The original USN came out a long time ago in Strategy & Tactics #29 back in the 70s. At that time it was considered a “mini-monster” as it had one map with around 400 counters. The game was complex as were most games of that era, but it also proved to be a popular simulation of the Pacific theater in WW2. Decision Games has reissued USN as USN Deluxe, or USND, with more counters, larger maps, and additional scenarios/campaigns.
USN Deluxe is a two map simulation of the Pacific Theater in WW2 with weekly turns and many different options for playing, from two turn Coral Sea and Midway scenarios to a full blown campaign covering the entire war. The emphasis is on strategic operations, but with a combat system on a much lower level, giving the game an operational level feel at times. The game also features extensive focus on logistics and bases, which were of critical importance to the campaign. Although not as thorough as War in the Pacific, which it is sometimes compared to as a mini-version, it is completely different than other popular Pacific games such as Empire of the Sun or AH’s Victory in the Pacific.
USND comes in a box with two 22 x 34 maps, 700+ counters, rules, a scenario book, and several charts. The maps are good and bad. The hexes are slightly larger than normal and the terrain is easy to read with islands, bases, ports, etc., clearly marked. The maps cover the area from Pearl Harbor up to Dutch Harbor and all the way to the border of India. However, there is a lot of unused space on the sides of the map which could have easily held turn tracks, task force holding boxes, tables, etc, so the space was not used well.
The counters are a mix of warships, aircraft(naval air, land based, and long range bombers), and ground units. Aircraft counters are given in points, with each point representing roughly 10 aircraft. Warships are represented with individual carriers, but cruisers, destroyers, transports, etc., are in groups, with each counter representing several of each type. Land units range from armies down to defense battalions, along with coastal defense units. Trying to track down certain land units can be a problem as the backs of counters can contain a variety of units, so you need at times to hunt and peck through the stacks to find the right counter. There are markers for damage to bases, movement remaining, neutralization, and more, but an extra sheet of damage markers, out of supply, etc., would have been greatly appreciated. The one thing that is unusual here is that there is no color differentiation between British, Australian, Indian, U.S., or other Allied forces. Everything is in the Allied green color, which I’m not really a fan of. There’s something about using Australian or British units or different colors that you are used to as a gamer!
The rules are your standard SPI/DG fare and are thorough, but long. More examples of play, particularly some extended air to sea combat or amphibious invasions would have been particularly helpful. There is a multi-page foldout chart showing the various missions that combat forces can perform that is the key to understanding how things work. New gamers should study this as most of this info is not in the rules, but yet this is a good 75% of what you will be doing each turn. The scenario book is well done with several mini-battles such as Coral Sea, Midway, etc., and several campaign games including the full 1941-1945 game which could take up to 192 turns! There is also a War Plan Orange campaign set in the 30s that looks very interesting. Suffice to say, there are more than enough scenario and campaign options to keep gamers occupied for years.
Each turn consists of a large amount of phases, broken into the Japanese moving first, followed by the Allies, then a joint strike phase, then the Allies move again followed by the Japanese then another joint strike phase. Each of the movement and combat phases can have upwards of eight steps each, so this isn’t a game where you casually sit down and expect to play out 1942 in an evening. In fact, I doubt you could play out 1942 in under 17 hours of game play averaging three turns an hour. This is where understanding the mission charts is of critical importance since what each unit can do is governed by what kind of missions it has available to it. The interaction of the turn gives each player a fair chance to respond to operations conducted by their opponent.
Movement is probably the easiest part of the game and there isn’t too much that is different from any other wargame. Both sides can move ground units(usually only one hex per turn), transfer air units to other bases, move ships, load transports, and more. Ships are able to do strategic moves and you do need to be mindful of how much oil you still have left, so oilers and keeping track of your naval bases plays an important role in movement and planning.
USND features a lot of combat. Naval units can bombard during movement, support ground units during land combat, air units can strafe, counter-air, CAP, conduct various kinds of airstrikes, and land units can attack other forces. While most combat is pretty straightforward(odds based), the mutual air strike phase can get quite involved. First, each air unit is given a mission and it is written down on the mission planning sheet which is included in the rules. My suggestions is to either a) copy a few hundred of these, b) laminate it and use dry erase markers, or c) use the optional system where each player just moves his airstrikes on the maps in sequence. I used the last option and while you lose the element of surprise or can see what is coming your way, I could not imagine plotting air missions for a two-map game twice per turn for what could be close to 200 turns for a full campaign!
The air system brings out the unfortunate truth for the Japanese in that they will be unable to replace their losses as quickly as the Allies. Air combat will almost always result in a point or two of aircraft being destroyed before the attackers fly on to attack land units, bases, or warships. The Allies get to replace as many aircraft as their transports or carriers can carry(they do need to return to the West Coast, however) while the Japanese get 1 or 2 replacement points every so often.
The combat tables, which are on a two page fold out card(should have done this back to back) are interesting as there are tables for ground combat, air to air, then air to ground and bombardment, plus a table that determines the effectiveness of the airstrikes/naval engagement. For example, if you are attacking a ship with naval air you might roll on the 10-1 table, getting a 1 or 2 result, then you roll on a lower table to see that you caused 5-10 weeks of damage. Ships that take more than 40 weeks of damage are sunk. Fortunately, someone on a site created ship rosters to track damage to ships as no damage counters are included with the game.
Now, here is where you are going to lose some gamers. Unlike in many Pacific games, or for that matter, games with larger time scales, decisive results are not quick in coming, which is what many gamers are use to. For example, in Empire of the Sun you could have a battle over Truk where two Japanese carriers are sunk, plus a cruiser squadron, and they lose two air units(around 100 aircraft or so) with the U.S. player losing a similar amount. This is done in a few minutes with one or two die rolls. In USND this could take up to three or four turns(3-4 weeks of time) and several hours of game play. In other words you could have four or five slugfests with pretty much no damage done, then in the fourth turn everyone loses ships and aircraft. Obviously, this is not going to appeal to everyone. Planning multiple airstrikes, figuring out the odds, moving stacks of counters around, going through all the sub-phases, etc., then get a result of no damage is tough to accept for many gamers, especially if it happens a lot. You need to take a long range view of the action. Sure, maybe you launched airstrikes from three carriers and only caused five weeks of damage to a destroyer group and shot down three points of Japanese land based aircraft, but in ten turns those missing three points of planes may come back to haunt the Japanese player searching for enough strength to attack a carrier group. Some gamers will appreciate that and some won’t.
Logistics Included & Other Rules
USND also focuses on supply and bases, which was another critical part of the Pacific campaign. There are engineers, oilers, and transports which all are vital to each side’s war effort. Moving around units, shipping aircraft from the West Coast to the Solomons, tracking oil in tankers for refueling, and building/repairing bases is right up there with combat in importance. USND spends a lot of time getting players to understand the supply chain, the importance of engineers, and organizing transports to prepare for offensives.
There are also rules for kamikazes, the Russian-Japanese front, you can include operations in China, task force markers for limited intelligence, and Japanese submarine operations. You can basically make the game as complex as you want by selecting various options.
If I had to rate this game on components and game play alone, I would probably only give it a 5.5 or 6 at the most. Campaigns can be long, drawn out affairs with players going through the various turn phases, filling out aircraft mission plans, moving oilers and transports around the theater, engaging in combat after combat with little to show for it, and so on. It is an exercise in organization and long range planning with combat thrown in at the end. So why did I give it a pretty good rating of 7.5? The answer is that the game accomplishes what it sets out to do, namely simulate the long, grinding campaign that was the Pacific Theater in WW2. From launching airstrikes to attrite island defenses to building airstrips on remote islands, it’s all here. Get ready for large stacks of counters, long turns, and trying to plan out operations across the entire Pacific Ocean. It’s all here and USND does it very well, but again, it’s not for everyone.
- [+] Dice rolls
Thank you for the excellent review. I wish all wargame reviews were as concise yet informative as yours.
edit - after rereading your review, it sounds as though this game might lend itself to team play, with perhaps each side having a naval commander, an air commander, and a ground forces commander. Do you think this might work, and do you think that in fact the game might be better as a team game rather than one-on-one?
- [+] Dice rolls
- I think it would work if you had a commander for the Central Pacific and a commander for the Indonesia/Burma theater as there's not much for the ground forces commanders to do each turn. Most of the action revolves around task forces and air assets, with the ground forces taking bases. If you use the optional China front then you get into some serious ground action there. The other option would be to appoint a naval commander and then an air/ground commander which means they would need to coordinate their actions together which would be challenging.
- [+] Dice rolls
mirsik wrote:The game was complex as were most games of that era...At the time, USN was at the high end of the SPI complexity ratings, and considered to be one of the most complex wargames ever produced. Even so, this was primarily due to the unit interactions and game length - the rules were on a single fold-out sheet, and consisted of maybe 8 pages, certainly no more than 12, scenarios included, had they been printed in 8 1/2" x 11" format.
- [+] Dice rolls
Good review, though I find that the game plays more smoothly than your review would indicate once players become somewhat familiar with the processes (say after ten or twelve turns). The interleaved sequence of play was one of the game's real strengths, though many potential players became confused enough by it back in the day to not play the game out. This was truly one of the greats and deserved more attention (and play) than it ever got.
My brother and I ordered the original USN as a back-order perhaps a year after it was first published in the magazine and loved it. We always wanted to sit down and expand it to cover the whole war, but somehow never got around to it. For us, USND fulfilled a long-time dream.
I must say, I was also very pleasantly surprised by how well DG did the update. They did not succumb to the temptation to finagle it to death, instead keeping very close to both the letter and the spirit of the original. I, for one, appreciated that since it didn't require me to learn a whole new game system masquerading as "USN."
One thing, if you choose to use multiple players, I agree with Matt -- go with geographic commanders vice "force type" commanders; otherwise you'll wind up with too much confusion between players and miss opportunities due to poor communications and the like. Perhaps somewhat historical, but I prefer to get my "fog of war" from other places than that sort of player confusion.
- [+] Dice rolls
mirsik wrote:Campaigns can be long, drawn out affairs with players going through the various turn phases, filling out aircraft mission plans, moving oilers and transports around the theater, engaging in combat after combat with little to show for it, and so on.With this comment in mind, what would you say is the true time frame of this game? It's labeled as a 30 minute game but I am guessing this is far from the truth, yes, no?
- [+] Dice rolls
- Mike, I'm not sure where you got the 30 minute quote, but there are a few smaller scenarios (2-3 turns) that would take 3-4 hours to play. The year long campaigns or the full campaign would easily take 50-100 hours, depending upon your starting point.
- [+] Dice rolls
- Donald JohnsonUnited States
If you want to play multi-player as in history, then Mainland + Japan is one front commanded by IJA and the rest can be commanded by IJN and units can be given to other player when requested or denied. For the Allies, it would be CBI (Montbatten), SW PAC (MacArthur) and CENTPAC (Nimitz), for 3 players.
Each player should have some incentive to compete with others on his side for glory.
- [+] Dice rolls