08 February 2016

Pacific Battlefields in Flames Of War

by Mike

Perhaps my most favorite parts of Gung Ho and Banzai are the gaming and terrain articles. I’ve always enjoyed these parts of wargames books where the designers have spent some quality time outlining some ideas and suggestions to help make your games feel special and unique to really get you into the narrative of the game. It’s a bit like having a good set designer behind the curtain of a good play.

The Pacific is a truly unique battlefield for wargaming. We’ve had a taste with the Flames Of War Vietnam books, but this is so much bigger than that, including highlands on the mainland, jungles of southeast Asia, and island fighting. There is even different types of island fighting, such as atolls, volcanic islands, and more. It’s huge, which is why it’s so important that we have good guidelines to help us get on the right track and think laterally. Otherwise, I’d be inclined to see 100% of Pacific battles took place in thick jungles, which is simply not true. There is a lot of depth and diversity in Pacific battlefields, and I find that fascinating. The books have several interesting articles about the battlefields ranging from terrain rules to full scenarios. Let’s have a look at these great aspects of Gung Ho and Banzai.

Amphibious Assault Rules & Missions
Gung Ho includes special rules and scenarios for Pacific Amphibious Assaults. From what I can tell, it’s very similar to the D-Day amphibious assault rules with some modifications and a distinction between Atoll and Volcanic island assault “maps”.

The Volcanic island is identical to the usual Beach Landing scenario. Your normal beach table will suit this scenario just fine, though for beaches like Iwo Jima, the sand should be black.

The Atoll variant is a new one. This adds a bit of variety and a unique challenge to the beach landing scenario by lengthening the waterborne approach with the addition of Reef and Lagoon Zones between the land and sea zones. Lagoons form between the reef and shore, creating a sort of shallow pond or lake when the tide goes out. These regions pose navigational obstacles for incoming assault craft. The tides and the reefs were always a topic of close scrutiny during the planning phases of the assault, and likewise will they be on your table top. There’s a 33% chance that the reef will become a problem for the assaulting player, so landing craft might have to spend some time looking for a gap (losing a turn) or you can disembark from the landing craft and try to reach the beach on foot. It’s dangerous though as Bogging Down is instant death for teams in the Lagoon area!

Gung Ho includes two missions as well, one for each type of assault landing. The Island Landing mission covers volcanic island assaults, while the Atoll Landing mission (obviously) replicates the Atoll variant. The two missions use the rules described in the Amphibious Assault section. They look like they will provide some interesting variation to the usual Flames Of War missions. I tend to play at least one Normandy Beach assault per year (traditionally at the beginning of June), and the missions are always packed with action, things exploding, fresh waves of assault troops and gallant last stands. In the last ten years of this tradition, I’ve never seen a VP result better than a 4-3, indicating that the missions always end on a knife edge. Exciting and memorable games, each one and I can’t wait to finally through some Marines at the beach!

Refighting Battles of the Pacific
Throughout the two books, there are several featured battles. Following some informative history, there are some notes on how to recreate the interesting aspects of the battle or campaign. This is an awesome bit, perhaps the best in the whole book. I love this stuff, I really hope to see more of this sort of thing in future books. I intend to inflict this little campaign on the Behind Enemy Lines crew as soon as we get out force complete!

Banzai features the harsh campaign of Guadalcanal. In its refight notes, four highlights are presented, starting with Alligator Creek, to Edison’s Ridge, Henderson Field, and Mount Austen. For each battle the notes suggest some loose force organizations, things to include, and what to exclude.

They go on to suggest some appropriate missions as well. These look like great suggestions and I’ll be putting these on my gaming schedule!

Start your research about Guadalcanal here ...

Gung Ho! features the Battle of Saipan and gives some excellent tips for recreating it on the table top. It outlines a loose campaign structure from the Island Landing mission, to a No Retreat mission for beach counterattacks (with the Japanese attacking), some night battles for the inland fighting, and a desperate final Banzai charge in a Free For All where all the Japanese forces are considered to start the game have drawn on its Seishin, imagine an entire army charging at the US Marines!

I’m pleased that this battle is spotlighted. I had a very close and personal friend who share his experiences in the Marine Corps on that island. He was the crew member of a Sherman flame-thrower tank and he had many harrowing stories to tell about his grim business and Japanese suicide tactics. Anyway, his stories have left an impression on me about Saipan and I’m pleased to finally dive into it to honor his memory.

If all goes well I'm going to get the guys play through this campaign!

Start your research about Saipan here ...

Iwo Jima
Like with Guadacanal,Banzai also features Iwo Jima, highlighting four moments. The players begin with a beach assault, consolidate the beachhead, endure nighttime Japanese counterattacks, finishing with a Japanese attack on Airfield #2. As with the others, I look forward to giving these battles a go.

What little I know of the battle come from some excellent Hollywood movies, such as the ubiquitous John Wayne classic, Sands of Iwo Jima and the powerful Letters from Iwo Jima. I'm excited to pull fact from fiction when I dive into this battle a bit more!

Start your research about Iwo Jima here ...

As with Saipan, Okinawa also has a great history and some notes on refighting it. Not so much presented as a narrative string of games, these notes give us some rules for tunnels and cave systems. This adds a whole new level to the game (literally) as the Japanese player can enter and leave cave mouths all across the table, making them difficult to pin down for any length of time! I’m keen to give this one a try!

Start your research about Okinawa here ...

Pacific Terrain
Finally at the back of Gung Ho is the Pacific terrain and battlefield section. I love these sections of Flames Of War books. They typically feature a table full of wonderful scenery, all set up for battle. Boxes are displayed around the table featuring the various terrain pieces and their respective special rules. I love building and setting up terrain, so I see these pages as the starting point for a massive “To Do” terrain list. As a completionist, I will insist on building anything that I don’t already have in my collection. I’ll show you what I mean soon in some upcoming terrain building articles!

The rules themselves are a collection of Vietnam and WWII terrain rules, nicely collected here in the back pages of Gung Ho!

Well that about covers our book reviews, now on to starting to build our armies!

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