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Wargames To Go 6 - Month of Infamy games/notes
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Episode 6 (actually a series of episodes, 6.1, 6.2, etc) of Wargames To Go is about the events of December 1941 in the Pacific. The spark for this came from my opportunity to visit Pearl Harbor in October 2015. I thought about attempting an episode just about that attack, but it wouldn't be enough. There just aren't many games about Pearl Harbor alone (though as you'll see below, there are some).

The ah-ha moment came when I thought to expand this into the other quick attacks that the Japanese Empire made in the days and weeks following Pearl Harbor. The invasion of the Philippines, the battle for Wake Island, the destruction of Force Z, and even an alt-hist game about a Japanese invasion of Oahu.

Comments welcomed in the game listings below, and/or my discussion thread for this episode.
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1. Board Game: Day of Infamy: The Attack on Pearl Harbor [Average Rating:6.75 Unranked]
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The first actual Peal Harbor game I thought of.



Played it once, found it pretty tedious. But I should try again.
 
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2. Board Game: Zero! [Average Rating:6.94 Overall Rank:1858]
Mark Johnson
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I always preferred the campaigns to the dogfights in Down In Flames, and this one includes a solo campaign for the attack on Pearl.

Philippines Campaign

Played at BGGcon against a live opponent, and it was a high point of my convention. I really love the campaign system for DIF.

Pearl Harbor Campaign

Not a whole lot here, but there are some minimal strategic decisions in the design of the attack waves & their targets.
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3. Board Game: Invasion: Pearl Harbor [Average Rating:6.75 Unranked]
Mark Johnson
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I don't normally care for alt-hist games, but will make an exception for this one because Hawaii subjects are otherwise hard to come by in wargaming.



Not sure how good this really is, but I played it while on vacation in Hawaii and had a fun time.
 
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4. Board Game: Victory in the Pacific [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:1056]
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Obviously MUCH larger in scope, but known for its opening turn with the surprise attack on Pearl. Plus, it's a wargaming classic I've never played (but recently acquired).

The PBEM game over Vassal is proceeding slowly, but surely.
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5. Board Game: Fall of the Philippines: MacArthur's Defeat, 1941 [Average Rating:6.00 Unranked]
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Count on Panzer Digest to have a manageable game about the invasion of the Philippines. Ugly point-to-point map, but I generally like the level of synthesis & modeling in these games.



No frills, but it more than gets the job done. Taught me something and plays quick enough to try multiple times.
 
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6. Board Game: Islands of the Damned: Wake Island and Peleliu [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:7061]
Mark Johnson
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One of the two games included here is the invasion of Wake Island.




It sure LOOKS good, and the designed-solo play is entertaining. Not a lot of decisions, though. It's sort of like a 2-dimensional States of Siege game without the cards, and with lots of die rolls. The two invasions are represented by facedown arrays of 40 counters each. On a turn, you reveal a number of these, which are either good things (e.g. Wildcats becoming available), or the steady march of the offshore invader (e.g. IJN cruisers). Japanese move and fire according to die rolls alone, while the American defender has some small decisions about when to consume bonus chits or where to send a Wildcat. It plays according to the historical script, pretty much, but with uncertainty as to the sequence of events. I had fun during the initial turns, but even during one play I was getting tired of all the die rolling.
 
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7. Board Game: Struggle for Wake Island [Average Rating:6.00 Unranked]
Mark Johnson
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Small PNP game about Wake




Just a couple bucks from wargamedownloads.com, and definitely worth that price! It's a PNP with double-sided counters, something I'm getting better at. Printed the attractive, point-to-point map on 11x17 paper, which gave plenty of room for the 1/2-inch counters. Japanese bombing and shore bombardment is handled with offmap strength counters and combat rolls. You decide how to split or combine those attacks, and the Americans may shoot back with minimal AA and possibly some Wildcats (similarly abstracted). The dug-in Marines are hard to damage, and before long you commit your SNLF invasion forces to the water boxes before they hit the beach. Really, those are when the invasion is within range of small arms fire, and the fighting is bloody. In my game the Japanese committed these landing craft (something they didn't do historically), and got shot up before falling back.

Then the second invasion attempt takes place, and this time the Japanese have more SNLF troops, and--critically--carrier plane support from Hiryu and Soryu. (The mix of Zeros and Vals is abstracted.) The Marines probably are a little roughed-up from the first invasion attempt (not to mention the civilians who are used as soak-off counters), and now the Japanese have overwhelming force. Nonetheless, in my game the eventual island takeover required more time, and generated more Japanese casualties, leading to a less-than-historic victory. Probably my error was committing those troops to landing craft in the first attempt.
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8. Board Game: Wake Island [Average Rating:6.64 Unranked]
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Remember when Mayfair did wargames? You're an oldtimer like me if you do. Tracked down a copy of this one on ebay.



Simple game with lots of flavor. Especially notable for combining air combat (bombing, interception), naval combat (shore bombardment, shore batteries, amphibious landings), and land combat. Yes, it's all done very simply, but that's what's good. Everything is included, not just abstracted out. I had a few rule questions, but think this microgame from 1981 may be one I hang onto to play in a future December (such as next year's 75th anniversary).

In my first play, the IJN doubled-down on its initial, thin invasion force. Their 24th AF bombers had softened up the American defenses somewhat, but there were plenty of Marines on the beaches to fight against the SNLF. Naval bombardments continued as the Japanese troops struggled to get a toehold on the main island. Casualties mounted on both sides, and some Banzai charges to contributed to the losses. Then five Japanese destroyers beached themselves to add their "bluejacket" infantry from their crews, in a last attempt to turn the tide. It was almost successful, but not quite. Eventually all of the invaders were eliminated. Unfortunately for the US, the Japanese had a second wave of invaders coming to finally take the island. It was a moral victory for the US.
 
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9. Board Game: Destruction of Force Z [Average Rating:6.67 Unranked]
Mark Johnson
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Panzer Digest comes through again, with one of the very few games I found about this famous incident.



A dice-fest, but one that tells the story of an important yet under-gamed event in the history of warfare. Really happy to have played this one.
 
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10. Board Game: Honour Alone: Hong Kong 1941 [Average Rating:7.60 Unranked]
Mark Johnson
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Thanks for the suggestion, Eric. I found an inexpensive copy here on BGG, and now it's on the way to me. Another interesting event at the opening of the Pacific War, and one that should be of special interest to Canadians. (Not to mention Hong Kongers.)



Not so great. Part of my disappointment comes from the low scale that isn't my favorite (company level counters, ranged artillery combat & fire support), and part of it comes from a lack of polish & development. Back in the 1990s when I was building the Microgame HQ, I learned about Pacific Rim Publishing's line of Just Plain Wargames, but this was the first time I managed to play one. Very traditional hex & counter mechanisms, sprinkled with some subject-specific chrome. In general, I like that approach, but after just a few turns I saw how much drudgery it would take to play the game to completion. Countless supply & command checks (with counter modifiers if either existed), artillery offensive or defensive fire support to keep track of, and lots od die rolls. Nothing really wrong with that--it's a valid approach--but that kind of micro-scale simulation (perhaps) is not my kind of wargaming. So, I quit early.

However, I still managed to get a lot out of the game through the extensive setup process (which didn't NEED to be with org-matching deployments & headquarters counters, but why not when that info is included?). As always, the detailed map alone tells a lot about the campaign when you study its terrain and road network as part of your setup process. The game rules end with a single key page that gives designer advice for playing both sides, as well as a history of the actual event. I'd read them before, but re-reading after I'd pored over the map setup made it more meaningful.
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11. Board Game: Singapore [Average Rating:6.29 Overall Rank:7690]
Mark Johnson
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Invasion of Malaya



If I did half-stars, this would be 3.5 But I don't--I force myself to make the choice. The three stars I gave it sound like faint praise, but this is actually one of the keepers of these games. Being a small magazine game helps, but Singapore has other things going for it, too. Principally, it's got a very interesting situation. It's an ultimately-doomed fighting retreat, yes, but with a fascinating map. The Malaya peninsula (at least in 1941-42) has ports up & down the east & west coasts, but not much of a road net connecting them. Some on the west, but the east is very interrupted with jungle & mountains. Those are the defenders friends.

Then there's the overall strategic situation that comes into this game as abstract systems--the air superiority the Japanese enjoy, and the ability of Force Z to (maybe) interrupt Japanese sea movement, and (probably) to die in the process.

It all builds down to a single hex that is Singapore island...but then the game opens back up to a special sub-map that zooms in on the final invasion of this British holding in both time and space.

In my (solo) game I thought my invaders were doing pretty well. Of course the IJA eventually took over Singapore itself to end the game, and along the way they also captured the western shipping port (Penang), destroyed Force Z, and wiped out a lot of Commonwealth defenders. Yet when I added up the total points, my delays (I took a month longer than Yamashita really did) and losses meant the game ended in a "Substantive Commonwealth Victory." Singapore still fell, but it cost Imperial Japan more than it could bear, I guess. Even at that, I felt like I could've managed a better defense upon replay. Only one brigade of Australians really put up a strong delaying defense when I figure out how to use the terrain to my advantage.

One odd thing is the combat system, which looks like it's got lots of variation for attack type (maneuver or assault), defensive terrain, and some modifiers for attacking armor, etc. However, in my game the Commonwealth rarely counter-attacked at all, and the Japanese were typically able to max out their attack factors in this differential combat system. So it was down to the defensive terrain and a die roll. Sometimes some opportunity to use ZOCs to cut off retreats, but the rivers and lack of roads didn't make that easy. Also, early in the game I realized the Japanese already had all of the reinforcement they were ever going to get!

The game comes with a lot of optional rules to explore different ways history might have played out (Operation Matador, improved Commonwealth air forces, Japanese command differences, and so on).

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12. Board Game: Malaya: V-Mail Postcard Game #1 [Average Rating:6.12 Overall Rank:9387]
Mark Johnson
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It's a postcard game, which is inherently limiting. But within those limitations, this is excellent.
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13. Board Game: Major Campaigns of General Douglas MacArthur [Average Rating:5.95 Overall Rank:9061]
Mark Johnson
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Don't know how I forgot about this one. I'm sure it has a Bataan scenario, and would be an interesting euro/wargame hybrid.
 
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14. Video Game: Attack on Pearl Harbor [Average Rating:8.00 Unranked]
Mark Johnson
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Yeah, it's just a video game, but I think that's the best medium for tactical air combat. Not a realistic flight sim, but fun to shoot things up. I'll even argue that you learn something about the geography and where the various ships were during the attack. So sue me.





I played it a bit, then recently upgraded to a Mac so that I no longer have an easy way to play it. Which is ok.
 
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15. Board Game: 1942 [Average Rating:5.35 Overall Rank:11150]
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Recently picked up the 1st edition (ziplock). I realize it has mixed reviews, and is undoubtably dated, but the scale & scope of the game is perfect for my current subject. Worth a shot.
 
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16. Board Game: Also Ran [Average Rating:6.00 Unranked]
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The traditional line in the geeklist under which I list the games I didn't get to, for one reason or another.
 
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17. Board Game: Battle for Bataan [Average Rating:4.58 Unranked]
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What? Minden games has a SECOND title about the Philippines invasion?!

Yes, and I even made a PNP version, but later realized this is about the lengthy defense of the Bataan peninsula, which isn't really in December 41. (It's connected, of course, but isn't the surprise/lightning attacks of the war's opening. This is more of a slog.)
 
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18. Board Game: Macarthur: The Road to Bataan [Average Rating:5.57 Overall Rank:11091]
Mark Johnson
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A bigger, more traditional game about the invasion of the Philippines.
 
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19. Board Game: Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 [Average Rating:8.00 Overall Rank:2099] [Average Rating:8.00 Unranked]
Mark Johnson
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Here on BGG there's a user-generated scenario for the attack on Force Z.
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20. Board Game: Vinegar Joe's War: CBI [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:8085]
Mark Johnson
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I think this includes some of 1941, and also believe I've got it coming in the mail.

Update: starting to think this one won't make the cut for this podcast. (Either that, or it will in the distant future when I dig into the CBI theater more generally.)
 
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21. Board Game: Plan Orange: Pacific War 1930 - 1935 [Average Rating:7.53 Overall Rank:4634]
Mark Johnson
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