Played a spectacular game of Columbia Games’ Pacific Victory Friday night. It’s still on the table because, well, it was one of those games that I won’t forget for a long time and the board merits a lot of post-game reflection. There was a tremendous amount of epic drama and tension. I’m surprised that Pacific Victory has been largely overlooked and forgotten by the hobby – it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. If you have it, it deserves to come off the shelf. If you don’t – and you’re interested in a fun, playable, 4-hour game of the War in the Pacific that recreates events there as well or better than any other game on the market – then you ought to consider getting it.
This was my first time playing Pacific Victory and I wanted to try my hand as the Japanese. Ron Draker – a veteran wargamer with a few games of Pac Victory under his belt – was happy to take up the Allied cause. We decided to go the distance (real men don’t play scenarios) – and played with the following optional rules; MacArthur’s War; Air Search, Overruns, a generalized –3 adjustment to the victory conditions, and a house rule that allows cruisers to fire before battleships to reflect the slowness of the latter. We also decided to go with free deployment at start but, since we were playing with the MacArthur’s War optional, we decided that neither U.S. forces in Pearl nor U.S. forces in Manila could be adjusted.
What followed was like the first Rocky movie – Apollo Creed (in this case, Yamamoto) beats the living crap out of Balboa for 13 rounds and just when it looks ridiculous for the fight to go on, the Rock (MacArthur) gets up off the canvas, delivers a haymaker, and Katy-bar-the-door! The course of events surprised me a bit because I read nothing but gripes in the game’s ConsimWorld folder about the inability of the Japanese to really put up much of a fight. Didn’t seem that way to me.
The following account is based entirely on memory. I didn’t take notes, but the events described herein are pretty seared into my head. Ron is welcome to correct any inaccuracies.
I suspected that Americans would look for a big push on India – which seems to be the consensus “first-best” strategy for the Japanese. Accordingly, I decided to try crossing him up and make my big push towards the more glamorous Pearl Harbor.
I started by juicing Kwajalein with the best naval air and sea force I could assemble and then rammed it into Tarawa. I thought about pinning or hitting the force at Johnston Island, but decided against it because I didn’t want to tip my hand regarding the boys I had decided to bring to this particular party. Johnston doesn’t really matter much, and unless the Enterprise was there, revealing my carriers wouldn’t really get me much this early. I then activated SHQ (the Japanese Strategic Headquarter) and spent all my strategic moves to sea invade Manila and Singapore with the usual, albeit very slightly degraded, Japanese forces. A couple of infantry blocks marched into Bangkok so as to glare at India with menace (“Bangkok, oriental city but the city don’t know what the city is getting – A mad Japanese army that hates Yul Brenner” – from Tommy Tune, “One Night in Bangkok” from the musical Chess. But I digress). Using the handy-dandy overrun rule, I slip by his dumb and slow Americans and seized Palembang (!) and took a chance by sneaking an unprotected Special Naval Landing Force into Rabaul. A task force of cruisers picked up Manokwari. I finished by feinting with a number of other blocks into this theater so as to (hopefully) mislead the Americans regarding my strategic intentions.
The U.S. reacted to all this by ceding me Tarawa and establishing a big-ass naval force at Palmyra. A few blocks came out of Panama to reinforce Pearl and a several more were hot-footed over to South Africa. Thankfully, the RAN cruisers somewhere in Australia either could nor or would not bother checking my lunge for Raubul.
Only a few battles were to be fought. Manila fell easily enough and Singapore air and naval cover was stripped away in the first round. But the damned English army held on against all odds. A blockade was imposed.
I used my 13 PPs (production points) to dial-up the SHQ and the Hosho carrier group anchored in Tokyo Bay. The failed invasion of Singapore forced me to reinforce one of my infantry blocks in Thailand, resulting in a lost PP.
Ron won the die roll for initiative on turn 2 and decided to go first. A large force of indeterminate composition arrived in Ceylon from South Africa, ANZAC forces shuffled around on the Australian coast, and reinforcements were dispatched to Samoa. Other blue blocks were shuffled around in the environs of Pearl, with the final result being eight or so pieces of wood garrisoning Hawaii
In response to this relative quiet, I sent several infantry divisions into Singapore from the north while the open city of Rangoon was liberated from their British oppressors. I decided to check-out what’s what in Ceylon with my Singapore blockaders (who were duly replaced with new ships for that particular duty) and, not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, grabbed some free real estate in Pheonix and the Ellice Islands.
Forces from the central Pacific – including my Pearl raiders at Truk – were steamed into Tarawa while some other blocks sent to Truk last turn were dispatched to Hollandia and Borneo. The idea was to confuse the Americans regarding the disposition of the Akagi and Shokaku; were they in Tarawa or Borneo?
My major effort was at the recently abandoned real estate in Australia. IJN cruisers anchored at Manokwari liberated the open city of Darwin while a small naval task force queried a couple of defenders at Port Moresby. And just to keep things interesting, the Special Naval Landing Forces stationed in Rabaul stormed ashore on the undefended beaches of New Caledonia. Blocks were dispatched to maintain the line of communications required for all of this. In short, my turn was relatively quiet, but consolidation was necessary to go forward effectively.
My happiness with this state of affairs was enhanced by the surprise the Allies had in store for me at Ceylon. It turns out that the British had thrown all their PPs into maxing out the Illustrious carrier block and the U.S. rounded out the force with a couple of strong cruisers and army air units. When the smoke was cleared, my Asian boys were soundly thrashed but managed to limp home to the new Japanese vacation spot at Palembang. OK, so the Americans had decided to commit to India heavily – fine with me.
My self-satisfaction withered, however, when the second campaign against Singapore again fell apart. To my chagrin, the surviving British division holed-up in the city mowed down the cream of the Japanese army and forced the survivors to turn tail for the safe environs of Bangkok. The only bit of good news out of all of this was that RAN cruisers were discovered off the coasts of Port Moresby – which explains why I got away with the attack on New Caledonia – and quickly vaporized. A blockade was then imposed on that miserable little town.
Six months into the war, the Japanese stood at 14 PPs – historically their high war mark. With the Anglo-American fleet in Ceylon loaded for bear and my best naval assets far away on the other side of the world, I realized that this infernal colonial city – and the rest of India – would probably remain outside of my grasp for the foreseeable future. So if I was going to win this, I would have to win it in the east. Accordingly, builds were spent maxing out the Hosho and dialing-up the Zuiho carrier task force likewise lingering in Tokyo Bay. I also decided to raise three infantry division on the home island for future use.
The Americans won the initiative roll and decided to let me go first. Monsoons in the Indian Theater of Operations saved my military bacon from the frying that was otherwise sure to come from the fleet anchored in Ceylon. With all quiet on the subcontinent, I shuffled my blocks a bit in preparation for the Allied offensive next turn.
The Americans were spread out from Hawaii to Samoa with the bulk of their forces at Pearl. I decided to jump the fleet at Samoa since it was less likely to be teeming with Allied planes and victory, should it come, would allow me to simultaneously threaten Hawaii and the U.S. supply line to Australia. Accordingly, the Akagi and Shokaku carrier groups along with the Kongo and Nagato battleship divisions and a force of subs and cruisers steamed in from the northwest. Meanwhile, two fully jacked naval air units were dispatched from their airfields in Tarawa for a strategic bombing run on the targeted fleet. The Hosho, now at full strength, was rebased to Tarawa.
The Americans decided that the attack on Samoa had “Midway” written all over it and, accordingly, dispatched the best of their fleet from bases at Pearl and Palmyra. My mishaps in the southwest continued, however, as I had forgotten that blocks in the jungle could indeed move (but not attack) during monsoon season and had carelessly left Banda Atjeh wide open. The Anglo-American fleet took advantage of my oversight by waltzing into the island in force. This was not enough to assuage Ron’s rage at being left with little to do in the rain, but it set the stage for an offensive later that would ultimately save the game for him. Finally, the Americans were sufficiently awkened about the threat to Australia and dispatched a couple of blocks to attack the small Japanese base at New Caledonia.
My annoyance over the bungling at Banda Atjeh was erased by the Battle of Samoa. The Americans were clearly surprised see to elite naval bombers in the skies (even if for only one of the three combat rounds – blocks using strategic attacks can’t stick around for very long) and were chagrined to find such a tough Japanese fleet at the doorstep. And just as I had suspected, there wasn’t a land-based aircraft in sight. My flyboys found the Enterprise and Saratoga before they found me, and the combination of dead-on strategic bombing, ineffective allied air strikes from the carriers, and some excellent gunnery from the IJN left much of the U.S. fleet in the oceanic mud. Rather than stick around for more of the same, the Americans bugged out for Palmyra without leaving nary a scratch on the Japanese Navy. Torah-Torah-Torah! Leary of getting to close to Allied land-based air and too far in front of my supply lines, I regrouped my carriers to Ellice Island while keeping the other half of the fleet in Samoa.
To add insult to injury, the Aussie task force hitting New Caledonia discovered to its disgust that it could not touch the Imperial Japanese Marines there (air and naval units can attack land units until the latter are down to 1 strength point – from then on, only infantry or marines can dig them out). Ron took some satisfaction, however, in imposing a blockade with his modest detachment of cruisers.
So despite the thrashing at Samoa, I actually dropped a PP and was now down to 13. I decided to forgo my customary rebuild of SHQ. Instead, the Zuiho was maxed-out and army air and infantry received the bulk of my attention.
I won the initiative roll and Ron turned white as a sheet. To my delight, a “Divine Wind” had struck the Indian Ocean! Once again, the mighty Anglo-American fleet in Ceylon would be forced to sit on its butt while I had my way in the Pacific. After the requisite (albeit understandable) bitching and moaning, he grimly set about salvaging his position in the east. Clearly shaken by the deteriorating state of affairs in Oz and the hammered fist in Samoa that was now menacing the U.S.-Australian supply line, Ron decided that protecting Tahiti was more important than protecting Hawaii and accordingly shifted most of the fleet to Polynesia. For good measure, ANZAC troops were concentrated along the eastern coast.
It was decision time in the Pacific. The Americans were clearly eager for some breathing space in order to lick their wounds, and applying that healing salve in Tahiti looked like a good idea. Only three of my blocks, after all, could reach the island with operational moves, and none of them were carriers (although Ron didn’t know that). Pearl had only four blocks and seemed tempting, but I didn’t have a land-based invasion force in range and my carriers were misplaced at Ellice Island. And even if I did pull a carrier raid on Pearl, if Hawaii was loaded with a couple of army corps, it would be a wasted attack with a steep cost in both time and PPs. Australia looked like ripe fruit for harvest, but I couldn’t do much about that at the moment.
So my choices were to hit Tahiti with my Samoan fleet (supplemented by strategic attacks out of Tarawa), hit Pearl with elements of the fleet in Tarawa and Samoa (supplemented by carrier raids out of Ellice), or reposition the fleet for an attack on one of these two allied bases or Australia proper in December. What the hell - I went for Hawaii while consolidating the rest of the fleet, at Samoa. The Akagi, stationed at Ellice, reprised its carrier raid on Pearl Harbor. Marines were dispatched to Darwin in order to stir up trouble on the western Australian coastline should opportunities permit, a small relief force was sent to break the blockade at New Caledonia, and my troops in Indochina wrote insulting notes to the round-eyes and sent them afloat in bottles through the typhoon-churned waters to India. My remaining strategic moves were devoted to getting the Zuiho and and infantry corps into Samoa.
The 2nd Battle of Pearl Harbor was a disastrous for the Americans as the first. Ron had left a couple of middling land-based air blocks and a cruiser to protect a single corps of infantry. Slaughter followed. When the smoke cleared, only a 1cv infantry block remained on the island. In other news, once the Aussies saw that I had come to party in New Caledonia, they blew out of Dodge and high-tailed it back to Brisbane.
I was once again back to 14 PPs. I jacked up the SHQ to full strength and built up the infantry at Samoa up for the upcoming “Operation Butt-Kick” to be directed at Hawaii.
I again won the initiative roll and, after some thought, decided to demonstrate compassion and let the Americanos go first. But as soon as Ron flipped his SHQ over, I realized that this was pretty damned stupid of me and appealed to the better angels of his nature to allow me to change my mind. He kindly agreed. And paid for it. Big time.
The Japanese 4-strength infantry invasion force hit Pearl with minimal cover (none was necessary) while a small subsidiary force attacked a lone Allied block at Midway. The Pacific fleet – which now sported four 3-step carrier blocks – massed at Samoa while the marines at New Caledonia once again boarded their landing crafts. This time, they sailed-off to the sunny beaches of Auckland, which was left undefended by the Aussies.
The Americans decided to leave Hawaii in God’s hands and content themselves with a mass of blue blocks in Polynesia. But what could he do? His fleet was chewed up and he had obviously been spending a great deal of money building up the Indian Theater for his counteroffensive. Not a bad idea in theory. Hit where the enemy ‘aint they say – and I sure as hell wasn’t in the Dutch East Indies with my carriers. So now, finally, the Anglo-American fleet at Ceylon – which arrived with such great fanfare nine months earlier but had not been heard from since – roared into action. Blue blocks came blasting out of their harbors and attacked my four blocks in Palembang in a whirlwind of teeth and feet. Because I had foolishly handed him Banda Ajteh without a fight, he could also bring in beefy infantry and land-based air to the party. Australia, however, was again left to its own devices. Ron obviously felt that it could fend for itself while he concentrated maximum power in the Dutch East Indies.
The invasion of Hawaii was anticlimactic; the Rising Sun was hoisted over Honolulu without much of a fight. My small force at Midway discovered a solitary American infantry division clingingly lonely enough to that bit of rock. A blockade was established to prevent any funny business involving Allied rebasing on my northeastern flank.
In the southeastern front, resistance at Palembang wasn’t any stiffer since my forces weren’t anywhere near sufficient to deny the fully jacked Illustrious, King George V, and the full complement of maxed-out cruisers and subs their due. I bugged out before any wood fell. The U.S., wary of leaving their supply lines exposed and obviously nervous about all those orange blocks lurking about, reorganized after victory by sending most of its fleet back to Banda Atjeh. The 2 PPs gained by the Anglo-American fleet, however was enough to stave-off the decisive defeat that I would otherwise have gained by my conquests this turn in the Pacific.
I now had 15 PPs in my pocket and would in retrospect have surely ended the game here and now with 17 (our agreed upon threshold for decisive Japanese victory) had it occurred to me to garrison Banda Atjeh back in June. But I wasn’t too concerned. The U.S. Pacific fleet was in no position to take the offensive, Australia looked wobbly, and the Brits had a long way to go. My blocks in the southwestern theater were marginal but numerous, so I would be able to make him pay for every hex. I was already planning the operational details of the Asian Co-prosperity Sphere and the American war crimes tribunals that would surely follow. SHQ was retuned to four steps and more infantry and cruisers were built in the home islands. The Americans, however, were now forced to spend triple their normal point costs for building in Oz. Not that I noticed much of that going on, mind you.
The Americans won the die roll and elected to go first. Once again, Americans were shuttled from Panama to South Africa, Australia was left unreinforced, and the U.S. fleet in Tahiti was content to sit tight. The victorious Anglo-American navy took advantage of the double-turn to now hit my forces in Batavia. The Allies were apparently going to play this conservatively and keep their navy together, nailing one target at a time. Fine with me – the clock was ticking.
With Pearl in my pocket and no American force capable of threatening it without telegraphing its intent well in advance – and with Australia now cut-off from Panama – my job in the eastern Pacific was done. So what to do with the fleet? I decided to finish off the Americans once and for all and to turn the Pacific into a Japanese lake. There wasn’t much on the American coast and if I could blast the bad guys out of Tahiti, my eastern flank would be locked up and I could concentrate all my forces to the west without having to worry about counteroffensives from the former quarter. So, even while I was on the defensive on the other side of the board, I figured it was worth spending a turn to finish the job in the east before sending my carriers to take on the Illustrious. Accordingly, the Divine Fleet was sent to meet its destiny in Polynesia. Naval air was once again dispatched to accompany the fleet on a strategic bombing mission from their runways in Samoa. A 4-step infantry was sent along to shoot the dead.
Finally, since Ron had unwisely chosen to go first this turn, I sent the Special Naval Landing Force previously dispatched to Darwin to Carnarvon, a town only one hex north of the amazingly undefended Perth. If that city were to fall, Australia would be really and truly cut-off. Additional blocks were sent to Darwin to prepare for a land campaign in Oz. My forces in Batavia were pinned, but I had little of consequence to reinforce the battle. Say-Lah-Vee.
The Americans chose to conduct the fight in Batavia first. Again, the Anglo-American fleet hit with overwhelming firepower and my covering air and naval blocks made a run for it. My doughty 4-strength infantry corps, however, managed to hold-on and force the blue air and land blocks to vacate the premises. Some of the American cruisers stuck around, however, to enforce a blockade.
As disappointed as Ron was with events at Batavia, that was nothing compared to what was to come in Tahiti. Although the Enterprise, Saratoga, and accompanying cruiser/sub escorts had managed to regenerate themselves to full strength, there was only one American land-based air unit in play and a 2-step infantry block to contend with. I easily won the air search and proceeded to uncork one EPIC six-pack of Japanese whoop-ass on the American fleet. Four out of six naval air attacks hit, his land-based air whiffed, and the Japanese carriers hit on eight or nine out of twelve die rolls. The Americans decided to go down swinging, and that they did. They finally managed to chip a couple of my carriers but the U.S. fleet was vaporized by the end of the second round. After which, the defending American infantry was quickly annihilated. Tahiti – and all that went with it – was mine. Torah-Torah-Torah!
The turn ends with still only 15 Japanese PPs. Jeez, you’d think cutting off the Australian life-line to America, taking all U.S. assets in the Pacific, and dispatching maybe a dozen or more blue blocks to their maker would count for something, wouldn’t you? Nope – I’m still in “Marginal Victory” territory and only stand one better than my historical counterparts. Sure doesn’t feel that way, however. I tried not to gloat. SHQ was again brought to maximum strength – there’s going to be a lot of rebasing I need to do in the near future – and I don’t remember what I did with the rest of my riches. Ron put on a brave face and made a point of reminding me that the Essex and Iowa ship classes were now available for delivery. Sounded like whistling in the graveyard to me.
Monsoons – sweet, sweet monsoons! I once again won the initiative roll and decided to go first. And why not? All of the Allied blocks were tied up by the monsoon and there was no risk of attack. There was to be no rest, however, for the Japanese weary. My two damaged carriers were sent back to Tokyo for repair, a carrier and beefy escort was rebased to Borneo, and the rest of the fleet was sent on the long march west across the ocean. I decided to peel-off some forces to New Caledonia, however, in order to increase my chances in the coming battle for Australia. Otherwise, we both did the lazy block-shuffle in the jungles and waited for the sun.
The real reason to go first, however, was to seize Perth before the Allies could garrison the city. And seize it I did. Just for good measure, I rebased a full-strength infantry and land-based air to Carnarvon. Now Oz would wither on the vine.
With my turn over, the Allies were forced to take a breather while the skies darkened (cue Creedance Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain?”). Blocks in Panama were sent to South Africa. Blocks in South Africa were transferred to the front. Gin Rummy was played, tea was drank, and crumpets were devoured. And the clock – my beloved clock – kept on ticking.
15 PPs again, and they were spent on the SHQ and two carrier task forces in Japan. Ron has a lot of dough, but he’s building relatively few blocks with it. It looks like he’s a “quality-over-quantity” man and that most everything I’m going to run into from now on will be fully stoked.
The Allies finally win a roll and elect to go first. That means I’m Mr. Typhoon Man this time around – and crap out with a storm in Okinawa. Oh well – expecting two Divine Winds in one game is asking a bit much.
Things are now deadly serious in Oz. The starving Aussies fall back to Sydney and Melbourne while a block of some sort is dispatched to Kalgoorie and shipped in to Adelaide from abroad. In retrospect, I think this was probably and illegal move – you can’t rebase to unsupplied ports or build in unsupplied centers. But it didn’t matter much in the end. The Allies tried once again to take-out Batavia and pile in with the usual lack of subtlety. Otherwise, the Panama-South Africa-Ceylon express continues to feed blue wood to the myopic.
My infantry and air in Carnarvon waste no time launching “Operation ‘Roo Burger” and hit the block in Kalgoorie. The relatively anemic marines hold the fort in Perth while, on the other side of the continent, the Japanese in New Caledonia snatch-up the recently vacated city of Brisbane. The newly refurbished carrier task forces in Tokyo are rebased to the front while I tidy up my supply lines, now littered with unnecessary garrisons, cruisers, battleships, and the occasional land-based air division. What’s left of the victorious Pacific fleet arrives in New Guinea.
Amazingly enough, the Aussies still have some fight in them! A couple of division in Kalgoorie manage to beat-hell out of my infantry corps while my land-based air is forced to watch after reducing the Aussies to but a division in strength. All fall back to Perth. No such luck for my lone division in Batavia – it falls under the combined weight of the Anglo-American fleet.
My 15 PPs are again spent on the SHQ to facilitate lots of rebasing while the rest is spent to reinforce my infantry block in Perth and other miscellanea with enough thought. The navy is getting a lot of attention – as is the army – but the land-based air is generally neglected. What was I thinking? I’ll end up paying for this down the road.
The Americans won the initiative roll and decided to allow me (moi?) go first. My army moves out of Perth and reengaged the Allies at Kalgoorie, this time assisted by the SNLF that had been malingering there. The boys in Brisbane likewise move out and hit Syndey, which should be pretty weak by now after six months of attrition. Otherwise, SHQ again tidies-up my internal lines of communication and tries to get my better blocks to the front and less useful blocks into garrison work.
Even though my forces in southwest Asia are starting to bulk up, I decide to let him come to me. Despite all the carnage I’ve inflicted on the Americans, those PPs the Allies have allow them to recover quickly. With the Essex carriers now in the game, I’m a lot more gun-shy than I was earlier. Accordingly, I construct a line from Saigon-Borneo-Timor-Manokwari, with my carriers interspersed among the various fleets. Unfortunately, I haven’t paid enough attention to beefing up my cruiser and sub escorts, so my better blocks are just hanging out there without sufficient protection – another reason to be leery of a fight right now. Why not a line running from Saigon-Borneo-Timor-Darwin you might ask? Because I’m an idiot, that’s why. I have no idea why I didn’t include Darwin in my defensive plans. My lack of attention to detail like this is starting to show, and the Americans set about exploiting it with relish.
The Anglo-American fleet hits Borneo with everything it’s got. Timor is likewise slammed with secondary forces, but my defenses there are pretty lame. I have a couple of 3-step carriers in Borneo, but the screening force is made up of 2-step flotsam and the land-based air is likewise week. Facing me is the Illustrious and a 4-step Essex class carrier force, several 4-step cruisers and battleships, two chunky air units, and a marine corps. Should I stay and delay him a round to make it more difficult from Ron to chew up my 3-step infantry unit, or should I beat feet? I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and the IJA didn’t last long. Events played out similarly in Timor. My boys were being pushed back without a fight.
But not in Oz. The Aussies at Kalgoorie don’t have any more fight in them and are dispatched quickly. Sydney likewise collapses without much of a struggle.
So 1943 ends with me still at 15PPs. Doesn’t look like a decisive victory is in the cards now, but a marginal victory is still pretty likely. This time I forgo using my PPs on SHQ and start concentrating on my here-to-for neglected army air corps and cruisers. The Americans pop some blocks onto the West coast. What’s up with that?
Again, the Americans won the initiative roll and, again, they opted to go second. What happened to my golden dice? Well, there’s no use complaining – I’ve certainly been on the better side of the die rolls thus far.
First, I moved in for the kill in Australia. My victorious troops in Sydney march into Melbourne while my western pincer repairs to Perth.
But what to do on the front? With monsoon season about to arrive, the Americans are going to have to seize a lot of real estate this turn if they’re going to deny me a victory. Accordingly, I was tempted to bear-hug his fleet and hit them everywhere I could, sacrificing wood for real estate. Next month, I could heal up a bit and then leave the round-eyes with only four turns to do their worst. If I concentrated my fleet for maximum hitting power, I might even win a big fight to offset the losses I’d take from pinning his fleet elsewhere.
Here, I failed my morale check and decided against what was in retrospect probably the best strategy. Simply put, I was afraid that the U.S. could do a hell of a lot of damage in those final four turns and I didn’t want to see my glorious fleet – now regaining its old muscle – decimated by an ill-considered attack. Sure, I knew that I couldn’t avoid spilling more blood, but I wanted to be the defender when those battles came, not the attacker – which would allow me to roll first. But there are times in this game when the Japanese are just going to have to suck it up and send his boys into the meat grinder and watch them disappear. I think this was one of those times, but I just couldn’t do it.
So instead, I built a line running from Saigon-Manila-Palaus-Manokwari. Rather than spread my carriers out again, I concentrated three in Manila in hopes that the usual lack of Allied subtlety would again display itself with a charge straight down the middle. I didn’t need SHQ for this, so for the first time in a while, it remained silent.
But now, Ron puts all the chips on the table and gambles on a maneuver that I’m sure he’ll still remember decades from now when he’s on his deathbed. Even as he’s about to expire, I’m sure a smile will cross his face as he remembers the glory that was a certain game of Pacific Victory on the March, 1944 turn at the Taylor house at 11:15 pm, July 14, 2006.
Rather than stick to his straightforward strategy of body-punching up the middle, Ron pounds the cream of his navy into Manokwari, which just happened to be the weakest point on my front (although Ron was in no position to know that for sure). Meanwhile, he rebases all his newly built blocks along the American coast to Attu, which neither of us had paid any attention to throughout the war. Christ almighty – Tokyo is virtually undefended! Now it’s my turn to turn white as a sheet.
After seeing what I was up against (two Essex-class carrier groups, the Illustrious, a couple of cruisers, an Iowa-class battleship, two air units, and a marine corps – all fully loaded), I again ran like a girl. The victorious Allied navy, however – to might utter and complete horror – regroups INTO GUAM! Again, I was asleep at the switch and overlooked the necessity of garrisoning both that island and Hollandia, which meant the Allied victory at Manokwari could be exploited blitzkrieg-fashion by reorganizing deep into my rear. Guam and Hollandia, after all, is friendly to the American if left unoccupied. So … goddammit!! Note to self – defend in depth, even if it means less on the front lines.
The horrific events at the front completely spoiled what should have been mass celebration over the Australian surrender. Melbourne folded to my army like a cheap suit. But there was no joy in Imperial Japanville. Death was on my doorstep.
The turn ends with me again at 15 PPs. With the home island about to get hammered and little there but 1-step flotsam to defend it, I ignored SHQ again and built everything I could in Japan.
It all came down to the initiative roll. If the Americans got to move first, there was little I could do to save Japan from a horrific beating. If I got to move first, I could bear-hug his fleet at Guam with what little I had outside of the monsoon belt (blocks in jungle hexes during monsoons can’t attack, which means most of my forces were unavailable this turn) and flood Japan with orange wood via strategic rebasings and long-range naval and air movement. Sure, the Allies would still get a shot at me out of Dutch Harbor and with some of his fleet at Guam, but they were unlikely to do much damage if I could get to Japan first.
Unfortunately, the monsoons this turn mean that even if I do get to go first, the Anglo-American fleet at Guam would be well supplied. Ron was careful to garrison his supply chain, and since one can’t attack an enemy jungle hex during the monsoons – and his supply chain out of Guam was all jungle hex – there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to starve him out with my fleet.
All of that proved academic. The Americans won the initiative roll (again). Before I could say “goddammit!,” Ron was off to the races. The Anglo-American fleet at Guam slammed in to Tokyo and Kure. The “Navy that Came in From the Cold” that had mysteriously appeared in Attu the turn before swept down from the north and hammered Hakodate and Tokyo.
At this point, I surrendered. Had my historical counterparts been subjected to this sudden six-month military collapse, I’m pretty sure that they would have committed Hari-Kari (or however you spell it).
Tremendous game! It’s easy for me to say “had-I-not-stupidly-overlooked-this” or “had-I-not-stupidly-overlooked-that,” that events would have turned out quite differently. But I’m sure Ron could say the same thing, and his dice were colder than mine to boot. It’s not like we’re rookie wargamers, but we were both somewhat green with this system and, while the game is not particularly complicated (only 10 pages of rules), there are a lot of moving parts that take some thought to implement properly and efficiently when conducting one’s campaigns.
The mark of any good game is that it leaves you wanting to play more. And that’s certainly the case here. I have all sorts of new ideas I’d like to try out – both strategic and tactical – and I very much look forward to doing so.
The rules (now in version 2.0) were for the most part clear and we got them mostly right without spending undue time in the rulebook. I don’t think I’d use our house rule handicapping the battleships again. And I think in the future, the best way to resolve the lingering matter of victory points is to start each game out with a bid. How many points are you willing to handicap the American in order to take up the blue blocks? We arbitrarily said “3” – asking the Japanese to hit 20 seems pretty hard to justify – but in retrospect, dropping the Japanese victory requirements by 3 across-the-board might to too easy. Bidding would take care of this problem nicely.
So to those who say that they’ve never seen the Japanese take Australia or take and hold the eastern Pacific, all I can say is “that’s because you weren’t at my house last Friday night.” And it’s not like Ron’s a gaming Newbie. I played the Orange side balls-out (at least at first), and that sort of hyper-aggression combined with some hot dice can take you a long way.
Did the game reasonably reflect history? Well, contemporaries on the Allied side certainly thought Australia hung by a thread early in the war. A game that makes an invasion there nearly impossible will accordingly produce an unrealistic simulation because it tells the Allies something they certainly didn’t know at the time. That means that the Allies in the game will adopt a-historical strategies and the game will prove questionable from that end of things. The Japanese route of the American fleet in the Pacific was certainly possible if you give the IJN a couple of “Midway” moments, as they received in our game. And Singapore hanging on was what most pre-war planners expected – at least on the Allied side.
The big thing, however, was the fog of war. All the block games have it, of course, but it really, REALLY shines here. There were all sorts of nail-biting moments and I have a hard time believing a game where counters are always face-up could possibly replicate the full extent of this. Maybe there’s a bit too much FOW here, but I’d rather have a game err on that side of the equation than the other. That’s because (i) it’s more fun that way – at least for me, and (ii) there are all sorts of things that any game by chance is forced to tell a player that one’s historical counterparts couldn’t possibly know, like how well his or the enemy’s troops might be expected to perform, how well his or the enemy tanks, planes, and ships might operate, what sort of military innovations unseen previously might take over the battlefield, and what sort of time line each side has to achieve victory. Remember, to pick just one example, that the IJA and IJN had no idea whether the American force at Guadalcanal was but a piffling battalion or a full-sized division. By the time they figured it out, it was too late. A game has got to handle that some how, and while blocks or hidden units aren’t the only way to do so, they are among the most direct and simplest means of doing so.
So why haven’t I played this game before? After all, I love block games and this is one of my favorite military campaigns. Well, when Pac Victory was released, I was deeply engaged in the design of Hammer of the Scots. When HotS finally came out in 2002, I was busy providing it support and then working on Crusader Rex. With a wife, a son, and lots of other hobbies and pastimes, I haven’t had as much time to game as I once had, particularly when I do find time for wargaming, it’s design that takes up most of my time. Regardless, I give this game a 10 on a scale of 1-10 and can’t wait to play it again. Got to do more gaming!
I've been on this site for 10 years now, and I'm far from sick of games, but I think I am, to some degree, sick of learning too many new games. I'm also tired of playing 4+ hr multiplayer games, but I'll still happily play really long games 2 player.
Awesome detailed session report! Pacific Victory is a terrific block game for anyone to experience and certainly deserves a place in any WWII gamer's collection. I've long contended that the fog of war hits harder in this game than in any other of Columbia's offerings.
I don't understand how you didn't get 17 VP's and the win. Did you capture Auckland? Excellent AAR btw.
Superb session report: informative, clear, and, very funny. Thanks!
The Americans pop some blocks onto the West coast. What’s up with that?
Did those surprise builds on the west coast include any ships? If I'm not mistaken, v2.0 of the rules says that ships can only be built the east coast, and therefore must enter via Panama.
Have I got that right? Does that change the game result at all?