Lightning: Midway is published by a wargame company and is about one of history's most famous, dramatic and consequential battles -- but it's not a wargame.
But Lightning: Midway is a game so permeated with the flavor of its topic that is not a simple military-themed card game like Battle Line or Naval War.
The basic structure of the game is exceedingly simple. Each player has four objective cards the opponent may target, four Japanese aircraft carriers on the one hand, and on the other, three American aircraft carriers and an island base that's indistinguishable from an aircraft carrier in game terms. These objectives are attacked and defended by various "force" cards as modified by different "action" cards. On a player's turn he/she can either attack an objective put up to three force cards into play or draw cards up to a hand size of nine cards.
That's pretty much it. It's a very spare game design and the rules included with the game reflect that, being included on two sides of a single 8 1/2-inch sheet of paper, with plenty of white space and illustrations. While I didn't have any trouble understanding how to play the game, the very minimalist presentation did cause some problems for players used to more elaborate explanations and less experienced players. The company Website includes FAQ that are easily longer than the base rules, although to be fair, this isn't really a reflection of any real problems with the rules. The game is perfectly playable out of the box. Nearly everything in the FAQ merely makes explicit many provisions that are implicit in the rules.
Of the 110 cards included, two are "country cards" that review the sequence of play, describe the starting force cards and tell players who goers first (The U.S. player). Eighty more are the objectives, leaving 100 cards to actually play with -- 50 for each side.
The cards fall into five types:
The first are "force" cards, which in Lightning: Midway all represent groups of aircraft such as B-17 bombers, Zero fighters, Dauntless Dive Bombers and the like. Each is rated for its strength in attack and defense. Some have bonuses based on certain conditions (such as defending a carrier) and some are "dependent" on a specific objective and are removed from play if that objective is take out of play.
Supporting the force cards are three types of "action" cards: leaders, events and tactics. Each of these provides various modifications in combat. The key aspect of playing these cards is that there can be just one of each in any combat. Note, not one per side, but one total. So playing these cards is very much a zero-sum move that causes a big swing. Not only do you get whatever benefit your leader may provide, you also deny your opponent the benefit he might have gained from his leader. The same goes for tactics and events.
This provides some interesting game play while also providing a way to introduce many colorful personalities and real-life events to the game with few rules.
Filling out the card roster are a few "special action" cards that are played outside of combat resolution to affect the game in some way. I think the use of the term "special action" is one of the truly confusing aspects of the rule because they are not "action" cards as otherwise defined. I would have just called them "special" cards and left it at that.
The game plays very fast, the box says 30 minutes and that seems about right. It's an excellent two-player "filler" game for wargamers. For non-wargamers the unfamiliar terms and too-sparingly worded rules may make the game seem a bit more difficult than it really is.