Holdfast: Pacific from Worthington Publishing is their take on whole Pacific Theatre of Operations during World War II. It is a strat...

Holdfast: Pacific Holdfast: Pacific

Holdfast: Pacific

Holdfast: Pacific


Holdfast: Pacific from Worthington Publishing is their take on whole Pacific Theatre of Operations during World War II. It is a strategic block wargame and follows most of the previously tried and trusted mechanisms from the previous Holdfast line. I am disposed to like this game very much as it is set in the Theatre which interests me the most. 


All of the components are good. You get a full size mounted map board, lots of wooden blocks (many more than in the Atlantic game) in two colours, 6 nice chunky dice, a rulebook that consists of just 7 pages of rules and a chart of appearance for each player. I would have liked to have had a player aid with the Sequence of Play included or even printed onto the map-board itself. The graphic design on the board follows a simple and clean aesthetic and this simplicity flows into the rules as well. 

Simple and well-presented rules
In just 7 pages the totality of Holdfast system and the subtle variances each title has, is presented. There were a few edge cases which we couldn’t find in the rules but they were so ‘edge’ that I can’t remember them now. An application of common sense was sufficient to overcome my tendency to rules-lawyer.

The rule changes are what makes this Holdfast game different from Holdfast Atlantic (the only other Holdfast title I have played) and as a self-professed PTO aficionado, these game specific rules were really interesting: for example, in this game, submarines cannot be targeted. In my mind, this simple change models the relative effectiveness of submarines in the PTO compared to the infamous exploits of the U-Boat wolf-packs in the Atlantic.


Set up for the first turn
I also like the combat determination rule in this game. Prior to any combat taking place, players have to choose and simultaneously reveal whether they want air combat or surface combat first, in a contested sea zone. If the players desired combat differs each player rolls a dice, with modifiers, to determine whose goes first. In my mind, this is modelling the airborne radar and relatively poor fuel endurance (considering the size of the Pacific Ocean) of combat aircraft.  I may be stretching things here but in my mind it makes sense. 

Once combat starts in a sea zone be prepared to chuck a lot of dice. If you are familiar with most block wargames then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Individual battles often felt ‘swingy’ and sometimes after going in feeling like victory was certain, two battle rounds later you’re having to retreat, with the opponents forces largely unscathed. I don’t know how or why that happens, indeed my rational brain is telling me it didn’t happen; after all, it’s just probability. A few rounds of ‘bad’ dice can quickly curtail your plans. This swing does even out over the course of the game where you’ll have rolled the proverbial ‘buckets ‘o dice’.

Halfway through turn 5
Unusually for many combat games both the high and low dice results score. Results of 1, 5 and 6 are all good if you’ve rolled them. Normal hits that rotate a block down one strength point are 5 and 6. You disable an enemy unit on a roll of 1, forcing that unit to retreat to a friendly port at the end of a combat round. Because combat is simultaneous even ‘after’ being disabled that unit will still fire back, they just won't be firing in the next round. 

Another simple tweak to the Holdfast System in this game is asymmetric Repair Points. The Americans start slowly but receive extra RP each turn with which they can repair and replace damaged and lost units. In contrast, the Japanese player is limited to just 7 RP for the whole game. Their American player’s Order of Appearance also ramps up massively whereas the Japanese player dwindles into oblivion. As the Japanese, once a unit has been destroyed or damaged, it stays that way. 

American units sample (note the British carrier)

Japanese units sample

One thing that still baffles me about this theatre is that going into the war many senior Japanese military men believed they had no chance against the might of America. In the film Tora Tora Tora, Yamamoto delivers a famous and surely apocryphal quote:
 “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve”.
Any PTO game has a challenge to model the asymmetry between the powers and keep the game fun and challenging for both players. The asymmetry here is well modelled but in all but one of my games, the American player romped to victory. In other words, the balance is not quite right. Against two evenly matched players, the game favours the American player. However, if you like a challenge and are facing a relative Padawan in the war-gaming world, take the Japanese forces and try to eke out a victory.

 

American Order of Appearance and RP production
 
This game is a great opportunity fully explore a simple game system and be competitive without holding anything back against a newcomer, as long as they're the Americans. 

There are some optional rules which introduce Task Forces for Japanese player and Air raids on ports for both players. These rules I consider essential if the Japanese player is to be in with any chance of winning. The Task Force counters obfuscate your forces disposition and can even act as a dummy block. For me, these simple rules model the vastness of the Pacific and the relative difficulty of stumbling across your enemy (despite that happening on many occasions in real life).

 

Box Rear
I can’t separate Holdfast: Atlantic and Holdfast: Pacific in terms of my game-play enjoyment. They’re both good introductory wargames, although I think this a very small step in complexity up from Atlantic. I would choose this one over its Atlantic brother purely on theme alone.

"Pawn Takes Castle" - Tom Freeman


I can’t finish this review without talking about the box art. Pawn Takes Castle by Tom Freeman captures a brace of Dauntless SBD Bombers ripping into Akagi at the Battle of Midway. This piece dramatises the conceptual military shift, away from big battleships as the key weapon in maritime power and places it onto the tiny yet powerful aircraft.

This game is available from your Friendly Local Gaming Store, Holdfast Pacific has an RRP of $70 or £69.95 which feels a bit much considering the simplicity of the game but when you consider the amount of wood in the box that price is well justified.

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