Today let’s take a look at „Battle for China“ (BfC). This is a review of the 2004 Fiery Dragon edition, since I own only this one. BfC is a little game covering the first (the active one) stage of China’s Resistance War against Japan 1937 – 1941. There are 3 factions in the game: Japan, Kuomintang (KMT; China’s central government during this time) and Chinese Communists (CCP). If there are only 2 players, then one player controls the two Chinese factions. There is also a free expansion available for download covering the conflict until its end in 1945, the Chinese Civil War 1946-49 and a campaign game which combines everything and covers the whole period 1937 – 1949. But I haven’t tried out the expansion yet.
Rules and Components
BfC is a small game and the Fiery Dragon edition is a quite amateurish one. You get a small, very simple map of China which is subdivided into provinces, including boxes for cities and the most important railways. The rules are in 25 pages long and come in a little booklet. You also get about 100 or so little one sided very tiny counters which you have to cut out by yourself and 10 sheets with charts and record tracks. The quality of is very simple, but I’ve never cared much about components so this hardly affects my evaluation of a game. Just make sure you don’t cough while playing this one
So how does it play? The game resolves around “political support points” (PSP) each side tracks her PSPs and the objective is to bring the opponent’s PSPs to 0. Mainly, you achieve this by taking control over enemy’s areas and killing his units. Japan’s goal is to defeat both Chinese factions before the game ends in December 1941 (when the Pacific War begins which Japan is going to lose anyway). If the Chinese factions are played by 2 different players, they are in some kind of a competitive alliance: if they don’t lose, the Chinese player with more psp’s in the end wins. This happens to lead so some kind of an undeclared civil war between them in the backyard, since players will move units into provinces controlled by his “ally” just to snatch control from him. Random events might even allow the KMT to attack the CCP during some turns.
Like in most wargames, the turns in BfC are subdivided into phases during which players can do specific things. There are first some kind of administrative phases, during which payers roll for random events, try to get foreign support (KMT), buy new units and form battlegroups (combine units into stacks to allow them to attack together). Then follow the “action” phases in which players move their units around on the map and attack the opponent.
Units have a combat factor (CF) value and combat is a classical odd comparison on a CRT which takes into account factors like terrain, current PSP level, cadre level (some kind of proficiency level or morale of the faction) and the presence of assets like tanks, artillery or air power. Then you roll a d6 and check the result on the crt after applying all modifiers. It will usually tell you something like “2/3” which means that the attacker loses 2 CFs and the defender 3. Here the Japanese have a clear edge because thanks to their better historical organization, they can replace full strength units with units having lower CFs while the Chinese players usually can’t. This means that the Chinese will almost always have to eliminate their units completely because usually they won’t be able to satisfy their losses in another way.
Finally, players have to check which provinces switched control or became uncontrolled, adjust their PSP levels according to these changes and to the losses taken in the current turn and then they proceed to the next one.
I didn’t want to bother you with too many details about the gameplay, but please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. So what do I like about this game and what do I not?
Let’s start with the good parts:
BfC is a three player game, which is quite rare in the cosim hobby. True to history, the three sides play very differently. As you would expect, Japan starts with the best army in the game (I already mentioned the ability to replace damaged units gradually) and a quite high PSP level. Her troops have the highest cadre level which gives them an additional advantage in every battle. However, they have to attack while being outnumbered and to fight two enemies. Furthermore, the Japanese player receives his equipment points (EP; “money” for which he buys new units) partly by converting his PSPs into EPs (ok, I am realizing that I am using too many abbreviations ). This means that – historically justified – he has to make rather huge progress early in the game in order not to run out of PSPs too quickly. Generally, I have the impression the game is a race against time for every faction since the rules make it easier to lose PSPs than to gain them. This is especially true for the KMT player and affects least the CCP.
The KMT is quite the opposite of Japan: They have the largest army in the game but which is quite cumbersome and inefficient and having the lowest cadre level. They are also subdivided into different sub-factions and hampered most by political rules. To top it all, they don’t just have to fight the Japanese on the front, but also take care that their Communist “allies” don’t spread out too much in the backyard. At least the KMT starts with many units, can try to secure foreign support (thus drastically increasing their military capacity) and fights mostly on the defense.
The CCP is totally different from the other two faction since it mostly relies not on regular units, but on guerillas. The CCP player can also convert his guerillas into regular units but it seems unwisely doing so too early in the game. Guerillas can’t attack enemy units but are used to gain control over provinces or deny other players control. Guerillas can’t be attacked in regular combat but only by conducting anti-guerilla operations. The CCP player starts with the fewest units and won’t have much to do early in the game. However, he is far away from the main show and won’t be attacked too quickly. He can play the role of an equalizer between the other two factions, harassing the one which is currently winning, just making sure that he survives until the end and that his PSP level is higher than the one of the KMT.
Though BfC is also playable by 2 players, I think that the game really shines with 3. Only this way the historical versatility is captured since each Chinese faction will fight for her own interests, trying to prevent the other one from getting too strong.
Being interested in East Asian history, I am attracted by the historical background of BfC. Since this conflict is little known in the west (maybe because western powers weren’t really involved prior to 1941?), there are very few games about it. But it played such a huge impact on the history of Asia and consequently on the entire world! Having just travelled through China and spoken to Chinese people, I realize that you can’t really understand the present-day relationships between China and Japan without knowing anything about this war.
I am also very impressed by the historical details this game takes into account. The random and pre-determined events cover all the most important political aspects, like Japan’s preparation for the Pacific War, KMT factional in-fighting, Communist peasant revolts, the beginning of WWII in Europe, etc. The designer has a really profound knowledge of this subject and has done a very accurate research.
What I don’t like
However, I don’t want to withhold from you some parts I don’t like about BfC.
Firstly, the rules: Though the rules are quite short, I found it really hard to understand how they work in the field. After having started my game, I learned that there are versions of erratas and rule updates on the internet which might clear up something, but I haven’t checked them out yet. Again, my review concerns only the edition mentioned as it is. An example of what I am talking about: the rules use different terms like “steps”, “remnants”, “combat factors” for – like it seems – the same concept which is really confusing when you try to get through them for the first time. I mean, such things could be kept much more streamlined.
Secondly, I really don’t like it when you have to calculate too much in a game. And in this one, you have to calculate a lot: Especially, the end of a turn and the beginning of a new one is just a concatenation of calculations: you have to calculate the losses each side suffered, to determine the changes on the PSP (in a different way for every faction!), calculate the losses to determine the EP in the upcoming turn (again in a different way for every faction!), calculate the EP income (again, in a different way), adjust the control of provinces and calculate the effects on the PSP (ok, this part works the same for every faction), etc. Moreover, not just losses and province control affect the PSP, but many other aspects do so, too. In a nutshell: I believe that everything is historically perfectly justified and I don’t know if there are ways to keep it simpler, but the way it is can really drive you crazy, especially in the beginning! Come on, doing math exercises every turn isn’t really fun; in no game. It is even made worse by the fact that BfC is such a little game. When you are playing such one, you would expect it to be fast & fun but you get a real hard stop every turn instead.
Finally, having said all this, would I recommend BfC? Yes, if you are interested in the topic or like to try out an asymmetrical 3-player-game and if the (from my point of view) negative points don’t bother you too much.
Thanks for your kind review Konstantin.
The 2004 edition was the first small-press one with ready-made counters: the one before it was the Microgame Design Group and the counters were on a single paper sheet you had to glue to cardboard and cut out.
The 2004 edition, in the tin box, had very thin perforated cardboard counters; you could tear them out and make a mess, or cut them with a razor but they were still quite thin.
The later Fiery Dragon edition had die-cut counters on thicker cardboard, much nicer.
And finally the Decision Games magazine edition had still thicker counters, but they used an icon system I did not like and think inappropriate for strategic level games.
The best production this game had among its five editions is the Japanese Command issue: beautiful maps, including the extension maps for north and south theatres, and nicely made counters in a matte finish.
Drop in the English-language rules available here and you are set for a nice game.
I recommend that everyone who has this game, regardless of edition, download the "integrated rule book" and charts found in the files section of this game.
Not only does this straighten out some inconsistencies, it presents the expansion game rules alongside the basic ones and lightens up on things a bit (including getting rid of the concept of "steps").