusion
Our final tally is Soviets 13 VP and NATO 25. This substantial victory for NATO is due mostly to poor Soviet tactics in the early turns. As the Soviet player, my idea was to take down a few escorts to make the job of going after the merchants easier in the end game. Unfortunately, there is just so much firepower in the NATO convoy that taking out one or two escorts is not really going to help here. The Soviets need to go for the throat early on and keep up the attacks in order to counter the damage they are definitely going to suffer at the hands of the enemy task force and submarine ASW. 

Carrier – Solomons Brawl

I’ve been playing lots of light wargames lately and although they’re nice, I wanted to do something a bit meatier. So I’ve recently started to get back into Victory Games’ Carrier after taking a long break from it.

After playing Scenario 4: Air Search Officer and finally getting a handle on carrier search operations, I decided to try out Scenario 5: Solomons Brawl. This is a surface-force only scenario set at night around Guadalcanal.

The Japanese have four combat forces (C1 and C3 start out as level 2 medium surface forces while C2 and C4 are reported as small surface forces). They are trying to get to Guadalcanal.

The scenario rules are a bit odd as it implies 2526 as the objective hex. However, a quick look on the map reveals an objective hex marked in 2527. I couldn’t find anything in the errata about this so I’m probably just missing something – but I treated 2527 as the objective hex until I could find my error.

The 36,000 ton USS Washington (BB-56) was launched 1st June, 1940.

The Americans get three task forces for the scenario.

Task Force 64:

  • 2 BBs (BB S. Dakota, BB Washington)
  • 3 DDs; (DD Sims, Farenholt, and Sterett), 

Task Group 17.2:

  • 6 DDs; (Monssen, Walke, Perkins, Preston, MacDonagh, and Hamman) and 

Task Group 62.4:

  • 4 CAs: (CA Vincennes, N. Orleans, Minneapolis, San Francisco) 
  • 6 DDs: (DDs Mustin, Phelps, Grayson, Russel, Worden, and Selfridge)


The setup around Guadalcanal,


Turn 1:

We start with chit pulls for the Japanese in the first phase and get 3 blanks and combat force 1.

C1, a medium surface force, is sitting adjacent to US Task Group 62.4. We roll for Japanese intentions on the Close Reaction Table and the Japanese are up for a fight. They move into the same hex as the adjacent American ships and engage.

Japanese force C1 engages TG 62.4

A “Located” marker is placed on the C1 task force and we roll it up to level 4. It is a large CA group, with 3 CAs and 2 DDs. The CAs are paired up to shoot at 1 US CA each with a DD left over to shoot at one of the US CAs all by itself. The US has more ships and fires at each Japanese ship with two of its own.

The surface engagement is brutal for both sides. The USS Vincennes is sunk. The Japanese lose two destroyers and take 7 hits on one of their own CAs. Both sides have taken 13 total hits so we roll to see who retreats and it is the Japanese. According to the rules, they should go north towards a friendly task force.

CA-44 USS Vincennes is lost (as it was in real life during the Battle of Savo Island in Aug. 1942)

By the end of the phase, I have tucked in my forces around Guadalcanal a bit by moving TG 17.2 to the east.

The rest of the turn sees the Japanese slowly make their way towards their objective hex.

Turn 2:

The turn starts with a bang as I pull C2 and C3 in the first phase. C2 moves east to 2328. C3 rolls for close reaction and gets a modified roll of 7. The result is USOp and I decide that TF64 will not try to evade the incoming Japanese force.  Battlestations!

When C3 enters the hex and goes for the engagement, we raise the intel level from 2 to 4. We get a large CA force with 6 CA, 1 CL, and 2 DDs. So much for the small Japanese force that our level 2 intel predicted!

BB Washington and BB S. Dakota are engaged by 3 Japanese CA each.

Three CAs fire at BB S. Dakota but fail to score any hits. CA Furutaka, Aoba, and Tone inflict 7 total hits on the other battleship, BB Washington. With 18 hit capacity, it’s not even heavily damaged.

The rest of the Japanese force fails to inflict any hits on my smaller ships. I lick my lips as my battleships prepare to fire back at the Japanese CAs. BB S. Dakota hits CA Furutaka for 6 hits but the rest of my task force does no damage to the Japanese. Disappointing!

As the US task force has taken 7 hits and the Japanese have taken 6, the US must retreat into hex 2526. Another battle without any real conclusion for either side, it seems.

In action phase 3, C4 rolls for close reaction and engages TG 17.2.

The Japanese force ends up consisting of 1 CL and 6 DDs. This seems like it should be a pretty even fight.

But it’s not even close.

DD Yukikaze slams 6 hits into DD Hamman and sinks her. Kawakaze sends the Macdonough to the ocean floor. Kurushio sinks the Preston and Akizuki takes out Monssen. Four of the six US destroyers in Task Force 17.2 are sunk in exchange for 1 hit on the Yukikaze and 2 on the Kawakaze.

The US tries for revenge by sending TF 62.4 into hex 2427 and the Japanese gladly choose an engagement.

CA Maya hits CA San Francisco for 7 hits while the US only manages to sink the Kinugasa and damage CA Maya. The US task force must retreat to 2527 now. A Battle Exhaust 2 is placed on it so it cannot initiate combat.

During Phase 3, I move TG62.4 into the same hex as C1 and the Japanese choose to engage.

The Japanese pour on the fire and the Maya puts 7 hits into CA San Francisco. The American ships sink the Kinugasa and inflict another 2 hits on CA Maya.

TG62.4, having suffered more hits than the Japanese, retreats from the engagement to hex 2527.

In phase 4, I decide to send my big guns (TF64) into hex 2426 to try and make up for the losses. I am just hoping for something – anything to turn out in my favor by throwing ships at the Japanese and pleading for the best.

What I ended up doing was doubling down further on failure.

CA Kako, Chikuma, and Taka inflict 5 hits on BB S. Dakota (a scratch) but CA Tone, Furutaka, and Aoba really dish it out with 11 damage to BB Washington, sinking it. Oh, the humanity!

CL Nagara sinks DD Sterett with 2 hits of damage. Mutsuki and Ikazuchi mercifully miss their targets.

The Americans inflict a measly 3 hits on the Japanese force, scratching the paint on the Kako but finishing off the Furutaka.

Heavy cruiser Furutaka is sunk (in real life, she went down in October, 1942)

TF64 must now retreat as it has taken some serious losses.

At this point, I’m thinking the game is over. The Japanese have taken out all my major firepower and they still have plenty to spare. If I were a Star Wars admiral, Darth Vader would have certainly choked the hell out of me by now.

US naval forces retreat back towards Guadalcanal as the Japanese advance.

Turns 3 & 4:

As the US forces have grown from large surface forces to smaller forces, the Japanese basically ignore them as they steam straight ahead to Guadalcanal during turn 3. I pull back all my US forces towards 2527 in hopes of some final big resolution.

Two of my groups have Battle Exhaustion 2 and can’t initiate combat so the Japanese just sort of saunter into 2527 and start planting their ships off the coast. They enter the hex but do not engage the American task forces. At one point, late in the third turn, TG17.2 manages to scare off C3 for a short while but it returns later in the fourth turn.

The game ends without any huge battle that I was hoping for. My task forces are disorganized, exhausted, and considerably reduced in size. The Japanese are largely intact except for a couple of CAs and DDs. They can afford to occupy their objective hex without any fear of opposition, which gives them a bonus to their VP count.

The Japanese have 13 VPs while the Americans have only 5 VPs. This is a substantial Japanese victory.

I really wonder what I could have done better here. It seems the real turning point of the gamewas either when TG17.2 lost four of its destroyers ships in one battle during turn 2 or when BB Washington was sunk in the next phase.

Conclusion:

Considering how evenly-matched TG17.2 and C4 were on paper, things should have come out a bit better for me here but the game was probably still salvageable at this point even with the near destruction of a task force.

The real loss came when I put my two battleships in unnecessary danger in Turn 2 phase 4. Keeping those battleships afloat helped provide a significant deterrent to Japanese combat forces. Without those large ships, the Japanese can afford to ignore the US task forces and groups and waltz right down towards their objective. I believe this is where I really lost the game. I would like to try this scenario again with an eye to using my ships (especially the Task Force) as deterrents rather than rushing into combat with them.

Carrier – Scenario 4: Air Search Officer

“Watching a coast as it slips by the ship is like thinking about an enigma. There it is before you, smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid, or savage, and always mute with an air of whispering, “Come and find out”.” 
― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

What must it have been like, standing on the bridge of an American aircraft carrier in the South Pacific in 1942 or 1943? Looking over the vast calm ocean straight to the horizon and knowing that somewhere out there, someone was trying to find you and kill you and the only thing that you could do to avoid that was to find them and kill them first. It must have been terrifying and strange and beautiful all at the same time. Victory Games’ Carrier (1990) designed by Jon Southard, tries to capture this feeling for the player.

So far, I’ve talked about a couple of scenarios in Carrier that revolve around striking the enemy. I’ve had plenty of good luck and fun with sinking Japanese carriers. However exciting that may be, all of that is the end product of many hours of searching, intelligence gathering, and analyzing and classifying information that still may prove faulty in the end.

As a solitaire game, how does Carrier simulate the uncertainty that surrounds this aspect of carrier warfare? It uses an elegant system of chit pulls and charts to determine enemy movement, sightings, and intelligence reports. Scenario 4 shows off this system quite nicely. Although the results of my playthrough were less than stellar, I hope my playthrough helps to show how the game system works.

Setup

We set up with two American carrier task forces beside each other. USS Enterprise is in Task Force 16 (hex 2718) while USS Hornet is in Task Force 17 (hex 2717). Both carriers have 4 steps (two counters) of SBDs to use for searching. There are no airstrikes in this scenario. The focus here is entirely on finding out where and what the enemy is.

Two US carriers with four steps (two counters) of search planes each

There are 12 markers placed on the map to the north. These represent initial reports of Japanese combat forces (denoted with the “C” on the counter). A marker could turn out to be a carrier force or nothing at all or somewhere in between. We have no idea what these are and it is our job to try and investigate as many of these reports as possible and sort out the good from the bad. If we do find Japanese ships in one of the reports, we need to get a location on them – the more precise the better.

Initial setup with US Task Forces (blue) and Japanese markers (yellow)

We do this by sending out search planes. When search planes are launched, they are put on a Search track. Each turn, they move farther out along the search track and can be activated once per turn to make a search roll of all enemy markers within the range stated on their current position of the Search track. This roll determines how much they find out about the enemy marker, which can vary from finding out lots of information (lower die rolls) to merely getting an approximate fix and a vague report of enemy ships to nothing at all. Of course, the planes can’t stay out searching forever, so as they move along the search track they start to come back towards your carrier where you must get them down into hangars and servicing before you can launch them out there again.

The Search Track 

As the American player finds out more about a certain marker, the intelligence “level” rises to get more specific. So a Level 1 report might reveal that a marker is actually a carrier force. A level 2 marker will reveal how many carriers are in that force and a level 3 marker might tell you what kind of carriers there are (whether they are CVs or CVEs or CVLs) in the task force. A level 4 report will tell you exactly which ships are in the task force as well as air strength and escorting surface ships. The intelligence tables also leave room for levels to decrease or change entirely so that enemy carrier force might end up being an exaggeration by an over-excited search crew. You might end up sending a strike force out to bomb a coral reef. Life is like that.

The Japanese objective in this scenario is known. The enemy ships are trying to get to New Hebrides. This objective determines how the Japanese markers move. There are four phases each turn where Japanese markers move. We start off by rolling a mission movement die and then pulling a certain number of force activation chits as dictated by the record track. When we pull a chit that matches the number on a marker, we move it as directed by both the die roll and the compass shown on the marker’s map section. There are 7 blanks in the force activation cups to make things interesting. The Japanese might be very active throughout a turn or they might move all their ships at the start of the turn or the end of it only.

Turn 1:

In Phase 1, we pull 2 chits for the Japanese force and move markers 8 and 5. I decide to move my US task force 16 northwest from hex 2718 to 2619. This gets us a bit closer to the general area of the Japanese markers.

TF 16 moves up 

I decide to launch two air search steps of SBDs from the Hornet and Enterprise this phase. I could have decided to launch all four air steps together from either or both carriers. As it stands, having only two steps searching on each search track means that I will suffer a +2 die roll modifier for all search rolls. My plan is for the remaining search planes to follow them up after a short time to catch anything the first search planes happen to miss. I am hoping the second wave of search planes will also be able to help confirm sightings on anything that the first ones happen to find.

Both TFs have two steps of search planes on the first space of the Search Track.

In Phase 2, C1 moves SE from 1924 to 2024 and the other 2 Japanese chits are blank. The Americans can do nothing right now so it is off to Phase 3.  C7 and C3 both move southeast. In the fourth phase, all the other Japanese chits are pulled. C2 moves southwest while C9 and C4 move east.

My search planes aren’t far out enough to catch anyone at the moment so there is little to do but move on to turn 2.

US and Japanese marker positions at the end of turn 1

Turn 2:  

At the beginning of the turn, the search planes I launched in turn 1 have now moved ahead on the Search track to the 4-7 spot. They may now be used once in the turn to search for any Japanese contacts that are from 4 to 7 hexes away.

In Phase 1, we pull 3 chits for the Japanese. C4 moves southeast from 1715 to 1815. The Japanese are slowly getting into search range now. One thing to note here is that the Japanese might move differently around US air sources such as carriers and US airfields. If the Japanese are 8 hexes from your carrier force at the start of their move, you need to compare the mission die roll to the distance at which they begin. If the Mission Die Roll exceeds the distance in hexes between the Japanese counter and the US air source, the Japanese might not move at all or they will attempt to move laterally so as to keep their distance from the US air source while still heading for their objective.

For this reason, it is sometimes better for the US player to wait for the Japanese to slowly enter his search range rather than try to barge ahead towards Japanese contacts. Presumably, they are aware of possible US forces out ahead of them and are reacting to your movements at the same time too.

I moved TF17 northeast to 2617 but I am not sure if this is a smart move as now C4 and C3 are within 8 hexes and may refuse to move into my search range. On the other hand, the US player can only move a task force in phase 1 and phase 3 of this turn so it is now or never if I want to move both carriers this turn.

TF16 and TF17 both launch their next two steps of search planes. The SBDs go up on the search track in the 0-3 hex box.

Search tracks with SBDs at different ranges.

In Phase 2, the Mission Die Roll is mercifully low and the Japanese will follow their assigned mission movement. C8 and C9 both move southeast. Hornet may be able to catch them if I can get it moving up soon enough.

In Phase 3, the MDR is again low (result is a 1) and the 2 chit pulls send C2 and C7 southeast. Task Force 16 (Hornet) moves Northeast. It is now in search range of C7. TF16 is in range of C7 C8, and C1. My gut tells me to pull the trigger and make my search rolls now but there is always the chance that C3 and C5 will come into range next phase if the Mission Die Roll is low enough.

In Phase 4, we get a 4 for the Mission Die Roll, which is great. We pull all the rest of the Japanese chits and C5 and C3 move southeast into our search range. Now it is time for us to make our search rolls.

The Enterprise searches roll lousy and miss 3 of their searches. They manage to approximately locate C7. Since this is a level 0 force, we get to pull a chit from our other cup to see what it is. It is revealed as a dummy – a false report, a day dream, a mirage.  C7 is removed from the map.

Hornet’s search parties have better luck. They locate C3 and find out that it is a surface force. It’s bittersweet though – the victory conditions double your points for finding a carrier force. Oh well. Maybe next turn.

C7 is revealed as a dummy force while C3 is located and appears to be a Japanese surface force.

Turn 3:

In this turn, the Japanese get 3 chit pulls in the first phase, 2 in the second, and 3 in the third. The Americans can move one ship in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd phases. Hopefully, we can catch the rest of the undetected Japanese forces and sort out what is happening out there.

Our search planes in the 4-7 box move to the 1-3 box as they are returning to the carrier. Our second wave of searchers is now up in the 4-7 box.

In Phase 1, C5 and C1 inch closer to our task forces, probably oblivious to our presence.

In Phase 2, it seems we have gotten as good as it is going to get with Task Force 16. No other forces will be moving into search range this turn, so it makes sense to see what is out there. We go ahead with our rolls and find out that:

C1 is a Medium-sized Japanese force. Whether it is a medium-sized carrier task force or surface force or (in the standard game) a transport force, we have no idea. We just know that there seem to be quite a few ships in this one specific area.

The next two rolls for C8 and C5 are blown.

C4 is revealed as Surface force. It is only approximately located so if we were playing a standard game, an air strike would need to more accurately locate it before they could try and hit it.

In Phase 3, C9 moves southeast to 1924. TF17 responds by moving northwest to 2517. It is now in search range of four forces. It manages to accurately locate the C4 surface force but no further information is found out. The other rolls are unsuccessful in either locating or further identifying the other contacts.

End of turn 3 search results. I sure hope C1 isn’t a carrier force!

Although it doesn’t really matter at this point because we have no searches left, we move the rest of the Japanese contacts. C4 moves to 1914 while C2 goes to 2011 and C8 moves Southeast to 1922.

Victory Points:

We managed to accurately locate three forces (C4, C1, and C3) at level 1 intelligence for six VPs. We get one additional VP for finding a dummy force.

According to our result table, we get: “Your inept searching allows the Japanese to hit your fleet with a surprise attack, in which you are killed.”  Oh boy!

“Hey guys! Let’s shift the search patterns a bit. I think there’s something out there!”

Doing Better

I think the biggest problem I had here was with how I used my search planes. By only sending out 2 steps at a time to search, it really hurts your results on the search die roll table. It would have made far more sense to have the Enterprise send out two steps at a time as we did but to have the Hornet follow up behind with a four-step search team to help further identify and classify what the first search team found. Using teamwork, I think the carriers could have focused in on half of the contacts out there and coordinated their air search and movement together.

I have played this scenario a few times now with varying results. My best scores (which are still not that good) usually happen when search planes are launched with four steps and at varying intervals. This is a tough scenario though! I played through to 6 turns once and managed to identify only half the Japanese forces on the map.

At the very least, I hope this playthrough gives you a better idea of how Carrier works and you can see the elegance of its core design shine through.

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:

Carrier – Scenario 2: The First Carrier Battle

Since becoming an avid solitaire gamer several years ago, one of the games I kept hearing about over and over again was Victory Games’ Carrier (1990). The reviews I read online spoke about it with the kind of reverence you would normally reserve for saints or minor deities. It was one of those games that I always intended to buy but the high prices for this out-of-print Jon Southard design put it out of my reach for a long time.  As the end of last year approached, curiosity got the better of me and I trotted out the necessary self-justifications and rationalizations for splurging on a copy for my birthday.

Late last month, my used copy of Carrier arrived in the mail. It was in near-mint condition and, to my astonishment, still unpunched. Did this thing really sit on someone’s shelf for 25 years without being played? Taking the counter sheet out of the box and leafing through the pristine rulebook, I was a little uncertain about what to do with this thing. But birthdays have a way of reminding us that we’re not getting any younger. I was not going to let this thing sit on my shelf for years in hopes of reselling it some day or just for the sake of bragging rights about my collection. I got to work punching the game counters out on the same day and within a few short hours, the game transported me into the shoes of a US Navy fleet commander in the Pacific during the early days of World War II.

Before I get into the scenario replay, I should mention a couple of things about Carrier for the uninitiated. This solitaire title was an attempt by Jon Southard (who also designed one of my favorite games, Fire Team) to model carrier operations in 1942 and 1943.  In its 67 pages of rules, Carrier gives you everything you need for a tense journey into the fog of carrier warfare. As the US player, you need to make sense of an ever-changing situation by sending out search planes and taking educated guesses about the location and intentions of enemy forces. The threat of facing a Japanese strike is ever-present and, due to the game mechanics, you won’t know the enemy has spotted and fixed your position until there are Japanese dive bombers overhead. Woe betide the unlucky player who has a carrier deck full of fuelled and armed SBDs ready for take-off just as the bombs start to fall.

What failure looks like in Carrier.

The game provides you with an A.I. that very ably depicts the fluidity of Japanese actions (and reactions) in a way that actually makes sense without resorting to paragraph-style events booklets (like VG’s wonderful Ambush!). Jon Southard pulls out all the stops to pull off this surprisingly elaborate sleight-of-hand. Carrier players will be using chit-pulls, charts, die-rolls, tables, and a very rigid sequence of play for both his own forces and those of the Japanese “player”. Despite the complexity of the game, the rules are taught to players in a “learn as you play” style. You read a few rules, play a scenario that applies them and then do the same until you have learned everything you need for an all-out campaign game with all the bells and whistles.

As I am still slowly learning the basics of this game, I have only just recently played through Scenario 2. In the first scenario, players apply the attack sequence by running an air strike against a large Japanese carrier force as done in The Battle of the Coral Sea on 8 May, 1942. Scenario 2 is a slightly expanded version of this first scenario. This time, however, the US player needs to manage carrier operations and put together strike packages and try to make contact with detected Japanese task forces.

The US player starts out with Lexington and Yorktown. The Japanese have two forces. Force 1 is the escort carrier CVE Shoho with DD Sazanami. Force 2 is the much larger force of CVs Shokaku and Zuikaku with two CAs and six DDs. Needless to say, the big victory points are in sinking or damaging the Japanese CVs. At the same time, the CVE could pose a threat if it shows up at the wrong time.

I start off by putting up CAP around the US task force. Four steps of F4Fs patrol the carrier group (one aircraft counter equals two steps).

Managing carrier operations is a game in and of itself in Carrier. Planes can either be in one of four states: on deck ready for launch, on deck and unready (for aircraft that have just landed, for example), in servicing on the lower decks, or way down in the hangars. There are hard limits placed on how many steps of aircraft can occupy these locations and aircraft need to be cycled through these locations to get them ready for launch. For example, aircraft that are in the hangars need to go to servicing before they can get on deck.

No more than 8 steps of aircraft can be on deck (both in the ready and unready box) at the same time or you’ll be unable to launch aircraft until you clear out some room somewhere. You also cannot land and launch planes at the same time, so you might have to face the agonizing decision of whether to send your guys on deck up after that Japanese carrier or to let your returning aircraft, low on fuel, come in for a landing, which will delay your strike and can leave you vulnerable to a Japanese strike. There are no correct answers – only hard decisions.

CVs Lexington and Yorktown both have six steps of aircraft on their decks. The Lexington has two steps of F4Fs and four steps of SBD (dive bombers) ready to go. Most of my SBDs are in Servicing while the rest of my planes are in the hangar.

Initial plane setup on Lexington and Yorktown.

The Yorktown has two steps of F4Fs, two steps of SBDs and two steps of TBDs ready to launch. I’ve got two steps of F4Fs and four steps of SBDs sitting in the Servicing bays and a TBD with four steps of SBDs in the Yorktown’s hangar.

The first turn passes without any sign of the Japanese. On the third action phase of the second turn, Force 2 is located about four hexes northeast of our carrier position. I launch the first strike, composed of all the planes on deck from the Lexington and Yorktown. After the launch, I move all my planes currently in Servicing up to the deck and get them ready to go.

Air Strike 1 is assigned Force 2 as its target and it flies towards it.

Air Strike 1

Each segment, the air strike moves one hex towards its target. During the segment, I’m rolling to see what the Japanese are doing. Force 1 might appear unexpectedly and launch an air strike on my ships or Force 2 with its two CVs might be launching its planes at my force but I won’t know it until they run into my CAP (and there is always a chance they will slip through my CAP too).

Air Strike 2 is launched in the next segment and is assigned Force 2 as its target.

Air Strike 2 is up on deck and ready to launch.

I could have kept them back for a hit on the Japanese escort carrier but so far it has not been detected. The escort carrier is small potatoes anyways compared to the big fish in Force 2. Finally, I really need to launch these planes because it is never a good thing to have armed aircraft sitting on your carrier deck.

Air Strike 1 about to arrive over target. Air Strike 2 has just been launched.

Air Strike 1 arrives in the target hex and attempts contact.  I roll a “3” and the contact attempt fails. A second contact attempt follows and the Time Aloft marker is increased to 5. The strike package is beginning to get low on fuel now.  I roll a “7” this time and the pilots find the Japanese carriers below. Unfortunately, the Japanese have a level 4 CAP up, which manages to shoot down 1 step of our aircraft. Our TBD takes the hit. Luckily, the Japanese AAA does nothing to the strike package and we have a combined attack strength of 18, which gives us 1 attack roll at -1 and another attack roll at no modifier. I manage to score 3 hits on the Japanese carriers. The Shokaku takes 1 hit while the Zuikaku takes 2 hits. The carriers are both lightly damaged as their hit capacities are both 8.

Air Strike 1 heads for home and a new segment begins. Just as Air Strike 2 is coming in, I roll a “10” for Japanese action and the scenario ends. Presumably, the Japanese have slipped away somehow. The US scores 2 VPs for the CV hits while the Japanese score 1/4 VP for eliminating a US air step. The result is a draw.

Since this was pretty anti-climactic, I decided to see what would have happened had Air Strike 2 made its way over the target.

Air Strike 2 arrives and makes contact with the Japanese task force. We roll for surprise and get a “10”, which means we have caught the Japanese with planes sitting on their decks! This seriously hampers the Japanese CAP level and there will be no AAA coming at our planes. It also means a whopping +5 to our air attack rolls. The Japanese CAP manages to score a hit and a TBD step is lost.

Totaling up the combat values of our five SBDs, we get 30 attack points, which means we get 2 rolls with a +1 modifier (along with our +5 modifier for catching the planes on the deck). We manage to score 7 hits total, which is spread evenly among the two Japanese carriers, with the final hit randomly determined. By the end of the segment, both the Zuikaku and Shokaku have taken 5 hits and they are very heavily damaged.

5 hits each on Japanese CVs Zuikaku and Shokaku

The Japanese will wisely attempt to retire from the battle. Without any planes on deck and Air Strike 1 coming in for a landing soon, it will be nearly impossible to catch the Japanese fleet so we can safely call it a day. I tally the VPs as 28 for the US and .5 for the Japanese, which is an overwhelming American victory.

Although this was an incredibly tense scenario and lots of fun with plenty of decisions, I have still barely scratched the surface of Carrier.  Due to the graduated “play as you learn the rules” approach to the system, it will be interesting to see what happens as things get more complex. I’ll keep you updated as I play through and learn more rules and I think it should make for some interesting reading.

Unconditional Surrender! The Main Event – Part 4

Here is my final playthrough report of Sal Vasta’s Unconditional Surrender! World War 2 in Europe from GMT.

August and September 1942:  The Germans quickly send their repatriated forces from the French campaign over to the eastern front. Soldiers and tanks are strapped to trains and shot off towards Poland or Hungary to try and prevent the Soviet hordes from getting much further into Eastern Europe. The western Allies reel in shock from losing France last month but they do buy back their Surprise Attack marker for 20 production points, which is a start. The BEF is pulled from Greece and docks in British-controlled Libya, waiting for the signal to invade southern Europe. Meanwhile, the Soviets are pushing masses of men and tanks west into Eastern Europe and making fast gains despite the renewed German defensive strength here. Warsaw is lost to Soviet infantry and the German infantry units in central Poland are getting surrounded by Soviet regulars. Despite the win against France, it looks like Germany is bound to lose to the Soviets and sooner rather than later.

September 1942 – The Soviets are closing in very rapidly now.

October 1942: The Germans continue to suffer mightily during the strategic warfare phase. It has now lost its maximum number of factories and production has basically come to a standstill. Undaunted, Germany rushes garrisons and panzers over to the west in France to halt any invasion by the Americans and British. The use of these units over on the west as a deterrence comes at a costly price in the east. The Soviets consolidate their gains and, despite the severe weather, keep pushing the Germans back and threatening their supply lines. Bomber Command hits Frankfurt and Bremen, further hurting the German war machine. It seems the end is no doubt in sight for the Germans very soon.

November 1942:  Germany has consolidated its holdings in northern France now and has a pretty impressive number of units ready to repel the western faction should they go for an amphibious invasion. Over on the other side of the board, the Germans are slowly getting pushed back through Eastern Europe.  They lack the production to go on any major offensives but their defenses hold fairly tightly despite losing a unit and getting pushed back a little bit here and there. Sarajevo falls to the Soviets and Yugoslavia is now liberated. Two Soviet tank units are west of Warsaw, poised to smash the Germans when better weather comes. For now, though, winter has only just begun and it looks like it will be mighty cold for everyone.

The Soviets slowly push the Germans back in Eastern Europe.

Germans have some forces in France to keep the western allies at bay.

December 1942: Disaster strikes as the Soviets begin to envelop the southern flank of the Germans in Hungary. There are just so many Soviet units now compared to German units. The +2 bonus for the Germans is no longer paying off very well as the Soviets have the production and manpower to make massed attacks and gamble on their success. For every successful defensive roll made by the German player, another one is failed. German units are getting surrounded and destroyed at a rate of one or two per turn. The severe weather is helping to delay the Soviet advance but come the spring, the Germans will be facing a completely different Soviet army from two years before. Elite shock units and tank divisions are being fielded by the Soviets at alarming speed.

January 1943:  The Germans manage to make a couple of nice attacks along the eastern front, even getting close enough to threaten the supply lines of several Soviet units in Romania.  The offensive gets bogged down in the poor weather, however, and the Germans find themselves with several units behind enemy lines and out of supply by the end of the Axis Operations Phase. The Soviets take the opportunity to clean them up as they pass through northern Yugoslavia and reach the Sava River southeast of Zagreb. The Allies, seeing the Soviets make rapid advances through Eastern Europe, decide to get in the game anyway they can. The Brits in North Africa make an amphibious invasion in southern Italy. It is not enough to cause any major panic for the Germans yet but it is the start of something. When the weather improves, the Allies can look more seriously into making a landing somewhere in France.

Jan 1943: The Brits land in Italy while the Soviets make rapid gains through Yugoslavia.

February 1943:  Poor weather brings much of the central fighting to a standstill. The Germans use the cold weather to do a strategic move down to Rome to shore up defenses against the mini-British invasion. On the eastern front, a panzer unit that is surrounded near Warsaw makes a very nice breakout and in the south, the Germans are still managing to hang on to Hungary. The Soviets are pushing many many counters up north from Yugoslavia, however, and are quickly able to surround pockets of German resistance. When the frozen ground begins to thaw, it might not be so easy to hold off all those angry Russians.

March 1943: The poor weather continues throughout most of Europe. The Germans have made good efforts to stabilize their eastern front lines but for every unit that arrives, there is some kind of setback. Budapest falls this turn after a concentrated assault.  The Hungarians are knocked out of the war. Not much else happens. The Germans are getting better at preserving their scarce production points for crucial movements and refuse to waste them on any foolish gambles. The Soviets, on the other hand, are learning that quantity matters only so much and that in the poor weather, even massed infantry and tank tactics have their limits against a dug-in and well-trained enemy.

April 1943: The Allies get their wish and the weather for the Mild Zone is fair this month. That means it is time for spring offensives against Germany to begin. The Germans have managed to keep their sorties down through wise conservation of production in the previous couple of turns. This month, they try some limited operations near Warsaw just to rack up the Soviet air sorties for defense rather than offense. This strategy sort of works. The Soviets make very limited gains in this part of the line (although they do manage to push a German infantry unit back west to Danzig). In the south, however, the Germans continue to take losses and the overwhelming number of Russian units pressing on this part of the line causes the major reversals. Zagreb falls and there are Soviets lined all the way up to the Italian border. Meanwhile, over in the west, the 1st Canadian and an American Task Force make an amphibious landing in and around the French port city of Brest where they quickly seize the port and follow up with the capture of Nantes.  German will is down to 13 right now and it looks like the end is nigh.

Canadians and Americans make an amphibious landing in the undefended port city of Brest.

May 1943:  The Germans try for one last vainglorious push, an offensive aimed at breaking the back of the Soviet army. Two panzer armies and three infantry units are sent into the Yugoslav/Hungarian part of the Soviet line and, thanks to German airpower, start cutting a swath through the Soviet units. By the time it is finished, no less than 4 Soviet units are destroyed, two of them elite. Three other units are reduced. The Germans use their last move to try for Zagreb and cut off the supply line for dozens of Soviet units but the attack on the city fails and the final panzer unit is now sitting out of supply, surrounded by Soviet units. To save the German line, an infantry unit from west of Budapest is brought down south to try and fill the gap left in the south. This leaves the rest of the front in a precarious position so a general withdraw happens, all the way back to Vienna in the center and just west of Danzig in the north. The Germans spend all of their production reforming the line along the eastern front. Nothing is left for defending against the invasion in the west.

During the Allied turn, the Americans and Canadians move inland from the west French coastline. The 1st Canadian armored unit destroys a German infantry unit west of Paris while the Americans liberate Cherbourg and Le Havre. The British pull their garrison from Gibralter up to fortify the port in Nantes. They have another armored unit sitting in Plymouth and send a convoy up there to bring it in next turn.

The Soviets absolutely hammer the Germans. The panzer unit sitting east of Zagreb is quickly eliminated. The Soviets push back along the entire front, using a Surprise Attack marker to make real inroads and capture Vienna. The German panzers in the north of the line are sent back too. With only 4 German will left, I really doubt the game will last beyond next turn.

May 1943: The Soviets hammer back at the Germans.

June 1943:  The final battle is here. The Germans attempt another Bulge-like attack in the south of the east front but they do not have the airpower to sustain the offensive, which peters out early. The remaining Germans are forced to withdraw yet again and form a line in Italy in Germany. The Americans and British arrive in France with reinforcements. A British armored unit liberates Paris while the Americans try to take Calais but find it tough going against a Panzer field unit. The Soviets take Trieste and then cross over the Danube into Germany proper. A Shock unit pushes back Germans west of Vienna and Dresden is taken. The rest of the Soviet army plummets through the gap and are within 50 miles of an undefended Berlin when the Germans decide they have had enough. The Will marker has hit zero and the Germans have surrendered.  Deep down in a bunker in Berlin, a gunshot rings out and the free world rejoices.

June 1943: The British, Americans, and Canadians continue with the liberation of France
June 1943: The Soviets close in on an undefended Berlin. German national will reaches zero this turn.

Conclusion:  Wow, what to say… I know I got a lot of the rules wrong but I got enough right to make it fairly close to a “real” game of USE.  Having finished this game after months of playing, I am both happy to move on to something new but a bit sad that the epic storyline that unfolded before me each night is now over. The Germans were probably screwed from the very early part of the game and some very bad choices about timing and field tactics ended up causing an early loss. I absolutely did not expect France to fall in ’42 like it did and I was left stunned by the consequences. It looked like the Germans finally had something go right for them in the war but it was simply too late.  The Soviets were much too strong at that point and had such a decisive advantage in the field that it didn’t matter. Also, the ramping up of strategic bombing really hosed the Germans.

By the end of the game, I had heaps of eliminated German units in my eliminated box that I simply could do not get back in the game. I was unable to use my air assets and it seemed like every time I did, it just meant another 3 production down the tube for minimal gain. I notice that the most fun and the best success I had as the Germans was when I let loose and tried lots of crazy gambles – some of which suprisingly paid off. Perhaps if I had done more of that, especially during the invasion of Russia, I might have been able to get something going. If you’ve read through all four parts of my blog entry for this, thanks for staying tuned in! I have other projects on the go at the moment so I’ll be taking a bit of a break from blogging for now but I hope to be back sometime soon.