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The Kokoda Campaign:
Developer’s Notes & Stuff

By Matt Ward
October 2015

There is something special about the Kokoda Trail. The trail itself continues to attract thousands of Australians who hike it from Ower’s Corners to Kokoda every year. Indeed, the draw of the Trail is so compelling to the Australian psyche that the Papuan natives have replaced subsistence farming with tourism as the primary economic driver of the area along the Trail. Much like Normandy is to Americans, a trip to Kokoda is a patriotic pilgrimage of extreme emotional intensity.

It would have been brilliant to have paired Invasion with The Kokoda Campaign in recognition of their similar emotional impact on the countries involved. Unfortunately, inventory control is the real reason for the release as Mike noted in the Publisher’s Preview. If you don’t tell anyone, we won’t either . . .

The original Kokoda Trail was a wonderful item when it was published in March, 2009. It focused on a very compact campaign. It had Australians, both militia and regulars. It had SNLF and Japanese Army troops with their insane morale and assault bonuses. It also had nasty terrain depicted on special maps which reflected key parts of the trail. There was so much to like about it I expect that Mike was floored by the response he got when he suggested that Daniel and I brush it off and clean it up for reissue.

Our response was (because we are probably just basically contrarians) that we certainly could do that but that hidden within this scenario set was a scary good game dying to come out. We asked, implored, stamped our feet and held our breath until we turned blue and Mike relented with an audible sigh (a very difficult thing to accomplish in an email) and said that we could take a crack at it.

If you have ordered The Kokoda Campaign, good for you, this note will help you know why your decision was a good one. If you haven’t, hopefully this will help you to avoid the mistake of not ordering it.

Dave Cheever’s concept of a series of scenarios dealing with the fighting along the Kokoda Track (“Trail” is a poor substitute for what every Australian knows is the Track, it is, however, what Americans know the campaign as – if they know it at all) was a solid one and provided nearly every encounter of significance in the campaign. If you own the original many of the scenarios in this version will seem familiar.

What has changed is twofold. First, the Fourth Edition has reinvigorated the jungle scenarios. There simply is a ton more that happens as a result of the seemingly minor changes from the Fourth Edition. Daniel and I have noticed the increased unpredictability, especially in assault combat which forms a large part of the combat in The Kokoda Campaign, and thought that this would provide for a decidedly different game. In addition, the original victory conditions were perfectly acceptable as reflecting the military reality of the campaign, but they led to the Japanese winning nearly all of the early scenarios, as, indeed, they won nearly all of the early battles in the campaign. Unfortunately, the data we have on the actual plays indicated that people began to tire of the scenarios before the tide turned, and that there was much more gaming to be had out of this package. That needed to be addressed.

To a great extent, this is a result of Panzer Grenadier’s success as a game engine. With something like 2,000 official scenarios having been published, the drive to finish a slog through the jungle hardly seemed to be worth the game-playing effort to do so, with so many other scenarios to play. Most players spend as many hours picking a scenario to play as playing them. In addition to rebalancing the scenarios we thought that it might make sense to put them into an operational campaign context.

The goal of a campaign based product is to get you to the next scenario with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of fun. Other attempts to put together “campaigns” were made in the Campaigns and Commanders series, the campaigns in Winter Soldiers (Steadfast and Loyal) or Panzer Lehr (Brave but Futile), and the historical terrain campaigns as shown in Cassino all had interest. Indeed, the original Kokoda Trail had a Campaigns and Commanders campaign as well.

Daniel and I had even tried our hand at one of these (Brave but Futile) and I had played solo through an entire Campaigns and Commanders campaign (Poland ’39). While they were fun in and of themselves there remained a desire to see something more connected. The Brave but Futile campaign was evocative but wasn’t designed to reflect actual actions, as the scenarios were dependent on player choices of force commitment, etc. The Poland ’39 campaign was a series of linked scenarios but the scenarios were composites of presumed actions, not real actions themselves. All this was fun (and I would suggest doing so if you get the chance) but the lack of a “real” basis for the play left me wanting more.

Then we had the chance to try out a few scenarios from Fronte Russo that were concurrent battles (The Christmas Battle scenarios). This sparked a conversation about how performance in one area may have been tempered by failure to perform in another, and the actual game play sparked a consideration of the operational issues. This clicked.

Part of the goal of the redevelopment of The Kokoda Campaign therefore is to have a reasonable number of scenarios (3-8) to play that are linked in a “metagame” where victory depends not only on who won the most scenarios or by how much, but on specific performance criteria along the way which may or may not be scenario objectives as well. This way “completion” doesn’t require starting with the first scenario in the book and playing until there are no more pages left, but rather picking up a scenario arc and playing through until you have played all the scenarios and have a conclusion.

But enough musing about why we did this. What the heck did we do?

This game is presented in eight sections. The first includes several introductory scenarios which attempt to orient the player to both Panzer Grenadier as a game system as well as the unique terrain in which the battles are fought. Like Invasion, The Kokoda Campaign lends itself to introducing new entrants to the Panzer Grenadier system due to its reliance on infantry only for the vast majority of the battles. There is virtually no armor and very little artillery due to the terrain and the need to manhandle every gun and each shell along the trail.

Once the player has mastered the basics we throw the wrench into the game and that is the dramatic effects of jungle terrain. Much as Invasion has carefully developed rules to simulate the effect of bocage, Kokoda has jungle which not only makes command control difficult but also creates situations where you cannot be certain where your units will be moving. In most scenarios we find the combatants groping for each other, never sure that they are advancing towards the enemy or missing them altogether.

There are six scenario arcs, each containing several game scenarios (individual battle situations) pulled from various stages of the campaign. These are:

Delusion. The initial contact between the Australians and the newly landed Japanese.

Isurava and the Retreat. The battles that flowed south along the Kokoda Trail as the Japanese brought their full force to bear while the Australians straggled up the trail and met defeat piecemeal.

Interlude/Milne Bay. While the battles along the trail were occurring the Japanese landed at the far eastern tip of New Guinea to build a base from which to provide support for their overland campaign. They ran into an Allied force developing their own base to support the campaign that ultimately became Operation Cartwheel.

Ioribaiwa. Within a short day’s march of the southern end of the trail the Australians were able to finally field a concentrated force. The Japanese were at the end of their tether and had been commanded to abandon the attack. Nevertheless those fighting had little understanding that the tide had turned.

The Trail Back. There were no sweeping flank marches along the trail. Such bold maneuvers were more likely to result in terribly lost units. The trail back was simply the Australians pushing the Japanese right back over the same terrain they had just walked past weeks ago.

The End of the Trail. The greater logistical capability of the Allied forces ensured that the Australians were able to continue their campaign once the Owen Stanleys were in the rear view mirror. They were ultimately able to reach the north coast of Papua and there were able to besiege the Japanese in Gona and Buna.

As if an introductory game and six linked scenario arcs, complete with overall arc victory conditions weren’t enough (here I must admit I feel like I’m selling Veg-o-matics and I just hit the spot in the ad where I say “but wait, there’s more”), we also include a campaign game which includes leader characters. The Campaigns and Commanders module exists for those players who feel a special affinity for their Lieutenants and Captains stuck fighting in the jungle. This set of linked scenarios (shortened somewhat from the original and with a bit more “Kokoda” flair added) follows the battles along the trail and provides for a trail-based campaign and a role playing variant where individual leaders can experience glory and/or despair along the trail.

The Kokoda Campaign is a boxed game in the Panzer Grenadier WW II tactical combat system. That means that everything that you need to play all of the scenarios, scenario arcs and the Campaigns and Commanders campaign game is included with this game. If this note catches your fancy the following links should help you to feed your curiosity until the shipping notice arrives.

This is the Australian War Memorial and their complete official record of the Kokoda campaign. Chapters 4-10 form much of the basis for the information used in this game. The writers clearly kept their tongues in cheek when speaking of relations with Douglas MacArthur whose influence and ambition looms large over the campaign.

This site tries to explain to students of Australian history exactly what happened in 1942 in this forsaken place and why it still matters today. If you don’t want to spend the time reading through the records, this multimedia presentation of the campaign is a great primer.

Click right here to order The Kokoda Campaign. Do it now.