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  SGS PACIFIC D-DAY and SGS OKINAWA from STRATEGY GAME STUDIO Strategy Game Studio have a long legacy of successful games which for me repli...










Strategy Game Studio have a long legacy of successful games which for me replicate everything I want in a board wargame. The majority, though not all, cover WWII.  So, it is with great thanks to Avalon Digital for giving me the opportunity to review their latest two games. This duo takes us to the island hopping battles of the Pacific.

My focus will be mainly on Pacific D-Day because this offers a magnificent five island battles.  In historical order they are:
Tarawa       November 1943
Saipan        June 1944
Tinian        July 1944
Peleliu       September 1944
Iwo Jima   February 1945
Several of these battles I'd already directly experienced on my gaming table in the tried and trusted  hex and counter form of Decision Games D-Day At ... series, which covers all but the battle for Tinian.  I was very aware of the Death Ride Series too covering at least one of the island landings, Tarawa, and in ways that take detail [and cost!] to astronomical levels.
I was intrigued to find out what SGS's approach would be. Like many of their previous games, the maps are area-based ones and for these operational battles that choice seems both obvious and ideal.  In particular, it makes the games very playable without sacrificing all the elements I want and expect in these situations. The combination of land, sea and air that WII Pacific actions involve is a great draw.  However, being invasions, the sea and air elements are more stylised with two boxes, one for US Carriers and one for US Battleships.  So, as must be expected, no searching for the enemy's fleets or battles between them.
Instead, each invasion will reflect its historical nature of American troops making beach landings supported by gunnery fire from the battleships and aircraft strikes from the carriers.  

A typical opening screen shot from the first conflict -
the landing on Tarawa.

Though this may sound like a recipe for repetition, there is plenty of variation to keep you engaged, as I was to discover!
Before considering this aspect of the package, however, it's important to look at the game system and sequence of play.  There is a fairly extensive rules section that you can refer to, but as this is largely generic rather than covering specific elements of the rules particular to these conflicts, I found little reason to turn to it at any point.  I say this with great appreciation after the experience several years ago of a 50+ page online rule book that needed far too much reference to to make sense of what I should be doing.
My first victory on Tinian
[still haven't figured out what 15% refers to!]

For the absolute beginner, the five short video tutorials should be more than enough to get started and, though an infrequent player of computer wargames, I launched in quite successfully without reference to them.  In fact, it was only later that I checked them for purposes of this review. They cover in order:
[1] Region Inspection
This is more useful than it sounds, as it covers not just the physical terrain along with such things as stacking, but also how to examine units and structures [e.g. bunkers].  Much of the time this knowledge won't add significantly to your play, but at key moments, such as preparing for a major battle it can be worth exploring the extra information.
[2] Air Movement and Rebase
Possibly the most useful, especially for the novice, though a few turns should see you dividing your planes and naval artillery into potent groups and sending them to their targets smoothly and efficiently.
[3] Land Movement and stack splitting
This is mainly helpful in making you quickly effective in splitting up large groups.  Playing the game, however, is best for discovering which units can't venture into some types of terrain or without other types of unit accompanying them.
[4] Stacking is as functional and obvious as in most war games whether digital or manual.  Moving your units will quickly teach you the fairly obvious facts about the limitations of infantry only moving into mountainous terrain in small numbers!
[5] Battle
The is the longest of what are all short and succinct learning videos and much of what you learn will be fairly obvious on playing your first battle.
So let's launch into a typical game turn. I'll focus on playing as the US player, though the option is there to play either side.  It's just that my limited forays into being the defending Japanese player have largely been monumental failures.  The computer A.I. does a far better job than I've been able to muster when trying the Japanese side..

Here's me getting an early trouncinging as the Japanese!

Each battle opens with a Turn 0 when both sides get a selection of cards to choose from; one of them is always the Historical set up and that has been my standard preferred choice.  Other choices primarily give you extra reinforcements/increased air or naval power - all at the expense of negative VP costs.  It's worth noting that the Japanese A.I. always seems to take some of these optional boosts.
Then it's into the following TURN SEQUENCE.  Note that the game doesn't use exactly the same terminology in every Phase I have used here for familiarity's sake. 

Just like many of my favourite board wargames, each turn begins with a single card draw.  Most can be saved to play when you want, but a few [edged in purple] must be played immediately.  They're the typical mix of good and bad.  Here's just a sample: bad weather preventing your carrier aircraft from taking off or restricting ground unit movement, a reinforcement card that you can delay playing to gain VPs, a very good range of combat support benefits.


Slightly misleading in its title, as what you are doing is sending these units out to locations where they will take part in Combat in a later Phase.  Note that both types of units can be placed in areas where you intend to move land units or can be sent to soften up targets by themselves.  
Typically you'll have 10 air units and 9 naval bombardment units at the start of battles.  Generally, this will diminish as the game progresses, but with some naval reinforcements and cards that restore an aircraft or two.
Main decisions choices here are as to allocating in small or larger groups and whether to have air and naval units target the same area.

Above you can see the two on-map boxes at a typical point later in a game, where I've divided my naval bombardment units in the USN Battleships box into two stacks of three units and my aircraft in the USN Carriers box into three groups of three.  A simple drag and drop process to first set up the groups can be followed by a further drag and drop process to direct them to their land target areas.  By and large this a simple, fast and fairly intuitive process.  
The screen will show the path you're tracing, indicating by colour whether it is allowed or not, while text will show whether aircraft will encounter AA fire and a symbol whether your destination is legal.  Occasionally, I've encountered minor glitches, such as a left click suddenly doesn't have any effect, but a right click does or, occasionally, a unit might not show a glowing outline to show that it's being immediately allocated to a group.  But trying again eventually will get you there and I've never had any hang-ups/crashes resulting from any of my actions - not even when one air group seemed to be settling, thankfully temporarily, into a weird weaving backwards and forwards pattern.
For the USN, these are mainly Battleships. Land reinforcements largely come by card play and are rarely substantial and are limited to highlighted beach landing areas.
As with most games this will occupy most of your playing time.  It includes all the usual features, terrain costs, effect on combat, stacking allowed, impassable to certain types of unit, effects on supply etc.  No surprises here and, of course, none of the accidental errors associated with playing games on your table top.  The one omission that I'd like included is the take-back function present in most of the computer war games I play.  So, the zoom-in/out facility comes in handy here to check key destinations.  What makes this system so playable is both the choice of area movement and a relatively low counter density.  I've given up on several hex and counter computer war games purely because of the tedium of pointing and clicking to move massive numbers of units, turn .. after turn ... after turn ... zzzz.
This probably is the Phase I'm most conflicted about.  First of all a screen appears listing all the combats you've set up and you then click on each one in whatever order you wish to resolve them in.  Typically these range from four to ten battles.  Consequently the Phase moves very fast - you can also adjust the speed at which they play out. 
At the start of each individual battle, you and the A.I. have the opportunity to play one or more cards to affect the outcome.  Only playable cards will be highlighted, quite often this may be a single card.  Your decision is more often whether to play the card now or use in a later battle or wait until a later turn in the game.  Don't forget you're only drawing one card per turn and not all of them affect combat.  You are guided a little in your decision by a bar at the bottom of the screen which indicates the percentage chance of winning the battle for each side.

The choice of battle card at the beginning of a battle.
Once a battle has been chosen, all the units appear and all that's left to do is click on the tab at the bottom of the screen to activate each step of the battle.  This is essentially Bombard, followed by Fight.  As each unit fires, the number it rolls flashes up superimposed on the unit.  Any hits scored are automatically allocated by the computer.  A battle lasts three rounds maximum and the only choice you have as the attacker is when the screen offers the opportunity to click on a white "Retreat" tab.
My main ambivalence about the process is not knowing the rationale behind how hits are allocated on the enemy and the fact that you have no control over the hits allocated to your own units.  Also puzzling have been the occasions when the enemy has suddenly retreated or routed.  Nice when it happens, but I'd like more understanding of why; still it could be argued that that's a realistic factor of war.  Similarly, sometimes you'll get the opportunity for some pursuit fire and occasionally a breakthrough occurs with the opportunity for some units to advance and, if they enter an enemy occupied area, create another battle.  This ability to Breakthrough is the one I've struggled most to implement successfully.  Sometimes the method has worked, sometimes it hasn't.  After Combat, a screen appears detailing all the results. 
These are usually just one or two build points per turn.  Each point restores an infantry unit to full strength, while two points are needed to restore armour units.  Consequently, they are best saved in the early stages of a battle and applied to units that are on their last strength point or two. The strength of a unit is shown by the number of white SP dots; as a unit takes hits, this is shown by the dot turning grey.  Tracking losses is therefore a simple and clear process.

Once you, as the active USN player, have taken your turn its over to the Japanese A.I. whose turn will zip by in seconds.  Even when the A.I. is playing the USN, their turn is remarkably fast!

Another glimpse of me playing the Japanese

Over and above the game play which is smooth and fast [up to you whether you want to slow down the Combat section], graphics are simple, clear and the zoom facility  enhances visual examination well.
So far, I've played through three out of the five battles and all three have proved very different experiences.  Tinian, my first victory, went down to the penultimate turn of its 19 turns and so far seems the easiest.  As the shortest battle, it was a good starting point.  Next up was Tarawa, which initially was an abject failure as my progress was so slow that the invasion got cancelled - oh, the shame of it!  By comparison when I moved on to Saipan, the landings were an easy cake-walk.  Ashore with little opposition which was overwhelmed on the first turn and the coastal road looked like a beckoning highway! But if my experiences are an accurate reflection of the battle just wait till you start having to winkle the Japanese infantry out of the mountains.  Not only are they a tough nut, but they have some bite back if you're not careful - you're going to need those replacement points.
I've barely dipped my toes into the waters of SGS Okinawa, as this is a completely separate game purely on the one battle.  It was historically the last major one of the US island campaign and deserves its individual treatment, especially when you consider that more American troops were involved than in the D-Day landings on the Normandy beaches! Not surprisingly it's a much larger undertaking than any of the individual battles in Pacific D-Day and has two scenarios: the full 40 turn campaign and a moderately shorter 31 turn scenario, the Shuri Line.  So, in a few weeks I hope to bring you a closer look at what has happened there.

However, if you haven't had enough of the Pacific yet, my next review will be focusing in detail on the naval war with Vuca Simulations Task Force Carrier Battles in the Pacific