Saturday, 10 June 2017

A First Face to Face Game of Coral Sea

A couple of weeks ago, Roger and I enjoyed spending the afternoon giving Coral Sea its first f2f tryout. I played the Japanese.

My initial hand draw was poor on Resource Points (RPs), but rich in reinforcements. In fact, after the first couple of card draws, I also had the 2 Truk fleet cards in my hand. Not bad at all.

It seemed to me that the imperative was to get a force on to Guadalcanal as soon as possible and construct an airbase before the Allies could show up. Within several turns, this was accomplished, with the Japanese also dropping forces on to New Ireland enroute. In retrospect, I think I took too much liberty in landing multiple land units from a single stack/task contravention of the somewhat laboured sea transport rules (a key gripe here....I think those rules need simplifying/clarifying).

Anyway, the game seemed to be unfurling in accordance with the historical narrative....and this was shortly reinforced when a US stack turned up off Guadalcanal and landed several land units, kicking the Japs out of their newly established airfield:

Here you can see the result of our first land-based battle, with the US spending an RP to activate the zone off Guadalcanal (with the shipping marker). While the Japs managed to repel most of the US marines, they themselves were forced to retreat to the western half of the island, leaving a single marines regiment in command of their newly dubbed Henderson Field. Cut off and disorganised, the Japanese troops have been marked out of supply. All battles in this game are conducted by each side placing relevant chits into a cup, then drawing a number of them in accordance with their units' highest tactical value. We then alternate the playing of chits. This can be quite a lengthy process, but it can also be fun. It's extremely difficult in this game to actually eliminate a naval unit, as a single disorganised result forces a selected unit to return to the closest base. Only through delivering a simultaneous disorganised + depleted result to an already depleted naval unit, can it be destroyed. As it happened, the Japanese succeeded in destroying one Allied carrier counter.  Not bad going!

Shortly thereafter, the game departed from the historical script. The Japanese returned in force and were able to land sufficient reinforcements on Guadalcanal, to boot the Americans back into the ocean.

At about this time, the Japanese were also able to send two small task forces to the northern coast of New Guinea, landing ground units and shortly thereafter, constructing an airfield south of Lae: enabling airstrikes to reach Port Moresby.  The Allies tried to send a ground force across the Owen Stanley Ranges separating the northern coast from Moresby, but soon discovered that moving land forces through the jungle exacts a heavy toll on units (moving from one land zone to another depletes, or flips, each unit). As only a single depleted unit can be re-built for each RP spent, it's an expensive and slow exercise  to attempt an overland advance. As per history, sailing around the island transporting land forces soon became  the preferred option.

This is how the situation appeared shortly after the Jap landings on the northern coast of New Guinea:

The next thing I sought to do was extend Japanese control out of Guadalcanal to Esperitu Santu, and to complete the conquest of island between Rabaul and Guadalcanal. Soon after landing a small force on Santu though, another Allied taskforce turned up to try and seize the island back. A battle ensued and the Japanese naval and ground forces narrowly persevered, sending the Allies scurrying back to New Caledonia. As soon as feasible though, they were back.....and in greater force. The short Japanese dominion of Esperitu Santu came to swift end.

The final operation of the game centred on the Allies sending a naval task force with troop transports around the eastern coast of New Guinea, intent on landing at Buna and Lae to expel the Japs from the island. Battle chaos soon ensued:

Under intense Allied pressure, the Japs were able to deliver additional land units to the coast north of Lae, just in time to counter-attack and drive Allied ground troops back on to their landing ships. Pretty fiddling dealing with these massive stacks of units and their status counters!

Not long after this, the game came to a close as I drew the final card from the Japanese deck. The final score, based on map objectives and losses:  a Japanese victory, 30 points to 19.

An enjoyable game, though some of the ambiguities in the exclusive rules in particular, can lead to some interpretation headaches. We're going to play this again and be more rigorous re the sea transport rules....which will no doubt force the Japanese to be even more careful in their spend of each valuable resource point.

My impression is that this is a pretty good game and deserves to be re-published, overhauling some of the rules and modifying the game engine in a way that would strengthen the fog of war potential so that the uncertainty surrounding each thrust and counter-thrust could be further enhanced. I salute the game's Spanish designers!

There really should be more games done on the Battle of the Coral Sea......and I feel that gaming companies missed an opportunity by not releasing a game in time for the recent 75th anniversary of the Battle.

No comments:

Post a Comment