Great Pacific War:
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Great Pacific War is one of the older games in our lineup, yet it’s never received one of these publisher preview pieces in Daily Content. With interest in the game revived following the release of the Co-Prosperity Sphere expansion book, it’s a good time to look at this strategic game of the Pacific theater in World War II.
Great Pacific War is a large game, at least in the physical space it occupies, with three large paper maps depicting a swath of planet Earth from Bombay to Honolulu and Sydney to Siberia. It’s divided into hexagons, as befits a “real wargame,” over the land masses while the oceans are split into sea areas. The scale is 60 miles across each hex, which seems like a lot but this is a very huge area to cover so it still takes a lot of map. Each turn represents three months of actual time, but a lot happens in each turn.
Deployed on that huge map are 560 playing pieces; some of these are markers rather than combat units. They represent large ground combat formations (corps to army size), surface, submarine and carrier squadrons, and large air forces (wing to numbered air force size). The units are rather generic to dovetail with the economic/production system, since as leader of your country’s war effort you’re choosing to mobilize an infantry unit, not the 31st Rifle-Grenadier Infantry Corps.
That speaks to the heart of the game: the interaction of military, political and economic factors. The currency of the game is the BRP, or Basic Resource Point. This represents all the materials that go into waging war, from shoes to oil to conscripts. They’re used not just to build units, but to keep them operating, prepare them for offensives, and perhaps most importantly restore losses suffered in combat. The United States has far more of them than does the Empire of Japan, which has a profound effect on the game: the Americans do have more units, and usually stronger ones, but the real difference is that they can do more things with them and keep them fighting more effectively.
The game engine is based on the simple roll-a-six, get-a-hit principle. That carries over through three types of combat (land, sea and air), with a hit reducing an enemy unit, unless the owning player can make that good with an expenditure of BRPs (though not every hit can be wiped away in this manner). Control of resource-rich areas gives you BRPs, particularly the Japanese player (since the U.S. player is drawing almost all of his or her BRPs from the impregnable Fortress America), so there’s a circular effect going on here – conquer more lands, gain more BRPs, build/refit the forces to conquer more lands. Though the Japanese player will mostly then have to defend them, because the Americans are both powerful and vengeful.
From the start we intended Great Pacific War as a Pacific counterpart to our long out-of-print Third Reich game covering the war in Europe. We even presented the rules as a combined set to make it easier to play the two games together.
Great Pacific War is a fine game in its own right. When we chose not to renew the license for Third Reich, I decided to give the rules a revision to focus them solely on Great Pacific War. They didn’t need a whole lot of actual rules revision, just a handful of typos, but excising the Third Reich content made them much shorter and far easier to use – the vast bulk of the combined rules set’s exceptions and special cases applied either to Third Reich or the combination of the games.
Stripping down the rules made it obvious, to me at least, just what a sound game design underlies Great Pacific War. While they cover a lot – land, sea and air operations, plus political and economic maneuvers – the follow a clear logic that makes them all fit together pretty intuitively. Great Pacific War is not a simple game, but neither is it difficult to play. That re-write also clarified that it is a very good game in its own right and not simply an expansion for Third Reich.
There are five scenarios: one grand campaign game (the one most players will end up playing, because to do any less is simply unmanly), three smaller scenarios covering just one slice of the war (beginning, middle and end) and finally the truly gonzo 1931 scenario based on Hector Bywater’s book titled “The Great Pacific War,” featuring poison gas attacks on ships.
Therein lies the game’s weakness: the Japanese player can “win” the game by holding out in the radioactive ruins of Tokyo longer than was the case for his or her historical counterparts. That’s not going to be all that satisfying for every player, and the game’s kind of long for the “play one side, then switch and play again” method. And so sometimes, a Japanese player will roll over the weak British, Dutch and American forces in the early months of the war and then once the vast industrial power of the United States is brought to bear she’ll suddenly discover renewed interest in lawn-mowing or Aussie Rules football and the game grinds to a halt.
I wrote Co-Prosperity Sphere to solve that problem. It’s an alternative-history expansion set, positing a powerful Japanese Empire that has already established dominance over East Asia in the decades before the Second World War by way of diplomacy and war. The setting’s not completely out of the bounds of possible reality, but it posits every possible event that could have increased Japanese power having gone the Empire’s way. Japan rules a vast empire of her own plus a puppet Chinese Empire, and has the economic and military power to stand up to the United States. The Americans are still more powerful than Japan, but this is mitigated by their need to come across the vast emptiness of the eastern Pacific before they can come to grips with the Japanese.
While the book’s pieces were intended to support its four scenarios, some of them can also be applied to the standard game’s scenarios, like the Australian and Indian armored divisions or the Australian Light Horse cavalry corps. So you can add a little more historical flavor, as well as competitive play.
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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.