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Subject: Columbia Games Pacific Victory rss

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D Bryant
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A review of Columbia's Pacific Victory, a block game covering the War in the Pacific from 1941--1945.

BACKGROUND

I own and have played Columbia's EastFront many times. It was my introduction to both Columbia and to block games. I picked up Pacific Victory this past spring, had time to read the rules and play through the first turn, but only really got time to jump into it in the last couple of weeks. I now have four plays under my belt and feel I am able to provide a review.

Ok, now on to the review . . .

ACT I -- THE COMPONENTS

If you've ever owned/seen a Columbia game, then you know this is always a strong point. The wooden blocks are (as always) well-crafted. So is the thick paper board. The map is well drawn, very easy to read (the color selections provide a very helpful contrast between land/sea/different terrain features), and the hexes are large enough to get the job done. Granted, if you have a battle with 20 blocks, then you're going to have to take the blocks off the board and mark the hex with something. But "maxed out" battles like that only happen maybe once or twice a game. For the most part, there is no problem with the size of the hexes.

In addition, there are some player aids available via the internet. First, I highly recommend getting the latest version of the rules (Version 2.2). You can get that here at BGG:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/fileinfo.php?fileid=25606


Next, there is an excellent (and very useful) Battle Chart available from the Columbia website. Go to this link to get it:

http://www.columbiagames.com/resources/3401/3401-BattleChart...

Finally, I have created a small "Player Aid Pack" and submitted it here at BGG. It contains a chart to track the Production Points of the three sides (US, British Empire, and Japan) so that you don't have to recount them at the end of every turn. It also contains a Player Aid card that summarizes the Supreme Headquarters Strategic options, as well as the wrinkles regarding the production and use of Indian and ANZAC forces. In addition, it includes a "Unit Tracking Chart" for use in Face to Face games. This chart helps you jot down any intel you gather regarding the location of any key enemy units you wish to track -- an important thing to do in a block game since your knowledge of enemy units' locations and strengths is always very limited (which is, by the way, one of the most outstanding and excitement-producing features of a Columbia block game!).

ACT II -- THE GAMEPLAY

The game (like several other Pacific theater games) is centered around the control of "bases". Bases are either Major or Minor, with Major ones being able to hold more air and ground units and also providing some defensive benefits to the ground units. The most important hexes are those bases which also have Production Point value. It is these Production Points that enable players to build/repair units. These points are also used to determine the Victory Conditions.

Ah, the Victory Conditions . . . as has been stated elsewhere on these boards, it really is difficult to come up with victory conditions for a Pacific Theater game given that Japan (in real life) had absolutely no chance of achieving a military victory against the Allies. The industrial/production capacity of the United States dwarfed that of Japan. So, how does a game deal with this situation?

Basically, the game takes the approach that Japan can "win" by either a) expanding (in the early stages of the game) farther than their historical counterparts did or b) lose in a less catastrophic manner than their historical counterparts did.

Accordingly, the game's Victory Conditions give Japan a chance for an "automatic" victory if they get to 20 VPs at any time and gives them at least a marginal victory if they end up with 15--19 VPs by the end of the June 45 turn.

Therein lies the problem. You see, in real life Japan's "high water mark" was probably around the Spring of 1942. In game terms, they would have held 14 VPs. Now compare that number to the numbers I just mentioned from the published Victory Conditions. You see the disconnect? Those Victory Conditions require Japan to not only EXCEED their historical high-water mark, but also to MAINTAIN those levels for another two-plus years, all while the Allied industrial juggernaut continues to outproduce them. Japan can never capture enough Production Point hexes to make a significant dent in the Allied production. For example, the "Panama" hex (which is one that Japan can never attack) represents the US East Coast industry. By itself, that one hex is worth 12 PPs -- almost the total of Japan's Production at their historical high-water mark.

So, the Victory Conditions are obviously a problem. In my reading here at BGG and elsewhere, as well as conversations with others who have played PV, one thing is said over and over: "The Japanese player can almost never win when the published Victory Conditions are used."

Hmmm . . . "Houston, we have a problem!"

In order to address this situation, players have come up with several "House Rules". Some suggest bidding for sides (i.e. (with apologies to the old TV show Name That Tune): "I'll play Japan if you give me 4 bonus VP's." "Well, I'll be them if you give me 3." "Oh, well I'll take them if you give me 2!" "Ok . . . go ahead: Play Japan!").

Others have come up with alternate Victory Conditions. One popular set created by Martin Nelmes can be found here at BGG:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/117997

In addition, I have created my own set. It modifies Martin's set slightly . . . it can be found in the "Player Aid Pack" that I have submitted to BGG.

A final word about the Victory Conditions. I know I have gone on at length discussing them. Given that, you might get the impression that this overall review of the game will be lukewarm or even negative. However, don't be misled. While the Victory Conditions are a major problem with the game "as published", I can tell you that they are the ONLY negative thing I have to say about it. Other than that one area, the game is simply outstanding. Read on and see . . .

The game is structured around turns that represent three months of real time. The game begins in the Dec 41 turn and ends (barring one side gaining a Decisive Victory before then) in the June 45 turn. Thus each "year" has four turns: March, June, Sept, and Dec.

Mixed in with these turns are weather effects for certain regions of the board (Fog in the North Pacific in Dec and March turns, Monsoons in any jungle hexes in June turns, and a Typhoon hitting at one of six areas on the map during September turns.) If it sounds like it is hard to remember when to implement which weather effect, don't worry: they are printed right on the turn track. It's a snap.

These weather effects have a major influence on strategy. For example, during Monsoon season a large "belt" of the board from Burma/Ceylon all the way southeast to the Solomons will basically be out of play. No combat or base captures can occur in these regions during June turns. This can be a blessing or a curse; so far, I have had three occasions where Japan--after the first two game turns--was in a position to attack Calcutta or Ceylon, but the arrival of the Monsoon in Jun 42 prevented them from doing so, as Monsoons not only limit combat in jungle areas, but also prevent units that begin their turn in jungle areas from engaging in combat even if they have moved into a non-jungle hex.

Suffice it to say that weather plays an important role in the strategic choices the players make. And oh, are there a lot of them to make!

Players are given the option of playing one of three scenarios (Dec 41, June 42, and June 43). Each scenario is played out until the June 45 turn (or an auto victory, if that should occur). Regardless of the scenario chosen, players will find themselves presented with a cornucopia of strategic decisions. As Japan, should I go for a Southern Pacific/Australia strategy? Or should I go towards India? Or is the Central Pacific the best option? And what units shall I built in order to achieve my objectives? Meanwhile, as the Allied player, you will be challenged to decipher the Japanese player's intentions as quickly as possible and then move to prevent it, all the while building up your forces for your counterattack.

Add to this mix the delicious tension of the Fog of War (provided--as always--in an outstanding manner by the use of blocks!) and you have a feast for anyone who enjoys strategic thinking and the challenge of making decisions with only partially complete information.

I won't take time here to describe the specifics of the rules other than to say that movement and combat is very straightforward. There are no "quirky" rules in the rulebook. Once you've read the (very short) rulebook two times (always good to read a rulebook twice), you'll be up to speed.

The game plays fast . . . expect your first game or two to take about five hours to play the Dec 41 scenario (that is, if it goes to the June 45 turn). After that, you could probably finish the Dec 41 in about three and a half hours. In fact, I would estimate that two players who have a few games under their belts could probably knock out the Dec 41 scenario in three hours.

ACT III -- FINAL THOUGHTS

The game is excellent. That's the most simple way to describe it. It has excitement, challenging decisions, and a tremendously player-friendly system. If you have an interest in the War in the Pacific, this is a game that you will play many times. It will entice you to pull it off your shelf again and again.


For those who greatly value "historical accuracy", a caveat must be stated: this is not a game that attempts to simulate the Pacific War down to the n-th degree. It generalizes some things for the sake of playability. But don't be mistaken: there's a lot of historical accuracy in this seemingly simple game system. The previously mentioned Allied industrial advantage is clearly seen. So, too, are the transport difficulties of Japan and the problems of maintaining a far-flung empire. The Burma theater also plays out as the slow, slogging, slugfest that it was. And the challenges facing the Allied player -- How to defend early in the war and save India and Australia? How to most efficiently utilize the massive force that I will eventually have at my disposal? -- all of these are very present.

In other words, this game has much to offer both the both the person with a medium level of demand for a "historical simulation" and the person with a high demand. I'd say that on the "simulation/detail" scale, this game would be at a medium level, while something like MMP's Fire in the Sky (another excellent--and addictive!--game of the Pacific Theater) would be a notch above medium, and games like Empire of the Sun would be a notch or two farther above on the "simulation/detail" scale.

So, in summary, an excellent game from an excellent company. I suggest using one of the sets of Alternate Victory Conditions. But other than that, simply order your game, open the box, and get ready to have a blast!

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Martin Nelmes
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Excellent review of a true gem of a game.

Go Commish!

 
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D Bryant
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Thanks, Martin! I appreciate it!
 
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Charlie Sheppard
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So which do you prefer more? Pacific Victory or Fire in the Sky?
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Bill the Pill
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charshep wrote:
So which do you prefer more? Pacific Victory or Fire in the Sky?

Ooo, good question!
 
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Eliot Hemingway
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I really want to buy and play this game, if only I could find someone to play it with. Is there any PBEM community for PV?
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D Bryant
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Hmmm . . . I like them both very much. While they both do a good job of simulating/representing the major themes of the Pacific War, each also has its own unique traits, so it really depends on what particular "flavor" of a Pacific Theater game I feel like playing.

For example, Pacific Victory's attractions are (in addition to underlying solid representation of the major themes) the blocks and all the excitement that they produce via Fog of War, the medium level of detail, and its somewhat "lighter" feel.

Fire in the Sky, on the other hand, offers (again, in addition to the solid representation of the major themes) a slightly more detailed level of simulation, a unique logistics-based planning challenge, and (of course) that beautiful artwork.

So, if you asked me to choose between the two, I wouldn't be able to. I enjoy them both. I feel lucky to have them both on my shelf. I guess it's kind of like owning a BMW sedan and a BMW roadster . . . they each have their own attractions, but they're both BMWs. (Hope that analogy makes sense . . . I may be out of my depth with it since the closest I'll ever get to a BMW is when I'm next to one at a traffic light!)

By the way, I am also anxiously awaiting the arrival of Asia Engulfed, the follow-up game to Europe Engulfed. It looks like it will be another interesting take on the Pacific Theater.
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D Bryant
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There is a computer system called Vassal. You can find out more here:

http://www.vassalengine.org/community/index.php?option=com_w...

This program allows you to download "modules" of many games (only requirement is that you own the game before you download).

I have only recently downloaded the program and some of my games, but I'd be willing to try out PV if anyone is interested (and can help me get started with Vassal) . . .

There is also something called Cyberboard . . . I haven't checked that out yet.

Anyone else know of any others?
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Togu Oppusunggu
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>>Finally, I have created a small "Player Aid Pack" and submitted it here at BGG.

Still no sign of the Player Aid Pack. Does it sometimes take a week or more for a submitted file to appear on BGG?
 
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D Bryant
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It seems to take that long sometimes. I'm sure the BGG staff have a lot of submissions that they need to review (plus I doubt that running BGG is their full time job!).
If you would like for me to e-mail you a copy, send me a message with your e-mail address . . .

Commish
 
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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I just finished my first session of this gem and I like it a lot. How does it stack up compared to "Fire in the Sky"?
 
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D Bryant
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Hi Paul!

As I mentioned in my review, PV is at a slightly lower scale of "realism" than FitS. But just slightly. PV contains a lot of realism!

FitS places more of an emphasis on Japan's oil shortage and illustrates how this severely hampered offensive actions. FitS also does a more realistic job of simulating the devastating American submarine campaign against Japan's merchant fleet.

Both games do a good job of simulating the "hot spots" of the theater. In other words, areas that were strategically important in real life are also important in both games.

PV has some aspects to it that give it a different flavor than FitS. The most obvious is the blocks. The Fog of War provided by the blocks really influences a player's tactical choices and makes for some really nerve-wracking decisions.

As I said earlier in this thread, both games are excellent. Each has its unique "flavor" and are both a lot of fun to play.

Hope that helps!
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Greig Goodfellow
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Was comparing newer 'Asia Engulfed' block game. Anyone tried able to comment?
 
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