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Subject: Empire of the Sun 3rd Ed rambling review! rss

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Robert Pollard
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Bristol
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To put you in the picture, I have just one play of EOTS under my belt, where I played the US vs Erasmus during a full campaign from 1941. The result was a US Victory, but it was exceptionally close – it literally came down to the last card of the last turn to enable the US to take the one remaining hex in Honshu.

For those that don’t want to read – I highly recommend this game. If you have any interest in the Pacific War, or perhaps WW2 in general, then this is a no brainer purchase. For those that don’t, I still highly recommend it!

When I first bought the game I was a little concerned as there were many rumblings around the internet with regard to its complexity. However, from my own subjective point of view, I found the rules to be anything but. They are straight forward and well written. Most of my questions I had were with regard to Erasmus, the enemy AI – but these are an addition to the rules.

Speaking of the AI, some people are going to want to know if this is a solo game….

My answer to this is yes/ish – dependent on your point of view. I play ALL of my wargames solo – including the so called non-solo ones. So I would in effect class it as solo!

During my many decades of playing experience, the one thing that I have come to learn is that many non-solo wargames play far better than their dedicated solo companions when played solo.

There are a variety of reasons for this but in general it is due to simpler rules mechanics and the provision of many more interesting decisions to make. Pure solo games tend to suffer on both of these counts.

Erasmus, the AI, does a pretty good job of providing an opponent – BUT – I do think you need to tinker with some of its proposed moves on occasion. I’m used to playing non-solo games - where I tend to play as a neutral party and play to the best of my ability for both sides. So tinkering with some of Erasmus’s decisions came naturally to me.

Erasmus did put up a good fight. In my run through it was down to the wire and with a different set of final dice results, Erasmus could have quite easily have won by denying me the last Japanese city on Honshu.

Is Erasmus perfect?

No.

During the midgame, it did get an almost fatal fixation on Rangoon – which by this point was well defended. But other than that, it performed very well. So despite not being perfect, it is a worthy addition to the game.

There is very little hidden information in EOTS so even without Erasmus, it would be easy to solo this game.

The Japanese cards are on view, but this didn’t have much of an impact – though this was somewhat helped by not initially revealing them if the Americans had the initiative or simply by the fact that my games run over many weeks and my lack of attention to the Japanese cards did make for some surprises!

Other players could use more unorthodox techniques to ensure they never see the Japanese cards, such as picking a new hand for the enemy every activation. However, I felt this wasn't necessary and the game worked very well as it was.

Battles are extremely simple and consist of an intelligence phase followed by a Naval/Air segment which in turn is followed by a ground segment. There is only one table for each of the latter two segments with very few modifiers. This makes for decidedly quick and smooth play.

Despite the combat system’s simplicity, there are many subtleties built into the system, thanks to the interrelationship between the naval/air and ground segments and the rules surrounding damage allocation.

These subtleties do bring out a great deal of narrative.

I can remember in mid-1944, we (the US) went after the Palau Islands. I had a large naval task force and two marine units. I thought it would be a walk over, but this battle generated many surprises. For a start, the Japanese unexpectedly managed to reduce my surprise to an intercept – this meant they could react.

Despite their ability to react, I wasn’t too concerned, as by this point in the war they could never muster enough naval and air power to engage. But this time, thanks to the island’s position and the position of the Japanese units I discovered that in shock and horror they could engage!

It was like Japan was going for a last Hurrah! Despite playing the Americans, I was kind of hoping for an upset – sort of a last honourable stand by the Japanese Navy.

But alas it was not to be (or so I thought). I rolled a 1 for the Japanese. I thought darn, that’s screwed up their one and only chance. I thought they were done for.

The Japanese units took a lot of damage, with the Americans receiving very little. My instincts were that this was to be a forgone conclusion.

However, thanks to the rules subtleties around ‘Who wins a naval combat’ – it turned out that the Japanese naval strength was just a little higher than the Americans – the one step loss that the Japanese inflicted on the US was enough to tip the balance of the battle!

So despite taking a lot of casualties, the Japanese Naval and Air units heroically beat back the US invasion and had won the battle - though at a terrible cost.

What a roller-coaster narrative! – and all from such few rules!

There were many more memorable occasions throughout the game as I generated my own alternative history. For me this is the sign of a good game, the ability to generate that in-your-head narrative - just like watching a war film!

Outside of combat the overall game turn is regulated by one’s hand of cards and these serve to determine your tempo of operations – which can be altered by strategic warfare. I liked the cards. They provided a lot of historical flavour and generally helped to shape a turn - in normally unforeseen ways.

The cards are divided into combat, resource, reaction and political types. These cards can be played as either events where you follow the text on them or as operations where you simply take the operations points. Both have their pros and cons.

Rather cleverly, the points values of the cards are also linked to their intelligence rolls, so that in general, larger offensives have a greater chance of being discovered. The system also biases these intelligence rolls by the side you are playing – Japanese offensives are easier to discover than American ones – presumably because of the American’s superior intelligence.

EOTS also models many other aspects of the Pacific War, including the war in China and such things as the Bridge over the River Kwai, inter-service rivalry and the war in Europe. This is a non-exhaustive list with each facet providing more flavour and having its own bearing on the game play.

The game is very replayable. As a solo player you can play either side against Erasmus, play Erasmus against itself or even play both sides. On top of this, each side has many strategies open to them thanks to the many ways one can win or lose the game.

In my case I was playing the conservative game with the US up to 1944. My thinking being that if I stick to only the 4 targets I needed for the turn, I would leave other easier targets available for later turns – thus always achieving my ‘Progress of the War’.

But, in 1944 I got a rude awakening when I re-read the victory conditions and realised that I had frittered away a lot of time and that the only way I was going to win now was by invading Honshu Island in Japan itself!

The invasion cost me dearly as it would have done historically. This was down to another simple piece of game design. The Japanese cities have intrinsic 1 step defenders with an attack of 12. This is very cunning, as the average combat result is x1 damage, with the average US infantry units having a 12 defence…

This meant that as the US player I was on the receiving end of heavy casualties for pretty much every battle on the Japanese mainland. I was astounded how this level of fidelity was achieved by the simple inclusion of these intrinsic units.

EOTS plays very differently from most games I have played in the past. A lot of this is down to the time scales involved. A turn lasts 4 months, so the upshot of this is that one can pull in units from all sorts of faraway places to join an offensive. This is unlike many other games where attacking units tend to be in a very close proximity.

I particularly liked how smaller operations lead to smaller movement allowances – and vice versa. This adds yet another layer onto the decision making with regard to which cards to play and which units to utilise.

In fact the choice of unit utilisation is critical in this game as air power/carriers have zones of influence which can drastically effect what you (or the enemy) can or can’t do. So one is always thinking about these zones and how to both neutralise the enemy ones, whilst consolidating your own.

EOTS plays exceptionally smoothly and quickly, even for the entire campaign. Most strategic games on my table tend to be there for many months at a time, but this one was barely on there for a few weeks.

The shorter time duration is due in part to the smoothness of the game play, but is also down to the ‘just-one-more-move’ aspect inherent in the game’s design. Games like this seemingly make time disappear as many turns are played out.

For me, this is one of the crucial criteria with regard to what makes a good game. There are some games out there where I dreaded going back to the table to play that one-more-turn. But there are others, like this one, where it’s a pleasure to play and you can’t wait to free up some time for the table.

In all highly recommended 10 out of 10!

RobP
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Rohan E
Australia
Bendigo
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Thanks for a great review of a great game
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Barry Miller
United States
Saint Charles
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FlashPan wrote:
Most strategic games on my table tend to be there for many months at a time, but this one was barely on there for a few weeks.

I chuckled at this comment of yours, as I play with many non-wargamers who would recoil at this comment with horror! They have issues with any game that takes longer than 2 hours... not much less "a few weeks"!

Great stuff!

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