World at War #6 - Greater East Asia War AAR and comments

(originally posted on Boardgamegeek)

The Japanese kicked off with a land invasion of Singapore, bypassing the Allied garrison in Penang while simultaneously going for Mandalay. Singapore fell in the first impulse, followed by Mandalay in the 2nd impulse. The Japanese paratroopers landed in Miri from Saigon. The fall of Mandalay saw the AVG cut off in Rangoon with a hodgepodge of other units. As they slowly crawled through the Burmese jungle to try to get back to India, the Japanese closed in on them.

We were playing with the psywarfare option. There is a cost-benefit analysis and push-your-luck element with psywarfare as for the cost of 2 VPs, the result could be beneficial to you or to your opponent. Early in the game, the Japanese got a good roll - a KMT garrison in Changsha deserted! This opened up the way for a major offensive which saw the fall of Changsha in early 1942. Meanwhile, the AVG and the Rangoon refugee units were crushed. Then, the Japanese further consolidated their gains in Dutch East Indies and southern China.

The bulk of the Japanese combat power was concentrated for major operations in southern China. Unfortunately, this did not leave much for Burma. We were playing Random Events and it produced a serious game-changer – Lend-Lease from the US. The Allies received six supply units in India! The Allies still didn’t have many offensive-capable units in India so the front remained quiet for now, but now their resources can be purely spent on combat units. However, all was going well for the Japanese in China as the KMT was pushed back to the mountains surrounding Chungking. The CCP, while on active status, remained quiet.

Again, a random event produced yet another game-changer. Churchill orders an attack in Burma in the monsoon season of 1942 (Orders from High Command random event)! But by now, the Allies have 2 mech corps, 1 infantry corps and 8 supply units. They easily swipe the Japanese from Mandalay. The Kwantung Army was destroyed in exchange for the British mech corps.

The Japanese did not give up Rangoon without a fight. Mandated by the Emperor (Orders from Tokyo random event), the Japanese shipped a rebuilt Kwantung army back to Rangoon and, together with an infantry corps, fought another great battle outside Rangoon. The infantry corps and a marine brigade was destroyed in exchange for another British mech corps. With the writing on the wall, the Japanese abandon Rangoon and withdraw to the Thai-Burma border.

The British hit the Thai-Burma line hard, breaking two Japanese infantry corps. But the Japanese counterattack crushed a British mech corps (the third that the Allies had lost since the war started – that’s 72 VPs!) at the cost of 2 marine brigades, the Siam army and 2 infantry divisions. Only the Kwantung Army remained the border but suffered from attrition. Nevertheless, by the end of 1943, the British threat to Siam was contained.

Meanwhile, great things were afoot in China. Another good Japanese psywarfare roll saw another KMT desertion, exposing the Chiang Kai Shek unit in Kweiyang. Another major offensive saw the capture in Kweiyang and the death of Chiang Kai Shek! Then, the Japanese swooped to attack Kunming at 2-1 odds. Any die roll other than 1 would have seen the fall of Kunming. A 1 was rolled! Galvanised by the near run, the KMT launch a major offensive to drive the Japanese back from Kunming, which saw the loss of the Chinese Expeditionary Force (CXF). But with the Chinese concentrated on Kunming, the Japanese sneaked into Chungking, winning another 2-1 odds battle. For that turn, the Japanese ate well – 70 VPs vs 39 VPs against the Allies. The KMT eventually retook Chungking, with the loss of their rebuilt CXF (again!), in the next turn but by 1944, the KMT were a spent force.

Throughout the whole game, various random events and psywarfare rolls saw the CCP alternating between inactive and active, which pretty much put paid to them acting as an organized anti-Japanese force.

In the first turn of 1944, the Japanese launched another Hail Mary pass – an amphibious invasion into Calcutta. They managed to seize it, with the loss of the Kwantung Army but they were unable to hold it till the end of the turn. Nevertheless, this delayed the Allies into Siam.

At this point, we ended the game at the end of 1944 I after 7 hours of gameplay.

Some comments about the game:

The victory conditions rule is very interesting and is a useful work-around in wargames where there is a historical inevitability of one side eventually steamrolling through his opponent, like the Allies would eventually do to the Japanese by 1945. In this case, even if the Allies did so, there was no guarantee they’d have more VPs at the end of the game. In our case, we highly doubted it. While the Japanese would consistently end their turn with about 20 VP, even after subtracting for losses, the allies were, even in 1943-44, down to 1-2 VPs in some turns! So the onus is on the Japanese to do well in the early game and for the Allies to do even better in the late game.

We played with random events. In final analysis, I would recommend playing without them. It produced many game-changing situations on both sides, which fairly dictated the game. Player decisions thus played a lesser role. The Lend-Lease was the most ridiculous in our game, giving the Allies 48 VPs (6 supply units), purely on random dice-rolling. The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere wasn’t much better, giving the Japanese 21 VPs in our game. (The Allied equivalent V for Victory didn’t come up in our game.) The Allied Orders from High Command precipitated an Allied invasion in Burma (in 1942!) This sense of dictation of gameplay by the random events brought up unfavourable comparisons with another Decision Games game – Red Dragon Rising.

Psywarfare was more interesting in that it represented a cost-benefit decision rather than something just purely random. Still, it seemed to be more beneficial for the Japanese. The usual Allied psywarfare results (the loss of a Japanese client or supply unit) does not provide for as much opportunity for exploitation by the Chinese than, say, the loss of a garrison unit in a key Chinese city, where Japanese forces are poised to attack.

Supply was tight in our game for the Japanese, which felt right. It would have been tight for the Allies too until 1944 if not for random events. Overall, the handling of supply in the game is done well – simple enough to execute but challenging in managing the logistics.

On the combat system, we didn’t use the Raid CRT in the whole game. I can see where it might be useful but frequently in our game, the battles boiled down to the capture of victory cities where pursuit was necessary or because they were mandated by random events (there they are again!).

Final comment – It’s very hard to argue against a first turn Japanese attack on Mandalay. The advantages are too obvious. Cutting the Burma Road, preventing the AVG from getting to China etc. So much so that it seems to be the standard move. I’d be happy if someone can tell me that there are other options. As it is, I felt that the variations in gameplay are quite limited, and thus replayability would be low.

Overall, it was a fun game and a pleasant surprise from some other magazine games I’ve played (i.e., GEAW was not broken or full of errata). However, given its relative simplicity and broadstroke strategising, I would have been happier if the game could be kept to the six-hour limit.

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