Last weekend we finished our first Empire of the Sun game. Andreas Ludwig played the Japanese, I played the Allies. Here are some random thoughts and impressions about the game.
Our first impression: wow, this rulebook is complex and somewhat confusing because many aspects are mentioned in two (even three) different chapters and some aspects can be overlooked easily. Important information seems to be scattered sometimes and we had some difficulties of getting into the game. This was not due to the complexity; we play many complex (and sometimes confusing) games, for example ASL, Totaler Krieg, Imperium Romanum II or Vietnam 1965-1975. Nevertheless, we had to get accustomed to the EotS rules and our first turns were slow and we had to look up several questions in the internet in various forums and on Consimworld.
Once we got a hang of the game, the rules became quite clear and I think we finally got everything right. We made some minor mistakes during the first turns (I, for example, missed a LRB rule and we had some major discussions regarding supply in non-port coastal hexes and other supply and attrition issues). Fortunately, we discovered all our mistakes in time and solved all questions and after the first turns, we started to concentrate on strategy instead of rules issues. This was a great improvement ;)
During our first game, we had to acknowledge the elegance and effectiveness of the card driven engine and the various abstractions and became inspired and thrilled by the game. Each time we discovered a new aspect of the engine, a new abstraction, we admired how Mark Herman intregrated historical events and circumstances into the game. After a while, we became fans of Empire of the Sun and restarted as soon as the first game was finished.
Our main intention for buying the game was that we wanted to compare various Pacific games to each other and how they solve typical problems connected to the PTO (for example the Japanese "victory" conditions and supply issues). We played some Fire in the Sky games in 2007 where we realized a certain downtime for the Japanese player during the middle and end game due to the limitations in Oil Points. We wanted to know how other games solve this problem and discovered that the Japanese player has much more options in EotS even during the final turns than in FitS. They could even apply pressure on the US during Turn 12 - something we had never thought possible when playing FitS.
Our first game turns certainly were noobish because we struggled with the rules instead of strategic thinking. I guess an experienced player would have been entertained by our exotic moves and attacks during the first game turns, but we realized our major strategic flaws and how to improve them even during the first game. After playing the first six turns, we both knew what to improve in our next game and which fatal mistakes we certainly won't repeat in another game (for example, putting entire fleets out of supply and HQ range ;).
We got accustomed to the supply rules, of movement, of combat. The combat system was new to us (we never played a Mark Herman game before) and it took some time to get rid of the old "combat odds thinking". After a while, we really began to like the combat effectiveness vs. attack and defense strength system. It was logical, it was new and it required some serious considerations regarding a balanced mix of forces. The reaction movement added more variables to the combat and even the most impressive combat force could be wounded by a single helpless fleet achieving a critical hit while the offensive player hit only with a quarter of attack strength. This was very exciting and a most welcome variety to the common odds combat systems. It took some time to discover the elegance of the combat system, but when we did, we were thrilled.
The movement and amphibious shipping system in connection with the OC values is very interesting and adds to the vast amount of considerations in a given offensive.
The game was very intense and suspenseful up to the last minute. We played the full 12 turns. After the first turns, it became quite clear that I would never recapture the strategic hexes, so I had to conquer Japan. I managed to invade Japan in turn 10, grapping Iwo Jima and Okinawa in a very early stage for the Japanese never managed to kick me out off the Philippines.
I made the mistake of unterestimating the Political Will, though. I felt safe of a Political Will defeat because the Will stagnated during the final turns of the game. I even dared to ignore the "capture 4 locations" rule for some turns in order to push the offensive against the Japanese home islands. Up to turn 11, we both couldn't tell who would win the game - I needed 4 more Japanese cities, but Japanese forces were thin and their fleets almost extinguished.
Then, on the final turn, everything went wrong. I suddenly became threatened by Tojo Resigns (=Political Will reduced), another Will card, and Will loss due to a Japanse conquest... and my Will fell to ZERO. I not only had to capture 4 Japan hexes this turn, but also to liberate one of my countries (for example, Malaya), in order to raise the Will at least up to 1. My major problem: I had 5 (!) Reaction cards on my hand, some even unplayable due to the required conditions, and they all were 1 or 2 OC cards. It was mathematically impossible to achieve victory with this card hand and so the US eventually agreed to start negotiations with the Empire of Japan.
When the game was finished, we discussed the outcome and our major mistakes and what to avoid in future games. Then, we set up the game again to restart - this time concentrating on strategy from the start. All rules were clear to us now, we didn't have to look them up any more during play and when we restarted (again with Andreas playing the Japanese and me playing the Allies), we immediately discovered that we learned a lot during our first test game.
The first game turns of game 2 felt much more coordinated, well-thought out and foresighted. The Japanese turn 1 was very efficient, Andreas kicked me off the Philippines, took Wake and caused major havoc in Malaya. By turn 2, I was - historically correct - reduced to Hawaii, Australia and New Guinea. I'm afraid this game will be much tougher for the US ;)
EotS became on of our favorite games very early - during our first test game. We were hooked on the game when we first discovered the elegance and depth of the game system. We will certainly play FitS again in order to compare both games in various aspects some day, but for the moment we are very content with playing EotS. It's certainly one of the best strategic games we ever played (besides some problems with the rulebook).
I uploaded some pictures of our first EotS game; you can check them out in the photo section or on my personal page.