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First Blood: The Guadalcanal Campaign» Forums » Reviews

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George Haberberger
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First Blood: Guadalcanal is a battalion level game simulating the Battle of Guadalcanal in starting in August of 1942 through early 1943, where the US Marines invaded and captured a small airfield, and then with the US Army spent months fighting off Japanese attempts to recapture or destroy the airfield.

Guadalcanal is considered one of the turning point in the War in the Pacific. Japanese expansion was stopped, and the Japanese Army confronted a foe who didn't flee from banzai charges. The Japanese found themselves unable to support offensive efforts on Guadalcanal and in New Guinea at the same time.

History of First Blood

First Blood was originally developed for AHIKS (Avalon Hill International Kriegspiel Society) by Chester Hendrix, then
redesigned for Decision Games. The AHIKS version is free to download and play, that is the version I am writing about.

Components

First Blood consists of an 11x17 map of the area around Henderson Field, counters, ten pages of rules, Combat Result Tables (CRTs) and a reinforcement track. The original components have a very sparse feel to them reminiscent of classic AH and SPI games. There was a redo of the counters and maps in 2005, the new map and counters are award winning (Cyberboard Design Olympics 2005).

The original map:



The new map:



The original counters:



The new counters:



Oddities

First Blood has a few quirks compared to classic hex and counter wargames. First, the Japanese and the US have different Combat Results Tables, with the Japanese being less effective than the Marines.

Second, the CRT is not as as bloody as a classical Avalon Hill CRT. Many of the results may only apply to one or two units involved in the stack, and there is no rule for equal losses. In an exchange, it's valid for the Japanese to lose a 1-6 and the Americans a 5-8. It's important to include low level units in a combat if possible to take those losses.

Both sides have artillery with ranged guns that can affect the CRT, the Japanese can also bombard Henderson Field and Fighter Strip One (if constructed). Airfield bombardment (by artillery or Imperial Japanese Naval units) can remove planes, or damage or destroy the airfield.

The effects of the American blockade on Guadalcanal are modeled by the Japanese player possibly losing one unit per turn.

Aircraft rules are detailed, and a little odd. The Naval rules are mostly abstracted, treating the Japanese naval as large, infrequent artillery.

Air and Naval support

Air and naval support are modeled with quirky rules, and the rules differ between the Japanese and the American player. Aircraft come in three broad types; fighters, bombers and fighter/bombers, with their roles restricted by their type.

Aircraft can be used for ground support to increase the odds on the CRT. In addition, the Americans can also use them for CAP (Combat Air Patrol), and the Japanese can use them to bomb the airfields or attack American ground support planes.

The American aircraft reinforcement rules are pretty straightforward, the American player gets reinforcements to put on Henderson Field, and if the stacking limit is reached, the reinforcements are kept until there is space for them.

The Japanese rules are stranger. Reinforcements can be delayed one turn, but then they must be played, and removed. The American player ends up with a good idea what reinforcements are coming, and can try and plan around them.

Only the Japanese get Naval support, which is used as artillery. Japanese naval reinforcements are like Japanese air reinforcements, they can only appear at certain times, and the American player can plan for their appearance.

The airfields

The main airfield (renamed Henderson Field) is the reason the battle was fought. It's the center of the game's strategy, the Americans want to keep it from being damaged or occupied, the Japanese player wants to destroy or reoccupy it.

Damaging or destroying the airfields take them out of operation, until they're repaired by the American engineer units. A damaged or destroyed airfield hex can not have any planes on it, so that's one way to reduce the American air presence. It's a bad thing for the Americans if the Japanese get artillery within range of the airfield.

Common Results

The game corresponds to the actual battle fairly well, thanks to the startup forces and reinforcement schedules. The US player starts with enough forces for a thinly held defensive line and a very modest reserve, the Japanese player starts with plenty of forces for the offense. In the early stages, the Americans don't have enough units, and face such classic trade-offs such as having the engineers in the line, or fixing the airfield. By the later game, the overwhelming American forces are trying to mop up the few remaining Japanese.

The way for the Japanese to win early is to occupy one of the Henderson Field hexes, or one of the Fighter Strip One hexes, if it's been built. If they can't win early, the Japanese have to have at least one unit on the map by the end of the game, which is hard because of the many American reinforcements. Turtling is not a very good strategy, the map is too small, the Americans are too many.

Recommendations

This is a great game for the price (free!), and it would work as a good introduction to hex and counter wargames for someone interested in the Pacific theater of World War II. The rules at ten pages are a bit harder than Napoleon at Waterloo or Target Arnhem, but understandable.
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Jan Tuijp
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Played this last night with my son. I agree, its a good introduction to hex-and-countering. The rules are relative simple, yet clunky enough to get the wargame feel as well as the notion of simulation.

My son (12) seems fairly impressed, so after this I'll try Valor & Victory.

By the way: uploaded reworked map, rules and a 'Battle Chart' for this game.

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