Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Featured Game: Midway

I can't be objective about Avalon Hill's naval wargame Midway from 1964. It was my first "real" wargame and launched me into the hobby that I've enjoyed these 38 years.
In late 1968 I saw an ad in Boy's Life magazine for an outfit called Alnavco, which sold miniature model warships (back then all in 1:1200 scale). Being a middle-school kid with no money I wasn't able to indulge in buying the beautiful ship models. I bought one, a model of the USS Olympia of Dewey fame, that sadly was destroyed through youthful carelessness.
In the Alnavco catalog they also listed some naval boardgames by a company called Avalon Hill. I think they offered U-Boat, Bismarck and Midway. The games were just $4.95 and you could fight an entire battle with a fleet of ships. As this was about the price os a single small model warship the boardgames sounded like a good deal for someone on a limited budget like me.
So I ordered a copy of Midway in March of 1969 (I still have the invoice) and a hobbyist was born. I persuaded my best friend to play and before long we had an active little gaming circle going. Besides Midway we played Stalingrad, Guadalcanal. Anzio, Afrika Korps, Waterloo, 1914. Jutland from Avalon Hill plus some of the early SPI games like Centurion and Battle of Moscow.
My best friend's older brother brought back Diplomacy from college and we also tried out nonwargames such as Football Strategy, Stock Market and Ploy.
Most wargamers have a soft spot for the game that first brought them into the hobby, even if it's not an especially good game. Fortunately Midway is better than most of its contemporaries and still holds up rather well despite the passage of 40 years. It's still possible to round up a game now and then. The situation is classic and the execution is entertaining. While newer games are more realistic, Midway is not a howler as far as historical accuracy goes and it has the virtues of playing pretty quickly and being well-balanced.
Most beginning players find it a little easier to play the Japanese, but between experienced players the game is an even match. The Japanese and U.S. fleets are very close in strength during the early going when the game will most often be decided.
The game uses a screen and separate search boards to provide limited intelligence, similar in some respects to Battleship. The U.S. has an advantage in searching power which makes up for its disadvantage in carriers.
Once fleets are located air strikes can be launched with fighters, dive bombers and torpedo planes. Simple and straightforward rules cover the air-to-air and air-to-ship combat while capturing some of the nuances of strike tactics such as "anvil" attacks.
While there are simple rules for resolving surface battles, they rarely occur as the U.S. fleet normally strives mightily to avoid any surface contact with the much larger Japanese fleet.
The game succeeds in capturing the essence of the "Incredible Victory" at Midway. It's certainly possible for the U.S. player to replicate the historical result, but it's equally possible for the Japanese to achieve their sought-for "decisive victory."
One nice additional feature is Rear Adm. C. Wade McClusky's personal account of the battle contained in the battle manual.
Other valuable add-ons include the Wargamer's Guide to Midway, a 36-page booklet published in 1979 that contains a digest of the best Midway-related articles from the Avalon Hill General.
Another great add-on is the Coral Sea variant that adds counters, rules and a map to cover the other 1942 carrier battles around the Solomons. With some slight rules modifications, players can use the Midway game system to refight the battles of Coral Sea, Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz and Guadalcanal. The system works remarkably well for these battles. While not quite as detailed as some of the other carrier battle games depicting this campaign, the Coral Sea variant plays quickly without affronts to historical sensibility.
Overall, Midway is still one of my favorite games and a real "classic" in the best sense of the term.

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