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Subject: Columbia's Minor Miracle rss

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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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The Pacific Theatre of World War II challenges game designers like no other conflict. This is because the struggle was important on both land, sea, and air. One can abstract the naval component of a game on the European theater and get away with it. In the Pacific that is sacrilege.

The easy answer is to go the route taken by Victory in the Pacific, where land and air combat is abstracted in favor of the big fleets. It works like a charm in that game, but for the gamer and designer wanting it all, there are many games to choose from, and few agree on which is the definitive title. For me, the choice is Columbia’s Pacific Victory.

Gameplay (65/70): Pacific Victory draws from Victory: The Blocks of War, and therefore has blocks for land, air, and naval units. The blocks are placed on the map in such way as to create a fog of war. They are rotated as they gain and lose steps, which determine both the hits they can take and the dice they can throw in battle. In many games I find this is not as effective as it should be, but given the wide array of units in Pacific Victory, it actually is quite effective. Before continuing lettuce consider those units.

First, each unit is rated for movement, and its ability to attack ground, air, and naval targets. Each aide has air units, with the Japanese also getting a special naval air arm that hits ships rather well. There are also the land units. The Allies have four kinds. First there is your run of the mill American and Indian infantry. The Australians and US Marines are also present and much better in battle. Japan on the other hand as infantry as well as weak marine units and garrisons, which only have 1 step.

Japanese Land Units


The most varied units are the naval ones. Both sides have aircraft carriers, battleships, elite battleships, cruisers, and submarines.

Allied Naval Units


Combat between these units does not follow the now overused Columbia system from Hammer of the Scots. Instead, units fire according to their type and follow this strict order: naval air, army air, carriers, submarines, battleships, cruisers, marines, and infantry. The defender fires first in each category. Each may, with some situational restrictions, target a specific class of blocks (air, naval, ground), and hit according to their special capabilities. The variation in hits is made even better by the fact that some attacking units will hit first, since everything is according to the unit’s class. A wonderful special rule for air search also gives the attacker some hope of firing first with their naval units.

The blocks are really the most involved aspect of the game. Each turn follows a roll for initiative, with the Allies winning ties. Player one moves his forces, followed by player two. If moving into a battle, you use the unit’s printed movement. However, air, marine, and naval units can move four hexes, so long as they do not fight any battles. Battles are fought, followed by checking for supplies. Being able to trace to a major base within three hexes keeps you supplied. If you cannot, each unit loses a step. For that reason so much of the game consists in fighting over bases, which vary from minor to major, with major bases holding more ground units and air units. Some bases give players production points, which is the key component of the game. They serve both as victory points and for constructing units. A great touch is that units constructed at a home base are cheaper to create. Among the most important units are the SHQ, which are depleted so players can shift forces across the map, make carrier, bomber, or submarine raids, and most importantly make naval invasions.

Another rule that is important to keep mind is the weather. On winter turns the far north is off limits, which means for about half the game Alaska cannot be invaded. On other turns typhoons can hinder movement while monsoons make jungle combat impossible. At this point I could on about the games many nuances, such as rules for jungle defense and the surrender of Australia. I am not a fan of reviews that read like rulebooks, so I’m going on to how the game plays.

If you want to push pieces around in the tradition of Axis & Allies: Pacific then you will be disappointed. The need to maintain supplies, cultivate steps for your SHQ and the limitations on movement make this a game that rewards careful planning and the ruthless pursuit of a consistent strategy, for both sides will constantly feel like they lack the resources needed to any given turn. As with any Pacific war game, the Japanese start off strong and must decide when to call off their attacks. They must also decided whether to strike for India, Australia, or the central Pacific. Fog of war is especially successful here, and strategic surprises abound.

Not a Game for Those Looking to Make Quick Decisions


Controversy over this game comes down to the victory conditions. Simply put, Japan can easily achieve 14 victory points, but this leaves them with only a stalemate. The reason for this is to encourage the Japanese to keep on attacking, as they did in the later part of 1942. However, many players feel the game favors America due to these victory conditions, a position I do not hold. Rather, stalemate seems far too common. This is because Japan has a central position and can rapidly deploy new forces to the front. The Allies on the other hand must build all of their naval units off map and then move them with costly strategic movies, chewing up the advantage they have in production. To make matters worse, the Japanese have a plethora of naval air units, which always fire first and can be murder on American ships. The result is that, without some tweaks, the game usually ends in stalemate between skilled players, although I do give the edge to the Allies.

One solution to the supposedly invincible Allied player is the use of the CPAC/SWPA command, which forces roughly 10 Allied production points into the construction of Allied forces in the southern theater. The trouble with this rule is its brutality. Non-naval forces that enter the area cannot leave, while any production points not spent there are wasted. I love the spirit of this rule because it facilitates a third player. However, it is far too severe. Loosening the rules for this will not only make this option more viable, but it will also encourage three player sessions and balance out the American advantage.

Accessibility (8/10): At 15 turns, and in spite of a wealth of optional and conditional rules, the heart of the game is simple, and as usual Columbia’s rulebook does not disappoint. While more advanced than their usual and recent fair, Pacific Victory will not overwhelm players used to Here I Stand or Rise and Decline of the Third Reich.

Components (10/10): This was Eric Hotz’s last art design for Columbia, which is a shame considering his excellent work in War of 1812 and Bobby Lee. The map is large for a Columbia game. The colors are warm and the hexes and on-map text are big. The unit blocks have several illustrations, with naval units having some nice variations. All in all, this might be Columbia’s best looking game out of Athens & Sparta.

One of Columbia’s Best Maps


Historical Quality (7/10): There is much that Pacific Victory gets right. The jungle rules make Burma a slogging and slow affair. The strategic considerations, in particular supply, are superbly handled with some rather simple rules. Some would prefer Japan to be able to win by achieving their historical "high water mark" but I think this discourages them from attacking, which they did after the fall of the Dutch East Indies. Perhaps my favorite aspect is the strategic headquarters. It ensures that players must build up supplies to make more advanced attacks rather than simply push pieces around. This encourages careful planning and resource management, a must for any game on this conflict not called Victory in the Pacific.

Still, the game irks me in some very considerable ways. There is no reason for Japan to strike either Attu or Midway. Indeed, the naval rules make the results of Midway impossible. Meanwhile, ship construction is instantaneous, which leads to gamey situations where Japan has flattops constantly coming out of Kure.

Overall (90/100): Pacific Victory is by no means perfect. The victory conditions are wonky and some aspects of history get short shrift. However, fighting the entire Pacific War in less than five hours is a daunting design challenge. The fact that this game seamlessly incorporates ground, air, and naval warfare, with due consideration to logistics, makes Pacific Victory a minor miracle.
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Mike
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Nice review! I have had to replace some of the pieces to my copy as it got damaged in a flood. I hope to get to the table soon. Your review makes me think I will greatly enjoy it.
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C Sandifer
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Very nice review!

I'd love to get in a few more plays of the Dec '41 Campaign game. In the full campaign, we use the Banzai, Overrun, Fanatic Defense, and MacArthur's War variants.

A couple of notes:

There is a Pacific Victory tournament at Prezcon/ColumbiaCon this year.

I have a FAQ for Pacific Victory in the works. I intended to have it finished by Prezcon, but I'm waiting for input from Columbia. I'm hoping that it will be released soon.

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Genghis Ahn
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Nice review!!

However, you did discover through gaming, in real life there was NO REASON for IJN to attack Attu or Midway. These operations were simply a means to an end, meant to end the USN. Opps !!!
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Jeffery Bass
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Good job with your review. You capture the pros and cons elegantly.

For my part, I don't touch the "monster" Pacific boardgames (I indulge myself with Matrix's "War in the Pacific" PC game for that experience) and I enjoy Fire in the Sky, Asia Engulfed and Empire of the Sun when I want a deeper, but reasonably playable Pacific Theater experience. But this game, Pacific Victory, still gets the most plays from me because of its simplicity and playability. It is definitely undervalued by some.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Genghisx wrote:
Nice review!!

However, you did discover through gaming, in real life there was NO REASON for IJN to attack Attu or Midway. These operations were simply a means to an end, meant to end the USN. Opps !!!


Maybe we can just say the "real life" Japanese player was a rather poor player? Yeah, we could say that.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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SkyGazer wrote:
Good job with your review. You capture the pros and cons elegantly.

For my part, I don't touch the "monster" Pacific boardgames (I indulge myself with Matrix's "War in the Pacific" PC game for that experience) and I enjoy Fire in the Sky, Asia Engulfed and Empire of the Sun when I want a deeper, but reasonably playable Pacific Theater experience. But this game, Pacific Victory, still gets the most plays from me because of its simplicity and playability. It is definitely undervalued by some.


Never played Empire. Mark Herman's designs usually leave me cold. I used to own Fire in the Sky and I liked it, but no one ever wanted to play it.

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Paul O'Connor
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gittes wrote:
Indeed, the naval rules make the results of Midway impossible.


Ouch! Is it really as bad as that? If so this goes straight to the trade pile.
 
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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goldenboat wrote:
gittes wrote:
Indeed, the naval rules make the results of Midway impossible.


Ouch! Is it really as bad as that? If so this goes straight to the trade pile.


In the game's defense I find most wargames fail to make this possible.

I just did this little fix: carriers may target individual blocks, but at a penalty to hit. Another is to make it where all hits must go the highest rated block at the moment the dice are rolled. I actually find this makes Hammer of the Scots more exciting.
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C Sandifer
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gittes wrote:
Another is to make it where all hits must go the highest rated block at the moment the dice are rolled.


This is how Richard III works. (Roll one block at a time, the single strongest enemy block at the time of rolling takes all hits.)

gittes wrote:
I actually find this makes Hammer of the Scots more exciting.


Yes, losing Wallace in the first few years would cause the Scots to get pretty excited pretty quickly.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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wkover wrote:
Yes, losing Wallace in the first few years would cause the Scots to get pretty excited pretty quickly.


Exactly. After I found out I was doing it wrong the game got kind of dull.
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M Stumptner
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gittes wrote:
Genghisx wrote:
Nice review!!

However, you did discover through gaming, in real life there was NO REASON for IJN to attack Attu or Midway. These operations were simply a means to an end, meant to end the USN. Opps !!!

Maybe we can just say the "real life" Japanese player was a rather poor player? Yeah, we could say that.

Hindsight is always 100%. I would say that the Japanese player gambled high and eventually lost high, but you work with the hand you are given. The side with greater strategic depth usually has an opportunity to "learn on the job" that the other side may find hard to replicate.

Of course, sometimes the best choice is not to play at all. That piece of insight was clearly missing.
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I Am Sparcatus
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I'm glad to see someone else acknowledging the fact that the A/B/C system is over-used. It shoehorns every design into feeling much the same. My favorite Columbia games are ones that do NOT use that system. It may have been new and effective for Hammer of the Scots, but it's been way overworked and needs to be retired.

Excellent review - this game (along with Rommel in the Desert) have been on my radar for some time.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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M St wrote:
gittes wrote:
Genghisx wrote:
Nice review!!

However, you did discover through gaming, in real life there was NO REASON for IJN to attack Attu or Midway. These operations were simply a means to an end, meant to end the USN. Opps !!!

Maybe we can just say the "real life" Japanese player was a rather poor player? Yeah, we could say that.

Hindsight is always 100%. I would say that the Japanese player gambled high and eventually lost high, but you work with the hand you are given. The side with greater strategic depth usually has an opportunity to "learn on the job" that the other side may find hard to replicate.

Of course, sometimes the best choice is not to play at all. That piece of insight was clearly missing.


Been watching WarGames lately Mr. Stumptner

"A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?"

Seriously though, there is no reason to attack Attu or Midway. So either the game is not reflecting history or it is and the entire Japanese plan for June 1942 was a strategic blunder. I've heard the later point proclaimed many times over.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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cannoneer wrote:
I'm glad to see someone else acknowledging the fact that the A/B/C system is over-used. It shoehorns every design into feeling much the same. My favorite Columbia games are ones that do NOT use that system. It may have been new and effective for Hammer of the Scots, but it's been way overworked and needs to be retired.

Excellent review - this game (along with Rommel in the Desert) have been on my radar for some time.


The thing is I like most of the games that use that system, but lately it seems to be in all their games, and a strange sameness is overtaking their designs.
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I Am Sparcatus
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gittes wrote:
cannoneer wrote:
I'm glad to see someone else acknowledging the fact that the A/B/C system is over-used. It shoehorns every design into feeling much the same. My favorite Columbia games are ones that do NOT use that system. It may have been new and effective for Hammer of the Scots, but it's been way overworked and needs to be retired.

Excellent review - this game (along with Rommel in the Desert) have been on my radar for some time.


The thing is I like most of the games that use that system, but lately it seems to be in all their games, and a strange sameness is overtaking their designs.


I'm not saying the system is BAD, it's just that one size does not fit all. Every single game since Wizard Kings/HotS has used the system, I think.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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cannoneer wrote:
gittes wrote:
cannoneer wrote:
I'm glad to see someone else acknowledging the fact that the A/B/C system is over-used. It shoehorns every design into feeling much the same. My favorite Columbia games are ones that do NOT use that system. It may have been new and effective for Hammer of the Scots, but it's been way overworked and needs to be retired.

Excellent review - this game (along with Rommel in the Desert) have been on my radar for some time.


The thing is I like most of the games that use that system, but lately it seems to be in all their games, and a strange sameness is overtaking their designs.


I'm not saying the system is BAD, it's just that one size does not fit all. Every single game since Wizard Kings/HotS has used the system, I think.


Exactly. I fear though they use it because it is easy and simple.
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gittes wrote:
cannoneer wrote:
gittes wrote:
cannoneer wrote:
I'm glad to see someone else acknowledging the fact that the A/B/C system is over-used. It shoehorns every design into feeling much the same. My favorite Columbia games are ones that do NOT use that system. It may have been new and effective for Hammer of the Scots, but it's been way overworked and needs to be retired.

Excellent review - this game (along with Rommel in the Desert) have been on my radar for some time.


The thing is I like most of the games that use that system, but lately it seems to be in all their games, and a strange sameness is overtaking their designs.


I'm not saying the system is BAD, it's just that one size does not fit all. Every single game since Wizard Kings/HotS has used the system, I think.


Exactly. I fear though they use it because it is easy and simple.


Spot on. I've moved from dedicated blockhead to "wait-and-see" with Columbia because they are pretty clearly hammering history into this same system with every game right now. If these were disposable SPI Quads I'd be OK with it, but Columbia games ain't cheap and there's plenty of competition in the history-lite category.

I have a copy of Pacific Victory on the shelf but have never played; I hold out hope for it because it dates from the transitional period between East Front/Rommel in the Desert etc. and the current era of one-size-fits all (though I was no real fan of Victory, either).
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gittes wrote:
Before continuing lettuce consider those units.


I saw what you did there!

In all seriousness, nice review, and nice discussion re: the ABC system.
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whatever flaws grognards may find,this is a fun game and a favorite of mine. also the blocks are a way that does the limited intelligence rather well.
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Nice review, thanks! I have great memories of this game and I should most defenitely get it off the shelf once more.

However, I remember that we believed it was too easy for the allies to win, just by doing nothing and building up to full strength in the first few turns and then go for an all out atack in '44. Did anyone have a similar experience?

Eventually we used the adapted victory conditions suggested by Martin Nelmes ( http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/117997/variant-victory-level...) which worked fine.
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Karel wrote:
Nice review, thanks! I have great memories of this game and I should most defenitely get it off the shelf once more.

However, I remember that we believed it was too easy for the allies to win, just by doing nothing and building up to full strength in the first few turns and then go for an all out atack in '44. Did anyone have a similar experience?

Eventually we used the adapted victory conditions suggested by Martin Nelmes ( http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/117997/variant-victory-level...) which worked fine.


Thanks Karel.

In my experience the Japanese can avoid this by being ever active, and thereby forcing the Americans to commit some of there forces. It is not fool proof, but I find that works at putting the Americans off balance.
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James Jenkins
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Perhaps not so much in this game, but Midway as an airbase would give a decent advantage in control (or lack of, for the US) of the sea around midway, NW of Hawaii.

Attu had a small naval base there, did it not? I've seen it modeled in other games, like Silent War for subs to dock, returning from northern patrol areas.
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The sub base in Silent War (and RL) was in Dutch Harbor, which is about a thousand miles from Attu.

Parshall and Tully say that Yamamoto wanted Attu at least in part as a base from which to harry Dutch Harbor (which was then nothing much, but I guess Yamamoto feared what it could become). They further quote the (then) SecNav's dismissive assessment of Yamamoto’s designs on the Aleutians. When he learned of Attu’s fall, his response was: “Japan was either unable to understand modern war or not qualified to take part in it.”

It really is hard to imagine what could have been gained by taking Attu.
 
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Greywing wrote:
The sub base in Silent War (and RL) was in Dutch Harbor, which is about a thousand miles from Attu.

Parshall and Tully say that Yamamoto wanted Attu at least in part as a base from which to harry Dutch Harbor (which was then nothing much, but I guess Yamamoto feared what it could become). They further quote the (then) SecNav's dismissive assessment of Yamamoto’s designs on the Aleutians. When he learned of Attu’s fall, his response was: “Japan was either unable to understand modern war or not qualified to take part in it.”

It really is hard to imagine what could have been gained by taking Attu.


I thought Attu was more due to army pressure.

That quotation from King is pretty stupid considering the drubbing Japan gave the Allies. Then again he was a stubborn, arrogant, and cruel, so what would anyone expect.
 
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