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“Japan was a closed book. Western ignorance of Japan was not the fault of the westerners but the design of the Japanese. For two hundred years, Japan had been shut tight. By national law, a Japanese could not leave Japan and no outsider was allowed in. Death sentences were meted out to any who gave foreigners information about the land of the gods. Almost no maps and no books existed in the English-speaking world describing the closed land.”
― James D. Bradley, Flyboys: A True Story of Courage

(https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/22829-flyboys-a-true-s...)

Wargames are played for a variety of reasons. For some, they provide a vehicle for camaraderie and social interaction while tossing some dice. For others, they provide a means for competition. Still others play them as a way to learn more about the historical events depicted in the game. For many, of course, all of those reasons apply . . .

Many wargames claim, as an advertising point, that they "immerse" the player in the role of the commander in the conflict being depicted. While many make this claim, it is rare to find a game that achieves that goal. And saying that is no criticism of those other games that make the claim, for achieving that level of immersion is an incredibly difficult challenge for a board game designer.

Academy Games' "Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal" is the latest entry in the acclaimed tactical series. https://academygames.com/games/product/cid-156 The production quality is, as always, outstanding. Counters are clear, informative, and durable. The game boards present terrain in a nearly photo-realistic manner.

Part of this effect is achieved by the insightful decision to "fade" parts of the hex outlines, causing the hex lines to recede into the terrain. While some have noted some difficulty in seeing the outlines in heavy terrain, my personal experience was that it was fairly easy to note hex locations, and the minimal lack of clarity was worth the stunning visual effect of the game board as a whole.

Yet another exceptionally impressive part of the game is the cover art. Stephen Paschal has again created a work that does more than "sell" the game; his creation encompasses the very essence of the game's theme. Like all of his work for Academy Games, his art for "Guadalcanal" sets the foundation for the experience that is to follow. I encourage you to review his gallery of Academy-related work:

http://www.stephenpaschal.com/commerical-art.html

I have spoken of immersion . . . of how many games claim to immerse the player in the role of the commander. However, what Academy has created with "Guadalcanal" takes the concept of immersion to an entirely different level. With the creation of the new "Bushido" sub-system designed specifically for this title, Academy has managed to provide an experience in which the player viscerally feels not what the higher level commander felt, but rather what the individual solider in the battle felt during combat.

At the just-concluded WBC tournament, I picked up my copy of the game. While there, I had the opportunity to play through Firefight #2 with my friend Britt, a long-time CoH fan. We were both intrigued by and curious about exactly how the Bushido sub-system would work. Our anticipation was met with a gaming experience unlike any we had before . . .

The Firefight in question sees the Japanese defending a coastal village bordered by a large river. The American player is attempting to move his Marines into the village against those defending Japanese.

I say "defending", but as Britt and I quickly discovered, the Bushido rules transform what would seem on the surface to be a pretty straight-forward "attack/defend" situation into something much deeper and more paradoxical.

Britt took the Japanese side and began the first turn by sending on a mad-dash charge a Conscript unit (representing airstrip-building workers drafted into service as infantry when their work was displaced by the American invasion). Britt noted that in a "normal" situation he would never do something like that. However, the Bushido sub-system seemed to encourage him to order the charge, so he did so, as we both wondered what the impact of that decision might be.

As my Marine units advanced on the village, the Conscripts closed ground. The Bushido system awards the Japanese player with positive "Bushido points" if he loses a unit in close combat with the Americans. These Bushido points then translate into immediate bonus "Command Action Points", which can provide additional combat opportunities for the surviving Japanese units.

Sure enough, Britt's Conscripts got into close quarters with one of Marine units. He inflicted some damage on the my unit, but I was able to wipe out the Conscripts.

And therein lies the paradox.

For, while I eliminated Britt's unit in close combat, he gained positive Bushido. Not only did he increase his CAP total, but he also gained the use of the "Emboldened" card. This card decreases the cost to fire of all Japanese units, while increasing their Firepower and Defense. In effect, even as I eliminated some of Britt's units, I made the others even stronger.

I cannot express to you the impact of the combination of the Bushido rules and the Emboldened card. For it is in that combination that the game elevated beyond immersion at a command level. As the American player, I very quickly came to feel -- intensely -- not merely a "concern" about the Japanese units that Britt began to selectively charge at my units. Rather, I felt a very real FEAR of them.

The sight of a Japanese unit moving relentlessly, with violent intent, toward my troops struck in me a note of panic that I had never before experienced in a wargame. Part of the reason for this is the game's use of a separate set of Hit markers for Japanese foot units; included in them are several "No Hit" markers.

The effect of those "No Hit" markers is to add an additional element of terror to the American player. For, you see, gaining a "Hit" on the Japanese unit might not actually result in any damage to it; the "No Hit" markers allow the Japanese player to continue without any damage being inflicted on his unit.

When seeing a Bushido-Emboldened enemy squad shake off your hits, you, as the American player, begin to visualize with great clarity yourself -- not your "unit", but YOURSELF -- holding your position and firing your B.A.R. into the advancing Japanese squad, only to see them ignore their squad-mates dropping around them and continue to advance toward YOU. And, believe me, it is in those moments that you feel panic.

And when the Japanese "regular" infantry got into the action, the effect was even more intense. While the Conscript units attacking was frightening enough, when the IJA regulars did so, the result was amplified.

Just as I was beginning to feel some of what an American solider on Guadalcanal must have felt, Britt, for his part, began to express that he was adjusting his thinking and tactics to mirror that of the Japanese code. What should have been a basic "attack/defend" situation became one in which the roles were reversed: although I was nominally the "attacker", my Americans often found themselves ducking for cover and good defensive positions to withstand the attack of an on-coming Japanese squad.

As we moved through the game, we took several moments to discuss the dramatic and powerful story we were witnessing play out on the board in front of us.

Our conversation ranged from not only the mechanics of the game, but to the deeper philosophical themes that the game presents.

To be sure, Britt did not simply charge all of his units at mine. He did so at particular moments and always with a clear tactical objective in mind. His mindset -- as he described it -- was to be perfectly willing to sacrifice some of his units so that the others might be placed in a more advantageous position.

As he did so, we discussed the differing philosophies -- cultural ideologies, really -- of the two societies. Britt pointed out that the Japanese belief in the supremacy of the group over the value of the individual was completely opposite that of the Western world. And it was those philosophies that we saw being played out on the game board.

The battle raged back and forth, with many "cinematic" moments for which the CoH series is known. Finally, on the last turn -- indeed, on the final Activation -- Britt had a chance to make one last attack on a Marine unit that was 40 meters away from the village, a Marine whose entry into the village would secure victory for the Americans.

Britt held the dice with a mix of anticipation and anxiety as he dropped them into the tower. They tumbled down and came to a rest.

His attack failed.

The Marine used his last Action Points to enter the village. The Americans -- at great cost to both sides -- had attained their victory.

And strewn across the surrounding jungle and beach, their blood mixing in the sand, were the bodies of men from two different worlds, men who would die for their respective culture's philosophy: one claiming that the individual must be subservient to the whole and that their insular people were superior to all; the other -- ultimately victorious -- claiming that every individual has value and that liberty for each person creates a collective greatness for all . . .

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Erik Stonemark
United States
Wisconsin
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Very nice review. Very nice historical highlight and flavor. An intiguing and engrossing read. I find you breakdown of the bushido system in this game to be analyzed quite well.
Couldn't agree more on the artwork.
I hope AG keeps the bushido system if they plan on doing any other COH Pacific Theater games.
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David Siskin
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Playa Del Rey
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Excellent review!
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Eric Britt Strickland
United Kingdom
Oxford
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Terrific and insightful write up, my friend.
Yes, this was a remarkable experience, and one that offered us a very telling window into the asymmetrical nature of Pacific war tactical conflict. All of this was done with a very playable and manageable system that aided us in playing more steadily, rather than spending our time rule diving during the pinnacle moments of the battle. This allowed it to remain a more transparent system wherein we pursued our goals in a visually stimulating format, and the true tightness of the exchange kept it a vibrantly near run thing in many of its critical rounds.
Great experience.
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Larry Doherty
United States
Windsor, Northern-
California
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Well written. Thank you.
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J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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Great report - I'm glad I got to watch a bit of it. Dutch and Scott tried it last week and agree it has a very different feel from the earlier releases.
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michael humphreys
United States
Bridgeton
New Jersey
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I'm trying to decide on THIS... Or AtB... Or None...
Great little Review, thank you...
But... with all the Thought and Decisions that you guys were making... For the very end, the Pinnacle Moment, to be determined by a Die Roll... Was that not Disappointing, or Anti-Climatic?
 
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Aaron Silverman
United States
Halfway between Castro and Mickey Mouse
Florida (FL)
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Commish wrote:
In effect, even as I eliminated some of Britt's units, I made the others even stronger.


Huruku sumashu!!!
 
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