Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Iwo at the Jima

Eric and I were finally able to get back to some gaming after our August hiatus, and his choice was Iwo Jima - Rage Against the Marines. This is the game that came with the MMP Operations Magazine Special Edition #1 that was released at WBC, and is an off-shoot of the old Avalon Hill area movement games (like Storm Over Arnhem and Breakout: Normandy). It simplifies the rules considerably and provides for hidden Japanese deployment and movement, even providing a mini-map to play on and a screen to hide it behind (which was a really neat touch).

Each unit is rated for strength and movement, with strength being the number of dice rolled in combat. The Marines also have naval and aircraft barrage units, and both sides have artillery. Turn sequence is reset/recovery, barrage, move, assault, in a traditional IGO/HUGO phasing. Defenders may fire on enemy units moving into their area, and the active player may execute assaults in contested areas. After each unit fires/assaults it is rotated and can't fire again until after the reset segment in the player's next turn.

Combat and barrage are simple as you total the strength and then roll that number of dice, hits being scored on each 5 or 6 rolled. From the total number of hits is subtracted the area defense value (only for the side controlling the area, however) and the Japanese player subtracts one for each remaining cave in the area. The remaining value, if greater than 0 is the damage number, which has to be applied to units evenly, and any non-zero damage result causes the removal of a single cave marker, if present in the area. In assaults the defenders can retreat, which eats up the first hit on a unit. Hits are assessed by lining up the units in the order they will take damage, the attacking player choosing order of visible units, and the Japanese player for hidden. The rules for retreats took a little thinking about, but otherwise the rules were very clear and strait-forward.

We drew randomly, and I ended up with the Marines, starting with a strong barrage on the two beach-head areas, although there turned out to be nothing in those areas. I drove inland to the two airfields, suffering a fair few casualties along the way, as the defender has the option to fire on units entering the area. I reinforced in subsequent turns, attempting to take both airfields, but my barrages performed weakly, as did my assaults, especially Chidori Airfield where in 4 rolls I couldn't generate 4 hits on 10 dice. (Average is 3.33, so 4 hits is only 40%, marginally over the average, but in all 4 attempts managed only 3 or fewer hits. With an area defense of 2 and a single cave this meant no damage was caused.)

By the start of turn 7, with 3 to go, I've barely cleared both air fields in front of the beaches, only to lose Motoyama Airfield to a counter-attack on turn 5, so only control 5 areas. Eric's sitting at 32 points (the Japanese player score 1 point for each step the US player loses), and at the end of the game the Japs score 3 points per area controlled (he currently controlled 17), 1 per unit still around (there are 8 units on the map, who knows how many hidden), and 5 if the HQ hasn't been eliminated. I've got 18 points (the US player scores 2 per airfield area per turn, with an extra 2 for controlling Funami Dai and Motoyama Airfield), a whole bunch of weakened units and only 3 turns to go.

With 40 points being required for an automatic win, I can see the writing on the wall. And then a funny thing happened. I won.

Turn 7 saw a big barrage take out the remaining Northern Airfield cave and a few steps of defenders (although it only scored 8 hits on 24 dice, perfect average, where the previous turn's identical barrage only managed 3 hits for no damage), and the same on Mount Suribachi. The assaults succeeded in removing the attackers, as I rolled well enough to remove the defenders in both areas. For Mount S. the US player gains VPs equal to a die roll, and I rolled a 2.

That was 12 points, for a total of 30, and all I had to do was hold on in turn 8 for the 10 points. I spread out, Eric rolled poorly for movement (the Japanese player rolls each turn for how many units may move that turn, d6/2, round up), and the game was over.

Here's the position at the end, but before we scored the points.

I was slightly surprised at how quickly it turned around, but it really looked like the game was gone. I'll certainly know next time that the Marines can turn the game around in very short order. But that's a concern, as If I'd rolled average dice in my earlier barrages and assaults it would have been over for the Japanese earlier in the game. I'm not sure if we were doing something wrong but it looks quite easy for the Marines, as with all that barrage strength they just pound the defenders into non-existence.

However, I know that we played a couple things wrong. We missed that the US player loses one of his air barrage units at the end of the first turn, a loss of 4 barrage factors per turn. Plus, each time there is a successful barrage of a beachhead area the beachhead marker is removed, which prevents recovery and bringing in more units at that beach, and Eric was scoring a successful barrage on my beachhead each turn. I'm not sure exactly what impact this would have had on our game, but it certainly would have helped Eric. I would have changed some of my focus to removing his artillery unit that was barraging my beachhead, for although it was causing losses they weren't major and I kept focus on the VP areas. Then again, it may have just changed my barrage focus for a single turn if the dice went averagely.

One thing that did help me a lot, I think, is that Eric didn't defend the beaches at all. This allowed me to land and drive inland on the first turn, although I did take quite a few losses from defensive fire for doing so. Then again, as I hadn't barraged inland I didn't have any effective assaults, so perhaps I should have waited until the next turn to drive inland, when the assaults would have been worth the losses. Then again again, I rolled really well on my initial barrage, scoring 9 hits on 20 dice in one area, which would have really hurt the defenders if he had defended the beaches, (I'm pretty sure that was my highest (%age-wise) roll of the game, and it was wasted on an empty space!) but I don't think it would have eliminated them.

Overall, not a bad little game. Fairly tense and with a good amount of variability (the Japanese player has total freedom of set up), I'd like to try it again to see if the things we missed make a huge impact. The rules are simple and quickly internalized. We took around 2 hours for our game, but we had a fair while with the rules looking up a few things, so I'd expect that to come down to somewhere just over the hour mark with practice. This makes it an excellent filler wargame, a pretty rare beast in the wargaming world.

The burning question is whether it's good enough to spend $40 (plus shipping) on? Hmm, toughie. Yeah, there's a fair amount of magazine for that price, as well as another half counter sheet for other games. Trouble is, not many of the articles looked stunningly interesting to me, and I don't have most of the games that the extra counters are for. If I did get a copy, I'd probably sell the HASL bits, and perhaps more of the counters, so that would balance some of the cost. I'm still not sure that the game is worth the remaining price, but assuming that MMP do reprint Fallschirmjäger and that I buy a copy, then the extra counters included the magazine are worth are worth a fair bit, plus there are a few replacements for The Devil's Cauldron, so I guess it's worth the few remaining dollars. I'll probably order a copy.

My choice again next time, and I'm going for another new MMP area movement release, Storm Over Stalingrad (BGG entry). Eric and I are also planning on moving to a more frequent and regular schedule, which should see this updated more frequently.


Dug said...

Note that the errata counters for TDC and MG:MG are a pretty mixed bag. All but one of the TDC counters are mostly cosmetic (more than half only ad a dark box around the step count of the units to show organic transport, which you can tell as easily from flipping the counter), and I couldn't figure out more than one that actually changed counter values (an event counter). The color registration on the German counters is pretty far afield of the originals, so it may not be worth it to replace these.

MG:MG is more balanced. About half of the counters replace originals that simply neglected to fill in the unit silhouettes with color, but the rest do fix clear problems with values on the units.

As for the Fallshirmjaeger counters, I was very fortunate to find a copy of this game a few years ago in a B&M store in Aurora, CO, even if the scenario is hypothetical.

There are actual articles in the magazine as well, and these seem to be pretty interesting (although to put a "sales" article, such as the preview of the upcoming SCS Bastogne game, strikes me as being on the gratuitous side), I felt it was worthwhile even if I don't treat it as an investment. At worst, you hang onto the HASL stuff for a year and it will go for at least what you sold it for.

One final note: MMPs shipping policy is insane. $8.50 to ship a 2-lb magazine - I ended up buying the Normandy ASL action pack just to make me feel like I was getting the shipping down to a reasonable level. They shipped me Storm Over Stalingrad, which didn't weigh much more, same sized box, for $9.50. These sorts of prices make it more and more attractive for me to buy games at my local store, which spreads the wealth around a bit. Of course, I couldn't *get* Ops Spec #1 at my store, they only sold them online or at cons. And nearly every MMP box I get through Fed Ex comes shmushed, the one with Ops particularly so.

Mike said...

> Note that the errata counters for TDC and MG:MG are a pretty mixed bag. All but one of the TDC counters are mostly cosmetic

And the TDC counters will be included in Where Eagles Dare, which I currently have on pre-order. Pretty much all the other counters are for games I don't own (although I will purchase FJ when it's reprinted), so it's a very tenuous purchase from that perspective.

The big question is whether IJ, the FJ counters, and the sale of the ASL stuff is enough for the price. Close call.

Mike said...

I was going back over the rules, and found a big rules gaffe. We missed that the Marines can only bring in artillery and tank units at beachheads. And with Japanese artillery removing the beachhead markers if any hits are scored when barraging, that makes it a lot harder for the Marines.