#Wargame Retroactive – Mayday (Traveller Game 1, Series 120, GDW 1983)

pic900819_mdWhile I’m waiting for my Squadron Strike: Traveller Kickstarter to deliver, I went back to my first vector movement starship combat game. The game is Mayday from the Classic Traveller RPG-universe. I have the third edition GDW flat box, copyright 1983, with the Series 120 rulebook copyright 1978 and 1980. A Series 120 game was supposed to be playable in under two hours. The back of the box taught me what mayday means and why it may still matter in the future:


In the earliest days of radio, a standard distress call was established using the international language of the day. In French, the simple statement help me was expressed m’ai dez. English-speaking radio operators pronounced and spelled the word as mayday. Since then, the word has become as accepted as its Morse code predecessor S.O.S.

In the future, it is likely that monitoring stations will receive the same call from the depths of interplanetary space, faintly repeating a position and a single word, mayday.

Mayday is a science fiction game of small spacecraft in danger, distress, and ship-to-ship combat. The ships are out-fitted by each player with a variety of laser weapons, missiles, defensive systems, and computer packages. Using realistic vector movement, players maneuver their ships against each other on a hexagonal grid. Scenarios include The Grand Prix, The Attack, Piracy, Battle, and Smuggling.

Mayday is played “using realistic vector movement and intriguing combat systems….” Recently, I closely looked through the short (15 page), digest-size rulebook and was struck by both how simple the game was, and yet how much detail and universe-building was contained within.

A Small-Ship Universe

pic514041_mdMayday was also marketed as Traveller Game 1. Mayday took Traveller Book 2 Starships and brought it into a hex and counter setting. What struck me looking through the book is that Mayday is firmly in the “small ship Traveller universe.” Section 8. Ships provides the following starships:

  • Scout (100 ton)
  • Courier (100 ton)
  • Escort (100 ton)
  • Free Trader (200 ton)
  • Yacht (200 ton)
  • Transport (400 ton)
  • Armed Merchant (400 ton)
  • Destroyer (400 ton)
  • Colonial Cruiser (800 ton)
  • Corsair (400 ton)

Small craft are also fuel-limited in Mayday. The Fighter is rated “4G12” meaning it has a maximum acceleration of 4G in a turn, and cannot make more that a total of 12G of acceleration/deceleration before running out of fuel.

Vectoring About

Mayday is the game the taught me what vector movement is. Each starship, small craft, or missile has three counters; the past position, the present position, and the future position. The use of these three counters allows one to readily see the vector movement of the combatants. This easy vector movement system is what I had always focused upon and I didn’t really pay attention to the combat.

Lasers and Missiles Oh My!

In the Mayday version of the Traveller universe there are basically two offensive weapons; Lasers and Missiles. Of the two, the Laser is the most common starship and small craft weapon. However, a close analysis of the Attack Table and Damage Table reveals it is actually not the best weapon. Without consideration of any modifiers, a Laser will hit a starship 58% of the time, whereas a Missile will hit 83% of the time. Against small craft, the chances are 42% for Lasers and 58% for Missiles.

pic516813_mdLasers are also very close-range weapons realistically effective out to no more than 5 hexes (or 5 light seconds). This is because Laser Fire has a -1 Die Modifier (DM) for each hex of range. [Interestingly, Mayday page 12 references Traveller Book 5: High Guard and its fleet combat rules. The Mayday rules state that ships with matched courses (same hex, course, speed) are at “boarding range.” Short range is within 5 hexes (5 light seconds). Long range is beyond 5 hexes, but less than 15. Ships beyond 15 hexes/15 light seconds range are “out of range” and cannot fire.]

The damage potential of a Laser versus a Missile is also dramatically different. If a “hit” is achieved a Laser gets one roll on the Damage Table whereas a Missile gets two rolls if it has a proximity fuse or three rolls (!) if it uses contact detonation. This dramatic difference in damage potential finally brought home to me, more than any number of damage dice, the difference in the power of these two weapons systems in Traveller. It also vividly showed me why Missiles are the weapon of choice for starship combat at the mid-tech levels of Traveller.

Computing Power

Many people criticize the assumptions Traveller made when it came to computers. Marc Miller and company missed with their prediction of the computer revolution. For myself I tend to ignore the inconsistencies with our reality and try to play the game. In the case of starship combat, I think the problems are not as dire as some make them out to be. Instead, I try to play the game using the rules as written to see what the designers were trying to communicate.

In Mayday, like Book 2, computers are actually a key part of ship-to-ship combat. This is because Traveller computers are limited. For example, a Model/1 computer has a “CPU” of 2 and “Storage” of 4. What does this mean? It means that the ship can “load” programs taking up space equal to “Storage” and can “run” programs in a given phase of the turn with sizes the “CPU” can support.

Take a typical Free Trader with a Model/1 computer. According to the ship description, the available computer programs (and size) are:

  • Target 1, Launch 1, Gunner Interact 1, Auto/Evade 1, Return Fire 1, Anti-Missle 2, Maneuver 1,  Jump-1 1, Navigation 1.

No more than 6 “spaces” of programs can be loaded. As you can hopefully see, not all the programs can be “loaded” at once. Thus, the crew must make a decision.

  • Target is needed to shoot, unless one wants a -4 DM for “manual control”
  • Maneuver is needed to change course/speed.
  • Launch is needed to fire missiles…or a small craft
  • Gunner Interact allows characters to use their Gunnery skill (one of the few connections between Mayday and the Traveller RPG)
  • Auto/Evade makes you harder to hit, but cannot be run with the Maneuver program
  • Return Fire must be used with Target and allows ships to fire at ships/craft that fired at them first
  • Anti-Missile is used for point defense against impacting missiles
  • Jump is needed to activate the FTL (hyperspace) drive…useful to escape
  • Navigation is needed to compute the hyperspace jump

There are other programs available, such as Predict (positive DM to hit), Selective (ability to target specific systems), and Maneuver/Evade (harder to hit but less maneuver capability).

Making sure you have the right program available at the right time is crucial for combat in Mayday. For many years I ignored this section and just played with the Simplified Computer Rule:

Any activity may be performed, without regard  to computer program requirements. The size of the ship’s computer is used as an attack DM for lasers (computer model 1 gives a DM of +1) and as a defense DM when attacked by lasers. DMs for range, sand effects, manual control, and anti-missile fire still apply, but no others do. This simplified rule allows concentration on movement and basic combat. 6. Computer Programming (p. 9)

Simply Complex

Mayday is what I call a “simply complex” game. The rules are simple, from easy vector movement to a straight-forward combat system. Taking into account the computer rules really does make this game “intriguing” like the rulebook claims, and that makes it complex in that the choices one makes are relevant, interesting, and impactful. I also appreciate the insight this simple game gives me into the universe building that Marc Miller and friends started 40 years ago.

Mayday is currently rated 5.8 on BoardGameGeek. I personally rated it a 7 (Good – Usually willing to play) back in 2008 when I think I was updating my collection. Given my more recent appreciation for the game, I think it deserves a rating increase to 7.5.



#RPGThursday -To the Far Horizon with Atlas

Two of my three favorite Traveller RPG, uhh…”2d6 Classic Sci-Fi RPG”, companies published new items recently that I acquired.

202309-thumb140The first is Far Horizon from Zozer Games. The cover calls it Far Horizon: A TL9 Exploration Ship for the Cepheus Engine whereas the front matter states Far Horizon: A Near Future Mission and Spacecraft for Cepheus Engine. Both titles are correct, although the second one is more accurate. This title is designed to go with the Zozer’s Alternate Traveller Universe (ATU) setting of Orbital: 2100 although everything is included here to play this adventure with just the basic Cepheus Engine rules if needed. pic3217789_mdInside one finds not only background into the mission but also a complete description of the DRV Far Horizon, a nuclear-thermal rocket for exploring deep space. Included also are rules for TL9 Vacc Suits. The adventure itself is a race-against-time investigation into the unknown.

109517-thumb140Parts of Far Horizon have been available previously. The ship itself is a free download at DriveThruRPG. The rules on vacuum suit construction were in a previous product, Vacc Suit, which is no longer available no-thanks to the Mongoose Publishing Community Content Agreement. So it is refreshing to see this packaging bringing back good near-future, hard-ish sci-fi adventure! Adding to the quality, the product is nicely illustrated by Ian Stead and others.

If one has looked at Orbital: 2100 but are not sure about making the jump into this ATU, Far Horizon is a great way to try out the setting.

202134-thumb140The second product I got was Ships of the Clement Sector 17: Atlas-class Freighter from Gypsy Knights Games. This is the second of what I call “expanded” ship books from GKG. The 50-page product includes excellent narratives to set the mood, awesome ship art by Ian Stead (again), and just enough adventure seeds to whet a GM’s appetite. Indeed, this larger format allows for more of each giving both players and GMs more to think about and more potential for adventure. If you are a fan of The Expanse, you may find a similar vibe to that universe and some of the stories and background presented here. Though many might look at an 800 dT freighter as “not sexy enough to be my ship,” the reality is it takes ships like the Atlas to ply the shipping lanes of the Clement Sector and ekk out a living. This book helps your players do just that. Another must-buy from GKG!

All images courtesy DriveThruRPG.

Far Horizon, ©2016 Zozer Games.

Ships of the Clement Sector 17: Atlas-class Freighter, ©2017 Gypsy Knights Games, LLC.


#WargameWednesday Breaking down South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier, 1942-43 (C3i Magazine Nr 30)

pic3260226_mdMark Herman’s South Pacific: Breaking Down the Bismarck Barrier, 1942-43 is the game included in C3i Magazine Nr 30 published by RBM Studios in late 2016. South Pacific (SPac) is actually a scenario (17.10) for Empire of the Sun (EotS, GMT Games, 2005).

The designer’s blurb for SPac pretty much sums up the product:

South Pacific (SPac) is an Empire of the Sun (EotS) C3i Scenario Variant that uses the full scope of its parent design. While South Pacific is a complete stand alone game all of the tactics that work in EotS work in SPac. What is unique about SPac is the smaller map region (see C3i 30 back cover image) focuses and significantly simplifies the strategic options available to the two sides.

Each side has a 24 card deck that are like the EotS cards except they have been renumbered. The counter mix is also identical, except we have aligned the set up and reinforcement markings to the four-turn scenario. In designing this new C3i Scenario Variant, I wanted to put you in the shoes of MacArthur and Ghormley/Halsey prosecuting the US counterattack, while still being impacted by interservice rivalry, China, and competition for resources in Europe. All of the relevant tracks have been redesigned by Mark Simonitch to fit on the tailored C3i Mapsheet surface that shines a spotlight on the turning point in the Pacific War.

Since this is a subset of the broader war each player is playing with a four rather than a seven card hand, and you will never reshuffle the deck allowing for high replayability. The practical result of this smaller hand of cards is South Pacific typically clocks in at less than two hours, so easily a one-session game.

If you learn to how to play South Pacific you will also know how to play its parent game Empire of the Sun.

pic2838345_mdHaving recently played Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1932-1935 (C3i Nr 29) I felt I was going to be familiar with the system and ready to try. Though I had a few issues with Plan Orange, overall I like that game and wanted to try more. Hence, my purchase of SPac.

Components: A-

Sleeved cards (RMN)

The physical components are nice. The counters (~100) are nice if not a bit thin for my taste. The map is small (11″ x 17″) and does not take up a great deal of tabletop space when laid out. The cards are nice, and just fit “SMALL Gaming Card” (62mm x 89mm) sleeves. [Interestingly, the Plan Orange cards also fit these sleeves but are just a shade narrower with a little bit sticking out at the top] The package “form factor” makes SPac a good travel game.

Rules: B-

In SPac rule 1.0 Introduction, the Design Note states:

These are the rules to Empire of the Sun with some superfluous sections taken out to allow you to play the single scenario that comes with South Pacific. We have done this so if you learn South Pacific, you also know how to play its parent design.

Unfortunately, in the desire to “simplify” the rules for SPac this approach to the rules created problems. The reuse of parts of the EotS rulebook creates confusion, several key items were actually left out, and several rules are outright contradictory.

Section 3.0 General Course of Play includes the following Play Note:

If this is the first time the you are reading these rules, then is recommended that the player segregate the counters into  a set that have hex setup locations and those that have a game turn of entry. Take the units with hex setups and place them on the map where indicated. After completing this go to the comprehensive example of play and move the counters according to the narrative. It is our belief that this ‘best practice’ will facilitate your introduction into the game system.

There is no “comprehensive example of play” in the rulebook that covers the entire 4.0 Sequence of Play. The closest item is the Comprehensive Offensive Example found on p. 21. The problem with this example it that it is for EotS and covers a map area and units NOT in SPac. This makes learning for one unfamiliar with EotS – like me – that much more difficult.

Two missing rules I found most difficult to cope with in my early plays were the lack of a Terrain Key (not in the rulebook nor on the map) and the rules for Progress of War (essential for determination of Political Will and Victory Conditions). The designer has answered forum questions on both CONSIMWorld and BoardgameGeek which is helpful but I cannot help but feel that the product needed an good proofread/playtest by someone NOT familiar with EotS (i.e. like me, not that I’m volunteering but…).

An example of rules contradiction is Pre-War Units. In 1.3 Glossary, the entry for Pre-War Units reads:

Pre-War Units: Most of the units that start the game on the map (those with set up hexes on the counters) and certain others are denoted by a dot on their counters. These are defined as pre-war units. Pre-war units cannot receive replacements.

Yet later, in rule 11.0 Replacements section 11.1 Pre-War Unit Restrictions simple states, “Not Applicable.” I  can read rules 1.3 and 11.1 together in at least two different ways; 1) The restriction on pre-war units means that units with a dot cannot receive replacements, or 2) the restriction defined in 1.3 is not applicable to SPac. These are two radically different interpretations of the rules and clearly understanding which is correct is vital for the Japanese player. Per the scenario rules, the Japanese player has very few naval and air replacement points. There is only one naval unit in the game (BB Yamato) that is not marked as a pre-war unit. Strictly reading the (few) rules above, it would seem that only the BB Yamato can be “replaced” – or not? It that really the intention of the scenario?

Game Play: A-

Once familiar with the system the game flows well. The sequence of strategy card draws will always vary making no two games alike. The scenario only lasts four turns and, once the Progress of War rules are understood, puts great pressure on the American player to take the offensive and make things happen. I see SPac as a fast, tight game where one bad roll of the die could be fatal. Maybe too fatal? I don’t really know yet. I am still a newbie to the game engine and am still working past rules issues meaning I have not been able to fully explore the strategy of the game. Hopefully that exploration can come after familiarity – and not too much errata.

All set up and ready to go (RMN)

In many ways that sums up my love/hate with SPac. I really like the card-driven strategy decisions and the simple, yet seemingly realistic, combat system and results. What befuddles me is the thought that the game supposedly builds upon a solid foundation in EotS yet, in the quest to simplify and tailor, there is confusion. I strongly feel that the designer, developer (hmm…no developer credited), editor (uhh…no editor credited) and playtesters (very few) were possibly too familiar with EotS and “filled in the blanks” where rules/items were missing or “intuitively understood” what is not necessarily written in the rules. I do not see the problem as fatal but they are VERY annoying.

Overall Recommendation: Keeper. Will (somewhat reluctantly) look for errata. Explore more for strategy.

All photos courtesy BoardGameGeek except where noted.

Mark Herman’s South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier, 1942-43, © RBM Studio Publications, 2016.


#RPGThursday – Rucker Patrol

Two RPG items I got over the holidays were Ships of the Clement Sector 16: Rucker Class Merchant (Gypsy Knights Games) and The Space Patrol (Stellagama Publishing). Long-time Traveller RPG fan Alegis Downport already posted his views of each so I direct your attention to his excellent comments (Rucker / Space Patrol) and will just add a few more thoughts of my own.

pic3293444_mdMake sure you read both parts of Alegis Downport’s comments on the Rucker since he had a very intimate hand in the creation of the ship. There is nothing more I can add except to heartily endorse all the kudos he gives to Gypsy Knights Games for bringing Ships of the Clement Sector 16: Rucker Class Merchant to market. SotCS 16 continues a great line of useful products from Gypsy Knights Games that are at home in any Traveller RPG setting. Thanks to Alegis Downport, users of the ship now have even more thought-seeds for adventure.

pic3238660_mdMy praise for The Space Patrol is a bit more reserved. The Zhodani Base named The Space Patrol their “Best ATU Setting” for 2016. As much as I like Zho, I must respectfully disagree. Although I find The Space Patrol a very interesting career and a welcome addition to any setting, I feel that pic3217789_mdOrbital: 2100 (Zozer Games) is a much better example of how to take the original Traveller 2d6 sci-fi system (as detailed in Cepheus Engine) and use it to make an exciting Alternate Traveller Universe. I also feel that The Space Patrol suffers from some poor formatting decisions (like more-that-a-few tables that cross pages) that make it feel a bit too DTP-like in an era where small publishers (like Gypsy Knights Games) push out very high quality products. But don’t get me wrong – The Space Patrol is a great addition to any Traveller/2d6 Sci-Fi/Cepheus Engine setting and should be in everyones collection. I just wouldn’t have given it the coveted ATU Setting of the Year. 

All images courtesy RPGGeek.

Ships of the Clement Sector 16: Rucker Class Merchant, ©2016 Gypsy Knights Games.

The Space Patrol, by Richard Hazelwood, ©2016 Stellagama Publishing.

Orbital: 2100 – A Solar System Setting for the Cepheus Engine, by Paul Elliot, ©2016 Zozer Games.

#RPGThursday Retrospective – Manufacturer Settings (2009-2010)

At the end of the 2000-aughts my roleplaying collection again took a different turn. For a few years, I turned away from new game systems and instead invested in campaign settings. At the time, the seemingly most popular settings were published courtesy of major publishers, or what I term “manufacturer settings.” I realize the term is not totally fair; in more than a few cases the setting was a labor of love from a small-time or alternative author that teamed with the larger publishing house because they had the experience and marketing prowess to bring the product to market.

pic544013_mdUniverse of Babylon 5 used Mongoose Publishing’s Traveller (1E) game engine. This campaign setting was translated from an earlier D20 series. UoB5 suffers from poor editing and sloppy game system translation as well as poor production quality. Given how rich a setting the B5 Universe is, to have the game version be so poorly done is a travesty. A major disappointment.

pic651616_mdReign of Discordia (Mongoose/Gun Metal Games) was another campaign setting using the Traveller 1E-engine. Another system translation (originally True20) it suffered from many of the the same issues as U0B5. Another disappointment.

pic760617_mdWhen I saw Hammer’s Slammers (Mongoose) I just had to get it. Here was going to be the RPG version of my favorite military science-fiction series! Even better, it used the Traveller 1E-game engine that I was so familiar with!

What a let-down.

The fact that it was Mongoose should of been a warning. That and the cover art – that soldier is nothing like I imagined Hammer’s Slammers to be. Opening up the book, the maps were so amateur and very un-military-like. The rules were an expansion of the basic game engine, and links to future products were promised (and never delivered).

In my disgust with Mongoose – they had obviously tried to cash in on the Hammer’s Slammers name and ended up doing a great disservice to the IP – I turned to another recognized gaming name. pic797297_mdSpace 1889: Red Sands (Pinnacle Entertainment Group – PEG) was the campaign setting book for Space 1889 using the Savage Worlds game engine. This was by far the best of the setting books I tried as it was a good match of setting (steampunk) and game engine (Savage Worlds – “Fast, Furious, Fun”). The campaign setting also works well with the

Courtesy Wessex Games
Aeronef  (Wessex Games) miniature rules I had recently found. Indeed, long ago I used Red Sands to create Aeronef characters.

By the end of 2010 my flirtation with campaign settings died out. Looking back, each of these settings I tried was backed by a major publishing house and closely tied to their game engine. In the case of Mongoose the poor production values reflected to me a cash-grab attitude the turned me off then like it does today. The second part of the problem was that there was little “new” in these settings; in each case the setting was a translation of an older IP or license into a newer game engine. Red Sands was the best done of my lot, but I was looking for more.

In retrospect, this era – 2009 thru 2010 – was a major disappointment. Interestingly to me, I purchased each of these settings in a dead-tree form. This was among the last times I did that. The rise of online publishing and the availability of content through sites like RPGNow or DriveThruRPG (and more recently the Open Gaming Store) were starting to dramatically change not only how, but what content was being delivered to RPG customers like myself.

All images courtesy RPGGeek except where noted.

#WargameWednesday Pacific Fury Playthru

Courtesy BoardGameGeek
I played my first real scenario of Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Revolution Games) over the holidays. The game is an operational-level treatment of the naval battles off Guadalcanal. Counters represent major combatants (CV/CVL/BB/BC/CA) and transports. Each turn is one month. The game starts in August 1942 with the Americans lodged on Guadalcanal and Henderson Field operational. Each turn players must first allocate forces into one of seven “Operation Box.” Turns then consist of seven phases; in each phase the player can do only one of the following: sortie a Task Force (TF) from an Operation Box, fight or move a previously sortied TF, or airstrike from Henderson Field. The game lasts four turns (August-November 1942) and the only determination of victory is who controls Henderson Field at the end of the last phase of Turn 4.

I played an entire scenario and had extensive notes tracking unit assignments and combat actions so I could have a good AAR. Looking through the rules one more time after play, I realized I had made a few mistakes so I am not going to give you a detailed battle report because I feel the rules flubs are enough to invalidate the game results. What I will give you is my impressions of the game.

Components: A-

The map has a few annoying spelling errors (“Turn Record Truck”) but the counters are top-notch. They are thick and punch out with nice rounded corners and almost no tuft! Play space needed is small; I used a desktop with about 24″ x 18″ of real estate. The rule book is a whole 8 pages and fairly easy to follow along with. This will make a good travel game!

Game Play: B+

  • Form Task Forces/Operations Phase: The Form Task Forces step is the heart of the game and the most challenging. Each Admiral needs to decide in what order his forces will enter the game. Every Operations Phase is a choice between sortieing a new force (enter the board) or using what is already deployed. The trade-off is that using a force on the board delays the entry of new forces; wait too long and a Task Force may not get into the fight this month!
  • Combat: This can be a bit fiddly. It took me a few tries to catch on to the different to-hit and damage roll modifiers. Basically, one has to roll the Combat Factor or less to hit, with the die roll being the number of hits. There are modifiers to the Combat Factor and number of hits (which was confusing to me at first). Then, to determine damage one compares the number of hits to the Defense Factor and rolls again. If the range of the roll is correct (depending on if your hits are greater than, equal to, or less than the Defense Factor) the ship is sunk. This is where I really messed up, for according to the rules, “Any ship not sunk is still considered damaged, as long as it suffered at least one hit.” What the rules mean to say is any ship “hit” but not “sunk” is “damaged.”In my play thru I was so focused on sinking ships I forgot to assess damage too!
  • Return to Base: Another area I struggled with, especially 10.8 Forced Return. This was in part because I was struggling to clearly differentiate between a “hit,” “damage,” and “sunk.”

Historical Accuracy: B

After playing thru the scenario, I went back and looked at the orders of battle for each side.  I was curious because the only reinforcements for the Americans is the carrier Hornet on Turn 2, and the Japanese can get the super-battleship Yamato and small carriers Junyo and Hiyo as special event reinforcements. The scenario obviously starts after the Battle of Savo Island (8/9 Aug 1942) since the “American” cruisers Canberra (Royal Australian Navy), Astoria, Quincy, and Vincennes are not included (they were all sunk). After a cursory look at a few sources I also have questions over the inclusion/arrival times of several Japanese ships. The American side looks a bit better, but the inclusion of, for example, Indianapolis is intriguing because the ship was not present in the South Pacific at any time during the period covered. Without designer notes it’s hard to tell if these choices were the result of design decisions, play balance, a bit of “what if”, or simple oversight.

Overall, Pacific Fury is a tight game of interesting, tense decisions. Victory will go to the better planner – although a smiling bit of Lady Luck is always helpful. The combat system is not very deep, but then again the focus of the game is the planning and getting your forces arrayed on the battle seas at the right place at the right time. Although there is only one scenario, there appears to be a fair amount of replay because, I don’t think, there will be a perfect strategy to deploying one’s forces and there is just enough Luck involved that an ironclad strategy will be hard to assemble.

Verdict – Recommended


Extended Playthru Thoughts on Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1930-1935 (C3i Magazine Nr 29)

Which game is it? 1930-1935 or 1932-1935?

On the last day of my winter vacation I got Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1930-1935 published by RBM Studio in C3i Magazine Nr 29 on the table. Unlike the first time I played (which was really more a learning game to get familiar with the rules) this time I tried the campaign scenario. By the time I was finished, I found I (equally?) liked and disliked the game.

I really like the Plan Orange situation. The game gives players an interesting look at the strategic challenges facing both Japan and the United States. The game brings to life Edward Miller’s War Plan Orange: The US Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945 as well as Hector Bywater’s The Great Pacific War: A History of the American-Japanese Campaign of 1931-33. In the 1930’s, aviation (especially naval aviation) is still in its infancy and not the dominating power it would be only a decade later. Plan Orange reflects this situation by keeping naval power supreme over air. I also really like the use of the CDG-mechanic because it give players challenging decisions to decide not only what they want to do, but how to use the cards to make it happen. I appreciate the CDG mechanic because it represents the planning and execution of plans that don’t always perfectly match the commander’s desires.

Plan Orange is also best described as a version of Empire of the Sun (GMT Games). The rules for Plan Orange appear to be almost a cut-n-paste version of EotS:

PLAY NOTE: In several places in the rules it will state that a particular section or step is ignored or left blank in Plan Orange. These are sections that have rules in the parent design Empire of the Sun and I wanted to avoid creating a new numbering scheme that might confuse players if and when they are playing the original design upon which this is based. – Plan Orange 1.21 Inventory.

Which brings me to the part I disliked. I don’t own – and never played – EotS so I came into Plan Orange depending totally on the rule book provided. Unfortunately, the rules are very confusing in places, or totally lacking. For example, I cannot find the rule for when to reshuffle the player deck! I wonder if this is because the Plan Orange version is cut down too much or if this was an oversight in the original rules. I hope it is the former, because to repeat a mistake 10 years later is unacceptable!

For my play thru, I was able to complete five turns (out of the six-turn campaign) before I had to pack the game away. Plan Orange is fun, though I find I am still reaching for the rulebook often and spending much time searching for a rule or trying to interpret it. I feel the game system should be easy, but the rule book keeps tripping me up. I want to get to the point the I know the rules enough to focus more on game strategy than “the system.” Unfortunately, the rule book is not being the most helpful.

Verdict: Keeper Worth Exploring More. 

Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1930-1935, ©2015 Mark Herman/Studiolo Designs and RBM Studio/Rodger B. MacGowan.