Sunday, 26 August 2018

Last Battle - Ie Shima 1945

This is Michael Rinella’s (Take Aim Designs) coverage of the battle for the Japanese island of Ie Shima towards the war’s end and is published in associated with Revolution Games.



The design is in the classic Area Movement style and this post looks at some of the features and play experience.  

Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.



The map is 22” x 17” and has rather an immediate distinctive look, using artwork that is based upon an intelligence map available to the American forces at that time, The total playing area is a useful blend of map and game track / box aids. The rule booklet is 12 pages of which 10 are core rules. The 88 counters are nicely done at 5/8”, with unit values shown in the typical bold style used by Revolution Games that are helpful to older eyes. The whole thing comes in a zip-lock package and retails from the publisher at the time of writing for $30.



Those who have played area impulse games before will feel right at home with the format and be able to digest the rules quickly, as only the game chrome needs to be noted.

At the heart of the game is an impulse system. Each turn represents a single day and this in turn is broken down into 12 impulses, though the day will be unlikely to last long enough to get through all of those impulses.

In a single impulse, the Japanese (player 1) can activate one area and perform actions with the units in that area and then play goes over to the American player (player 2), who likewise can activate one area. This completes a single impulse. In each impulse, the American player is responsible for making a ‘Sunset’ die roll. If this roll on 2D6 results in a score less than the current impulse number, then the day ends.

There are just four days to this battle, with an option to extend the battle by a further three days. The random ending of the day can bring a lot of tension to the game as the Americans hope to have longer days and the Japanese shorter days.

There are nuances to the above that will influence player tactics. The Americans have a range of off-board assets, such as naval capacity, to bombard an area. These attacks count as an activation (rather than activating an ‘on map’ area) but do not move the impulse marker further up the track, though still require a Sunset die roll, that could end the day. But of course if the Americans make such attacks on impulse 1 or 2, then the day cannot end, as the 2D6 will never score less than 2. In this way, the system naturally encourages preparation bombardment, but does not force it. The Japanese have Kamikaze and artillery assets that likewise can be used instead of activating an area.



If the Sunset roll equals the current impulse number, then the day still continues, but the weather changes, either flipping from clear to rain or vice-versa, with rain favouring the Japanese.

This way of handling impulses and linking it to a variable day length means that units can repeatedly activate over a number of impulses, rather than units going ‘spent’ once activated, as is the way with some Area Movement games.

When a day is over, there follows a Night Phase, which is only used by Japanese player and allows for the movement of units from a reserve box and have them pop up pretty much anywhere on the map and night also gives the Japanese an opportunity to attack with less penalties than would be the case in day light. Giving the Japanese a night turn is just one example of how the game’s chrome gives each army a slightly different feel, bringing in the character of Japanese tactics without any significant rules overhead.

Add into the mix Kamikaze attacks, satchel charges to bolster Japanese attack strengths and the victory points being located in the urban parts of the island, which have good terrain defensive modifiers, then the game has enough options, puzzles and nuances to keep both players engaged.

I have just played the game face-to-face and then the following day set the game up for a solitaire play through, both games were entertaining. In our face-to-face game, by the last turn (19th) the Americans were everywhere except Mount Gusuku and so they won with 12 VP’s (need 10 or more). But I, as the Japanese player, made two dreadful deployment oversights in the last turn and the loss of those opportunities may have allowed one or perhaps even two of the VP areas to stay within my control, making the final VP tally very tight .... the sign of a good game.

On the opening of each of the first two turns, I launched a Kamikaze attack on Mike’s naval group, each time being successful and forcing the naval asset counter to be flipped to its ‘used’ side. At the start of turn three, I got distracted and did something else instead, Mike was not about to lose that opportunity and he struck ‘Bloody Ridge’ (3 VP’s) with a naval bombardment. He rolled ‘12’ which would have been bad enough, but I rolled ‘2’ as part of my defence value, which just ensured that the attack shredded my defence and cost me three full strength units, leaving the area vacant.

The whole naval story for these first three turns could easily be woven into an engaging narrative and essentially, the game is filled with similar little twists, that hold interest throughout play.

In my solitaire play, the game pretty much ran the same route and again ‘Bloody Ridge’ lived up to its name! The Americans took all of the VP areas except for Mount Gusuku (the Japanese supply hub), which was heavily defended. They opened the turn using all of their bombardment assets and then set about launching ground attacks over the course of a series of impulses, but each time they got a bloody repulse, forcing all attackers to flip and retreat. In the end there were so many flipped American units that they had to call the attack off for fear of bringing down their VP score due to casualties - so they were more than happy to ‘pass’ following a Japanese ‘pass’, which ended the day.

In the Refit Phase, they were able to recover enough steps to reduce the impact of of casualties on their VP score. In the `End Phase’ they counted up the VP’s, getting a score of 10 VP’s, which is just enough to claim an American victory.

Conclusions.
When I first opened the game, I looked at the map and wondered just how much game could be got out of a relatively small space with relatively few areas and also wondered whether this would lead to any replayability issues. After our first game, my mind had been cleared of any such notions and I really should have got this game to the table sooner. It makes an ideal single session game that could come out without needing much time spent on setting up or on refreshing the memory with the rules.

From a design perspective, I can see the difficulties in simulating an action in 1945, while keeping it interesting to both players, due to the Americans having a lot of resources and firepower and really being able to push themselves all over the map. But there are enough nuances that make the two armies quite different, so that opportunities regularly crop up - even if the Japanese reward of opportunity for much of the time is simply to thwart American intentions.

Mike’s view was that you need a patient Japanese player, as the Americans get the absolute lion’s share of manoeuvre and bringing attacks to bear and I get that, it can feel like every attack against one of your areas will decimate the defenders, making defending those areas akin to using ‘speed bumps’  though I quite enjoyed my role as the Japanese player as their task of frustrating the American efforts is quite engaging and I would be happy to take their role again.

Mike did get some good dice rolls on the first day, the sort that just ensured that the defence of an area was wiped out, rather than leaving a flipped unit to carry on a valiant defence and needing another impulse to clear out the area. Accordingly he was able to advance quickly towards the urban part of the map. This forced me to quickly deplete my replacements to fortify the urban areas and so I was never really in a position to make many attacks myself as my impulses were spent trying to survive. With some poorer opening American dice rolls, I think Mike may have felt less sorry for the defenders predicament! [note, in my solitaire game, I didn’t particularly feel like the Americans got lucky dice, but they still pretty much romped over the island].

Early in turn 3, Mike rolled ‘3’ for the Sunset check, which ended the day. He used the Advantage Chit to re-roll the check, which to my cheers of hoorah! again was still low enough to end the day. The consequence of using the Advantage Chit was that he had to hand it to me. I used it at the start of the next turn to automatically bring six units back into my reserve box from the dead pile in the Reinforcement Phase. Normally the Japanese rolls a D6, halves the result and rounds down for the number of replacements - in the previous turn I had rolled a ‘2’ going down to a ‘1’, so to get the guaranteed six unit was a big help to my defences at a critical time ...... that’s not to say that I deployed them well!  [Note - in my solitaire game, out of 4 turns, twice I rolled ‘1’ for reinforcements .... so got nothing. Ouch!]

Missing from the game (in my opinion) is a reference sheet that brings things like movement costs, combat modifiers and Attrition costs into a single place, rather than having the player looking through the rules to find them. I made my own summary in just a few minutes, only to discover that there is a much more comprehensive one already published to the files section at BoardGameGeek. We found a summary sheet useful for our first face-to-face play.

I was regularly dipping into the rules to get some other smaller things fixed in my head, but as the rules are so short, within a few impulses, you quickly get to know exactly where to look.

Anyway, all told, this is an interesting area movement game that manages to capture the essence of the situation quite well and provides for an entertaining game. It offers a different situation and feel in a fast play format for fans of area movement games.

Complexity - This is a relatively low complexity game, more-so if you are already familiar with the Area Movement type game engine. The chrome gives the right feel for ‘situation’ is easily absorbed and the balance between rules overhead and fun is pretty good. We just played with the rules as written without any problems. A Summary sheet as described above will ease play.

Size - Having the necessary game tracks on the maps means that the only play area needed is space for the 22” x 17” map. Low unit density, ziplock format and the game size and play time would make this a good travel companion and this easily fits into our ‘kitchen table’ gaming that this blog tends to support. The bottom third of the map could be cut off and those things such as turn and impulse track just committed to paper, this would make the game map small enough to put on one of those table / tray things that are used for meals over hospital beds or even on a shallow board sitting across the arms of a chair.

Playing Time - Interestingly the game scenario is built around a 4 day battle, with an option to extend the battle by a further 3 days. Since the days are of a variable length, games themselves can vary in playing time, but this is essentially a game that will play in a single session and our first outing as a two player game, came in at just under two hours for the 4 turn game. My solitaire game was done in 90 minutes.

Solitaire - This is a two player game that works perfectly well solitaire. The variable length of days is something that removes certainty and helps keep things fresh and fluid for the solitaire player. With combat using 2D6 for opposed dice rolls, you can gets quite wide opposing swings in results, which again removes some player control and helps solitaire play. I did give Mike a couple of surprises, by having some of my troops pop up in the Night Phase in rear vacant areas and this would be lost in solitaire play, but frankly, having ‘learned’ that lesson, I think we would now both make efforts to leave garrison units in important areas to ensure supply is protected. Before writing this up, I played both face-to-face and solitaire and enjoyed both sessions.

Resources.

My sister web space called ‘COMMANDERS’ is more ‘snippet’ based than here and gets more regular updates LINK.


Revolution Games, the front page has graphics and links to other reviews of this game. LINK

16 comments:

  1. Nice review, Norm. Will put this on the radar!

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  2. Great review Norm and an interesting style of play, which I've never come across before. I must say I loved the map!

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  3. Thanks Aaron, I don’t think there are many low complexity, short play Pacific Island games around, so if the subject interests, it is certainly worth a look.

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  4. Thanks Steve, Area Movement games seem to fall into two camps, the one that I have described in which the impulse determines. The length of the day and the other way is that every time you activate an area and do something with those troops, they flip over to their ‘spent’ side, impulses alternate back and forth until both players pass or all units on the board are spent and then the day ends, Storm over Stalingrad is such an example.

    Both ways give enoyable games, but in this situation, having the day potentially end early brings an important element into play for both players, but particularly the Japanese and brings an emmotional investment in the game play.

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  5. Sounds like an interesting topic, game, and mechanisms, Norm. A title I had not seen before. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

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  6. I'm surprised that we don't see more Area Movement games, though the Designer does have some plans to do more.

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  7. Nice review! Seems like a fun game.
    The roll 2d6 less than the current impulse to end the day sounds like a fun mechanic. 😀

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  8. Yes, it works well, especially as the bell curve of 2D6 brings anticipation once you get to impulse 7 and you get this sense that you are running out of time to get things done.

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  9. Another good read Norm.
    I was hooked on area games after getting Breakout Normandy back in the day. They play differently, always seem to have attractive maps and provide good entertainment.
    I am waiting for Montys Gamble to reprint as mine was too badly damaged in a move to salvage.

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  10. Thanks David, Avalon Hill's Arnhem was my introduction to Area Movement. It is many years since I played Monty's Gamble. I also have Patton's Vanguard, by the same designer and publisher, in the gaming queue, which beckons play.

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  11. Interesting sounding game, Norm. I'm not a board gamer, but I wouldn't mind trying this one out.

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    1. Thanks Dean, I think non-board gamers can have a couple of designs like this tucked away in a drawer, just for when the mood takes them and it be enough to scratch an itch.

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  12. Again another first class write-up of one of our sessions with the added bonus of a repeat solo outing. I thoroughly endorse all that Norman has had to say. I was very surprised that such a small footprint and asymmetrical situation could give such a good game. Though the Japanese player is mainly shoring up his defences, I certainly look forward to seeing how I can fair taking that side.

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  13. Thanks Mike, I think this one will grace the table again, as I feel that I should explore taking a few more chances with the Japanese forces and you will no doubt handle them a bit differently than l did.

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  14. Sounds like a fun game,nice mechanics to allow for such an unbalanced combat and still give both players a good game.
    Best Iain

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  15. Yes, the designer seems to have managed to get a fairly balanced game out of an uneven match. I have found play to be slightly pro American ..... but then again, that could say much about my handling of the Japanese force. :-)

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