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Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942» Forums » Sessions

Subject: They don't call it Iron Bottom Sound for nothing rss

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J. R. Tracy
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Scott Muldoon and I pulled out Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 last week to take it for a spin. Scott had a hand in editing the rules so he has a special connection to the game. As the title suggests, this depicts the early stages of the Solomon Islands campaign. Victory turns on possession of Henderson Field, and the game opens with the airfield in American hands.

Opening blows

The map is just a few areas - The Slot and Iron Bottom Sound, where most of the surface action takes place, plus the Eastern Solomon Sea and the South Pacific Ocean, where the carrier groups hang out. There are also bases (Truk for the IJN, Espirito Santo for the USN) which are essentially holding boxes for the respective fleets. Guadalcanal is in the Iron Bottom Sound area, and the status of Henderson Field is monitored on its own track.

Each side has a number of naval assets, including surface combatants and carriers. Whoever *doesn't* hold Henderson also gets a pair of transports, which they use to land troops and nudge the ground campaign toward their side of the ledger. At the start of each turn, players secretly assign their ships to up to seven task forces (TFs) in their respective bases; ships remain concealed until combat. They then alternate conducting seven actions apiece.

Actions include Sortie (committing a TF from base to the playing area), Move (moving a TF from one map area to another), Landing (dropping troops on the 'Canal), Naval Bombardment (lighting up Henderson Field), Air Strike (versus an opposing TF or Henderson Field), and Tokyo Express (a special IJN action that allows them to sneak troops onto the island using individual destroyers). There is no specific 'Surface Attack' action but this occurs whenever you move into an area occupied by an enemy TF. Similarly, Naval Bombardment and Landing actions move your TF into Iron Bottom Sound, and if an enemy TF is present, combat ensues.

Yamato rolls in

For combat, each ship rolls a d6, and inflicts a number of hits equal to the roll, up to its combat strength. Rolls over the combat strength are ignored. So, for North Carolina, with combat strength of three, a '3' inflicts three hits while a '4' misses altogether. Carrier strikes are similar with allowances for CAP and relative air strength and AAA. Hits are assigned, and ships may be either damaged (sitting out a turn or two) or sunk altogether. The game is only four turns long, so damage is effectively a mission kill in the second half of the game. Combat is two rounds, and for Naval Bombardment and Landing missions to succeed, the enemy must be cleared out on the first round. Once combat is resolved, participating TFs go home.

Game play is a giant sequencing puzzle for both sides. To gain control of Henderson Field, you have to get your transports through (each bumps the marker one box toward your end of the track). Before you can land troops, you must disrupt the airfield, achieved via Bombardment or Air Strikes; if the airfield is undisrupted at the end of the turn, it slides a box down the track in favor of the controlling side. Bombardment requires you clear out Iron Bottom Sound of enemy ships, while any carriers contemplating an Air Strike will have to weather the likely intervention of opposing naval air as it moves into position. You only have seven actions to work with, so it's unlikely you'll ever build out seven TFs (all ships return to base at the end of the turn). You must consider your force mix and order of commitment - TFs enter play in a predetermined sequence. The planning phase is the heart of the game and allows for a lot of deception as well as ample opportunity to shoot yourself in the foot.

Scott had the Japanese to my Americans in our game. We had a big air battle on the first turn which crippled both our carrier forces, but I had reinforcements arriving on turn two. I split my remaining carriers, absorbing the full power of the entire Japanese carrier force with lonely Hornet, freeing my other CVs in a separate TF to counter Japanese landing efforts. On turn three Scott turned the tables by running a cruiser as a decoy Tokyo Express, forcing me to waste an entire task force on a wild goose chase. That allowed him to land a transport and bump control a pip closer to the Japanese. On the final turn, the legitimate Tokyo Express evened control, but an undisrupted airfield still belonged to me. Sadly, I guessed wrong on my final activation, sending a useless air strike against a surface task force. Scott's unscathed carrier group was therefore able to launch a strike of its own against Henderson, disrupting the airstrip for a game-ending draw.

Landing attempt

This is a tight little game, with unique but very straightforward mechanics. I think it captures the essence of the operational environment, with emphases on the fog of war and planning aspects at the expense of detailed combat routines. We set up and played in about 70 minutes, and I think our next game should be under an hour. It looks like there are several viable approaches to explore for both sides, so I think you can get a half dozen games in before the premise wears thin. Recommended.
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Ray Freeman
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Don't know if what JR was showing are actual or "example" positions, but having now 7 games under my belt, I have a few comments:

The Opening Blows picture shows the IJN with 2 fleet CVs and 3 CAs. The US 3 Fleet CVs and 3 CAs. This is poor force composition, especially for the IJN. Their Anti-Aircraft cover is only 3 vs a6 Airstrike capability for the US. At double the IJN AA, the US CVs are going to get +2 to all their airstrikes, meaning they can't miss. Zuikaku and Shokaku are the only two decent CVs the IJN has and they should lose both in an air exchange. OTOH, the AS capability of the IJN is 4 while US AA is 3, so the IJN gets +1 to their airstrikes. Good chance the US will have 2 CVs sunk as well.

To explain, the # of aircraft symbols on a carrier gives an airstrike strength. The number of escorting ships gives the AA strength. For the US it's 6-3 wheres for the IJN it's 4-3. It's almost never a good idea for your main CV force for a turn to have less AA than the enemy could possibly field.

The Yamato Rolls In photo shows a typical IJN bombardment mission. However, it looks like Henderson is already disrupted. Therefore, the only point in this mission is to attrition the US surface fleet. The IJN advantage amounts to the Yamato. This is probably an acceptable battle for the US despite being outgunned as their damaged ships usually recover faster. Frankly, the US is badly outnumbered in surface power so they are generally going to be fighting surface actions at a disadvantage. The IJN force structure would insufficient for a transport mission as it is unlikely that there is enough of an edge to clear the Sound in one battle round, meaning any transports could not land in the second round. However, this force would likely require the US to retire, opening the door for a follow up invasion mission as the US committed 8 of their total available 15 ships to this one force.

The Landing Attempt photo shows a fail. While the IJN has a good chance to inflict 4 hits and clear the sea area, Henderson is operational, which means the transports can't land. If the IJN blows out the 4 US CAs, then they can bombard and hopefully disable Henderson, but since you can't land, bombard or fight a sea battle in one round, the landing is not possible. All "battles" last a maximum of two rounds, and a standard transport mission requires Henderson to be disabled.

IMO Pacific Fury: Guadacanal is a very cool game. It has simple and straightforward mechanics and the planning and execution portions of each turn are both intriguing and addictive. I think there is a lot of replay value here.
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