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Introduction Most readers of this blog will be aware of the Strategy & Tactics periodicals released throughout the year. Your FLGS ...

Strategy & Tactics #311 - Pacific Submarine Strategy & Tactics #311 - Pacific Submarine

Strategy & Tactics #311 - Pacific Submarine

Strategy & Tactics #311 - Pacific Submarine

Introduction

Most readers of this blog will be aware of the Strategy & Tactics periodicals released throughout the year. Your FLGS probably has some back issues in stock at any given time although you may have passed them by in the search for your next game. I am hoping that AWNT can feature regular reviews of these magazines as they are released; I will cover both the magazine and the included folio game that comes with a premium subscription.

I was fortunate to start with Strategy & Tactics issue #311 whose main article is a feature all about US Navy Submarine Operations in the Pacific which marries two of my prime interests of 20th Century Combat, namely the Pacific Theatre and submarine warfare. The history and combatants of the feature article are modelled for the included game, Pacific Subs.

The Game


The included game, 'Pacific Subs' is a solitaire simulation/game that allows the reader to model some of the tactical and operational considerations that a sub-commander may have had, or at least those detailed in the accompanying 'Pacific Subs' article. This marrying of article and game is a very effective way to explore some of the decisions and limitations that were imposed upon submarine crews of WWII. I always appreciate 'Designers Notes' in rulebooks and this magazine/game model takes that and amps it up.

I was taken aback at the quality of the components in this game, I was expecting PnP-grade components, but the reality is that they would not be out of place in any premium hex and counter wargame. The map and tactical display take up 3/4 of the (not quite A1) map sheet and there is a single counter sheet of 280 1/2 inch double-sided counters to play around with. Amazing! The quality of the components alone justify the $39.99 price tag not to speak of the magazine itself.



The rulebook does mention a few minor printing errors, most I could easily rectify however it says that they included 2 replacement counters in the plastic envelope; one for the Harbour - which was misprinted and a missing counter for the Submerged Timer. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find these additions. 

That the game designer and article author are the same, came as no surprise. The rules were neatly glued into the magazine with the glue that easily peels away and it left me with a pristine rulebook. The counters and map sheet come in their own plastic pocket which I will use to safely store the game components after I am finished playing.

I can't remember the last time I LoL'd (I apologise for using that as a verb) but I had a quick chortle about the rules for UHB's (Unnecessarily Hot Babes, or Undesirable Human Ballasts). However, after my first reading I thought I had a good enough handle on the Sequence of Play to attempt my first patrol as a newly promoted Lieutenant in the USN Sub-command. I still appreciated the support that is available online at http://strategyandtacticsmagazine.com/site/e-rules/ where you are able to download a detailed example of play which came in handy to resolve some minor issues.

Gameplay

Each scenario will consist of a number of different Actions which get resolved sequentially. The primary Action is Movement where you will expend fuel, move the boat counter (from 1 to 3 hexes) and determine what type of contact has been made in the new hex. In my experience, the move was normally just 1 hex as you attempt to skulk away from an enemy Escort or Flotilla.

Contact is determined by rolling a series of dice depending upon the features showing in the new hex. For example, if there is a shipping lane in the hex this will increase the chance of contact being made (makes sense) this is normally a stalking move and limited to just one hex. During the Contact determination you will roll an about a dozen dice, where 5 or higher means contact has been made by a Target (standard Merchant) a Tanker (higher reward at mission debrief), Escort (enemy combatant protecting a High-Value-Target (HVT), or an HVT itself. You can also make contact with a 'Rescue' indicating downed airmen or casualty evacuation from a beach hex. Although you're rolling a fair number of dice the outcomes felt well balanced i.e. you nearly always have a tactically sensible option - even if that is trying to run away...



After contact has been made the Tactical Display is used to determine the range and bearing from your boat. For me this was the most engaging part of the encounter; it really felt like the contacts were moving around the boat relative to the speed, depth and heading decisions you were making to get a good shot. 

This is one of the first sub-sim board games that doesn't abstract out the relative position and depth of the boat to the targets. I enjoyed this additional level of detail, and it is handled in such a way that doesn't slow the game down. 

I really enjoyed the game-play of this but I thought the rules could have been better with a few more examples of play. In many places you're left to interpret which arrows or tracks are being referenced but as with any game, familiarity makes this a non-issue. I am inordinately impressed that a game of this quality is possible (I hope consistently) every two months on the S&T publishing schedule. The minor printing errors and lack of detail in the rules book are almost understandable considering that major Wargame titles still suffer from this themselves with years of development.

Overall I thought this is an excellent game to explore the sub-combat/survival in the PTO. It won't be to everyone's cup of tea, but it was pretty much perfect for me. Subs - check, PTO - check.

The Magazine

Game-zine's have come a long way since I first experienced them back in the late 80s. With these magazines we get print quality that is indistinguishable from the premium titles you'll find on any newsstand e.g. New Scientist, National Geographic et al. The Magazine has 81 full-colour pages printed on nice thick paper stock. Of which 64 are packed with interesting content, in this issue, ranging from the Ancients Macedonian and Roman wars all the way through to the Pacific Theatre of WWII.



The feature article 'Pacific Subs' details some of the antics of the USN Submarine Force, including photos and attributes of all major types that were in use. The Author of the article, Christopher Perello, recounts some of the many considerations that faced submariners during WWII. Namely their own technical limitations, e.g. torpedo failures and the introduction of RADAR and Sonar systems to locate enemy combatants. The focus was clearly on the USN side as the Japanese submarine force is relegated to a few paragraphs at the end of the article. This was a shame as the Allied focus is very well written, in fact, all the articles are excellently written, I devoured the whole magazine in just two sittings, all of the articles were engaging and informative.

I must admit my knowledge of the religious struggle between Christian Europe and Islamic countries is limited to a school-grade level of awareness of the Crusades featuring white-tabarded knights with red crosses on their chest. My 'crusader' knowledge also has a smattering of Monty Python in my sub-conscious as well...however, the second article laid out some of the major impacts and battle successes that the Muslim armies of the 7th century had on the development and landscape of the Europe that we know today. It could be argued that Northern Europeans, and I still include the UK in that category... owe the relative dominance of their politics/economies to the highly successful Muslim invasions in Spain and Eastern Europe.


I have just finished watching Ken Burns' excellent documentary on the American Civil War so I was pleased to read the third article which recounts the exploits of Major General Sheridan's Cavalry Corps of the Union Army. As an outsider to America, it is obvious that there is a lasting legacy and reverence of the ACW. The author, Arnold Blumberg, has chosen a pivotal moment in the tactical development of the Union forces and how they deployed their Cavalry; shifting from a largely reconnaissance role to a major combat role. I am in awe of the bravery of soldiers throughout history, as they faced increasingly devastating firepower with nothing but their wits and lady luck to protect them. These technological changes are most evident in the ACW and WWI with the advent of the machine gun and artillery capabilities respectively.

The last major article focuses on one 'Fra Diavolo' early in the 19th Century i.e. Napoleonics. Now I'm familiar with the major Napoleonic campaigns but I had never heard of this one. I am no longer surprised when I read something I thought I had a good grasp on and it ever-so-gently reveals to you, you know nothing! Or at least a darn sight less than you thought you did. And I suppose that is where I think I will derive the most pleasure from this magazine, from learning details of minor and major skirmishes of events that I think I knew fairly well. Each major article, with the exception of the first - whose topic I really do know my stuff, was enlightening. The first too was an excellent read.



The back pages of this magazine include a diverse array of military snippets; for example the profiles of memorable U-boats and the tactical difference when the Roman Legion faced off against the Greek Phalanx. I am looking forward to reading the next issue and would like to thank Decision Games for providing this as a review copy.

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