Battle of Midway

This is the second installment of Brian McCue 's ( groups' near-weekly refereed multi-blind playthrough of the, as he calls it, Full Monty Campaign Sequence.  Names are slightly changed by request to protect the innocent.   Different installments will be separated by horizontal lines.

Brian McCue

Last night we started the Midway scenario of the campaign sequence, with Cris playing the Americans, me playing the Japanese, and Reese kindly reffing.

My ships got spotted and were the target of a major airstrike composed of carrier-based planes, far too many to have come from any single carrier. Aware that in the past I've had trouble grasping rules on this point, I didn't say anything, but looking at it now, Solomon Sea rule 8.6 seems pretty clear: "Planes from a US carrier can never be in the same wave as aircraft from another carrier."

Faced with a choice of attacking a carrier battle group or a transport group in the same hex, the Americans chose the carriers. The initiative roll is extremely important in these rules, so I rolled a 2 and announced, "Beat that!", only to have Cris roll a 1. The masses of American fighters, though individually mediocre, shot down quite a number of my few elite Zeke pilots. Cris's dice luck continued through the attack, and he did untold (to him) damage to my carriers.

[Reese: Amusingly, the next CAP event Brian rolled a 9. I said that justice demands Cris roll a 10, which he obligingly did. Immediately, a brief discussion ensued on why the Romans kept gods so much and that this sort of thing happening far more frequently than it is perceived they should being re-affirmations of the existance of the gods.]

There was also an attack with differently-colored USMC aircraft, and I can't remember whether it was in the same turn as the massive carrier strike or not. Either way, it was a separate attack.

The invasion force pressed on through the night, and when day broke, it was 100 miles from Midway. Another air attack ensued, but I had yet to spot the American carriers. (Afterwards, Reese will have to explain to me whether this was bad luck or unwise placement of my meagre two Air Search counters. At the time, I had thought that it was the "lackadaisical search" rule, but when I finally spotted the Americans and pointed out to Reese that my searching should have the lackaday bit cleared, he said that it hadn't been making a difference!)

I launched an airstrike against Midway. This strike was relatively successful, flipping some of the USMC troops and also scoring hits on the base, worth points in themselves and also destroying ground aircraft there.

The troops landed on Midway and ground combat started on turn 16 (I think); Ian and I having absorbed the lesson of our earlier Victory at Midway game, which was that the invasion has to happen relatively early if it is to succeed. Our invasion occurred as early as possible, given the speed of the invasion transports. The initial flipping of some ground troops by the air raid, and IIRC another flip by a preliminary shore bombardment during the turn on which the ground troops landed, paid off by putting the defenders behind in the ensuing Lanchester duel.

(Hmmm. Straight Lanchester-wise, the Americans have 14 steps that hit on 2's, and the Japanese have 8 steps that hit on 3's, so (ignoring the American advantage of shooting first and the occasional problem of wasted hits), the American Lanchester strength would be 14^2*(1/3) = 65.333, and the Japanese strength is 8^2*(1/2) = 32. But I think I killed 4 steps before the invasion, which makes it nearly even: 10^2*(1/3) = 33.333.)

[Reese: The chance that the Americans would miss with all 14 steps is about 4%. For the Japanese it is almost 6%. So clearly, reducing the Americans with Air and Naval bombardment is critical. If you flip all the American units, the odds of missing with all 7 steps goes up to almost 21%.]

Cris had used up most of his luck in that first airstrike, and the ground battle began to tilt in my favor. On the last turn that we played (17), I finally managed an airstrike against his carrier task group, and (with some good die-rolling on my side, and not Cris's),some of my attacking aircraft survived the CAP and AA with a barely-intact anvil attack (one flipped counter from each angle) on Enterprise. I stacked up all the dive bombers against Enterprise as well, mindful of the superior American damage control. Also, I am much less concerned about "wasted hits" than other players seem to be; I'm willing to waste a few hits now and again if by doing so I can ensure that a ship goes to the bottom, from which it will not come back up. I got four hits on Enterprise, inflicting untold (to me) damage under the damage rules.

[Reese: The Solomon Seas/Campaign Sequence rules say Damage Control is bad until you lose a CV. It's also only a -1. Getting two Eng hits is the single most important thing you can do. It's a -5. Two hits of any kind will give you that. A ship that has 2 deck hits gets a -1. You get a -2 for ready aircraft on board when hit by bombs (not torps). Generally speaking, if you get 2 deck and 2 eng hits (two hits with bombs) the chance of the carrier surviving is 20%. (10% for the Japanese at Midway for their carelessness, except for the one-step Japanese counters, which sink faster but have a +3 to the damage control roll.)]

Cris's submarines actually managed to get a hit (inflicting, yet again, untold damage) on one of my carriers in the last turn, and the ground battle on Midway continued to go in favor of the Japanese.

Lance McMillan: I'm curious, did Brian play VaM strait (i.e. with the published rules) or did his group use PBY counters with long-range searches (like in SS)? Also, did they allow use of carrier planes to conduct air searches, or restrict searches to just those (2 if I recall correctly) allowed in the basic rules? It definitely makes a big difference...

Markus: They used the SS rules (the Campaign Sequence document describes how to play VaM as a SS scenario). However, they did decide to restrict searches to the two CAV searches (in SS terms), which, as you say, is a major restriction. I want to put a remark in the next version of the Campaign Sequences that explicitly says carrier searches are allowed.

Another issue that came up is the VP value of Midway. In VaM, Midway provides a 40-point swing depending on who takes it (it's worth 4 carriers). I consider that excessive (since the main purpose of the Japanese was to hunt carriers). Accordingly I left out these VPs in the Campaign Sequence draft and instead introduced a cut in the number of US land-based aircraft available around Guadalcanal in the later battles if the Japanese took Midway. As I wasn't available for discussion at the time in the game they decided to go with the VaM VP value (doubled to match the SS scheme). I wouldn't have done it that way but having decided on it at the start of the battle it makes sense to keep things that way.

An issue that arises is that if you don't play Midway as part of the sequence but simply take it as "background history", the Japanese player does not get a VP deduction. This means that someone who plays VaM and gets the historical result suddenly has to deal with a much heavier point burden which seems odd. (But isn't if we assume VaM as a game is balanced. What's interesting is the different number of points both sides get for Midway in VaM and Ben Knight has (to the degree he remembers) confirmed my suspicion that it's likely to correspond to the relative probability of these sides ending up with the island in VaM playtesting. So it probably makes sense to retain some points, but reduced in importance (if the Japanese lost 2 carriers more than the US, they would probably have considered the battle a disaster whether they took Midway or not). A suggestion that was also made was that a lopsided Japanese victory at Midway would probably have jeopardized the Guadalcanal landings, so I may want to put a stronger "automatic victory" condition in if the Japanese manage to take both Port Moresby and Midway.

Last night we foresaw a short session to finish Midway (though I, certainly, did not foresee the result!).

We had a full complement of those who have played in either of the Campaign Sequence games on hand for the finish of the Midway game--Cris and Shawn on the American side, Ian, Rick, and me on the Japanese side, and Reese reffing. We failed to take Midway, with the ground battle stretching into a fight between two flipped counters, only to have the Americans suddenly triple in ferocity and win on the second day of tripled ferocity. This seemed somewhat unsatisfactory, but of course in the original rules we would have just lost when the game ended. In the original VaM game, the Japanese get 25 points for taking Midway, but the Americans get only 15 points for keeping it. Reese kept these relative values, doubling them to bring them into scale with Solomon Sea.

[Reese: The ground combat was unexpectedly exciting. It seemes at the end of last session it was hopeless. Two American flipped counters against three Japanese flipped counters and a Japanese unflipped counter. That the Americans won seems highly fortuitous on their part.]

The surviving Akagi had, by the end of the game, made it off the Western edge of the board. An airstrike had hit the transports, which were basically acting as a decoy for the rest of the surface force, which was found on the last turn or so and subjected to a rather wimpy air strike. I had been thrashing around with this force, hoping to contact the Americans and have a giant sea battle in which I could gain some needed VP.

Without any such sea battle, and having lost all the carriers except Akagi (i.e., both small carriers and 3 out of 4 big ones, vice the historical Japanese performance of losing all 4 big ones and keeping both small ones), we got the worst of the battle, VP, wise, and now trail 239.5 to 153, a deficit of 86.5 points, whereas at the end of Coral Sea, we were behind 130.5 to 86, a deficit of 44.5. On the plus side, we managed to sink Enterprise.

Ian, now in command of the Japanese forces, wondered why we are so far behind, given that we're not doing much worse than the historical Japanese. One reason might be that, because of repairing, some of our carriers have cost us more points than their total value: we could fix the hits, but that didn't get us the points back, and then when the carrier eventually goes down, we lose its whole value all over again.

[Ian: The difference at Midway was also because of the highly improbable US win on the island. Reese said the Americans only would have won by two points had the Japanese taken the island.]

Our idea was to land on Midway as early as possible, so as to give the ground troops long enough to finish the battle. On this basis, we got one airstrike in before the troops landed. Two would have been better, but I'm not at all sure that we could have done it; as it was, we only did two airstrikes in the whole game, the one against Midway and the one that sank Enterprise.

Next time, Eastern Solomons!

Markus: We actually had some email discussion about the victory conditions (mentioned abovefolder somewhere). When I put the campaign game together, I specifically intended not to give a benefit to the US for holding Midway (since that exaggerates its importance to the Japanese, it is worth a lot of points anyway). The primary goal of Midway was to make the US fight, having another perimeter base was thought convenient but secondary. As such, the 30 points to the US would not be awarded if I were playing and so the Japanese would now be trailing by 56.5 points instead of 86.5 (209.5 to 153).