Reviews of Obscure but Interesting Games V – Pacific War

pacific-warIn a series of obscure but interesting games, it is turn for Mark Herman design, Pacific War, published by Victory Games in 1985. There are few reasons to wake this monster game from the obscurity it dwells in.

Pacific War had the honor of being the game that was for a longest time a game of choice for any events that occurred in Pacific. It was a fine design with very, very long and comprehensive campaign system that encompassed whole Pacific War.

First noticeable thing about Pacific War was that the box was packed with stuff. Among with them two rather ascetic (by modern standards) paper maps with dense hex layout. Second thing that occurred – after seeing the counter mix and the whole map was realization that existing table space was not going to be half as much as needed. Screens and Army & Task Force holding boxes would take another chunk of the table size of the map. So, when thinking that Pacific War was a decently priced acquisition, one soon realized that it meant another acquisition to be played. A flat or house with an extra room.

Pacific War has smaller alternative scenarios though – they would only take one pretty big dining table instead of two – but on the good side, you could have dinner after several hours of gaming and eventual deconstruction of the setup. Scenario book does have quite vast amount of scenarios ranging from simple combat situations to short strategic scenarios so all points for that. In fact, without those, one would be hopelessly lost. It is not only good thing for of the playability of the system, but also because if one is about to experience the whole campaign, it is essential to understand how each of the subsystem functions as a part of the whole. Without this rather crucial understanding you may find yourself first spending a day or two setting up the campaign, get it going and then get some crucial bit wrong and start over again. Shorter scenarios are quite all right, and some provide excellent fun for limited time. However, it must also be said that some of the system shortcomings become already apparent in the smaller scenarios.

The campaign has been designed well, and as usual, there is no practical way that Japan would ever win military victory over US. Acknowledging that helps the play quite bit – if one expects differently, the campaign play becomes pointless exercise of futility. However, there are design options that do work, but may not work as intended.

Goodies

Pacific War is comprehensive. There are details from strategic level all the way down to minor details of operational and battle considerations. Interesting design choice is to have each level as essentially separate subsystem which has the phase progress tracked in specific display. It really helps a lot to keep track of the progress.

The flow – especially smaller strategic/operational scenarios (such as Guadalcanal) is very good, and game flows nicely. Hidden deployment, decoy Task Forces, air search capacities are all very nice features that put lots of tension in the game. Deploying eyes – long race search planes – is the single most important task that will eventually dictate wether one is going to win or loose the game. If you cannot spot the enemy, you cannot attack the enemy.

Strikes (even simultaneous) are build up with tension and in battle it really feels that you are doing your utmost. Every carrier lost hurts really bad.

Shortcomings

The biggest shortcoming of Pacific War is the length of the game. Considering that it requires dedicated time, dedicated place and enough patience to go through most of the smaller scenarios, the whole campaign is not going to be played in a weekend. For us it tool three months to go to early 1944 when US finally conceded to the Japanese peace terms. It was very, very long fight. All in all, interesting? Yes, but…

Second major concern is that Pacific War attempts to be too much. It has aspects that go from strategic (logistics, command point system to activate task forces, armies and such), construction, oil logistics, strategic submarine warfare, commercial fleet escort maintenance down to operational such as fleet management down to each Task Force composition and then all the way down to almost deciding the air strike composition and deck operations.

In this level of game, it is too much management, too much remembering where all hidden units are without losing track. Purely strategic aspect with heavy weight of logistics would have been brilliant. Multi level game as Pacific War, would have perhaps benefitted layers where multiple people play various levels, sharing the playtime requirements and detail management. In any case games would be long, and perhaps it would’ve been hard to find players to fill the roles, but then again, Pacific War campaign game is not a something casual player can tackle anyway.

I never liked the air strike/combat system too much. Always though it to be fatal, but more I thought about it, more I came into conclusion that it is excessively so. A big carrier may have 6 steps of planes. Take two losses and you do not get to do the strike but will pull out. that is 30% of permanent losses for aborted strike in early game and that was rather easy to achieve. Later casualties were much more severe and they could have been pilots of top Japanese training. It is not that there are no replenishments coming along, but all too often carrier air groups would become completely depleted – and when war advanced, it was nearly impossible to dent American aerial defense (including AA alone). Nothing wrong with that, as such, but the quantity of losses in AA looked like Mariana Turkey Shoot – almost every time.

So, there were remarkable amount of empty carriers around while in reality earlier Japanese aviation aircraft losses were due to losing the whole carriers, planes with them. Something like replenishing one step for the losses after the strike could have remedied a lot for both sides (aborted and damaged but returned planes).

Conclusion

Pacific War is interesting take on the subject, but unfortunately it is quite unwieldy. Space and time requirements for full campaign will force most people back from it and the smaller scenarios, while quite playable and fun are not real beef of the game. Other systems have – and will tackle the challenges perhaps better than Pacific War – even if the system has unique and eloquent methods to handle certain operational situations.

Pacific War misses the key feature of the war somewhat. It concentrates, and forces players to concentrate too much in the minor details of the war – or perhaps even the war itself. Most decision points hover around thinking of where to attack next, not because there is strategic need to do so, but because – well, it is nice to cover ground. Realistically, because Japan has no way to win military victory over US, the entire focus should be in the strategic aspects instead. Logistics, resources, denial of advance and eventually slowing down the inevitable Japanese defeat.

I think there are better ways to execute the Pacific War in grande scale – in truly strategic manner, but I shall get back to that in later time and check something completely different – and have comparison.

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