Sunday, May 11, 2008

Samurai Sunset review

Samurai Sunset is an intricate hex-and-counter wargame depicting the proposed invasion of the Japanese home islands in late 1945 and early 1946. The game assumes that for technical reasons the Manhattan Project failed to produce an atom bomb and the United States and its allies were forced to invade Japan in order to end the war. The game was the issue game in Command Magazine No. 3 in 1990.

The campaign scenario runs for a year from November 1, 1945 in approximately weekly turns and 25-mile hexes. Units are divisions and regiments/brigades for both sides. The 19-page rule-book by prolific designer Joseph Miranda lays out a comprehensive examination of the campaign in clearly written prose. The map is unattractive and has many terrain ambiguities in the placement of roads, rough terrain an even some cities. Command editor Ty Bomba was displeased enough with the artist's work to announce in a subsequent issue that she had been "fired."

The 200 counters are generally traditional combat factor-movement factor affairs in the case of land units, with air units and naval units having similar layouts. All the counters are cleanly laid out and easy to read. Most Japanese units are white on red, except for the special Kamikaze-type units, which red on white. U.S. Army and Army Air Corps units are black on olive green, U.S. Marine divisions are white on dark green. U.S. Navy naval task forces and air units are white on blue. British Commonwealth land forces are black on light brown and their naval task force and its associated air unit are light brown on blue. Divisions are two step and regiment/brigades one step. The game turn is interactive with a movement phase, an air reaction phase by the opposing player and finally the combat phase. Ground combat is odds-based while naval and air combat uses differential combat results tables. Ground units exert zones of control into adjacent hexes that force enemy units to stop heir movement for the turn.

Like many Miranda designs Samurai Sunset includes extensive rules for various unconventional forces, in this case, the various Japanese suicide tactic units. Besides the familiar Kamikaze air units there are rules for suicide attack boats and land units of fanatical "samurai" suicide soldiers.

The game is an exercise in joint warfare, with the air and naval forces playing nearly as big a role in the game as the land units.

The game revolves around the capture of Japanse population centers while avoiding excessive American casualties. The American objective is to acquire victory points through the capture of cities and the Emperor driving the VP track towards a total of 100 for an automatic victory. Conversely, the Japanese attempt to cause American casualties and other game events that drive the VP track down. If it ever reaches zero the Japanese win a decisive victory. Naturally most games end with the track some in-between for lesser levels of victory.

Playing the entire campaign may take more than one sitting for players unfamiliar with the game. There are two shorter scenarios depicting just the Operation Olympic invasion of Kyushu and the Operation Coronet invasion near Tokyo.

One of the attractions of the alternative history games is the ability to test ones generalship in a situation without historical precedent. While the general outlines of a historical campaign are well-known and the player is forced to play variations on the theme, in an alternative history game the player has the chance to try an original strategy with no historical yardstick creating preconceived notion about the outcome. This appeals to just a limited number of wargamers, judging from the relative lack of popularity of alternative history and what-if battle games, but it can be an interesting experience that is arguably more realistic than playing a historical campaign.

While players know how D-Day turned out, for example, Eisenhower was left to hope for the best after making his famous "Let's Go" order.

All the scenarios are free set up, so the game can be set up in half an hour or less.

Recommendations(Yes) For Wargamers: An interesting and rarely-simulated strategic situation depicted in a solid game marred only by a substandard map that will require some house rules.

(Conditional No) For Collectors: The game is probably only of interest for theme collectors of the Pacific War or Japanese-related games.

(No) For Euro gamers: Like most hard-core hex-and-counter wargames the game play is intricate and detailed. The map flaws merely exacerbate the workload for players inherent in this kind of game.

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