With the exceptions of a few scenarios in Gary Grigsby’s War in the Pacific and the old Pacific General game, little computer wargame work has been done on the operational level for the Pacific theater in World War II. Slitherine and The Artistocrats are redressing this situation with Order of Battle Pacific and two add-ons, Morning Sun and US Marines. Players who just take a glance at a few screens can be forgiven for thinking these products are just Panzer Corps with a tropical setting. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Graphics to Die in
To tackle the mundane first, a difference between the Panzer Corps and Order of Battle Pacific’s info/command bars is evident as the former’s is on the left vertical while the former’s is stretched across the bottom of the screen. Also, Order of Battle Pacific’s font, as with far too many new games, is quite small and requires at times the use of an app like Virtual Magnifying Glass to be readable. Unfortunately in this case, the game must be run in Windowed (fullscreen) mode to use such an app and that makes vertical mouse scrolling choppy, forcing players to use keyboard arrow keys.
With that out of the way, the main screen graphics are splendid. Terrain types cover a huge range from tiny, barren atolls, to large tropical archipelagoes to sprawling, densely populated cities. The scales for hexes, unit size and times are scaled accordingly from meters to kilometers, from companies to regiments and different gradation of hours. One constant persists: detailed, beautiful depictions of terrain, buildings and unit types. Pineapple fields, groves, beaches, hills, swamps, roads, rivers, streams, tracks, reefs and inlets are shown in clear and accurate detail. Manmade structure include city buildings, villages, airfields, oil depots, sandbag positions, bunkers, pillboxes, airfields, radar stations, bridges, barracks, harbors and piers. The variety of terrain goes beyond the impressive range of Panzer Corps. These graphics illustrate the width and depth of the game.
Units are also slick and unique. Japanese biplanes are shown in as much detail as their monoplane colleagues. The under-reported Japanese armored cars and tanks are shown in great detail as are their artillery and cavalry. The Morning Sun add-on includes not only the rarely shown National Chines units but Mao’s communist units and the various Japanese local allies. The American army and Marine units are familiar but, in the early stages of campaigns, have World War I gear. Unlike Panzer Corps, the option to use horses to move artillery is present. Calvary is very evident in the Chinese campaign. Naval units are shown top down with superstructure apparent. Submerged submarines are shown by underwater outlines and suspected naval and air enemies are seen as fleeting white symbols indicating their track. Air units are seen from the side with accurate floats, profiles, markings, color and struts. Few games can boast of such detail. Each unit has a horizontal tag showing strength, a surrogate for health. The numbers for strength change due to combat shock and supply status as explained below. Air unit tags also have a number for the turns remaining it can stay aloft due to fuel. This indication is emphasized by red outlined hexes indicating that the plane will crash the next turn after entering such a hex.
A disappointment in graphics is the enlarged strategic maps. Unlike their equivalent in other games of the genre, these maps are black and white, making the difference between primary and secondary objectives difficult. Also, individual units are hard to discern.
Animation sets this game’s graphics apart from other games in the genre. Artillery pieces recoil and flames rage from flamethrowers. Troops can be seen tossing grenades and eliminated units fall dramatically. Damage and shell holes are persistent. Damaged planes spiral in, trailing large plumes of black smoke. Vehicles kick up dust and vessels leave wakes. Of course; naval gun fire and its effects on ground installations is always exciting but aerial torpedo attacks are a wonder. Players see torpedoes drop from planes, splash when they hit the water and trace their wakes to their target. Sound effects supplement the animations. Ships move with the clank of engines, ringing of bridge bells and fog horns. Carrier aircraft engines sputter on takeoff and wheels screech during landings. The usual tramps and motor sounds of ground units are present as are the booms and rattles of combat.
Learning the game is easy with the 72-page PDF manual and the four scenarios in the “Boot Camp” campaign.
A Long, Hard Road
The “Bootcamp” scenarios bring back memories of Panzer Corps: clicking on a unit highlights reachable hexes and mousing over an adjacent enemy shows a red reticule with possible losses to both sides. The info bar shows the resource points available to purchase, upgrade or replace unit losses. Eight different values show the units ability to attack or defend against different kinds of enemies. A major difference is the display of command points. Although the game has core units, command points are the limitations of how many units players have on the map. These points are divided into ground, naval and air categories. Players may have many points available in naval and air for example but, if ground points are nil, no ground units can be added.
The info bar yields more information about units. Aircraft carriers on the bar are shown with three boxes showing its complement of torpedo planes, dive bombers and fighters. Symbols activate unit abilities. Torpedo planes can change from strafing to launching torpedoes or, if near a carrier, can change to bombs. Engineers can lay and detect mines. Warships can change gun elevation. Heavy weapon infantry can use mortars.
The supply system is novel. Specific hexes on the map have supply values. As units advance, a red line indicating control moves with them, showing clear supply routes. Capturing supply hexes kicks in an algorithm for portioning supply among the units within the boundaries of the red line after a few turns after capture. Each unit type requires different supply levels for maximum efficiency. Hence, an infantry unit may be in full supply from the same combination of sources that puts a motorized unit at a lower level. Supply status is marked by green, yellow, or and red dots on units’ tags. Amphibious landing are supplied by off-shore supply ships until supply hexes are secured.
Resource points are gained in a slightly new way. Players receive a trickle of points each turn. Capturing or completing some objective may cause an increase in resources but not every objective hex provides this bump.
The base game has twenty-four scenarios: twelve each for Japan and the US in campaigns starting with Pearl Harbor and continuing to Melbourne or to Tokyo. However, these results assume straight victories. The scenarios seem to punish players who don’t achieve the primary objectives or all of the secondary objectives by not giving them all possible resource points or by giving the AI help in later scenarios. The game’s menu doesn’t allow playing the scenarios individually but some gamers on the Matrix Games forum have developed work-arounds. (Failing that, “Shift C” and “#igotnukes” will walk through the scenarios until players find the ones they want.)
The scenarios are long, some lasting eighty turns. Good players should achieve the primary objectives before the time limit is reached but the secondary objectives are entirely different propositions. The Japanese side of the Pearl Harbor scenarios is a good example. In eighteen turns, players need to shoot down eight American planes, sink three battle ships, find and destroy three oil depots and shoot down a recon plane. Even with the ahistorical third wave, good luck with that! The Pearl Harbor scenario played as the US sets the tone for the first four or five American scenarios: no crushing victories, just survival. The table only turns with the Coral Sea, Midway and Guadalcanal scenarios.
Victory yields not only resource point but new units. New units become slim for the Japanese as time passes but increases for the US. The greatest gift choices are “Specializations”. “Specializations” are abilities that remain with players through the rest of the campaign. For example, the first Japanese choice is between Banzai Charges and Bushido Code while the last American choice is between a British Pacific fleet and the Atomic bomb. “Specializations” always come in pairs; choosing one shelves the other for the rest of the campaign. Outstanding battle results create ace commanders who can be attached to units of their arms type.
Judgement on the AI is ambivalent. The AI can be clever, recognizing weak enemies, making attacks to sever supply lines and springing ambushes. On the other hand, it can do stupid things like abandoning good defensive positions to attack superior forces.
The Real Beginning of World War II
The Japanese invasion of China in 1937 constitutes the first act of World War II. This clash has received relatively little attention from computer wargame developers. The Morning Sun add-on corrects this. The eleven-scenario campaign begins with the battles around Beiping in1937 and ends with the conquest of Guandong in 1940. What marks this war is the plethora of participants. Japanese field forces tackle the Nationalists, Mao’s Communists with various warlords either as enemies, allies or both. Japanese garrison troops merely defend themselves. Each entity has its own flag and unit icons. A treat is watching the early Japanese bi-planes go into action and seeing the eccentric Japanese armor and mechanized unit designs. While the Japanese have a decided qualitative advantage, the Chinese field many units and quantity has a quality of its own.
The Devil Dogs
No game on the Pacific would be complete without the US Marine Corps and the U.S. Marines add-on fits the bill. While not as colorful as the fights in China, the scenarios from Tulagi to Iwo Jima are grueling slugfests. A new unit type is the Marine Raider that has the ability to inflict casualties with no chance of losses. Unlike the European theater, the Americans don’t have cutting edge armor or artillery, limited usually to Stuart tanks and 75 mm howitzers; the Navy aircraft and shore bombardment take up the slack. An interesting concept is amphibious waves in later turns. New waves don’t have new troop or resource points but, rather, more command points. Thus, players should conserve their initial resource points to put troops in the transports.
Order of Battle Pacific takes an older template and invigorates it mightily, capturing the feel and events of the Pacific theater. Replay is assured by the four DLCs bundled with the game, the ready-made multiplayer scenarios and editor. The few blemishes it has are compensated for by its scope and detail. No gamer interested in the Pacific should pass it up.
About the Author
Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he dealt with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online. He was adjunct faculty at Cardinal Stritch University for fifteen years.