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 Joe Balkoski's The Korean War: Designer Signature Edition June 1950 - May 1951 by Compass Games  The Korean War, often called the Forgo...

Joe BalKoski's The Korean War: Designer Signature Edition by Compass Games Joe BalKoski's The Korean War: Designer Signature Edition by Compass Games

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August 2021

Joe BalKoski's The Korean War: Designer Signature Edition by Compass Games

 Joe Balkoski's The Korean War: Designer Signature Edition

June 1950 - May 1951


Compass Games

 The Korean War, often called the Forgotten War, was really part of a forgotten decade of war. The 1950's saw a large part of Eastern Asia alight with the fires of war. The Western Allies were fighting together, and separately, against numerous Communist populist 'freedom fighters'. The French were fighting Ho Chi Minh's Communists in French Indo-China pretty much since the end of World War II. The British were fighting the Malayan Emergency from 1948-1960, again against Communist forces (interestingly, it had to be called an 'emergency' and not a civil war, because British insurance companies would not pay if it was a 'Civil War'). Almost all of the history of this decade was swept away by the intense struggle of the Vietnam War. 

 The Korean peninsula was divided in half in 1945 (almost exactly like Vietnam was in 1954), between a Communist North and 'Free' South. Again, much like Vietnam, the 'Free' government of South Korea was more of a strongman in power than an actually free society. The game focuses on the first part of the war where maneuvering was still possible. Afterwards it became a stalemate and fought much like World War I, with both sides hunkered down in defensive lines. The beginning of the Korean War saw the North's forces capture almost all of South Korea and push the Allies into the small Pusan Perimeter. General Douglas Macarthur saw his last hurrahs by his amphibious invasion of Inchon, and pushing the North Koreans almost across the Yalu River (their border with China). At that time, the Chinese Communists decided that they had to intervene, and really under the noses of the Allies, secretly moved a large force into North Korea. This force almost swept aside the Allies until they were finally stopped almost at exactly the 38th Parallel, this being the actual demarcation line between North and South Korea. The war dragged on for another two years before peace was achieved. So, now that we have seen the history let us now look at the game. This is what comes in the game box.


Four map sheets (42.5″ x 71″overall map dimension)

Three countersheets (9/16″ size)

Rules booklet with updated Historical Notes

Two charts and tables booklets

One ten-sided die

Box and Lid

 This is the information about the game from it's website:

Complexity: 7 out of 10

Solitaire Suitability: 6 out of 10 (landing options; no hidden units)

Time Scale: one month per turn

Map Scale: 7.5 miles per hex

Unit Scale: battalions, regiments, brigades and divisions

Players: one to two, best with two or more

Playing Time: 4-8 hours depending upon scenario, 20+ hours for campaign

 This is the difference between the 'Designer Signature Edition' and the original:

Larger and easier-to-read 9/16” counters and four game maps
Game map information is updated and includes all-new map artwork
Enhanced ergonomics are built into the set up and reinforcement charts
Restrictions on UN build-up and breakdown so UN player cannot perpetually continue Action Phase by reorganizing units
Modified amphibious assault system that allows UN player to more effectively recreate September 1950 Inchon invasion
Modified victory conditions that lessen impact of Global Tension
New random events to make the operation a bit more unpredictable
Updated rules treatment backed by many illustrations, an index, and clarifications and examples of play to reduce potential questions.
Updated historical notes

 As you can see by the pics, to steal from Monty Python "She's got huge tracts of land", or maps. With the entire Korean Peninsula done at 7.5 miles per hex, the maps have to be that large. The map itself is very well done. It has very large hexes and the color scheme is pleasing to the eye. The different terrains are easily identifiable in each hex. You do not have to try and figure out if a hex is this or that terrain. The counters are also large at 9/16". This makes it very easy to read all the information on them. They are also easy to maneuver for old grognard hands. A few people have complained about the counters being hard to 'punch' out of the cardboard sprues. With counters that do not fall out by themselves, I always use a trusty pair of Solingen scissors that are about 100 years old. I never have a problem with counters. Also, if anyone did have a problem they were sent another set out pronto by Compass Games. Did I mention they have great service? There are numerous Players' Aids that come with it. These are all hard pieces with some lamination on them. This is the list of them:

Three UN Air Support/Interdiction pages. One has the information      for Basic Game Scenario 3 on the back.

Game Turn Record for the Advanced Game which is two-sided. This is not really a Turn Record, but it has all of the information for each turn on it.

One Sheet with the UN Reinforcement Charts on it, and a Terrain Chart and UN Escalation Chart on the back.

One UN Combat Results Chart with a Terrain chart and other information on the back.

One North Korean/Chinese Combat Results Chart with a Terrain Chart and other information on the back.

One Sheet of the UN Depot Table, with a Summary of the Units on the back.

One Sheet of the NK Depot Table, with a summary of the Units on the back.

Then there are two for page fold outs, one for each side, with almost all of the information supplied on the separate sheets.

 So, you can see that you will not need to share any of the Players' Aids with each other. 

The Game also comes with a Rules of Play booklet, along with a Playbook. The Rules of Play Booklet is forty pages long. The Playbook is also forty pages long. Both are in full color and have a good amount of visual aids for gameplay. The Playbook starts with the Advanced Games Rules on page fifteen, and go to page twenty-seven. Next comes a short Historical Perspective written by the designer Joe Balkoski. Then there is a ten page 'The Game as History' with maps included for each turn. Lastly, there is a piece on Korean Culture and History. 

 Four of the Scenarios use only Maps A and B and a portion of Map C. One Scenario uses Maps C and D only. The Advanced Game Scenario uses all four Maps.

 As with all of Compass Games Designer Series Games, this is not just a new printing of an older game. The original designers have worked on their games and incorporated many errata and actually changed some of the mechanics. Yes Virginia, the map is slightly larger one way than the original. The original had two 22" x 34" Maps. Then again, almost everything is better than what came in the original box. There will always be some people that are not happy with change. The horsey set had a long fight with those new fangled automobiles. I don't know, I think it is easier to walk to the Post Office without having to watch out for land mines. Almost all games that are produced now are made because X amount of people want them published. Just because a Designer Signature Edition has been made does not mean that we are forced to throw out our originals. I have a few doubles of games that were reworked. I also have versions one, two, and three of Imperium Romanum, so I am descending from the soapbox now.

 Getting away from pure cosmetics, let us take a look at gameplay. Playing either side in the game presents the player with a completely different set of assets and liabilities. The NK Player has the advantage early on. The Western Allies had lowered their forces after World War II to save money. The US was not prepared for a large land war. This should not come as a surprise, because it happened in almost all of the wars we have fought. So the UN Player has to sacrifice space for time, and fight a delaying rearguard action, until the UN forces are brought up to strength. The rules do a good job of simulating what the commanders of both sides had to deal with. In a nutshell, win a war, but do not win it too much for fear of starting World War III. I am pretty sure that neither side was able to find a strategy for dealing with that threat. Kick some butt on a local scale without hearing the sirens wail to get to the bunkers asap. The UN Player does have a large advantage over the historic UN forces. The UN Player knows that China will become involved if pushed. The UN forces at the time were told that the chance of China interfering was slim to none. The Russians becoming involved is also something to give the UN Player to think about. The UN air superiority was taken for granted up until the Russian intervention. Some of the games rules have been changed because some players learned how to game the original system. My personal take on rules, is if the designer by mistake allows a player to game the system or allows a player to act non-historically, I just modify those rules. 

 The Air War, except for turn one, and its missions are just for the UN Player. The UN Player must choose between Close Air Support (CAS) missions, and Interdiction missions. Each scenario has rules that make some of the NK northern provinces off limits to UN air missions. These rules will be played out again in the Vietnam War.

 The Sequence of Play is very different than most games. It changes so much from turn to turn that a separate Player's Aid is given to you to check the changes from turn to turn.

 The Advanced Game is where the game really shines. The Advanced Game adds these and other rules to the game

UN Initial Intervention

UN Escalation

US Mobilization

Global Tension

Chinese Invasion of Formosa/Taiwan

Soviet Intervention

 Supply becomes a large part of the game also with the addition of Supply Depots (Supply Depots are in two of the scenarios, but their impact is more limited).

 As was mentioned, the game only represents the first year of the war. This was when the situation was fluid and the political consequences of some actions had not been thoroughly thought about. The UN, due to Macarthur's last amphibious invasion, were able to take the fight to NK, and almost overrun it completely to the Chinese border. Unfortunately, he blinded himself to the idea that Chinese forces would intervene. Then the UN forces were forced to fight a rearguard action under the constant threat of massed waves of Chinese forces. Both Players can be put in the position of attacker and defender during any of the scenarios. This is usually a hallmark of a great game design. 


 So, is the game worth it's price, even though you might own the original? The results are in and it is a resounding Yes! The game play has only been advanced and the components are better. Thank you, Compass Games for giving me the chance to review your newest redo of excellent older games. We grognards salute you. I urge you to take a gander at Compass Games large, and growing by the minute, stable of excellent games.


Compass Games:

Compass Games – New Directions In Gaming

Joe Balkoski's The Korean War:

The Korean War: June 1950 – May 1951, Designer Signature Edition – Compass Games