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Subject: Across the Pacific or Go West Young Man! rss

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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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After GMT’s Asia Engulfed I would have thought the door was slammed shut on releasing a strategic/operational level war game on WW II in the Pacific. When I saw Pacific Rim Publishing (PRP) just published “Across the Pacific” (ATP) I thought to myself, either these are some seriously deluded fellows or they are onto something. So I sat back and waited for it to arrive.

I would like to note that the folks at Pacific Rim Publishing were most kind to send me a copy of this game to be reviewed. It is remarkable the high degree of trust that is out there and I am thankful for that. I have only had one really rude response back, this from someone I have talked to in the past who when I asked for a review copy stated” There are only 500 copies of this game. I am not able to send out dozens of free copies to people willing to play test, review….”, implying “something”. What that meant was simple - I won’t be reviewing that game from them, unlike ATP from PRP.


A nice carrier chart, one of many nice charts in this game.


COMPONENTS
I was puzzled upon opening the shipping container as there was cover art but no title. Inside was an errata sheet telling the story of that “oops”. My radar was now up, looking for more “wrong” stuff. It only took looking at the counter sheets, where the paper at the top and along the sides are frayed and peeled back. I assumed that the counters would be a challenge. Instead they punched out flawlessly. And the counters – sort of a retro throw back to what many people do currently with plane and ship silhouettes and NATO designations. Well as I played the game they grew on me. I only wished though for the American counters they had used white lettering for that dark green on black was a little hard to read. Some of the information tended to bleed to the left on the counters, slightly off center by a smidgen. Still though, these 5/8” counters, of which there are 960, look great on the map and feel more like an inch.

The 36” x 48” map is pleasant enough to look at. The scale felt off just a little but to rectify it the map would have needed to be at least 50% bigger. Both in terms of economy of scale business-wise and where would I put a game that big, I can live with the map. I only wished they had not put the game turn track at the bottom as it feels out of place there. The other components are simply very nice. Both Order of Battle Charts are well done although at some point you have to flip them over. The charts to track carrier plane status and the proficiency of your Japanese pilots are nicely handled space-wise. Although it is not sexy, the Combat Results Tables are easy to read and nicely laid out.



RULES

The games rules of 24 pages are not so much dense as different due to some original concepts. You need to approach the game with an open mind in that regard and would actually recommend reading not the Rule Book first but the Designer Notes. I did that and found it made my added to my game understanding and allowed me to visualize what the designers intent was on some key and different game concepts. The one thing I wished they had done was put a color PDF game example up on their website. The game examples in the rules are ok but intimidating. I found it all well-proofed and unambiguous.


I like their overall color scheme - and this would probably be nicely done in an updated version.

GAME PLAY
Across the Pacific attempts to portray the entire Pacific War in 5 month turns. Units range in size from armies to regiments, air fleets to destroyer flotillas, with lots of neat stuff thrown in. ATP is long and it bears repeating as game turns will run between 2 to 4 hours. My first game turn to include set-up took nearly 6 hours. However the folks at PRP make set up easy for on the back of the counters, the numbers for what turn a unit or piece appears is cleverly placed there. (I will not publicly admit it took me a while to catch on to that).

Their design intent was to break out of a rigid and pre-determined sequence of play by a chit pull method. Their reasoning in terms of outcome was it caused players to act differently if they were not moving in lockstep doing the act-react minuet. As an example in one game I thought I got a jump on the Americans by being able to sortie task forces in early 1943 to try and head off an invasion force, except that my already strained POL system caused me to ask myself if this was a good choice. It became a moot point as the American Player said whoa and used his MAGIC intercept chit to cause me to redraw a chit that turned out to be less favorable. The chit draw system works nicely and the balance struck between Strategic and Tactical (Carrier Air Strike, Land Based Air Strike, Naval Surface Interception / Naval Ground Support, Task Groups Sortie and Amphibious Landing) works rather nicely. What doesn’t happen is you draw a chit and apply it to both of you. What PRP did instead was make you draw your own chit, again with the design intent to break away from any type of stylized play. Play the Pearl and then Guadalcanal Scenarios, after which you are well enough versed in the air/land/sea aspects to play the campaign game.

ATP excitement and nail biting factor comes in with your trying to strike the right mass and force response at any given time. Close Air Patrol is a good example as you can place up to five of them on a turn, but you really, really have the need for so many more. As the Japanese player from 1943 on you begin to understand those YouTube strafing clips as you lose planes to strafing on your perimeter defense fortress islands. Yet if you don’t have them out there, the game punishes you by the “air umbrella” rules. Without a supporting air umbrella, an umbrella of overlapping air zones, reassigning better combat ratings and moving POL grinds to a halt. They also matter in terms of the game’s victory conditions. Invest the time in understanding how they work and equally so, how they can be disrupted.

Trying to balance competing demands like those are among the game’s lovely design features that are maddening but lovely. Among other great design features is the Combat Effectiveness Level (CEL) that every unit possesses. The CEL modifies die rolls in a positive or negative fashion. CEL affects Japanese pilots as every unit as its own individual CEL readiness marker to reflect its current state of combat effectiveness. The Japanese badly managed their pilot training program and were caught short in terms of experienced pilots and trainers due to heavy losses. In game terms that means do you hold back your better pilots and hope they are around for the better planes – or do you fight them now and risk losing them? Manage this precious asset poorly and their best use becomes Kamikazes. And what would a Pacific War game be without the albatross of POL for the Japanese player? You pay a POL cost for Task Forces where your capital ships, your real power projection platforms of that era, are created. Of course, the Japanese are historically handcuffed by needing to secure and protect the Southeast Asia resource areas. Task groups don’t need a POL marker but task groups are not the immense power projection platforms of carriers and their supporting elements. With this game you begin to understand the reluctance of the Imperial Fleet wanting to sortie because of its POL “issues”. I note that the game’s victory conditions are well-crafted, rewarding good game play.

One word of warning about trying to do too much and on the fly – the rules on priority of engagements with Task Forces just might rear its ugly head and smack you hard. Make certain you grasp the subtleties of that rule. In general, the Order of Battle feels pretty right. They made some game design decisions with some of the Allied ships that bounced around from theatre to theatre – I can live with it. If anything needs fiddled with it is perhaps some later war Allied AA values but again – I can live with it. I still want to meet the people who can play this game though in less than 20 hours.

CONCLUSIONS
Monster games by definition are to be purchased, loved, and gloated over to our friends who don’t have it – but often are unplayable such as FGA’s The Eagle and the Sun. With ATP there are no such concerns in terms of playability while retaining enough of a sense of WW II strategic and operational reality. I won’t kid you that turns are long – but hey you expect that from a monster game. The critical sense to impart to you is they never felt long due to playing the system but in playing the game. Some of the new ideas are a lot of fun and I liked their take on the Pacific War. Pick up a copy today and be more than pleasantly surprised.



They did a bang-up job on the maps here. Look at the GREEN along the East Coast of Australia.
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Mochara C
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Thanks for doing this.
Between this review and Tim's I've determined I'd better try this one.
So who's got a copy to trade....?
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Christopher Clark

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This is on my May to-buy list.
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Rohan E
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Thanks for a great review. This is a truly great game, which becomes more enjoyable with every play and gives you an understanding of the Pacific War as a whole. I've got the game set-up at the moment ready to play the campaign game, with which I'll try to do an AAR with photos, using the optional Burma Railway rule and Submarine rule. Hopefully real-life stuff doesn't get in the way and I can start it today lol.
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Daniel Blumentritt
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This is up there for with Victory in the Pacific and Fire in the Sky for top WW2 PTO games. Which is best for you probably depends on your time available and level of detail and realism desire. Just to throw out some vague impressions of these factors:

VITP - moderate strategic detail, low tactical detail, very low land combat detail, low logistics detail, low-moderate realism, ~5 hours. Additional bonus: large PBEM community. Additional bonus: individual ship counters not composite ones

FITS - moderate strategic and tactical detail, high logistics detail, low land combat detail, high-moderate realism, ~10 hours. Additional bonus: Really big hexes and big counters.

ATP - high strategic detail, low-moderate tactical detail, moderate-high land combat detail, moderate logistics detail, high-moderate realism, ~15 hours. Additional bonus: extra strategic options in SE Asia & China.

Quote:
Monster games by definition are to be purchased, loved, and gloated over to our friends who don’t have it – but often are unplayable


I agree. It blurs the line between "monster game" and just "longer than average wargame with lots of detail". It can take almost as long to play a full game of Russia Besiged, for example, and I don't think anybody would call it a Monster Game.

Quote:
mong other great design features is the Combat Effectiveness Level (CEL) that every unit possesses. The CEL modifies die rolls in a positive or negative fashion. CEL affects Japanese pilots as every unit as its own individual CEL readiness marker to reflect its current state of combat effectiveness. The Japanese badly managed their pilot training program and were caught short in terms of experienced pilots and trainers due to heavy losses. In game terms that means do you hold back your better pilots and hope they are around for the better planes – or do you fight them now and risk losing them?


The general concept of CEL by many other names has been around forever, but it was an excellent design decisions to attach the CEL to the units for everything else but separate the CELs from the units with the Japanese air counters.

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I have only had one really rude response back, this from someone I have talked to in the past who when I asked for a review copy stated” There are only 500 copies of this game. I am not able to send out dozens of free copies to people willing to play test, review….”, implying “something”. What that meant was simple - I won’t be reviewing that game from them, unlike ATP from PRP.


Doesn't seem rude to me.
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Daniel:
Excellent commentary. Thanks!

Smitty
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Darin Leviloff
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Thanks, Smitty. This is a hell of a game. Glommed onto it after giving up on the learning curve for Empire of the Rising Sun. I hear they are working on a Mediterranean companion game.
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Darin:

You dog! How was the recent birthday! My only real issue with them is they are not great in the responsivness category.

Smitty
 
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agit prop
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Quote:
ATP - high strategic detail, low-moderate tactical detail, moderate-high land combat detail, moderate logistics detail, high-moderate realism, ~15 hours. Additional bonus: extra strategic options in SE Asia & China.


I think I would flip some of these - I don't think the land combat detail is moderate-high (unless you meant high level), I found it fairly simple. At this scale, the naval tactical rules are more involved than one might expect, and certainly give a quasi-tactical feel to the battles. IMHO, the "realism" is in the large-scale outcomes, not the happenings.

I think the overall combat detail is right for the strategic scale of the game, but there are some "VitP-esque" aspects that tend to force one toward a mental squint: I've seen games where HUGE stacks of aircraft duke it out over an island or TF; one does have to step back & accept that this is an abstraction of combat over time, and may actually represent dozens of smaller battles. My favorite feature of this game is the combat efficiency level (CEL), which oh-so-neatly illustrates the enormous Japanese advantages at the start of the war, and its erosion over time, with the conversely low capabilities of Allied forces at the start, and the gradual improvement of their own forces by the end. I really love how the Japanese player has the ability to swap CEL counters between aircraft, again illustrating the difficulties in pairing ever-more-rare high CEL aircrews with newer and more effective aircraft. A great way to simulate training!

This game as become my far-and-away fav PacWar title for sitting down and playing out the war (I use the ZunTzu game module to play solo on my PC - that engine is perfect for that kind of playing). The subtleties of the aforementioned chit-pull system nicely illustrate the potentially enormous advantages of being the last to move one's TFs. I've had surface TFs get savagely mauled by enemy air units thanks to the chit pull order not getting my own suppression air strikes into play soon enough. One of my biggest nits about the game is the "ability" to have amph and trans units get "stranded": make sure you plan ahead & move your loaded AMPH forces in the strategic/TF phase, then unload and boogie out during the tactical phase, otherwise, they become museum pieces (it costs a very expensive logistics counter to move these puppies). Use TGs to unload small marine units on islands, and then use the island-hopping capabilities to "ooze" through island chains like the Solomons. And remember that TFs can move to *anywhere* on the map, and are NOT restricted by the presence of air umbrellas. While it may seem somewhat silly, there have been playthroughs that I've read where the Allies invade Japan very early and win the game in 43/44.

Another thing I like about this title is that you can read the designer's book "The Pacific War and Contingent Victory" and see how there was synergy between his argument in the book and the design of the game. I've actually been able to eke out a minor victory as the Japanese (those late-war combats are NOT a sure thing for the Allies!) by employing some of the strategies the Japanese considered but never successfully realized (such as the invasion of the New Hebrides/Fiji/Samoa). Probably the only thing that I find missing in the game is the presence of the British fleet until the end of the war. The whole Indian Ocean Adventure is pretty much abstracted out (you simply cannot do *everything* the IJN carriers did during the first 4 months of the war), which is a necessity of the time scale, but is disappointing nonetheless. If VitP can have it in there, then AtP should as well!

In any event, if you can get a copy of this game, and are interested in the topic, then do. It is right up there with Pacific Fleet, Fire in the Sky, and far more playable than USN Deluxe or APTO.
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Thanks Kevin for making me look smarter I think! LOL - all good commentary.

Smitty
 
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Daniel Blumentritt
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Quote:
I think I would flip some of these - I don't think the land combat detail is moderate-high (unless you meant high level), I found it fairly simple. At this scale, the naval tactical rules are more involved than one might expect, and certainly give a quasi-tactical feel to the battles. IMHO, the "realism" is in the large-scale outcomes, not the happenings.

I think the overall combat detail is right for the strategic scale of the game, but there are some "VitP-esque" aspects that tend to force one toward a mental squint: I've seen games where HUGE stacks of aircraft duke it out over an island or TF; one does have to step back & accept that this is an abstraction of combat over time, and may actually represent dozens of smaller battles. My favorite feature of this game is the combat efficiency level (CEL), which oh-so-neatly illustrates the enormous Japanese advantages at the start of the war, and its erosion over time, with the conversely low capabilities of Allied forces at the start, and the gradual improvement of their own forces by the end. I really love how the Japanese player has the ability to swap CEL counters between aircraft, again illustrating the difficulties in pairing ever-more-rare high CEL aircrews with newer and more effective aircraft. A great way to simulate training!


Yeah, all good points there.

Quote:
And remember that TFs can move to *anywhere* on the map, and are NOT restricted by the presence of air umbrellas. While it may seem somewhat silly, there have been playthroughs that I've read where the Allies invade Japan very early and win the game in 43/44.


Sounds like one of those things that happens once and then you learn to keep a near-historical level of force in the home islands in the future.
 
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Severus Snape
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All the things that you wished they had done for your free copy.

goo
 
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