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Mark Herman's Wargaming Blog
Sunday, 21 December 2008
What is historical?
Topic: Empire of the Sun

A parochial view...


What is strange about the above is that EotS is still in it's FIRST print run; I can't see why it never sold out! 


I appreciate the sentiment and Gene's kind remark, but I have been very disappointed in the sales of this title. The good news is the game has found its audience and unlike many games I believe it has a much better reputation now than when it was originally released. 


I ascribe this to a couple of things, some of it my fault. I think I was too eager to update the rules, which gave the uninformed the impression that the game was less than it could be. A second point revolved around some perceived and real balance issues. The real issues have long ago been dealt with; my upcoming article in C3i 21 should handle the perceived ones. 


Another factor centers on my personal view that as much as gamers want innovation, they do not want it at the expense of what is familiar. Last, some of the 'big' name bloggers who have followings were very aggressive at panning this title. The collection of which led to lackluster sales. 


However, once the pack moved onto the latest and greatest product, those of us who actually play games more than once have been having deep strategy discussions about this title. If CSW topic traffic is an indicator, few titles move much beyond rules questions and then obscurity, many of which have much higher BGG ratings than EoTS. David Dockter and another fellow whose name escapes me did some very interesting analysis on what is actually getting played. 


On the other hand all of the publications that formally reviewed the game were all very positive, plus the game did win a Charlie in Design (thank you Stephen) and Graphics (another GMT graphic team success). 


What I was going for is a game that I want to play repeatedly while still feeling that there was more to learn. As I am slower than the pack, this is easy for me, but nevertheless I continue to enjoy playing this title continuously. I look forward to our next challenge match that will begin in January. 


Happy Holidays, 





Why I do not like EotS that much


Maybe it's time for a different point of view here. I played the game now several times and I have concerns with the game which others shared and still share despite the rules updates. 


First of all: Movement in this game is innovative, but historically unsound. Why? Take our beloved Yamato (or as I call here: The Resurrection Ship with a nod to Battlestar Galactica) is usually hovering around the whole pacific, always there, were you do not like it. And the beast takes 18 points to inflict damage, so you better be careful with it. There are other issues with movement of the IJN, but the main beef I have is: lack of oil and/or resource rules in EotS. If the IJN player wants, he can move the forces around like he wants it. 


The only thing he should not do is the historical way: Bunch them up in range of the US Player, which brings me to the second problem: The easy pinning of forces (or as Markus Stumptner called it: the Wonderglue effect) Air fleets can pin down any number of forces in a single hex. So, spreading out is the heart of the game for the IJN player. Mind you, it does not save him from utter destruction in the end, as this almost always is ensured, but it makes for some quite ahistorical gameplay in the years before. 


Third problem: The POW mechanism. Like so many things that sound cool in theory, in practice this leads to the IJN never committing to New Guinea, at least the discussion after the last game showed, why committing to it is often a recipe for desaster. Firstly, all these nice NG hexes are POW hexes if occupied. Secondly, it prolongs the IJN front to a point, where the Allies have easy access. 


Fourth problem: The War in Europe. True, one can recover even from the worst depths of the WiE track as shown during the last game. But with a less than average hand, you are doomed as the Allied player or if you are unlucky with any comebacks. If it happens too early, you are screwed. 


These are just my personal problems I have. Mind you, I had great fun playing EotS as a game and it poses interesting challenges for the players. It even resembles the Pacific War rather closely if you look at it from a high level. The smaller operational subgame, however, lacks due to problem no. 1 and the other (albei smaller) issues I have, make EotS only my second choice compared to Fire in the Sky or Pacific Fleet.




Perceptions of what is historical...


Philip, I appreciate your candor and I intend to address your points in sequence. I also want to state that my comments are not intended to be defensive or aggressive, but it is hard to disagree in writing and not make it appear so. I am sure that your comments were directed in a like manner. 


One of the weaker parts of gamer culture is to base ones arguments on something in a wargame as being ahistorical based on ascertain and what other games have done. I am well read and teach these subjects at the graduate school level (adjunct professor at the Naval War College and Georgetown University). So, I do not put things in my games unless I have the facts. They are my interpretation of the data, but it would be strange if I had not thought through all of these issues. 


Movement: I am not sure how to respond to the Yamato concern as that is a player choice and many of the Japanese plans revolved around it use. It spend much of the war outside of Japan, so its use or non-use is a player decision. The comment on its attack-defense strength is context driven and its evocation as the resurrection ship I'll pick up later. The way the combat system works you would end up in two situations with the Yamato (Mushashi). It is full strength with other full strength units, in which case the weaker units will take the hits. It is the only full strength unit in the battle, in which case it has to take 18 hits before any other units take any hits, which is more or less what happened when the USN found it before Leyte as it was the biggest thing in their sights. I would also offer that once it takes one hit (Mushahi lost ala Leyte), the piece is more or less impotent to perform the above roles. 


The resurrection ship comment is a bit of historical drama. It was my view that the Yamato had to be one of the last ships in the Japanese fleet at the end of the game. Given the tough nature of the ship based on how many bombs/ torpedoes it took to sink, I viewed most losses to the unit as severe damage. Also, my knowledge of the design says that at the end of the game CVLs are more useful than the Yamato, so not all of the 6 naval replacements that the JP receive would be used on this unit. The combination of these factors gave me confidence that the Yamato would be around through most of the game as it was historically, but overuse would have its own consequences. 


Within the movement comments is one around ahistorical movement of Japanese fleet elements. Some facts are required here. The Japanese were not short of oil, they were short of refining capacity and the transport oilers to move it to Japan. The Strategic Bombing study covers the oil issue in excruciating detail as you would suspect given the strategic nature of oil. I have examined all of the numbers on barrels per day pumped, refined, transported and the like, so within the Japanse empire there was a surplus of oil, unfortunately not in the right form nor in the right location (Japan). Remember, prior to the war, Indonesia alone would have supplied Japan with more oil than it could use, so once it was captured and the infrastructure damaged by the retreating Dutch units repaired that oil was available. 


However, lack of refining capacity due to damage and the devastation of the always insufficient Japanese oiler units created a shortage of fuel. This is why the fleet was moved to Singapore and Tawi-Tawi to bring the fleet elements closer to the unrefined oil that can be used if one is willing to deal with the maintenance issues, which historically the Japanese did. EoTS uses card activations to handle how much logistics are available (to include ammunition not just oil) to move and fight with. Other games use other viable simplifications to handle this situation, such as oil points or command points (e.g., PacWar). But this raises the second issue around 'ahistorical' movement. 


Although it is true that the Japanese had refined oil issues throughout the war there is a very big difference between cruising from location to location and going to battle. In fact if you do a ship by ship examination of movement, the Japanese navy moved frequently (over any 4 month period of time), just not into battle. In fact if you track the movements of all of the Japanese cruisers and light ships, which is the bulk of their fleet they moved at least several times per turn on various missions to include refits to Japan. 


All of the big fleet elements fought hard in 1942 and then were fairly quiet from a fighting point of view during 1943 that had more to do with the strategic situation and the decimation of the Japanese air units than fuel. However, if you track the big units movements they moved about once per turn to train, refit, and the like even over this period. Based on the historical record, the Japanese shifting their naval forces around in the game is just the historical browning motion that occurred. The fragility and the permanence of loss for most Japanese naval units was the natural governor on how many battles you get to fight in. 


Fleet basing: It is interesting that this point is raised and as I stated in my earlier post about the "big" bloggers views gets brought up here. I wrote an entire monograph on this point that is downloadable from my website on this exact topic. To hear the same ahistorical comment applied once again without any data or historical facts is just a continuance of another urban legend about this game that hurt its initial sales. 


However, there is one additional comment that I would like to make. The idea that the Japanese grouped their fleet into big fleet bases is not entirely accurate. The JP naval order of battle is grouped around naval divisions. So most of the Japanese pieces are grouped in their command organization. Each CA piece is one of the cruiser divisions, BBs etc. The Japanese deployed their major fleet units by division and they were distributed across a number of bases. Even when Truk was the major fleet base, it contained at its height Two Carrier divisions, two BB divisions, and 2 to 3 Cruiser divisions. There were not many locations that had as much except back in Japan where the other BB divisions were located (BB Nagato piece). So, the bottomline is any stack of 3 Japanese naval units, which is normal when I play EoTS constitutes, historically, a major fleet base. Even one naval unit in a hex is a significant fleet concentration. One needs to remember the scale and size of these pieces. 


I would also offer that there are good reasons in EoTS to mass the fleet as when it is dispersed it just gets picked off unit by unit. Which brings up another point about many folks not liking aspects of innovation that are unfamiliar. Location of forces in an empty map design are not absolute. Look at the dispersal of the fleet as a snapshot of where units were reported as they moved (see earlier comment) around. In either case the whole notion of smothering fleet bases has been covered and academically documented by me. If this element bothers you, it is just going to bother you but I disagree that it is ahistorical. 


PoW mechanism: I will make two points here. I am not sure what the comment is here. On one hand the New Guinea strategy from the last game is cited as ahistorical, because it did not work, yet the historical one did not work, so it is ahistorical. Anyway, what I stated earlier about the fact that we are having deep strategy discussions about this title is born out here. I am not convinced that our New Guinea strategy lost us the game, but that is another discussion. My second point is my article in the upcoming C3i 21 has a detailed discussion on why I totally disagree with this comment, so I will just leave it there for now, except to say that I spend several paragraphs showing why this point of view doesn't work in actual game play and why the historical path as supported by the PoW mechanic is a superior strategy in the game. 


WiE: The major factor that effected how the War in the Pacific progressed (e.g., logistics) was the War in Europe. I chose to include it as a factor that the historical commanders had to deal with. It is one of those things that is a matter of taste not history. Everyone has their likes and dislikes and is entitled to them. Which is a good place to end this reply. As you note, you like other Pacific games better and they are fine games, so I am glad that the global marketplace continues to offer choices to satisfy everyones needs. My comments are not directed at saying one design is better than another, but a counter view to the mistaken notion of what is or is not historical in the EoTS wargame design. 






Jay in response to Phil


Third problem: The POW mechanism. Like so many things that sound cool in theory, in practice this leads to the IJN never committing to New Guinea, at least the discussion after the last game showed, why committing to it is often a recipe for desaster. 


I've played this game as much as anyone and I don't agree with this view. When the game was first published, the PoW mechanism was much more challenging for the US and it was a vehicle Japan could pursue to win. But with the V2.0 of the rules, the PoW mechanism functions more to make the US spend ASPs each turn and capture bases instead of focusing exclusively on raiding. 


In the several games I've played, whether Japan takes NG or not does not determine if the US makes PoW. All it does is dictate where the US will make PoW. If not in NG, then in the Marshalls or DEI or central Pacific. When Japan concedes the Solomons and NG, then the US "jump-off" point for the counter-offensive starts closer to Japan and since the invasion of Japan is a matter of "when" not "if", this gives the US a big advantage. 


Fourth problem: The War in Europe. True, one can recover even from the worst depths of the WiE track as shown during the last game. But with a less than average hand, you are doomed as the Allied player or if you are unlucky with any comebacks. If it happens too early, you are screwed. 


I think Japan getting a poor hand on turns 2 and 3 impact the game much more than the WiE mechanism. The WiE is only a viable path to victory if Japan draws 2 or more WiE cards in a turn in turns 2 to 4. Outside of that, the WiE is a bit of fool's gold for Japan. It looks like it will win you the game but if you pursue it without thought, you will lose more than you will win. To me the WiE mechanism is really a "random scenario generator" (with some player interaction since Japan doesn't have to play WiE as events) that make each game unique. 


Your first two points are more on the "tactical" aspects of the game and in strategic games, there has to be some level of tactics (forces have to move and fight)--how you rationalize those is often a matter of intepretation and there will be some games that have mechanics that you can't rationalize. At that point, I agree that it is hard to play a game if what is going on doesn't make sense to you. 


What I like most about EoTS compared to other strategic level Pacific games is how the cards dictate operations. In turn based games, each side takes turns sending out all their offensive operations at once and this means that units can only participate in one offensive per turn. It also tends to mean that you focus on massing your fleets for big offensives so the other guy can't react in such a way to get a big local advantage. In EoTS though, there are several offensives over the course of the turn--some big, some small and some in between. And some turns there are hardly any at all. You don't get this variation in other games. 


I think why EoTS is not as popular as FTP, Wilderness War, WtP, TS, etc. is 1) that it is really a combination of a hex game and a card game and 2) that it takes 12+ hours or 6 months (PBEM) to play the campaign. 


I think FTP and the others are popular because they are not hex games--they are not as complicated (this is seens as benefit), players can focus on a few high level decisions (that are often hard) and they, frankly, these types of games were new to the hobby when they came out 10-15 years ago. So the hardcore CDG are not as apt to take on EoTS. Likewise, the hardcore hex-based gamers are not as apt to take on a CDG so in effect, EoTS by spanning both types of games, limits its audience to gamers who go for both types. 


The other big reason is play time. If you want a popular game, it has to play quick given people's lifestyles today. Longer games will appeal to a niche audience but to get the level of sales of say TS, the game has to play quickly.




Thanks Mark for your very deep answer. I will have to read it more carefully (no time right now)...thanks again!

Posted by markherman at 10:53 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 21 December 2008 10:55 AM EST
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