Monday 15 June 2020

Old School Tactical Vol III - Pacific

Old School Tactical is a boardgame series covering WWII warfare at the tactical level. One counter represents a single vehicle or weapon or a squad / section of infantry and the scale is 50 metres to the hex.

It is designed by Shayne Logan and published by Flying Pig.

Box art

It started with East Front 1941 - 42, then vol II covered North West Europe 1944 - ‘45 and now, with the third main module it has moved to the Pacific. There are also five supporting high quality modules that add to the base games. So all in all, this is a series game that is now really showing its credentials as being a significant player in the WWII tactical boardgame genre.

The rest of this post describes the new module and it’s associated expansion ‘Hell Bent’.

Please use the ‘read more’ tab to continue

A reminder to the reader that even though this looks like a review, this is not a review site. I just write about the things that I like and I have paid for all the things that you will find on this blog. I have tried to keep the image files small to help those with data restrictions.

The components are very high quality and match the modules that precede it. In the base game (module III) you get a large 30” x 41” mounted mapboard, with lovely artwork that nicely depicts the subject. My map has some creasing on one of the panels where the paper has not been properly fixed to the board, one of the problems that crop up from time to time with mounted boards. My other Old School Tactical boards have been fine.

There is a scenario book with 16 scenarios with each using different portions of the game board. The scenarios run through a range of actions from the Solomon Islands in August 1942, through to New Guinea in July 1944.

The series rule book has been updated from v5.5 to v5.6, but what is really nice is that the extra rules needed to give the Pacific game its feel have been included in the Play Book, rather than the rule book, which reflects the designers desire to keep the core system free from rules bloat. We now have an index as well, though a couple of things I wanted, were not indexed, despite it taking up two pages.

The new rules cover new terrain types, caves, trenches, Banzai, Japanese unit characteristics, tank killers, canister rounds, starshells and napalm. While these deliver unique aspects of this theatre, the extra rules are done in the same spirit as the rest of the system, that is, simple easy read mechanics that make sense and don’t overwhelm, these are easily absorbed additions.

The game runs off a double sided, well organised, play aid card and this pretty much looks the same as in previous games except is has the new pacific terrain features on the terrain chart.

There are four large counter sheets on very heavy card stock, with each counter die cut into its own cell and having slightly rounded corners. They are held in place by a single small nub, so are essentially ‘push out’ counters, though I ran a knife through the nub for a cleaner exit. The counters are large (¾ inch) and over large (7/8 inch for vehicles) and very nicely illustrated.
Typical vehicle counter, note in this system, tanks
face the hex flat, not the vertex.

There is a card deck that is in three parts. The first is a small ‘luck’ deck, and then the other two parts give unit stat decks for each respective force, with the vehicle cards having the ‘to hit’ and armour penetration information on them. The cards are thick and have a lovely sort of linen surface to them.
Unit stat card

Overall, the production quality maintains the high values seen in the series and in some cases exceeds it.

The expansion to the base module is called 'Hell Bent' and it was released at the same time as the core module. This includes another big board and there is another single sheet of counters. Most obvious on the sheet are the 18 LVT counter types that will be used in invasion scenarios.

The board terrain in Hell Bent is quite open (as in no dense jungle), with plenty of palm trees, which counts as a degrading terrain. There is also a section of coastline for beach landings and an air strip. This contrasts the map in the main module, which has quite a bit of dense jungle and a hill on it, so between the two boards, a lot of situations can be covered.

You also get another scenario book in Hell Bent, with 14 more scenarios, covering actions from Wake Island in December 1943, through to Okinawa in June 1945.

I won’t spend too much time talking about the system, as this has already been highlighted before in previous posts and I have added those links to the Resource Section below. However, there are a few headline aspects that are worth mentioning again before we look at an action.

This is a fairly all encompassing game system, but with the benefit that it is easy to get into, with streamlined rules that are intuitive. Armour shares many of the infantry mechanics, so it is very easy to move from infantry action into armour actions and indeed, equally sensible artillery and air rules make the whole package very accessible, making all the scenarios presented in the game equally usable by the player.

The turn follows an impulse system, so play flows back and forth between the players as single units (or sometimes pairs with a leader) take an action, keeping both players fully engaged, though as with many two player games, the solo gamer will be able to play this equally well.

The number of impulses that each player gets is typically randomised, though there can be a stabiliser added, so for example in the scenario that we are playing today, the Japanese initially get 1D6 +2 impulses at the start of each turn, with the +2 bringing some assurances. It is a good way of setting and running the tempo of the game. 

Infantry combat runs off a differential style combat chart, where attack value is compared to defence value to give a column on the combat chart and then results are 2D6 based - what is unusual is that armour uses the same system, though a different chart. It works very well, is easy to apply and I think the armour / gun system nicely reflects real world capability without the potential complexities that can come with such a claim.

Overall, this is a players game, one that brings some nice tactical nuance, but that has a rule system that keeps everything playable.

Playing the game.
My first problem was a good one ..... which scenario to pick, because so many look so good. In the end I decided to do what I have done with the other modules, which is to work through them in order, starting at scenario 1 and what a fascinating scenario it turns out to be. It is a good starter because it is an infantry only action and of the new rules, only the Japanese characteristic rules need reading (a couple of minutes!), not that it matters, but those who have this as their first module may appreciate an easier start.

Scenario 1 Raiders.  Aug 5th 1942 Solomon Islands.
Leading up to Operation Watchtower, Marine Raiders carried out missions to gather intelligence and wreak havoc on Japanese lines of communication. At dawn, the Raiders deploy from their boats. Their orders, find and destroy the enemy radio tower.
Note, the red crosses mark out the portion of the
board that will be used for the scenario. The dark
blue is board edge and light blue is river.

This is a 10 turn game. The Japanese start by placing a control marker in three buildings of their choice - only one of the markers represents the radio tower location, the other two are effectively dummies (playing this solo, I will randomise the success of discovery, so the 1st counter 'discovered' will be the radio tower on a roll of 1 or 2, the 2nd counter on a roll of 1 - 3 and obviously the final counter will be the real one if the first two were dummies).

Anyway, the Raiders can only destroy a radio tower with a satchel charge. Once the tower is destroyed a Japanese reinforcement is released, while the Raiders must make good their escape, back to the river.

To win, the Raiders must not only destroy the radio tower, but also exit (escape) with at least 3 of their squads.

So, no tanks, caves or objectives to be captured and held, but rather an interesting ‘mission’ type scenario.

In this module, the Japanese do not suffer shaken or broken results, so actual casualties will need to be scored against Japanese units to degrade them or interrupt their movement when opportunity firing.
The Japanese set-up. They are amongst a village.
The three markers are the potential radio towers. 

At the start of play, each side is randomly dealt 1 Luck Card, which can be played at any point in the game. The Japanese get the ‘crazed’ card, which will give a unit a +3 bonus in a single melee. The Raiders get ‘Unstoppable’, which allows a unit to take two consecutive back-to-back actions and it cannot be subject to opportunity fire - that might become particularly useful in this scenario.
The Raiders start by moving off their river location and heading
to the jungle on the right of this shot.

The turns play backwards, like a count down. So starting at turn 10, we see the Raiders leave the river and start moving towards the village, but they must move through a difficult jungle to get to it, which will take a while. A couple of Raider squads hit jungle paths and that helps them move slightly faster. The Japanese are content with their positions, so they spend their impulses testing to see whether individual units can find better cover within their hex (if they do, they will get a +1 cover marker).

The first action comes when the Japanese sniper notices a Raider trying to get around the lower edge of the jungle, but they miss their shot.
Note after the melee,  Lt. Yoshida top right,
will inflict casualties on the Raider squad.

As the main Raider forces continue to hack through the jungle, the lone Raider unit at the lower edge of the jungle makes a dash towards the sniper. The sniper fires twice, without success and as the unit closes, a local HMG fires, also twice and also without success. The Raider squad make it to the sniper’s position. The sniper rolls to try and evade (needs 5 or 6), but is stuck in situ and becomes overwhelmed when the Raider squad enters the position. Nearby, Lt. Yoshida has his section fire on the Raider squad, who take heavy casualties. It then all goes quiet for a while.

By turn 6, the Raiders are discovering that the first control marker they find is a dummy. One of the Raiders carrying a satchel charge has used it against Yoshida’s position, but rolled snakes eyes, so unusually, no damage was caused. This becomes regrettable as moments later, a Raider squad discovers the radio tower location and now what was the nearest satchel carrier, no longer have their satchel charge!
The Raider half squad finds the radio tower, which
I marked with an Acquired marker as a reminder.
They need to get a satchel charge in place.

Having discovered the location of the radio, the Raider side determine that they have more than enough men to deal with the situation, so they order part of their force to return back to the river (exit point). 

Lt. Nichols is with a team who also have a satchel charge. He plays the ‘unstoppable’ card and that gets his satchel charge placed and .... Boom! the radio tower is no more! The order is given for all the Raiders to evacuate back to the river.

It is now turn 4 and events change to favour the Japanese. The destroyed radio releases the Japanese reinforcement, who try to cut the Raiders retreat path. Worse, the Raiders only get 5 impulse points, while the Japanese get 12 (the reinforcements bring an extra D6 to the party) and so the Raiders are very limited this turn in getting units to actually retreat.
The Japanese reinforcement arrives and will
try to block the Raiders withdrawal.

By turn 3, thanks to the decision to send part of their force back early, the Raiders have managed to get one squad to the river and four more are close (they only need 3 to escape to win). Then another (half squad) escapes and a Raider win is looking likely. The Japanese reinforcement really press against the raiders, but it is not enough. On turn 2, two more raiders make it to the BB hexrow and the Raiders can claim a win, with the radio destroyed and enough people escaping.
The second lot of Raiders reach hexrow BB#
which is the exit line, making 5 escaped units.

At the end of play, the Japanese have lost a sniper, a rifle squad and the HMG, plus 3 squads are flipped after suffering casualties. The Raiders have lost 1 squad and 3 more are flipped with casualties.

For a ‘no bells or whistles’ scenario, that was really engaging and a lot of fun, with local moments and firefights developing for a good narrative.

Conclusion - The game designer, Shayne Logan, deserves much credit. He has developed a lovely playable system, he does all the artwork himself and those boards look like a ton of effort have gone into them and he is very good at supporting the system on BoardGameGeek. There are 8 mapboards in existence now and he is already working on module IV, which looks to be based around Commonwealth forces in Italy.

There is a real sense that as a series, this game now has legs and will be well supported and in that regard it joins the main players for grabbing the attention of the serious tactical gaming enthusiasts, with an increasing array of kit and tactical situations available. It also captures that audience that just simply want a tactical game without high complexity.

I really like the previous modules and expansions and while Pacific has never been my preferred subject, I think this is probably going to be my favourite module so far and my appreciation of this theatre is growing. The amount of work that has gone into it is clear, with 16 scenarios in the base game and a further 14 scenarios in the Hell Bent expansion.

The decision to have the Japanese units immune to shaken and broken results actually works fine as the other half of this equation is that their units have low attack values, though in melee, the rifle sections get a +1 combat bonus.

The map artwork is very good. It is natural looking and I think half the sense of ‘being there’ is already done by the artwork, but it is the total combination of the easy cave and banzai rules, the application of the impulse dice allowance, the national characteristics  and the interesting scenarios that really bring this package together to give a worthy representation of the subject matter. 

The inclusion of a Pacific module has really kept the series fresh and I am sure that OST fans will be delighted. This has now become my go-to WWII tactical series .... there I’ve said it :-)

Complexity - When considering that tactical games by their nature have an inherent complexity, then this design sits as very playable against that headline fact. It has been designed to be accessible, it avoids cases of exceptions and it shares similar principles and mechanics in both infantry and tank combat, so in this system, if you learn about the infantry, you are pretty much already there for the vehicles.

Things like artillery are a dream to apply. The gamer will not be skipping over scenarios because they have difficult rule elements to them or the player has rule knowledge gaps, rather, all the scenarios are accessible.

I don't want to give the impression that the game is simple (as in generic). It is not simplistic, it is clever and it is fun.

Size - the board at 30” x 41” is big, but still we can talk about kitchen table gaming. Each scenario will typically only use a portion of the map, so you will end up putting rules, game markers and cards etc on the unused parts of the map most of the time. The fact that only a portion of the map is used can make the big board awkward for both players to easily reach the scenario zone when sitting on opposite sides of the table, so it may be better at times to sit side by side. The series game boxes are an unusual shape to accommodate the big board, though when the counters are cut and the cards sleeved, everything fits back into the box fine. I store mine flat.

Solitaire -  this is a two player game and like many such games, it plays fine solitaire. This is significantly helped by the impulse system, which goes back and forth between each side and also by the fact that the number of impulses available each side is randomised. Just play the game doing the best you can for each side. There are some moments where some information is hidden, such as the radio tower was in the above scenario, but solitaire players are used to dealing with such things, as indeed we just did.

Time - the blurb on the box says 45 minutes to 5 hours. I have yet to meet the 45 minute scenario :-) but 2 - 5 hours seems right and you will know straight away which are the meaty scenarios that will take longer to play, but this game can generally be thought of as suitable for single session play.

Resource Section.

My sister webspace COMMANDERS is a bit more snippet based than here. Link.

A look at the OST gun / armour system - LINK

A look at the Stalingrad module - LINK