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Details:

Coral Sea is the 2nd Volume in the Campaign Commander Series. It is an operational wargame for 2 players. It takes about 3 hours to play. Francisco Ronco designed it and Bellica Third Generation published it in 2010.


Background:

The game simulates the Japanese South Pacific campaign in 1942. The Japanese sought to take Port Moresby on the island of New Guinea and cut off the supply line between Australia and the United States. The game covers most of the 1942 year.


Components:



The map is an 80 cm x 50 cm (approx. 20” x 32”) full color paper map that displays the battlefield: the main part being the triangle connecting Rabaul, Noumea, Port Moresby. This includes the Solomon Islands, New Caldonia, and some of New Guinea. A small portion of Australia is also included.



The map is overlaid with zones (as opposed to point-to-point or overlaid with hexes). It is very clear and easy to follow. It also includes tracks for the players to track supply points, and a track to determine control of various regions and the victory point value of each one, as well as places for players to place their decks, discarded cards, and specific important ongoing events.




The game includes 176 5/8" double-sided cardboard counters in various colors representing Japanese, Australian, and Commonwealth forces. Also included are chits used in combat (explained later), and markers to represent supply, and map markers, such as designating disorganized units. Each unit counter includes 3 numbers, representing cohesion, movement, and tactical values.



The game also includes 64 cards printed on thick card stock. Each player has a specific 32-card set of cards and these cards have borders in various colors: red (event), blue (tactics), and yellow (attack).



The game also includes a double-sided player aid which contains all of the information charts the players will need to play.


Instructions:



The game includes a 12 page full color instruction manual. The first 5 pages are the series rules for the Campaign Commander series. Two more pages cover the specific rules for this game. The rules have plenty of illustrations and examples of play, as well as an illustrated initial deployment chart, designer notes, and player tips. The rules are clearly written. There are maybe one or two small errors (an example of play has the supply track moved to the wrong number), but it was nothing that prevented me from understanding the rulebook. In addition, the designer is very active on the game’s forum and is quick to answer any questions.


Objective of Play:

Each player has a few cards in his deck that can be played for a sudden death victory if the conditions on the card are met. Examples include the Allies controlling Rabaul or the Japanese controlling Port Moresby and Noumea. If the sudden death conditions cannot be met, then when a player runs out of cards, that signals the end of the game and the players count their victory points, which are gained by controlling certain urban areas of various victory point values and destroying enemy units. The one with the most victory points wins the game.


Overview of Play:

Operational Sequence

Each player has a double sided counter (chit): one side shows 3 cards and the other shows a map. Each player decides if he wants to perform an on board (“map”) operation function or a strategic effect (“card”) function. Both players simultaneously reveal their chits.



If both players choose the “card” then each player takes turns performing one of the following functions: draw a card (if he has less than 5), play a card (event), or discard a card in order to place a resource counter in his home port (Rabaul for the Japanese, Nomea or Australia for the Allies). The player who has the initiative goes first. The Japanese player begins the game with the initiative and holds it until the Allies either play the “Shore watchers” card to take initiative temporarily, or if he controls certain areas or destroys at least 8 Japanese units, he gains the initiative for the rest of the game. This represents how the Allies turned the tide on the Japanese in the war and took the war to them.

If both players choose “map” then they roll a die. The player with initiative adds 2 to his roll and wins ties. The player who wins the dice-off makes a move on the map and the other player does nothing.

If one player chooses “map” and the other chooses “cards”, then the player who chose map conducts a map operation and after he has completed his operation, the other player performs his card function.

Conducting an Operation

To perform an operation on the map, the player first removes a supply marker from the map and replaces it with either a ground or a naval operation marker in that same area, depending on the type of area the marker came from. The supply marker is worth 6 supply points to be used on that operation (and cannot be saved). If the supply marker was in a ground area, then any ground unit that can trace a clear route within 3 areas is eligible to receive supply points. If the supply point was on board a naval unit at sea, any naval unit in that area may receive supply points as well as any ground unit that is in on an adjacent ground area.

It costs 1 supply point to move a ground unit or a stack (2 if it is naval), to flip a reduced unit back to its full strengths side, or remove a “disorganized” marker. It takes 2 supply points for a ground unit to stack, and it must do so when it ends its movement in an area already occupied with friendly ground units. In addition, some cards require supply points in order to play in an operation. Each unit may only perform one task in an operation and naval units may only flip or remove disorganized counters if they are in port.

Combat

When opposing units enter the same area, they conduct combat immediately before continuing in the operation. That means you don't move in units from one area, and then another and combine them in combat. The first units that move in perform combat and if they lose, the next set would move in and conduct combat. If you want to combine forces, you will have to spend a resource counter on a separate turn in order to gather them together and move that combined force a turn later.

After the sides have been selected, each player selects the eligible battle chits and places them in a cup.



Most of the chits are double-sided, indicating one side is used for naval battles and one side is used for ground battles. Examples of ineligible chits would be air strike in a naval battle are not used if your side does not have an aircraft carrier in the fight. Shore bombardment cannot occur unless the battle occurs in an area that is adjacent to water and you have a light or heavy naval unit in that area.

Once you have determined your eligible chits, you throw them in a cup and draw out a number equal to your best unit's tactical value (ex: aircraft carriers = 3. Heavy Surface ships = 2). Then the players take turns, starting with the attacker, playing the chits. Usually the chit calls for an enemy unit to make a cohesion check with a possible modifier. For example, if a full strength Japanese light surface vessel (LS) makes a cohesion check, you would roll the 10-sided die and compare it to its cohesion value of 7. If the die roll exceeds the value, the unit is either disorganized or depleted. Depleted units are flipped. Disorganized units, receive a "DG -1" counter on top (losing 1 to all of their values) and automatically retreats to the nearest friendly port or moves their maximum value toward the nearest port. Ground units retreat 1 space toward their nearest resource counter.

Units that are already depleted become disorganized with another hit. If a unit is depleted and disorganized and becomes disorganized again, it is destroyed. The other player gains victory points for this: 1 for a light surface vessel or ground unit, 2 for a heavy surface unit, or 3 for an aircraft carrier.

After a round of combat, the process is repeated until one side has no units in the disputed area because all of his units have either been destroyed and/or retreated through disorganization.


Results:

"amateurs discuss tactics,.... Professional soldiers study logistics." - Tom Clancy, Red Storm Rising

One thing about this game is that you will learn logistics. Almost guaranteed, you will restart your first game because you get into a logistics pickle.

I am not a hard core grog, but I do consider myself a fairly experienced wargamer who has been around the block a time or two. I avoid OCS, monsters, and ASL, but I have seen many operational and strategic games, but I have never experienced anything like this.

You spend a resource counter and ship a stack of troops on board naval vessels bound for Guadalcanal and take it. But you didn't pack a resource counter on the naval vessels. Guess what? They are stranded. So you discard a card to gain a resource counter, but it goes to your home port at Rabaul. So if you have a naval vessel in Rabaul, you have to discard another card in order to get a 2nd resource counter. Then 3 turns later, you launch the naval vessel from Rabaul to Guadalcanal and remember to bring the extra resource counter with you and join the area with your Guadalcanal invasion fleet. Next turn, you spend that extra resource counter you brought along and finally you can take the entire fleet home.

You discarded two cards and wasted 4 turns because you didn't think to bring fuel for the return trip home.

Like I said, you will learn logistics.

This game is about wisely using your cards to plan the best operations, gathering your resources, and then striking at the right time.

The mechanic for selecting "board" or "cards" becomes a game of trying to outguess and outbluff your opponent because if you both pick "map" only one of you are going to get a turn.

You also have to learn how to best use those resource counters. You get 6 supply points when you spend one and those supply points cannot be saved or carried over to another operation. If you don't plan carefully, you could only spend 4 supply points and throw the other two away.

Managing supply in this game is so much richer than just making sure you have a unobstructed path to the edge of the game board.

The combat system is also innovative. It can run a little long with a lot of dice rolling from time to time, but that is rare. Most of them are over quickly. It is far more enjoyable than tallying up the attack factors of both sides, looking at an odds chart, and rolling a single die.

So in short, it works, and it works well.


Conclusion:

When I saw this game at my FLGS, it caught my eye because I really enjoy the Pacific/WWII-theme nearly more than any other war-interest. I had never heard of the company, so I went back home and did my research (my FLGS is 3 hours from my home). It had some nice comments and Marnaudo made a really nice video review of it.

Still, I wondered how good it could be. I had never heard of this company. How could it not have more traction? That's a great question, because this thing absolutely rocks! The designer set out to make a 3-4 hour game that has a realistic feel and he also tied his hands behind his back by using a series rulebook, but he hit the ball out of the park. It plays very quickly. Only the worst A.P. (Analysis Paralysis) player could make this thing slow.

It creates many painful decisions, which is what I love about wargames. If I want an optimal and obvious path, I'll play a Euro. No, I want to have decisions that rip my guts out, and this one provides it. You can see the openings on the map, but you just don't have the supply in place to act on it immediately! Arrrgh! I love it!

Having the mechanic that won't allow both players to play a move on the map in the same turn is sheer genius! It adds so much more to the game and makes bluffing and anticipation and planning that much more important. You really feel like a commander and it's all in a simple rules set. What more could you ask for?

Edit: I forgot to mention that having a couple of sudden death cards in the deck is a really great idea, also. One of my favorite things about Washington's War is the variable ending. One of the Allied player's sudden death cards says that if Japan hasn't conquered Guadalcanal and at least 10 cards have been discarded, then the game is over and the Allied player wins. This ensures that the Japan will make a sudden move on Guadalcanal to open the game. Having the sudden death cards will keep players protecting Rabaul, Port Moresby, Guadalcanal, and Noumea rather than just chase victory points around the board and count cards to extinguish the deck.

So with that in mind, I decided I MUST tell everybody about this game. Buy it. Live it. Love it. If you like this theater, you will not be disappointed. This is one of the most original games I have ever played. I hope this series results in more games in this theater, because I can't get enough.

The only thing this game needs to achieve wargaming Nirvana is a VASSAL module, and if I can figure out how to create one, we shall have that.

For now, I will give this a 9 rating. My gut says it is going up, but I usually reserve the 10 for games after I have got to experience them face to face a few times and the lack of the VASSAL module prevents that.
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Aaron Silverman
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I didn't realize that volume 3 was out -- it takes the system to the First Punic War!
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Jim F
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Great review. I owned this game but sold it in the great 'raise funds for ASL' sale. Another one I wish I'd held onto!

I'm never sure about Tom Clancy's point regarding tactics and logistics. Always struck me as a bit of a truism - at least for those who would have any interest in/idea about what he was referring to.
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I'll tell you the truth, I never read the book. I thought it was a cool quote and seemed appropriate. I study the American Revolution a lot and it definitely applied there: Nathaniel Greene was a former quartermaster although he lost every battle to Cornwallis, he won the southern campaign because he had the logistics in place and Cornwallis was burning his supply wagons for more speed.

My first solo game, I had the Japanese spread out and take Bougainville, Guadalcanal, and northern New Guinea on the first turn. Then I realized I had no supply left and everybody was stuck. It was sound tactically, but basically, I had lost the game and had to start over
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Lance McMillan
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airjudden wrote:
I'll tell you the truth, I never read the book. I thought it was a cool quote and seemed appropriate.


Clancy popularized the "amateurs discuss tactics, professionals study logistics" phrase, but it's not his. It's been around for decades in military circles -- I heard it first when I attended my initial Surface Warfare course back in '81, and it was old then. Suspect it's something that came out of WWII, possibly even the Great War.

EDIT: a quick web search came up with several attributions for the quote being made originally made by Omar Bradley.
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Jim F
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Interesting. So it was Bradley all along my dad got to film him when Bradley got an honorary degree from Cambridge, where my dad was a student. Sadly all my dad could remember was meeting the Queen who was also there and who he had the hots for.
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Every Man a (K-State) Wildcat!
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"Just get that sucka to the designated place at the designated time and I will gladly designate his ass...for dismemberment!" - Sho Nuff.
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Note: VASSAL module is now out. I created it. This game deserves it. Go here to see it.
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Jack Stalica
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Based on your reviews of the series I am in the process of trying to acquire the 2nd and 3rd games (I have the 1st).
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Jack Stalica
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I have now succeeded in attaining all three. Now I need the time and the people to try them.
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Every Man a (K-State) Wildcat!
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Vassal, baby. I'll play with you.

Besides, I owe you for hooking me on Storms of Stalingrad.
 
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Jack Stalica
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I'll hold you to that. Right now I'm in the middle of play testing and rules editing of Clash of Giants: Civil War and it's taking all my spare time.

For lovers of simple, manageable, and quick - but still historically respectful - war games, I highly suggest you have a look (and perhaps pre-order) at this game. So far the play testing is going amazing: clean, fast, tense, and highly re-playable.
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