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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

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Strategic Naval Warfare


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.

Box front Sovereign of the Seas is a strategic 2 player naval wargame set during a 50+ year period of almost continual European and ...

Sovereign of the Seas Sovereign of the Seas

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Strategic Naval Warfare

Box front
Sovereign of the Seas is a strategic 2 player naval wargame set during a 50+ year period of almost continual European and British conflict. Naval power was the ultimate weapon and a large slice of British pride and its' maritime tradition was laid down during this era. I have never tackled the age of sail in a boardgame and I was very much looking forward to reviewing Sovereign of the Seas.

The first thing that struck me upon receiving Sovereign of the Seas was the weight of the box, or lack thereof. It retails for £124.99 and it would be remiss of me not to say up-front that this game, the components, their quality do not make up a 125 pound game. I think I appreciate the fact that Compass Games - the publisher, serves a niche market within a niche hobby, which serves to make their per-unit costs much more expensive than other publishers. However, I cannot justify the RRP they're asking for it in Britain. Apparently it's ~ $85 across the pond and even then it's a tough sell.

For your money you get 1 rule book, 1 paper map (split into 2 tri-fold sheets), 6 sheets of counters, 7 sheets of card and 2 five millimetre dice. I am no stranger to paper maps or counter sheets but at this price I would expect mounted maps that butt up against each other and counters that come out cleanly. What you get instead, is two overlapping maps that need to be laid just right, and some pretty tough counters to push out cleanly. After the first counter sheet with a few tears, (that's tears of paper, not tears of anguish) I decided to pull out my rotary cutter.  No more chit tags for me (^_^)

I never thought I would comment on the colour of a games dice but here they're red and purple and to me they clash badly - white and red dice would have been a much better (and nearly thematic) choice. You'll also quickly realise that you'll need about 12 d6 extra to play this game. Why they couldn't have included an extra 10 5mm d6 at this price is beyond me.

Prior to punching out the game I would recommend reading the rules and just punching out those necessary for whichever scenario you choose first. The rule book has 3 scenarios whose counter mix will be different per scenario. I made the error of initially sorting the counters according to nationality, I think a more efficient method would be by scenario, then nationality, YMMV. I've ended up completely filling the box up with plastic bags trying to come up with some sort of sensible mix of counters to ease the set up time; which could easily be upwards of 30 minutes.
First scenario. Setup, finally!
The game, like all Compass Games I have played, strives for historical accuracy. The counters are all, as far as I could tell using Wikipedia and my general knowledge, historical leaders and ships. I don't doubt that the relative strengths of the units are historically accurate as well. This was a nice touch and the scenarios themselves have specific rules (the scenarios call them conditions) that slightly tweak the game to reflect the historic situation. This attention to history helps to immerse the player in the game and the period, but unfortunately you're pretty cruelly ripped out of that immersion by the amount of counter handling, you need to do. 

Your starting count of anywhere between 20 and 60 ships, not to mention leaders and control markers, are divided amongst up to 6 squadrons. When those squadrons enter the same sea space they combine on the Squadron Disposition chart - a feat that requires you to move and reassemble your affected ships into the new Squadron and reassemble the stacks. When a squadron enters a sea space with an opposing force and successfully engages the enemy, you form a line of battle with your units opposite to the opponents line. This occurs off map and off any provided board. The scope for accidentally dropping or mis-stacking the units is, from personal sausage-finger experience, very large.

British and French line of battle
That re-stacking of counters doesn't include the amount of counter flipping you need to do. The game recreates the fog of war by allowing dummy squadrons and a hidden-until-successfully-found mechanism which means that during the course of your turn, if you're like me, you're going to forget which Squadrons have moved already and what Squadrons are where. I was constantly picking the counters up to inspect the Squadron name then its' stacks, at times it felt more like a memory game.

The rule book suggest sitting at opposite ends of the short length of the map. The distance between players doing this was large enough that my playing partners all agreed to not bother keeping our Squadron Composition stacks face down. There was no way we could have read the details on them at that distance; although we did sacrifice some intelligence of the possible size of your force; given away by the sheer number of units in a stack and the amount of stacks in your squadron.

The designer has kept most of the bigger ship counters off the map during play but there is still the potential for the sea spaces, particularly around the home ports to get very congested with counters. After three long plays of the game I still haven't found a suitable way to squeeze the necessary counters into the coastal sea spaces. Especially at the beginning of the scenarios when you purposely are starting in your home ports.

Average counter density
When you have the additional Force-pool and Squadron Disposition cards all laid out it starts to take up a tremendous amount of table space. Your arms will be flailing over the table reaching for counters a lot ... a war-gamers best friend, the trusty sheet of Plexiglas is, I'd go far to say, an essential bit of kit to play this game.

With all that said, I found myself impressed with the elegance of the core mechanics. This may not sound like an elegant game at all, but the core of it is very simple. Move, Search, Fight, Resupply, repeat. And yet in this simplicity it does feel like a grand strategic naval ship of the line game. (Over-stacking your line of battle against the enemy is a beautiful feeling) The rule set for all of these actions can be learnt in about 15 minutes and during the course of a game you follow the very good player-aids' flow chart so often it is quickly burnt into your brain. If only someone had taught it to me instead of trying to understand the rule book. 

Dice not included...Cdre Rodney aboard HMS Royal George is seriously injured but claims a resounding victory for British naval power.
The rule book attempts to follow the traditional wargame rule-book layout with numbered and nested paragraphs that we're usually so fond of. This rule-book sometimes leaves the reader with entire columns of text to explain a simple rule and it left me exasperated on several occasions when playing through solo. I'm sure there are much more simple ways to explain these rules. The 2 people I have taught this game too had no such difficulty with the rules (maybe it's just me), but I found the rule-book to be incredibly opaque for what is a simple and elegant game mechanic, despite the counter management issues.

You may think that I hate this game, but that is not the case. I really want to like it more and I did enjoy my time with it, but it feels more like a prototype than a fully fleshed out and honed design. I will play it and teach it to anyone who asks and I would suggest it to a Napoleonic wargamer who wants to try strategic sail ... but that's about as far as I can go. 

I don't think that a board game is the best medium for the designer's vision to shine. A computer version for example, would automate counter management and help with several graphic design issues. Around the map are Port Control Boxes, they are broadly adjacent to their geographic location but I found myself searching for the Port Control Box on the wrong side of the map on many occasions. Also, the French and Dutch flags are so similar yet the artist has decided to vertically align text on some of the games control markers that make distinguishing the two nationalities tiresome.

If you're curious and have a pocket that is no longer effective at holding money Sovereign of the Seas is available in the UK now. Online will be the easiest place to buy this game as it will not receive a large distribution... 

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