Hans Eldar Sjaberg
This is a fantastic game. I have played it a number of times now vs the venerable ‘elirlandes’, and I wanted to share some of my ‘lessons learned’ from the game. This is not about grand strategy (should one go south, east or west?) – but rather some tactical and logistical advice for how to manage through the game.
I have taken the Japanese perspective here, as many of the complexities relate to the Japanese side. However - some of the points are equally applicable for the Allies, and some of the points may guide the Allies towards Japanese ‘soft spots’. Hopefully, this can help new players enjoy the game and climb the learning curve faster. I am also keen to hear if more experienced players agree or disagree. I am sure there are other angles I haven’t covered below - in any case – here is my humble collection of ‘operational lessons learned’:
Task Forces – never sail without DD escort
DDs offer some protection against submarines (DDs may chase the attacking submarine away) and make it harder for the sub to hit targets in the task force. For particularly important task forces (i.e. aircraft carriers or an important invasion task force, particularly with a 2-strength land unit) it may be worth having 2 DD units along.
The Japanese player starts the game with plenty of air steps on the board and a strong carrier force equipped with good pilots (and some even better pilots if you use optional rule ‘elite pilots’). As the war progresses, air steps and trained carrier pilots become limited resources. My advice is to protect the air steps from attrition as much as possible (see paragraph below). By slowing down the air step losses, The Japanese player will be able to place more of his reinforcement air steps in the ‘carrier’ box to provide pilots for damaged carriers. My experience is that the Japanese player should put as many air steps into the ‘training program’ as he can afford and as early as possible.
The Japanese player should get hold of resource hexes early: I suggest attacking Brunei in turn 1, and Singapore in turn 2 (will probably not fall until turn 3). Attack Surabaya as soon as you have units available (turn 2, or 3 at the latest). Conserve transport points each turn for transporting oil home. Getting the oil ‘flowing home’ is generally more important than how quickly you seize one or two VPs somewhere on the map in those early turns.
Always try to avoid draining the oil reserves completely, as you will be unable to react to Allied moves. Keeping oil reserves at least at, say, 8-10 means you have enough oil to mount credible reaction moves against the Allies. Having less than – say – 5 oil points means the Allies don’t have to worry too much about what the Japanese carriers might do that turn.
It’s very important to protect your naval units against US ‘deep’ carrier strikes. Having air points stationed in Yokosuka, Iwo Jima, and Manila protects Kure against surprise attacks. In the early-mid game, the IJN will likely use Truk as its main base, so Truk needs protection as well. Air units in Yokosuka, Iwo Jima, Marshals, Rabaul and Palau will do the job here.
Spread out the exposed air steps
As the US Navy gathers strength, they may launch carrier raids to eliminate some of the Japanese air steps. The Japanese player may choose to place only one air step in each exposed base, thus keeping the casualties to a minimum. Of course, it will be relatively easy and risk-free for the US to attack and kill single air steps but it is probably better than putting a lot of eggs (air steps) in any one exposed basket.
Keep the Carriers together
Aircraft Carriers operate best in packs, ideally overwhelming weaker allied CV task forces. Single carrier units are more easily picked off by the Allies, without having enough punch to cause damage in return.
Using some slightly simplified maths to illustrate: assume a Japanese carrier TF with 6 air steps and total AA rating of 3 goes head-to-head with a small US task force with 4 air steps and total AA rating of 4 (2 DDs as escort) …. The Japanese would expect ca 3 air steps to be ‘stopped’ by US air steps (air points) and AA combined – thus ca 3 air points would get through to attack the US CV and the Japanese would expect to score approx. 1 hit. The Allied player would expect to get one air point through the air to air combat and AA fire, with statistically ca 1/3 chance of scoring a hit against a Japanese carrier.
Now - If the Japanese had two task forces available with (combined) 12 air steps and total AA rating of 3 per task force (still facing the same 4-air step US task force) …. The Japanese would still expect ca 3 air steps to be ‘stopped’ by US fighters in air-air combat and AA – so ca 9 air points would get through to attack the US CV. These 9 would expect to score approx. 3 hits (or 4-5 if they achieve air supremacy). The US CV is unlikely to survive such an ordeal. The 4 US air steps will also struggle to get through to the Japanese carriers … expectation would be that they all get shot down, and they would need quite lucky dice to get through and score a hit.
Destroyers are a Japanese Achilles Heel
Destroyers have a lot of work to do: escorting carrier task forces and escorting amphibious landing forces. The IJN will also send destroyers to contest sea control (often with larger units such as CAs) early in the game. Destroyers may also be called upon for convoy escort duty to protect against US submarines conducting economic warfare. The Japanese start the game with 12 DD units on the map. This may seem plentiful, but there are no DD units added as reinforcements during the game. The Japanese player will often find himself in a position during the game where he is short of DDs – even critically short of them. Use DDs wisely, and don’t waste them in speculative last-ditch sea combat rounds for sea control against overwhelming Allied forces.
Replace losses when you get the opportunity
If the Allied player does not leave credible reaction force(s) on the map, you effectively have a free hand to replace during your own turn. On the other hand, if the entire might of the late-game USN is lying in wait, the IJN faces very tough odds. It may in some cases be better to wait a turn (or more) before you strike back / counter-attack if the US Navy has too strong presence on the board.
A second attack on Pearl Harbour (early to mid game) ?
If you control Wake or Midway, you have a path (free of enemy ZOC) to attack Pearl Harbour from Kure/Yokosuka or Truk. If you control Marshalls and Gilbert plus Wake, it’s even better – as you can stage a raid from Gilberts which is within 4 hexes of Pearl (so you need less oil). A second raid on Pearl is very tempting if the allied player leaves one or two carriers there. Factors to consider are: oil points available, transport points available, IJN carrier strength available, air steps defending Pearl etc. The opportunity to kill one or two US carriers should rarely be missed and it is often worth a gamble. If you do decide to attack Pearl, you will want to evacuate any friendly bases within 4 hexes (Wake, Midway, Gilberts, Ellice) in the first deployment phase to stop the US units from doing reaction movement away from Pearl to escape. Use the second deployment to move the garrisons back to the (temporarily) vacated bases.
Brunei has its uses
While Truk will probably be the main Japanese base in the early-mid game, Brunei is also useful. You can react from Brunei to Rangoon, Truk and Lae. You can send units from Kure to Brunei by first doing a one-hex deployment to Okinawa and then a normal 4-hex move in the second deployment phase. Note that base capacity at Okinawa is only 2, so this can only be done a little at a time – but having 1CA+2DD in Brunei as a ‘standing’ reaction force to keep the British honest is not a bad idea.
When the Americans close in from the east, Brunei is also a potential base for reaction forces ‘protecting’ Truk, Palau and the Philippines. After turn 10, you can operate from Brunei (or other resource hexes) without spending oil points.
Note that a British Carrier strike force from Ceylon could reach Brunei if the Japanese have not placed sufficient air steps to exert air ZOC (Singapore, Surabaya). Likewise, the US carriers could sneak up from Noumea / Brisbane if the Japanese have not placed air steps in Hollandia/Surabaya.
Harbour management (If using Optional rule 18.3.1 ‘Mutsu goes Boom’)
Assuming the Japanese player uses Kure as the main base, he may consider placing an old BB unit in Yokosuka. Thus, if he rolls ‘2’ he can chose Yokosuka as the home base where the explosion happened – and the old BB unit becomes the victim … much better than losing your best carrier unit in Kure !
Send the Ise on a one-way mission (If using Optional rule 18.2.5 ’I want it all!’)
The BB unit (Ise, Hyuga) is removed on turn 6 and returns on turn 9 after conversion to ‘Hybrid Carrier’. However – the ‘Hybrid Carrier’ unit is not very useful and is expensive to operate (transport rating increases from 2 pre-conversion to 2.5). You also need to spend one air step from the Naval Aviation box to bring (Ise, Hyuga) back. So … perhaps the IJN is better off without this happening ? My suggestion is to use the (Ise, Hyuga) in risky (read: sacrificial) missions before turn 6. If ‘Ise/Hyuga’ were lost in combat for a good purpose, I would see it as an added ‘bonus’.
Save some transport points for the second deployment phase
The Allied player may launch carrier raids in his reaction phase, knocking holes in the Japanese air cordon. It is wise for the Japanese player to keep a couple of transport points ‘in reserve’ for the second deployment, to move up air steps to plug any gaps.
Save a sub-point for the Allied player turn
This is another (small) way to keep the Allied player ‘honest’. If the Japanese player keeps at least one of his sub points for the Allied turn, the Allied player must consider DD protection for his task forces.
Double-up for the decisive invasion
The crucial moment has arrived, and the Japanese are about to launch an attack which will win the game if it succeeds …. If he has sufficient transport points available, the Japanese player may consider sending TWO separate land units in task forces to make the ‘decisive’ amphibious landing. This makes the defending task more difficult for the Allied player: he may have submarines and air steps available to turn away one approaching invasion task force, but will he have enough to defeat two simultaneously…??
Banzai – and enjoy FitS!
Oustanding post, Hans Eldar. I've learned everything I know about playing this game from you!
Si non potes reperire Berolini in tabula, ludens essetis non WIF.
Hey, get your stinking cursor off my face! I got nukes, you know.
Destroyers are your friends.
there is an important difference in 'lessons' and 'lessons learned'. the latter means you alter your behavior.
I learn a lot of lessons, but I don't get a lot of lessons learned...
Good stuff Hans. I'll add a couple of points.
When sending multiple CV TFs to an area, consider the threat. If you are sending two CVs and two CVLs and the IJN has both subs available, put the CVs together in one TF and the CVLs in another. Then two subs can hit only one of the CVs. If you will face a big air threat, send a CLAA. If not, put two DDs in each CV TF. You can almost always find a better use for the fast USN BBs than CV escort.
And if the IJN has no subs, you can omit DD escort.
As the Americans, don't counterattack too early. The first offensive should be to the Gilberts once the USN has multiple slow BBs. Otherwise shore up the South Pacific.
Look for a chance to take Paramushiro on the cheap. If IJN reaction oil is very low, shutting down the NE corner of the board and gaining an important VP is worth a small risk. A rgt + DD in Midway covered by a CV TF sailing from Pearl is likely to work and expends few resources.
In the first deployment phase, do only moves that you need for combat or one hex deployments. Keep your opponent guessing. But if you have 1/2 TP left over after the essential moves, use it to move up an air step or a DD.
Don't be afraid to sail >4 hexes and use extra oil instead of using transport to a forward base then sailing 4 hexes. The transport you save can ship 1 oil to Japan and you only spent 1/2 an oil to move the extra distance. In fact, do this as much as possible unless the offensive is critical, and there just isn't enough oil available this turn to do it this way.
Don't be afraid to use surface only TFs in face of small amounts of enemy air. 4 air steps are not likely to do much to a TF of two new US BBs, a CLAA and a DD. This TF may very well be enough to repel an invasion by gaining sea control.