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Subject: An excellent game, on a par with Empire of the Sun rss

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Yiannis Hadjikyriakou
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TL;DR: An excellent game on the Pacific Theatre that offers a highly thematic, tense strategy gaming experience that is on a par with Empire of the Sun, but without its rule intricacies.


I know there is a thread already comparing Empire of the Sun (EoTS) and AE. I wanted to write a separate review post, firstly because I want to take a different tack, and secondly I’d like to see a positive heading appearing in the review forum!

So, which game is better? In my opinion neither, they both offer quite a different experience, with some interesting similarities, and there is room on my shelf for both.


Intricacy

One of the major differences I believe is that EoTS is more intricate than AE. One obvious manifestation of this is that its rulebook is 50-100% larger, depending on what you count. A specific example of this is the Burma Road rules. In EoTS the Burma Road involves different card plays, ports, airfields, strategic routes, and a separate game track. It effects China supply and Japanese offensives in China, and interrelates to several other rules. AE’s Burma Road rule is one, short sentence.

Another example is the tracing of logistics and command and control paths. EoTS has an activation path, a supply line, and attrition supply, all of which must be traced to HQs taking into account path length, terrain, zones of influence from air units, infrastructure and have a variety of specific cases and exceptions. This usually involves a lot of hex counting and recounting. The AE supply rules are very straightforward, and apart from the setting up of the Japanese supply network (which is not complicated, but can even be replaced with an even simpler optional rule), you can quickly eye-ball your supply situation.

So for some players, this rule intricacy will make it feel like EoTS is a more accurate simulation that AE, because it tries to model more parameters of the conflict. Others will be happy how AE keeps it simple. The price for the more detailed simulation is that it takes a lot longer for the rules to become second nature. It took me several playthroughs, rule reading and rereading, and lots of time on BGG to really “get” the game. It became a bit of a way of life for a while - it really takes some commitment of time.

Interestingly, however, this intricacy doesn't imply more granularity in all cases. For example, in EoTS all ports have the same capacity, but in AE they vary. Also, combat is far more granular in AE. In EoTS you add up factors, apply modifiers and roll the dice. In AE you have CAP, escorts, strike aircraft, night battles, day battles, first and second rounds. Another notably level of granularity in AE is that it models the Chinese front in detail, while EoTS abstracts it. I have to admit that I usually find the Chinese front a tedious slugfest in Pacific front games, and find this an attractive feature of EoTS. Having said that, I didn’t mind it on my first two plays of AE, but the jury is still out on that.


Strategic flexibility

The other major difference for me is strategic flexibility. In EoTS your strategy is shaped to some degree by the cards you draw. Some hands of cards suggest and aid certain strategies more than others, and you need to take this into account. In AE you can decide your strategy before you even start the game, but of course you will need to modify it depending on what your opponent does.

In a way, AE places you at one command level higher than EoTS, from a simulation perspective, and you gain the strategic flexibility that comes with that. Both present different challenges, and it is a matter of personal preference. Some players find the way the cards fall in EoTS very frustrating. I played one session where I was very restricted by the “War in Europe” track for a large part of the game, which delays Allied reinforcements, and also reduces Allied amphibious capacity. It all came down to the randomness of the card draw. Some players will find this very frustrating, while others will appreciate how differently the game can play out every time. Personally, I don’t mind even a bad run of cards, as it does present a lot of variety and challenge, and there is always something that you can do, even if is suboptimal and not what you wanted to do (although I like to let my opponent know how noble and resourceful I am being, struggling against luck, who is sometime not a lady ). With AE, barring a long run of cold dice, you are master of your own destiny.

This strategic flexibility can also be seen in the production/reinforcement rules. In EoTS the reinforcement and replacements are set (with some minor variation due to card play, and delays due to the War in Europe track discussed above). In AE you can decide what you build, so you can shape your forces to your strategy.


Other points and overall assessment

Aesthetically, both games are great pieces of board game art.

Both games simulate fog of war: EoTS using hidden cards and succeed/fail interceptions rolls, and AE using blocks.

Both generate intense, strategic gameplay, although with AE I felt I spent a little more time on strategic thinking than on rule mechanics compared to EoTS – and dramatically more so if I compare it to my first EoTS solitaire play though.

In both games a distinct narrative emerges, and one that is quite similar in feel and tone. I can underscore that point by the fact that I posted the first part of my AE solitaire session report initially to the EoTS forum by mistake – I received several thumbs up and no one commented that it was in the wrong forum during the 24 hours before I realised my error!

Both games do a good job of capturing the nearly unstoppable initial Japanese expansion, and then the building momentum of the Allied pushback. The one difference here I think is I didn’t get that feeling of desperation in AE that I get playing the Allies in the first few turns of EoTS. Depending on the Japanese cards and strategy, they have a real chance of a sudden knockout of the Allied player. Perhaps it was because I was a rookie AE player, and didn’t play the angles as Japan correctly. I’ll see how it goes next time.

My only potential concern with AE is its replayability. Is there an optimal Allied or Japanese strategy? In EoTS the cards throw up so many situational variations that you can’t really settle on just one plan when you play – you have to remain flexible to respond to evolving circumstances.

Overall, AE plays very fluidly, offers an intense game play experience, and simulates just enough of what I expect in a strategic Pacific War game without weighing me down with too many rules. I very much appreciate the lack of rule intricacy and the strategic flexibility that AE offers. It provides a change of pace from EoTS, and there will certainly be times when I prefer this kind of experience. I believe it is on a par with the excellent Empire of the Sun, and I believe it deserves a second printing/edition and a similar following.
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Michael McFall
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That was an excellent, "positive" comparison.
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Brent Bryan
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Thank you for the thoughtful post. I own both games and actually have yet to play either; I have played Europe Engulfed, and appreciated the various game mechanics and subsystems (Sub-warfare, strategic warfare,etc), so I'm hoping AE offers more of the same.

I have attempted to slog through the EOTS rulebook to play a few solo rounds a while back, but its a beast! I've went toe to toe with some of GMT's toghest rulesets, but this might be the toughest for me personally surprise

Your review has encouraged me to give it another go..
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Yiannis Hadjikyriakou
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Redeagle wrote:

I have attempted to slog through the EOTS rulebook to play a few solo rounds a while back, but its a beast! I've went toe to toe with some of GMT's toghest rulesets, but this might be the toughest for me personally surprise

I'd recommend going through the "comprehensive example of play" in the rule book, and tracking down Mark Herman's and I think Joel Toppen's play through videos. Make sure you have the most recent version of the rulebook that came out with the second edition.

But there are no short cuts to learning the game really. You just have to read and reread the rules while you push counters around. It is definitely an investment of time and energy, but it is worth it when it starts to fall into place. Once it does fall into place, you'll wonder what the fuss was about as it isn't that complicated, just intricate, as I say above.

To that end you might want to nail down one main rule subsystem at a time. Personally, I'd get clear on the logistics and command and control rules first: understanding activation, supply, attrition, and the related rules covering AZOI and HQs gets you a long way.
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Brent Bryan
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Thanks again for the suggestions!
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Sean McCormick
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Glad to hear it. I have AE, but have yet to play it. Still, I'm loathe to get rid of it, and reviews like this ensure that it stays on my shelf a little longer...
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Yiannis Hadjikyriakou
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seanmac wrote:
Glad to hear it. I have AE, but have yet to play it. Still, I'm loathe to get rid of it, and reviews like this ensure that it stays on my shelf a little longer...

After only playing it once for a few turns, it was on my shelf for 2.5 years, as I wasn't that impressed with it. I only got it out again as I decided to play through all my games one at a time to see which I was going to keep, and which I was going to sell.
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