Review of Manila 45: Stalingrad of the Pacific
Manila 45: Stalingrad of the Pacific (S & T 246) is a magazine game designed by Joseph Miranda and developed by Ty Bomba. The game shows the American attack on the Japanese-held city of Manila in February and March of 1945. Units are battalions and companies. Each game turn represents three days, while each hex on the map represents .29 miles from side to side. In the words of the designer and developer, the game combines “a tactical scale for laying down fires in an urban environment combined with an operational scale of time.”
The American player wins if he eliminates all Japanese units by the end of Game Turn 10; if he fails the Japanese player wins.
Mechanics of Play
The game consists of movement, defensive fire, and offensive fire phases. Combat factors are ranged although the urban environment may block sight lines. There are no defensive values. One lays down fire in a hex and consults a Combat Results Table. A unit is either eliminated or there is no effect; there are no dispersal or pin results. Units may combine to attack a single hex. A great number of terrain and range effects add or subtract die roll modifiers.
Order of Battle
The feature of the game that I like best is the counter mix. The Americans are using three quite different divisions in a single corps to take the city. Thus the U.S. player gets the 11th Airborne Div coming up from the south and the 1st Cav and 37th Divs coming down from the north. 14th Corps artillery and bridging engineers are there to back up the attacks. (The 11th Airborne Div was attached to corps shortly after the attack began.) One learns that the 11th Airborne Div had two two-battalion regiments and one three-battalion, the 37th Div had three three-battalion regiments, and the 1st Cav Div had four two-battalion regiments (as Morison notes in The Liberation of the Philippines it was the last square division in the army). Each division is colored differently and cannot be used in attacks by another division.
The Japanese get a mix of army and naval troops together with a number of static artillery units. Many of the latter were naval guns that were pressed into use. They also have some rocket artillery. Units represent about 16-20,000 Japanese troops that were used in the defense of Manila.
The map shows urban Manila from Parañaque in the south to the Grace Park District in the north, and from the shores of Manila Bay in the west to Fort McKinley in the east. Many urban geographical features are shown (such as the New Police Station, site of a terrible battle), but streets play no role in the game. This even though major arteries were often used to form the axis of attacks. The Spanish walled city of Intramuros is featured prominently, as it should be.
A group of people on Consimworld recently finished a macro game of Panzer Leader and were commenting on an unrealistic feature of their game: a company commander could call in all the divisional and even corps artillery on a single hex. Manila 45 has this same problem. A single Japanese spotter unit, say a second-line ad hoc infantry company, can call in all ten artillery units in the city of Manila to fire on a single hex.
Another problem is the way the range DRMs work against distance combat. A single infantry unit next to a defender which is firing on that unit may have better odds of eliminating the unit than if the same unit calls in artillery support. The range of the artillery unit will most often cancel the effect of the extra factors that the artillery unit provides. This is very unrealistic as the Americans regularly depended on their ranged artillery to cause casualties, demolish strong points, and relieve the infantry of the need for frontal assault.
The game simulates the decision of MacArthur to approve artillery fire when it was discovered that the Japanese held Manila in much more strength than was thought. Only from Game Turn Three can the Americans use their artillery units. What the designer’s notes do not say is that the use of huge numbers of 155 mm and 105 mm artillery pieces completely wrecked the city and, together with Japanese fire, killed 100,000 innocent Filipino civilians. I consulted an old book from 1958 called Great Cities of the World that perpetuates the myth that Intramuros was “demolished and burned by the retreating Japanese when American forces liberated Manila in 1945” (p. 367). On the contrary, it was a synergistic destruction by Japan and the US.
The game strangely includes six American air units that have fire factors equal in strength to the 105 mm pieces and can be used freely beginning Game Turn Three. The three books I consulted (Morison; Connaughton, Pimlott and Anderson’s The Battle for Manila; and Breuer’s Retaking the Philippines) all clearly state that although MacArthur approved the use of field artillery, he did not approve the use of bombers or fighter-bombers, and in fact bombing was not used in the battle.
Because the Japanese expected the main effort to come from the south (or from the sea) they built a fortified line (called the Genko Line) south of and through Nichols Field, an airfield that serves as the southernmost geographical feature on the map. But because there is no provision for improved positions in the game or any incentive to hold airfields, the Japanese player will never deploy units there.
Play of the game thus has a fairly nice tactical feel, but is marred by the unrealistic massing of artillery fire, the inability to improve positions, and the lack of need to defend any particular geographical feature.
Historicity and Strategic Issues
Manila 45 has been designed to be a tactical exercise only. Not a single strategic issue faces the players; not a single strategic decision is included in the play of the game. From the Japanese point of view, the game is an exercise in futility: the city cannot be held. The Americans can botch things up. The Filipinos are invisible.
It might have been different. In reality, a number of important issues and decisions faced the combatants. The first thing to consider is why Iwabuchi, the admiral who commanded the defense of Manila, thought it necessary to defy Generals Yamashita and Yokoyama, and defend the city. The key to this is off the map. Cavite Naval Base, just to the south, was an important naval installation. It fell only after Manila, when the 11th Airborne Div could turn its attention in that direction. The other features are Corregidor Island, Mariveles on the southern tip of the Bataan peninsula, and the Manila Bay forts. These features guarded the spacious bay and while in Japanese hands prevented the use of the port to the Americans (just as the reverse had been the case in 1941-42). So the game might have been designed around Cavite and the Manila Bay defenses as strategic naval targets. Iwabuchi thought the Manila Bay defenses were important enough to deploy 4000 troops there.
Another factor was the large Japanese concentration of ground forces off-map to the east. This was the Shimbu group. The local commander was Yokoyama; the overall commander Yamashita. Both generals wanted the ground forces in Manila to fight a delaying action and escape to join the Shimbu group to the east. Failing that, they wanted the Shimbu group to attack to relieve the pocket. Such an attack was actually made northwest of Manila at Marikina on February 15th - 18th (The MacArthur Reports: Japanese Operations in the Southwest Pacific Area, plate 119). It allowed some forces in Manila to join the Shimbu group, but was far from achieving total success in relieving the pocket. These events happened on the cusp of Game Turns Five and Six, but are not even hinted at in the game.
The airfields, as mentioned, were also prime targets for the combatants. Victory conditions might have been keyed to holding the airfields, to taking or holding important naval installations in the immediately surrounding area, or to achieving a breakout (or break-in) with the Shimbu group. The latter would actually model a “Stalingrad of the Pacific.”
As is, the game is a useful but marred tactical exercise. As many have noted, it might better be thought of as a solitaire game because the Japanese player makes few, if any, important decisions during play. The designer and developer seem to have followed MacArthur’s blind preoccupation with the city of Manila itself, his assumption that the political worth of Manila in American hands was worthwhile at any cost to the city or its inhabitants, and his insistence that the city be taken by grinding assault without preparation, nuance, or specialized training.
Excellent review. Far too few reviewers go to the effort to compare a game against the history it portrays; even fewer will actually go back to the sources to examine it. This is an exemplar of the art.
- Last edited Mon Jul 6, 2009 9:59 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sun Jul 5, 2009 1:15 pm