Published by Lock 'n Load, Heroes of the Pacific is a new title in the Lock 'n Load ('Heroes of') series and also the first game in this series published by the new management at Lock 'n Load.
The rules have been stream-lined to give us version 4 and the counters have changed so that they already come with rounded corners and so don't need trimming (for those like that do that).
This post will just take a look at the basic elements of the game and the new rules that give this module its Pacific flavour.
Please tap the 'read more' tab for the rest of this post.
There are previous posts on this blog that look at this system in some detail, so this post will just take a light overview of the module. The earlier posts are highlighted in the resource section at the foot of this post, with appropriate links.
Lock 'n Load is under new management. They have moved to 'in house printing' and plan to bring the Lock 'n Load series back into print over the coming months. So Heroes of the Pacific gives us our first glimse, production wise, as to what we can expect.
Physical aspects - Out of the box, the game looks very nice. There are 5 maps with a variety of terrain, including a beach. The maps have large hexes but a small footprint ( roughly 9" x 13" ), so are ideal for the theme of this blog (wargames in small spaces). The company provide an upsized set of maps called X-maps and these are available to pre-subbers for free and available to everyone else as a separate purchase. The terrain is very nicely done and on a par with the boads found in the Conflict of Heroes games by Academy Games - who up to this time have set the bench-mark for artwork on tactical maps.
The rulebook is nicely set out with larger print and plenty of illustrations. The pages are watermarked, which makes for a visually very attractive rule book, though some have commented that this is an example of form over function, making the rules harder to read. I have not really found that to be true enough to want to see the watermark reduced or removed - though a few notes have been made in green ink and I imagine that colour blind people will not like to see green text against a partly pink background.
The scenario book is nice overall and a lot of artistic effort has gone into it, however, it's functionality is reduced by the scenarios being presented in a fashion that is meant to look like period documents, with typed (as in a small font resembling a period typewriter that has seen better days ) instructions on aged old paper complete with obligatory stains, bloodmarks, thumbprints and deep creases where folding has occured. Whilst artistic, this collectively serves to make the print harder to read than necessary for these older eyes. In some ways I feel it is a pity to draw these criticisms as clealy a ton of effort has gone into the layout and there has been a clear desire to make the scenarios look good.
The counters are interesting. The artwork is nice and each counter sits in a separate cell in the counter-sheet so that they are individually die stamped to give them rounded corners. This instantly adds to the sense that this is a quality product in which the production bar has been set high, though the process may also be why there is a slight bevel to the edge of the counters, making them a bit harder to pick up when they are face up. I have been using a bit of poster putty (Blu-Tak) just to grip and lift counters when they are in stacks.
The play aids are nicely done and sturdy. We have lost the individual skill cards of previous editions and instead their information has been transfered to play aids, at 6 cards per play aid. This seems a sensible alternative to producing expensive cards.
(sorry about the darker photo's, I only realised today that my camera exposure dial had accidentaly been moved to -1 ....... Doh!)
Here (above) a leader has the 'lucky man' chit and a hero has the 'Gung Ho' chit. The lucky man is able to modify any dice score by +/- 3 as a one off benefit and then the chit is discarded - this can make him very luck indeed .... but only once!
The system in general, like other tactical systems (thinking of Band of Brothers here) relies upon supressive fire before moving to contact - especially if crossing the open, as moving against a fully functioning enemy is likely to lead to dire consequences. so typically in Lock 'n Load a player will fire on a unit to try and make it go 'shaken', this will essentially stop the unit firing until it recovers ..... but in this module, this tactic is only helpful to the Japanese forces because while the Americans will go shaken, the Japanese themselves do not go shaken and simly take casualties instead (see later comments on the subject).
In the above example, despite heavy American fire, the sniper has gone wounded (rather than shaken) and likewise the top left squad has lost a step instead of going shaken, so as the Marine squads move adjacent, the Japanese defenders are still able to deliver effective fire, stopping both American squads as they themselves go shaken. It can be really difficult to approach surviving Japanese squads without using good cover.
But one thing that makes Lock 'n Load obviously different from systems such as Band of Brothers and ASL is that once a unit fires, it is 'done', it does not have a final fire capabilty against units that then move adjacent to it.
Players will soon learn to use the map and that rule to their advantage by drawing fire from an enemy and then moving to overwhelm the defences. In the picture above, as Marines approach Japanese positions, the Japanese unit on the left can see them without difficulty, but the Kunai Grass (next to the pond) blocks line of sight from Japanese units higher up the board and the light jungle (represented by 4 trees) next to it degrades LOS, so the moving Marine unit has some cover to its right flank as it uses this route to move towards the Japanese unit.
Once the Japanese unit fires (as it does and is marked with a fire marker), it cannot fire again until the next turn - this encourages the second marine squad to move up in confidence of not being fired upon by that Japanese unit and being unlikely to be successfuly fired upon by anyone else. If there were some nearer fresh American units, they might be tempted to move right up to the fired Japanese unit and enter melee without being fired upon as they approach and so this becomes a very thought provoking game in which routes of advance, fields of fire and actually being available to fire, all connect the player to a closer involvement with units and their tactics, it makes the player care about what is going on.
The concept of spotting in critically important in the game. At the start of each turn all spotted counters are removed, so all the work done in the previous turn to spot things, starts again. A unit (or stack) needs to be spotted before it can be fired upon. The spotting unit can only change the status of a hex to spotted if it rolls 1 - 3 for degrading terrain or 1 - 2 for blocking terrain and that can make it quite tough to aquire targets to soften up prior to launching an attack and some turns can almost pass by without too much activity if not much successful spotting is going on and defenders are happy just to keep their heads down. But, as soon as some units become spotted, all hell can break loose, as units that fire, then themselves become spotted and invite fire.
The exception is that troops in the open and troops adjacent to an enemy are automatically spotted.
In the above situation the Japanese units hold their fire to stay hidden, but the marines who are adjacent to an enemy, even though they are in cover become automatically spotted. The question now is whether any of the Japanese units will fire and by doing so, become spotted themselves, which will draw other fires onto them ... and so it goes on.
In the above photograph, two Marine squads end up in the steam, which is open terrain, they automatically collect spotted markers and in this game, the stream became someting of a killing zone.
There are ust over 50 pages in the rule book, but the print is refreshingly large and there are plenty of illustrations, so this is not a difficult set to master and in most respects, each element of the rules is covered in just a few paragraphs. Off board artillery is a good example of this. In some systems, artillery spotting and fire can result in some very detailed rules, but here, you get the same effects for much less rules overhead. In the above example the American leader has simply called in some 105mm fire onto a hex in his line of sight, rolled two dice, one for distance of deviation (if any) and one for direction of any deviation. There are some modifiers to the deviation die roll and then the leader can adjust the spotting round by 1 hex. In the above photo, the fire has landed on target and will now hit the target hex and all adjacent six hexes and that blast effect remains in place for the rest of the turn - so having now created the blast area, the Marines can't go charging through it to attack the defenders ..... or at least it would be risky / unwise to do so.
Making this module Pacific friendly - The main highlights that inject Pacific flavour into the game are as follows;
The Japanese have their own fire table because most of their unit types do not go shaken under fire, rather they step loss down to a lower strength unit and since they don't shake, the first step loss is on the back of the counter (instead of the traditional shaken side used by the system), while leaders and snipers flip to a wounded side rather than shaken.
This makes for some really nice nuances in this module for gamers who are used to just the shaken result of other modules. If a Japanese unit is forced to take casualties while moving, it takes the step loss and still stops moving in the same way that a shaken unit would - except when making a Banzai attack, those attacks can carry on with their movement.
Also, each time a Japanese unit loses a step (above), its morale value increases by one point, so a 1-5-4 with morale of 5 drops to a 1-3-4 with a morale of 6 and then a 1-2-4 remnant ending up with a rather good morale value of 7.
The Japanese do not create heroes in the game - they have other attributes that take this into account.
Japanese snipers in certain terrain can gain a 'spider hole'. This allows the Japanese player to require the attacker to re-roll their initial attack die, but if they request this, they must live with whatever the second die roll gives.
The Japanese can make a leader led banzai attack. This will allow melee to be resolved after all the banzai units have moved and in those melees, each banzai unit will get a +1 firepower modifier when attacking. If units in a banzai attack take step losses along the way, they carry on moving and of course when they enter melee, the losses will have resulted in their morale levels being higher .... clever coming together of mechanics to make these attacks something to fear.
Some scenarios allow the Japanese to use Ninjutsu movement. This recognises the skill of Japanese jungle craft and their ambush capability. Basically the Japanese unit is held off board (by scenario instruction) and can be brought onto the map at ANY time and placed in terrain that gives a defensive benefit. A die is then rolled and the unit will either be removed from play (killed off) re-located by one hex or allowed to stay in the target hex. If this placement results in a melee, then the Japanese unit has its firepower trippled on the initial round and they are allowed to attack first (i.e. simultaneous melee does not happen).
In the above situation, the 1 - 2 - 4 arrives on the map under the Ninjutsu rules and makes a succesful die roll to suddenly pop-up behind the Marines who are out in the open. The Japanese unit can fire as soon as it is placed, even if this interrupts the American impulse.
The Americans have marine assault teams, which are valued at 3-2-4-6 with boxed movement (allows assault movement to - basically fire during movement). They are useful against caves and bunkers.
Full American rifle squads do not halve their firepower when conducting multiple unit attacks.
The American order of battle includes the amphibious LVT4, which can use ocean and surf hexes on the beach map.
Terrain types include surf, light jungle, heavy jungle, caves and Kunai grass. Kunai grass is blocking terrain, but does not give a defensive bonus, though does negate the +1 moving penalty during opportunity fire. The grass is costly to move through at 2 MP's. Caves have some similarities to bunkers. The Japanese can use tunnels to move between caves and cave entrances can be collapsed by satchel charges or flame attacks
The five maps show good variety, with the beach map being particularly nice. The above map shows an interesting one map scenario. The two pools are impassable and the stream consumes 4 MP's, so unless moving with a leader, units will certainly get caught in the stream which is open and exposed to fire from a lot of nearby hexes with decent cover.
Getting into the game - The game comes with a separate scenario book and this opens with an extended example of play for both infantry and armour actions. For anyone new to the game or players wanting to blow the cobwebs away if they have not played recently, it is worth setting up the counters and following the example of play and then setting it up again and just using your own die rolls to drive play. It certainly gets the fundamental elements of the system under your belt.
The first page showing the chronology of the rules as an index of content, but lacking a proper index, this ends up serving as the 'go to' index. Since this simply follows the order that the rules are laid out, initially tracking down individual rules is not intuitive, you need to know how the rules are laid out to effectively use it as an index, though that does quite quickly follow. For example when looking for low crawl, you don't look for 'L' or 'C' in the index, you go to movement and then search for low crawl in the list below that entry. I would have preferred a more traditional index so that I could find opportunity fire under 'O' for example.
A good starting scenario is The Battle of Buariki as it only uses infantry and artillery (which is easily handled) and is limited to one map, but it is a good puzzle, brings in some lovely narrative (a strong point of Lock 'n Load) and helps with the early learning curve of both tactics and the system.
Conclusions: - The national characteristics and terrain rules do give this module a different feel to anything that has gone before in the series and from that point of view, a player of the series will enjoy a real sense of something new. This is a cleverly conceived module.
The production standards are really nice, with my only reservation being the slightly bevelled side to the counters that make a face up counter harder to pick up and a face down counter easier to lift, but I think a bit of wear and tear will reduce the effect and also a blob of poster putty can help in the lifting of stubborn counters.
Solitaire play - This is a two player game that plays well solitaire. Solitaire play is enhanced by the variable initiative at the start of a turn and the constant too and fro of activation between the two sides as armies activate a hex at a time. This adds a dynamic style of play, with often one side responding to the other in ways that are obvious and natural and so do not compromise the solitaire player in favouring one particular side. The box rates solitaire play 7 out of 10, and it is easily that.
Size - The standard maps are about 9" x13" in size and there is a mix of scenarios using 1 , 2 and 3 maps. The player just needs a bit of space to lay play aids to one side, so this is really a compact game and small enough to make vacation use practical.
Complexity - These are series rules, so for the most part, the original investment in rule reading and that early learning curve is substantially rewarded by a lot of replay possibility, covering some quite diverse situations. This module brings some Pacific theatre specific rules without too much overhead, which are nice and give the module a different feel. The box gives the game a complexity rating of 5 out of 10 and that feels fair.
Time - The box gives playing time of 2 - 4 hours and again that is a fair assessment, with time relating to the size of the scenario being played.