Co-Prosperity Sphere:
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Japan never had a chance.

When the Japanese Empire attacked the United States in December 1941, all of the numbers not only stood on the side of the Americans, they did so in astronomical proportions. The United States had twice the population and five times the gross domestic product of Japan. In the first full year of war, 1942, Japan commissioned 68 new major naval combat vessels and built 6,300 combat aircraft. The United States commissioned 1,854 warships and constructed 24,900 aircraft.

And Japan had little ability to close that gap. The United States laid out two percent of its national income for defense in 1940; Japan spent 22 percent. Japan had already reached full employment before the war began, while the United States had enormous slack capacity due to the lingering effects of the Great Depression: a Japanese factory worker of the late 1930’s worked an average of 61.8 hours per week, while an American worker put in an average of 38.6 hours. And those hours don’t tell the full story: thanks to mass production techniques, more modern equipment and more of it, and better management, the American worker was far more productive. The output of an average Japanese worker per hour was 17 percent of his or her American counterpart. Given the abominably low wages paid to Japanese workers, factory owners had no incentive to buy and install better machinery or to improve their work flow; if they wanted to increase production, they hired more workers. A legacy of low wages played a major role in Japan’s defeat.

In terms of a strategic wargame like Great Pacific War, that means that – as in the real war – Japan is never going to inflict a military defeat on the United States. Had the Japanese won a total victory at Midway, for example, sinking every American carrier for no losses of their own, they would have been outnumbered in fleet carriers again a year later. So they could defer their final defeat, but not prevent it.

Great Pacific War reflects that grim reality. As Isoroku Yamamoto foresaw, the Japanese player may run amok for several turns, but eventually American economic power will crush the Empire. In practical terms, in some game groups that means the Japanese player will suddenly discover a pressing need to feed the dog or water the lawn, bringing the game to a close before the American player ever gets to use those stacks and stacks of carriers, battleships and Marine divisions.

So for a long time, I had wondered what sort of events would have made Japan capable of facing the United States on more or less equal terms, to create a game where both players got to attack and defend without one of them knowing that inevitable defeat (and lawn-watering) lay in the future.

Great Pacific War: Co-Prosperity Sphere is the expansion book that came out of those thoughts. It comes with 90 new pieces and four scenarios, all aimed at making Japan powerful enough to stand toe-to-toe with the Americans so that victory is decided on the battlefield. It’s an alternative-history setting that takes place within our Long War story arc, which includes our Second World War at Sea: Plan Z expansion set.

To create a Japan powerful enough to face the United States, just about every political and military decision point in the half-century before the outbreak of the Second World War would have had to go the Empire’s way. After this chain of events, Tokyo can marshal the resources and manpower of practically all of East Asia and much of the Pacific basin.

We looked at this setting in more detail here.

The enlarged Japanese Empire includes not only Manchuria, Korea and Taiwan, but also Hawaii, the Philippines, Outer Manchuria (the Soviet Maritime Province), Shantung Province in China, Hainan, North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak. Within those new provinces, an assimilationist policy attempts to spread Japanese culture and in particular reverence for the Emperor (this actually occurred, but not until it was much too late to make any difference in the outcome of the war).

In addition to those additional territories and their populations (which together with the Japanese home islands equal a larger population than that of the United States), there are greater resources within them: the oil discovered in Manchuria and Shantung is posited to have been found much earlier, and now fuels the Japanese war machine and its supportive industrial base.

Rather than a draining war with China, this Japanese Empire has a reliable puppet empire ruling from Beijing. Limited Chinese forces are available to support the Japanese outside China, but most important the Imperial Army is not tied down in China and is fully available to defend the Empire. The Japanese also have a somewhat stronger ally in Thailand than is the case in the historical scenarios.

These changes still would not have made Japanese workers as productive as their American counterparts: that would have taken massive infusions of capital. The United States is still a fearsome opponent, and the Americans are the aggressors in this version of the Great Pacific War, looking to force the Japanese to unlock the Open Door and allow American goods free access to markets in China and the rest of East Asia.

The Imperial forces are greatly bolstered, reflecting the benefits of the larger industrial and population bases and the availability of cheap oil. Japan receives new 3-4 infantry units (representing motorized forces, like those of the British and United States), additional armor and more aircraft, surface ships and aircraft carriers. Plus more landing craft.

There are six scenarios, covering both segments of this different sort of war and of course grand campaign games. The Americans are on the strategic offensive, but the Japanese have the incentive and the resources to do some offending of their own against Australia and India. Against this much tougher Japan the Americans will have to not only capture but hold crucial territories; unlike the Japan of the historical scenarios, this Empire can strike back with real force.

Tying this project to the Long War setting also allows it to serve as a sort of strategic framework for the Second World War at Sea expansion sets we would like to release in coming years in this same background. They don’t exactly interlock, as the game scales are very different, but playing in the same background adds to the fun. And it’s all about the fun.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.