I love war-games on naval warfare. The Admiralty Trilogy Games (Fear God & Dread Nought, Rising Sun, Harpoon) are amongst my favorite wargames of all time. I tend to like the more tactical-level of naval combat but always am on the lookout for games about other levels of war. I have most of the Avalanche Press Great War at Sea / Second World War at Sea series in my collection that try very hard to marry tactical combat resolution with an operational-level campaign game – and ends up doing neither very well. Thus, it was with both hope and trepidation that I picked up Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Bonsai-Games/Revolution Games, 2015) a little over a year ago. I need not have worried; Pacific Fury delivers a highly thematic game using a set of game mechanics that doesn’t emphasize combat, but planning. If that sounds boring to you and you skip this title then you actually are missing out on a great game that is not only fun to play, but provides a unique view into a pivotal naval campaign in the South Pacific in late 1942.
Pacific Fury is played out over four turns with each turn composed of five phases. The simple sequence of play builds a strong campaign narrative each turn through the interaction of four key rules:
- 8.2 Form Task Forces
- 9.7 Counting Operations
- 10.7 Applying Hits
- 10.8 Return to Base (Forced Return)
8.2 Form Task Forces
This rule is really the heart of every turn. In this step players have to plan their turn – everything after this is execution, not planning. Players plan their turn by forming either Amphibious, Bombardment, or Carrier Task Forces (the Japanese can also form the special Tokyo Express). Each Task Force (TF) is placed in one of seven Operations Boxes. The Operations Boxes are the order in which the units can enter the map (9.1 Sortie) during the turn. Need a carrier? Better hope it’s the next up on the track!
9.7 Counting Operations
In every Operations Phase a TF can “Sortie” to enter the map. The TF in the lowest numbered box on the Operations Track enters the map. Other possible actions, “Move,” “Landing,” Naval Bombardment,” or “Air Strike” can only be used by TF already on the map. When taking an action other than Sortie, every TF in the current Operations Box is “bumped” up the track. It is possible to actually “bump” TF off the end of the Operations Track, meaning they won’t ever get a chance to enter the map (Sortie) that turn! This simple mechanic of Counting Operations creates a compelling dilemma for players; do you enter/sortie a TF or use one already on the map? Is the one on the map the right one needed for the mission? Do you lose time getting the right one in position? Or do you fight and maybe never get the right one into the battle?
10.7 Applying Hits / 10.8 Return to Base (Forced Return)
These two rules go hand in hand. 10.7 specifies that any ship hit but not sunk is “damaged” and placed on the Turn Track to return later as a reinforcement. This removal of the unit from battle occurs after each round of combat. With only four turns, damaged ships may, or may not, return in time for a later turn.
The Forced Return rule is also very important. Under Forced Return, the attacking TF MUST return to base after the second round of combat or after the first round if there are no targets. This means attacking TF never hold ground. A defending TF that suffers no hits in either round of combat may remain. However, if the defending TF suffers even one hit in combat it MUST return to base. Combat in Pacific Fury becomes a game of damaging, not sinking, ships. Sure, sinking a ship is best (it cannot return) but often times it is enough simply to damage a ship and force a TF to return to base.
These four rules make Pacific Fury a much different naval combat game from many others. The game mechanics do a very credible job of reflecting the theme of planning a months-worth of operations by forcing the player to sequence the arrival of their forces. The challenge is not only to sequence their arrival, but to do so while trying to ensure the right units are available when needed. It is very easy to build one mega-TF with all the carriers together that will sweep the sea areas early in the turn…but once it attacks it returns to base and leaves the map – potentially depriving another TF of vitally needed cover.
In Pacific Fury choices really matter. The choice of what ships go into what TF, the choice of which Operations Box a TF is placed, the choice of what action to take, the choice to engage in combat – every choice matters. By emphasizing planning, the real objective of the campaign is brought to the front. The game highlights quite clearly that it is not the number of ships sunk that matters, but only who controls Henderson Field at the end of the game. The winner in Pacific Fury will be the player who plans the use of their dwindling forces the best.