Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Victory at Midway review

Victory at Midway is a low-complexity hex-and-counter wargame covering the pivotal 1942 naval battle.

It was the issue game in Command Magazine No. 14. The 10-page rule book lays out what became the signature approach of designer Ben Knight -- simple mechanics that capture the key elements of a historical situation, with just enough chrome to add some flavor.

Each turn represents 3-3 1/2 hours and each hex is 100 miles. The large unit counters represent single ships or small groups of ships. The 1/2-inch counters represent air units of 6-12 aircraft or land units of company (US) or battalion (Japanese) strength. Filling out the counter mix are various informational counters.

Like many carrier battle games, Victory at Midway uses a "double-blind" system where each player has his own map and searches for his opponent by calling out search hexes, similar to the game "Battleship" or the classic Avalon Hill game "Midway."

Players secretly move their units on their own map, conduct searches, and then secretly assign air strikes. Both sides reveal their strikes and resolve them. After that any surface combat, bombardment or invasion combat is resolved.

The combat system is likewise straightforward, with units rated for their fire strength against air or surface units. Each step fires by rolling a 10-sided die and comparing the result to its strength. Each roll equal to or less than that strength scores a hit. For example, the deadly Japanese Zero fighters are rated a "7" so they have a 70 percent chance of causing a hit in air-to-air combat, while the obsolete Buffalo fighters flown by the Marines at Midway are a mere "3." All combat (air-to-air, air-to-ground, ship-to-ship, ground combat, etc.) is handled the same way.

The third factor on most counters is a movement factor (naval) or range (air). Like most Knight designs these are suprisingly low, with nearly all naval units rated "1." Some are rated "1/2" or even "1/3" meaning they move every second or third turn. Likewise nearly all the aircraft have a range of just "2" with the most notable exception being Midway's B-17's with a range of "6." In a Ben Knight design maneuvering is a multi-turn concept.

The game components are the usual XTR standard. The map naturally is mostly a blue expanse of sea, with a handful of items. One corner of the map is shaded to indicate it is covered by a huge fog bank at the beginning of the game.

Japanse units show overhead views of aircraft or side views of warships on red counters with yellow print. American naval units are on blue counters with yellow print, Marine and Army Air Corps units are olive green. For both sides the one-step side of the counter is a lighter shade of the base color.

Victory is determined by victory points. Most are scored by getting hits on enemy units (carrier hits are worth 5VP, each air unit step just 1/2VP) but occupying Midway is worth 11 VP.

Set up is less than five minutes and it should be possible to play the full 25-turn game twice in an evening.

There are a handful of optional rules that add little complexity and should always be used.

There are solitaire rules that pit the player as the USN against the historical Japanese plan, which was rather inflexible.

Recommendations: (Yes) For wargamers. A nice simple wargame depicting a fascinating battle.

(No) For collectors. Nothing special.

(Yes) For Eurogamers. While component quality is not up to current standards the game is light on intricate details and has straightforward rules that may make it accessible for nonwargamers who want to try one out.

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