The Tide at Sunrise (Review)


The Tide at Sunrise Board Game
The Tide at Sunrise, a recent release from Multiman Publishing, portrays the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 at a fairly high level (operational or grand operational), with most of the ground units representing divisions, hexes at 6.2 miles (10 km), and each game turn covering one month of real time. The game map represents the Liaodong Peninsula area of Manchuria where the war was fought. I won’t go into any detail on the history of the war (you can do that research yourself if you’re interested), except to say that the Japanese initiated the war mainly to prevent the Russians, who were expanding aggressively in the region of eastern Manchuria and Korea, from totally dominating Korea. In order to sustain an army so far from the Japanese home islands, the Russian fleet at Port Arthur, a much sought after warm water port for Russia, would also have to be destroyed.

The game, in its initial release configuration, only addresses the naval war in a very abstract way… but more about that later. It’s a low complexity game that does not require a tremendous amount of rules reading in order to get started, and is not difficult to solitaire while learning.

The Japanese player’s objective is to accumulate 70 or more victory points by the end of Turn 12. He earns victory points by:

  • Occupying towns.
  • Elimination of Russian combat units.
  • Naval sortie results.
  • Neutral Zone violation (refers to violation of Chinese territory, by either player, and shouldn’t happen very often)

I’ve played the game to completion three times so, while I cannot claim to possess any real expertise with the game system, I certainly have enough experience to provide an overview and some opinions.

Rules Organization and Setup

The game setup instructions are concise, involving only a small number of units at start, which makes me happy (if I have to scratch my head over the setup instructions, the game goes directly on eBay… just one of my pet peeves). The rules are simple and organized well for the most part. I think they could have made a more comprehensive “Special Rules” section, encompassing ALL special rules. As it stands now, they have a “Turn 1 Special Rules” section, which addresses only that. There are other special rules, such as:

  • Reinforcement restrictions on European Divisions and Russian Cavalry during turns 1 and 2.
  • Vladivostok Fleet may not sortie between Turns 8 and 12.
  • Restrictions on Russian Fort Garrison and Marine units.
  • Siberian Railroad capacity decrease during turns 8 to 12.

These rules do appear in other sections of the rule book, but could have been summarized and reiterated in a general “Special Rules” section. I just don’t like having to flip back and forth through the rule book constantly while I’m playing. I’d rather see a turn-by-turn table with special rules for that turn.

The “Optional Naval Game”

One of the first things you notice when opening this game is that more than half of the counters are not required to play the game. These additional counters are used for the “Optional Naval Game” whose rules are available for download at Multiman Publishing’s web site.

I’m kind of baffled by this one, but assume that the naval rules just were not ready for publication (or too broken to publish) when the rest of the game shipped, so Multiman handled it like this. I have not seen these rules so I can’t really comment on them, but it appears to allow for a detailed treatment of the naval war for those who prefer that to the abstracted Naval combat charts. I am not one of those people. But I will, at some point, have to try this detailed Naval system and will report on it when I do.

The naval war surely was an important aspect of this conflict since Japan would have had great difficulty supplying its ground forces if the Russian navy had not been defeated. I don’t know much about the actual naval war, but if it was a case where the Russian navy just didn’t have a chance of winning, then I don’t see the value in created an entire sub-system, just to waste an hour arriving at the conclusion that the Russian navy can’t even come close to winning.

If someone can shed some light on this, I’d like to know more about the (real) naval war, as well as Multiman’s thinking when creating this detailed naval sub-system.

General Flow of the Game

The Tide at Sunrise is a real basic, old-school type of movement and combat game, sporting a Reinforcement Phase, Movement Phase, Combat Phase and Supply/Recovery Phase for the Japanese player first and then the Russian player. Real simple. The only variations from old-school standards are:

  • The Naval Phase – Takes place at the start of the Japanese player turn, but is executed by the Russian player. He must decide how aggressively he will challenge the Japanese Navy, if at all. This is abstracted through a Naval Combat table. If very successful, the Japanese ability to transport ground combat units to the peninsula can be degraded. If very unsuccessful, the Russian Navy can be lost, allowing the Japanese to run wild in the theater of operations. In general, the longer the Russian Fleet remains in existence, the better for the Russian player.
  • Allocation of “Transport” points (both players) during the Reinforcement Phases – Each player is allocated a certain number of Transport points that can be used to either build replacement points (to bring disrupted units back to full strength), or bring brand new units into the fray.

Movement is also very standard. Each hex terrain type, and possible hex side terrain feature, inflicts a movement point cost on combat units. The only special movement types in the game are naval movement (i.e. amphibious landings, for the Japanese only), and rail movement which can be used by either player over sections of the railroad they control.

Combat is regulated via a very old-school Combat Results Chart which show Attacker Eliminated (AE), Defender Eliminated (DE), Exchange (EX), etc., combat results.

The Zone of Control (ZOC) rules are brutal. If your combat units find themselves surrounded by enemy ZOC, it will either have to fight its way out, if possible, or be broken out by other friendly units, if you want it to survive. A full strength unit that is surrounded by enemy ZOC, and thus cut off from supply, becomes disrupted during its Supply Phase. Disrupted units that begin a turn in an enemy zone MUST leave that ZOC during its movement phase or it will be eliminated. The presence of a friendly in a hex does NOT negate enemy ZOC for purposes of tracing supply. So, you can see that it’s a very short trip to the dead pile if you don’t protect your flanks. Again, very old-school.

The Supply rules are fairly liberal and flexible. Units can trace a line of any length to a supply source as long as it’s uninterrupted by enemy units or ZOC. Russian supply sources include the entire north and west map edges, as well as any fortress hex. Japanese supply sources include any captured port hex and the “Entry from Korea” box (where the original invasion begins from).

Finally, the Recovery phase provides an opportunity for the phasing player to recover “Disrupted” (i.e. flipped over) units by spending Replacement points.

Sample Japanese Movement/Combat Action

I find an illustrated sample to be most helpful when evaluating a game for purchase, so this section will take you through a very basic Japanese movement and Combat Phase:


During his Reinforcement Phase, the Japanese player has landed a 9-8 division in the port town of Pizihku (hex 0814), to augment the infantry and cavalry units already present in and adjacent to the port town of Houérshi (hex 0712). Several other Japanese units have been trying, without must success, to assault the fortress of Nanshan. In the prior turn, the Russian player sent reinforcements down the railroad to threaten Japanese supply lines, so the Japanese player must respond.


Movement Phase

The first order of business is to prevent the Japanese units beseiging Nanshan from being isolated and cut off from supply. The Japanese 2-10 Cavalry unit makes a move to encircle the Russian units advancing down the railroad tracks, spending 1 movement point for each clear hex, 2 movement points for each rough hex, and +1 movement point for the river crossing on the 1014/1115 hex side. The 9-8 Infantry unit in Houérshi continues the blocking maneuver by occupying the town of Pulandian (hex 1011). To complete the blocking movement, the newly landed 9-8 infantry unit moves from its landing port of Pizihku (0814) to hex 1013. Since this unit was landed as a reinforcement this turn in a hex that was not a previously controlled Japanese port (although it will be one next turn), the reinforcing unit is restricted to spending half its movement allowance. No problem there since it only takes two movement points to get into position in hex 1013.

Next the Infantry units in hexes 0808 and 0809 (4-8’s) move forward to keep pressure on the fortress at Nanshan, because the disrupted unit that is currently in hex 0807 (just outside the fortress) must move out of the Russian ZOC before the end of the movement phase or it will be eliminated (i.e. the rules state that all disrupted units that start their turn in an enemy ZOC must move out of such ZOCs during their movement phase or they’re eliminated). So, after the new units move into the hex, the disrupted unit moves out of the hex back toward the Japanese supply lines along the coast.

Note that the Russian 3-6 unit, in hex 0707, is not isolated from Russian supply because enemy ZOC do not extend into Fortress hexes, allowing unit to trace a path into and through the fortress of Nanshan. Regardless, the Japanese player keeps his 9-8 Infantry unit in place to prevent the Russian unit from breaking out and wreaking havoc on Japanese supply lines.

The Tide at Sunrise Board Game review

Combat Phase

The first Japanese initiated combat will take place in hex 1113. The Russian 7-strength infantry unit will be attacked by the Japanese 9-strength infantry unit (on the opposite side of the Daisha River) and the Japanese 2-strength cavalry unit. This is a very risky 1-to-1 attack which can go very badly for the Japanese player should he lose. The defending Russian unit is in clear terrain so there are no modifiers for that. There are two column shifts: one in favor of the Russian because the Japanese 9-strength unit is attacking across a river, and one in favor of the Japanese since the target unit is surrounded by Japanese ZOC, for net zero column shifts.

Note that this cannot be negated by the presence of the other Russian unit. As I mentioned earlier, the ZOC rules are brutal.

The Tide at Sunrise Board Game review

There are two combat tables: the “Fort” combat table, which is used when the defender occupies a Fortress hex, and the “Standard” combat table, used for all other situations. The Japanese player gets extremely lucky and rolls a 2. Checking the “2” row on the Standard combat table, the result is “DR”, which means that the defending Russian unit must retreat two hexes, and the attacking units may advance.

Since the Russian unit is surrounded by Japanese ZOCs, it may not retreat and is eliminated instead (remember that the presence of a friendly unit does not negate enemy ZOC for purposes of retreat either). The Russian unit is eliminated and the attacking units may advance. Infantry units may advance a total of two hexes, the first one being the hex vacated by the defender. Cavalry units may advance three hexes, also with the first hex being the vacated hex. The 9-strength infantry unit advances into the vacated hex and then one additional hex into the rough terrain, pinning the Russian unit within Japanese ZOC. The cavalry unit advances a full three hexes, first forward into the vacated hex and then backward two hexes to start advancing up the railroad, hopefully heading off any pesky Russian units that may try to relieve the beseiged Russian division in hex 1112.

Another benefit of a successful attack is the fact that any unit that advances after combat is considered in supply for the next supply check, regardless of its actual position within enemy lines, providing opportunities to exploit breakthroughs.

The second and final Japanese initiated combat will take place in hex 0707, against the defending Russian 3-strength unit. The adjacent Japanese 9-strength unit as well as the two 4-strength infantry units will attack, making the basic combat odds 5-to-1. The Japanese units are under no obligation to attack the Russian units in the fortress hex at Nanshan.

There are no modifier column shifts in this battle. In addition, since enemy ZOCs do not extend into fortresses, the Russian unit (if it survives) will have a clear retreat path. The die roll is 3 which evaluates in a “DD” result, which Disrupts the Rusiian unit and forces it to retreat two hexes. The defending Russian is Disrupted, flipping to its weaker side, and retreats two hexes through the fortress of Nanshan and ends up stacked with the artillery unit in hex 0906. The 9-strength Japanese attacker (only) advances into the vacated hex and stops there, thus slamming the door shut on the peninsula.

The Tide at Sunrise Board Game review

As the Japanese turn winds down, the Japanese player finds himself well supplied, in commmand of the landward approaches to the peninsula containing Port Arthur, with secured ports for future reinforcement landings, and about to begin an advance northwest along the railroad toward the victory point cities there. If he has any Replacement points available, one could be spent to recover the disrupted division in hex 0709 back to full strength. The Russians must reorganize their defenses if they’re to prevent the Japanese from conquering the victory point cities in the north, while holding on to Port Arthur as long as possible.

What I Like About This Game

I liked the simple rules and setup, which have you up and running in about 5 minutes. Not that I mind a complex game, with more involved setup requirements, but for this game the simplicity is really an asset. But don’t let my constant references to the “simple” setup, “simple” rules, and “old-school” aspects lead you to believe that this is a total beer & pretzels game. The victory conditions are quite challenging for the Japanese player. Winning will require careful planning for the invasion, and aggressive maneuvering once on the ground on the peninsula. By the same token, a few bad moves by the Russian player can seal his doom in short order. The Russian must be steadfast in defense and learn to “read” the battlefield correctly in order to insure that reinforcements are sent to the right places at the right times.

My limited experience with the game indicates that the Japanese player has a tougher time of it than the Russian player. But I think that’s at least partially related to the fact that poor moves by the Japanese player early in the game can be hard to compensate for in the latter turns. With a bit more experience, I expect that the early game blunders will become fewer and farther between, providing a much more competitive end game.

I also like the decision making aspects of the Reinforcement Phase, where you must use a variable number of “Transport” points to purchase either replacement points (to repair degraded units), or purchase entirely new units. What type of new units to buy? Cavalry, infantry, artillery? And where to place them, or land them in the case of the Japanese player? I think this is what may give the game some variety and replay value, although the jury is still out…

What I Don’t Like About This Game

The first few turns involve a lot of maneuver, but after that the game settles down to a slug-fest. The combat chart is quite bloody and, before long, eliminated units are flying off the board every which way. It seems that victory may hinge on where you find yourself when the slug-fest begins. So, it seems that most of the excitement may be generated in the first few turns. If the opening moves and maneuvering become rote, that may completely trash any replay value the game may have.

Another minor annoyance that could have been addressed by the publisher is a lack of certain useful game markers. There are certain events that need to be kept track of in the game, such as the suspension of Russian fleets to sortie for x number of turns. It would have been helpful to have game markers to indicate this so that the gamer does not have to devise their own method of keeping track. There are other examples as well, but I don’t want to labor the point. Granted, these are very minor annoyances, but annoyances nevertheless.


So far The Tide at Sunrise has been an enjoyable and engaging game to play. Each game that I’ve played has generated a different result, which is good news. Although I still have my doubts about the long term playability of the game, I am enjoying it enough to continue playing at least a few more times. I will update this review if necessary as my experience with the game deepens.

I’ll also have to publish an additional review once I get a good handle on the expanded Naval game. Should be able to get to that in the near future.

One comment

  1. I agree with your concern over a lack of useful markers. Instead, the counter sheet is full of naval units for an unnecessary and tedious optional naval game.

    That said, I love everything else about it. Played it through five times against an opponent with a different result and narrative every time, and my opponent and I still don’t know an optimal strategy.

    It does start with maneuver and transitions to a WWI-like slugfest, but then so did the real war. When any losses or retreat in those defensive lines means a rout, it’s anything but boring.

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