Category: Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun: In An Afternoon

Strategies for the 1943 Scenario in Mark Herman’s “Empire of the Sun”

by Tom Thornsen

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Credits: Awesome Robert Bailey painting titled “Imperial Sacrifice”

Overview

Many of you who read Mark D’s review of Empire of the Sun may have looked into it further and decided “No, a game with a long learning curve that takes 10 to 12 hours or more to play is not for me.” Other than playing the game with someone very familiar with it, there isn’t much that can be done about the learning curve, but there is something that can be done about the playing time. The 1943 scenario is an excellent game for learning the system from either side of the table. This scenario has been used in the preliminary rounds of the WBC tournament for the last couple of years and has proven to be very balanced with some very exciting games.

The scenario starts with the Japanese Empire at their peak and the allies just starting to field forces sufficient enough to contest further advances and conduct some limited offensives of their own. The Guadalcanal campaign is over in the South Pacific and the allies are ready to take the offensive in New Guinea. The Japanese have conquered Burma and are planning offensives into Northern India. Both sides must be on the offensive in some part of the map to be successful, while defending in other areas. Victory will depend on how successful these campaigns are as the allied strength builds and the Japanese forces, with their very limited replacement and reinforcement rate, fade away.

If you played the game once or twice and are familiar with the mechanics, then this scenario can be played to completion in about 3 hours. There are a lot of moving parts in this game, so set up time is not insignificant. You will have to sort the counters and consult the rules for set up to properly place them all. Just as important is the construction of each player’s card deck. Many event cards are already out of the game and many of the good Japanese offensive events are in the discard pile. When you include the set up time for the game you should expect to dedicate 3.5 to 4 hours. I have my units and counters sorted for the 1943 scenario, since that is what I usually play, which facilitates set up a great deal.

Perhaps the one item that slows the game down the most is the one we all ask the first time we set up the game and look at our first hand of cards. “What do I do now?” This is when you look up the victory conditions and attempt to figure out what you can do with your cards and units available to achieve them. The victory conditions for this scenario offer several paths to victory for both sides. This article will help get you started down the road to playing by answering that question.


Japanese Options

The Japanese control the Australian Mandates (+3) and the Burma Road is closed (+1), while the US Political Will is 6 (-1) for a total of 3VPs. The Japanese need at least 6VP to win, so they have to get to work early. By the end of this scenario the allied forces are going to be picking up VPs that the Japanese cannot contest, so the greater the VP count on the last turn the more risks the allies will have to take.

China-Burma-India (CBI)

There is a treasure trove of VPs in Northern India for the Japanese. Each of the five hexes of Northern India (1905, 2005, 2104, 2105, 2205) is worth 1VP with the 2VP bonus for control of all five. In addition, control of all 5 hexes at the end of the game will result in India being in Unrest on the India Status Chart for an additional VP, resulting in a total of 8VPs.

Empire of the Sun Board Game - Northern India

But wait, there’s more! If the Japanese can achieve this result by the end of the second turn (turn 6), there are event cards that could move the India Status marker to Unstable for yet another 2VPs on turn 7. If the Japanese can play one of these events and hold the Northern India hexes against all allied attacks on turn 7, then that is 2 more VPs for a total of 10VPs. There are several Japanese event cards that either move the India Status marker or negate SEAC HQ offensives and these should be considered for play to the Future Offensives Queue if it looks like you will have a chance to use them.

There is one more threat here that the allies cannot ignore, and that is the conquest of China. While the cards and dice have to cooperate for this to happen, there is much to be gained by keeping this threat in play. The fall of China and the -2 US Political Will associated with it is 7VPs, plus the allies will be reduced to a six card hand on the last turn. Once this damage is done there is no way for the allies to undo it. The China marker starts in the Major Breakthrough box of the Chinese Government Front Status track. The Japanese start the game with a successful China offensive event as their Future Offensive card. If they can draw another China offensive event in their first two hands of cards, that will move the marker adjacent to the Government Collapsed box. The only way to move the marker to the last box is the play of an OC3 card for Operation points and make a China Offensive die roll.

Empire of the Sun

This die roll may only be attempted on the second turn of the scenario (turn 6). The chance of success is very poor if the Hump is still active. If Dacca is controlled to shut down the Hump for an allied support die roll modifier of 0, even if you took 2 divisions out of China for reinforcements and the Allies still have an air unit in the China box the chance of success is still 50%. Well worth the effort.

The forces available at start in this area are insufficient to make much progress. Early in the game the Japanese must redeploy significant army ground and air units to this area, especially the 20 factor elite army air units. Playing a card for Operation points limits the player to a single declared battle hex. Only by playing Operational Events can the attacker declare more than one battle hex. Many of the big Operational events in the Japanese deck limit the number of ground units that can be activated to none or one. The big air units will be required to pummel and pin down allied units, as well as attrit the allied air and naval power and provide air cover for attacking ground units.

North Pacific

Attu/Kiska (hex 4600) starts occupied by Japan for 2 turns, so if the Japanese still control the space after the first turn (turn 5) there will be a loss of 1 US Political Will (Rule 16.42).

Empire of the Sun Board game

Since event cards that move the US Political Will marker are only playable for Operation points in any scenario, this is often the only time the US Political Will marker moves in the scenario. Is it significant because moving the marker from 6 to 5 is a difference of 2VPs (from -1VP to +1VP). By using 1 army activation and an Amphibious Shipping Point (ASP) the reduced Japanese 27th army at Hokkaido (3704) can be used to reinforce the space, which makes any allied attempt to capture it almost prohibitive.

If occupied at the end of any turn, the islands of Kauai (5708) and Hawaii(5908) each give 1VP, while Oahu (5808) awards 3VP. This requires having a full strength unit survive the turn there, as all are outside of the supply range of any Japanese HQ. None of these are likely unless the US army forces abandon Oahu. This becomes a creditable threat if the Japanese move all of the troops in range of Combined Fleet HQ into range of other HQs, then use a card to remove the Combined Fleet HQ to the turn track and enter it as reinforcement on turn 6 at Kwajalein (4715) in the Marshall Islands. This will surely draw the attention of the allied player to that area and they will promptly reinforce those areas. With the major commitment of units and card play that this requires, it is rarely attempted unless the US navy has met with a disaster during the turn.

However, Combined Fleet HQ at Kwajalein also creates a forward threat to the Solomons (the island chain that includes Guadalcanal (4423)) and South Pacific, which might stretch the allied defense and leave other options.

South Pacific and Dutch East Indies

For the most part, the Japanese will be on the defensive in these areas. There are 5VP available if there is no LOC between Townsville (3727) and Oahu (5808), but it will be difficult to achieve this condition at the end of the game in the face of the overwhelming naval power the allies should have on the last turn. The most important objective here is to maintain control of Rabaul, and with it the Australian Mandates. Should the allies gain control of the Australian Mandates the Japanese will lose their 3VP plus a -3VP for allied control for a total loss of 6VP.

Empire of the Sun Board Game

It is important to garrison ports and Resource spaces, as this will require the allied player to declare a battle hex by attacking them. The allied player will be hard pressed to make progress if he draws a hand with only two or three offensive events that allow multiple battle hexes to be declared. For some ideas on what to defend, read the section on allied priorities.


The Allied Options

The scenario starts with the VP count as an Allied Tactical victory, just 1 VP short of an Allied Decisive victory. If you can only foil all the Japanese initiatives, then victory is yours. Doing so is far more difficult that it would appear at first. The Japanese have the benefit of interior lines and can shift their forces between areas much quicker than the allies. This forces some long term planning on the allies, especially when it comes time for reinforcements and replacements.

China-Burma-India (CBI)

While the forces at start here slightly favor the allies, you are sitting on a virtual gold mine of Japanese VPs and they are likely to send significant army forces to reinforce this front. The allied ability to reinforce this front is…almost nonexistent. There is a path of 28 sea hexes from Darwin (3023) to Madras (1406), but the moment the Japanese place an air unit in Medan (1813) or Tjilatjap (2019) the SR path is blocked and an allied carrier would have to attack that base to allow ground units to SR between those ports.

Empire of the Sun Board Game

Your seven commonwealth ground steps and four Chinese ground steps are going to be hard pressed to hold on, but do your best. Dacca (1905) is the key position, as control of that one space at the end of the game will keep India stable and limit the Japanese to no more than 4VP for the CBI theater.

Since the allies play first in the scenario, one line of play is to open with an offensive in this area to attrit the Japanese ground forces, gain ground and get the remaining Chinese units into play. The objective of such an offensive is the occupation of hexes 2108 and 2208, which will put all Japanese units north of that line Out of Supply. If successful it could delay the Japanese advance considerably, but if unsuccessful it could accelerate the Japanese offensive.

Another line of play, which can be used in addition to the early offensive, is to remove S. PAC HQ from play with a card play, then have it return to play at Madras. This will permit the entry of US ground and naval forces to this area as long as the HQ is in supply. The arrival of XXIV corps in this area as a turn 6 reinforcement is a boon to the defense. Since S. PAC HQ cannot activate any commonwealth units, it has limited uses for offensive actions in this area.

North Pacific

As noted in the Japanese section, the US Political Will drops by 1 if you do not have a ground unit in Attu/Kiska at the end of the turn. The 8 factor Marine Brigade and the BB Mississippi could attempt to land there with an OC3, but Combined Fleet HQ is in range for reaction and the CVL Junyo in Kure (3407) would react to the battle to turn it away, since the allies have no air factors. Even if you have removed Inter-Service Rivalry (ISR) and can commit the Long Range Bomber (LRB) unit from Dutch Harbor (5100) to the attack, the Japanese have enough naval strength at Kure to make victory in the air naval battle difficult. Even if you win the air/naval battle, Japanese air and naval forces would deny you any positive die roll modifiers in the ground battle, reducing the chance of a successful landing to 70%.

Empire of the Sun Board Game

You could redeploy those units to Dutch Harbor for an attempted landing at Attu/Kiska with an OC1 or OC2 card, but the Japanese have a reduced army they could use to reinforce Attu/Kiska to make a successful landing almost impossible. It is probably worth making the threat, just to force a Japanese reaction. A more likely path to success is a surprise attack with an OC3 card near the end of the turn, when the Japanese may not have a card to change the intel condition.

Probably the greatest impediment to any operation to liberate Attu/Kiska is that it requires a valuable ASP to attack it, and the allies have only 4 ASPs on the opening turn. Progress of War requires them to take four enemy held bases by the end of the turn, and Attu/Kiska does not count toward Progress of War since it is not a named location.

One important objective for Central Pacific HQ is the conquest of the Marshall Islands, and the -3VP it inflicts on the Japanese. Note that the Japanese do not have an Aircraft Zone of Influence (ZoI) over Eniwetok (4415), nor any unit defending that port. The allies could use their opening offensive to land a ground unit there, which is then 50% of the way toward the conquest of the Marshall Islands. The problem is that this base is way beyond the allies’ ability to provide air cover, so any unit there is likely to be OOS by a Japanese air unit at Ponape. You could deploy a carrier there to exert your own air ZoI, but the allies are very short on carrier SPs at the start. The greater threat is a late turn follow up invasion of Kwajalein, which would convert all of the Marshall Island hexes to Allied control at the end of the turn. A boon if Progress of War needs those bases.

South Pacific

While playing defense in Northern India, the Allies must conduct a vigorous offensive in the Solomons and New Guinea. Not only is this important for the Victory points, but it captures enemy bases for Progress of War that, for the most part, do not require ASPs to capture. Let’s go right to the details.

Empire of the Sun Board Game

The allied Future Offensive card at the start of the game is Operation Toenails, which provides a +1drm in ground combat. Driving the Japanese from Lae (3822) should be a high priority at the start with that event. The allies start with control of two New Guinea ports and need 2 more for -1VP. Those two are going to be Lae and Wewak (3720). The sooner they are under allied control, the sooner the allies can start pressing forward for more. The Japanese have two full strength armies on New Guinea, with another at Rabaul (4021). However, they are unlikely to be reinforced with the higher priority going to Northern India, so the sooner you can start to reduce these armies the better. There is no ground unit at Truk, and the Japanese are unlikely to weaken the defense of Rabaul, so press them in New Guinea.

With the fall of Wewak, the allies must press forward into Aitape (3620) and Hollandia (3520) to create two additional threats. Once the allies have Hollandia, the fall of Biak would give the allies control of New Guinea. Control of 4 ports of a Japanese controlled New Guinea is -1VP, but allied control of New Guinea is a loss of 3VP for the Japanese. Hollandia or Aitape also make possible an allied LOC to Palau Island (3416) or Ulithi (3615). Both of these ports are within 11 hexes of Tokyo (3706) and allied control of either of them (in supply at the end of the game) is another -3VP. If the allies can take control of Hollandia by the end of turn 6, they are very likely to have conquered New Guinea and have a port within 11 hexes of Tokyo for a total of -6VP. I will note here that the other two ports that are within 11 hexes of Tokyo are Samar/Leyte (3014) and Saipan/ Tinian (3813). The former is usually well defended and difficult to keep in supply, while Samar/Leyte can be taken if the Marshall Islands have been secured.

In spite of all the above, the focal point of the South Pacific will be Rabaul. There is net swing of 6VP for the transfer of control of the Australian Mandates from the Japanese to the Allies. The allies are going to face many demands for ground units in this scenario, from Northern India to New Guinea to the Solomons, and how they allocate their precious ground units may well determine the victor. One of the important reasons for capturing Hollandia by the end of turn 6 is that the US army corps can then focus on Rabaul. The Japanese are not going to abandon Rabaul, and unless they have reduced their ground forces there to less than an army, a direct landing on Rabaul is unlikely to succeed. The most common approach to investing Rabaul is to land US army corps units adjacent to Rabaul in hex 4022 for an overland march into the port. If things have gone very well (or very poorly) in Northern India, a crafty allied player will land reduced strength corps there for 1 ASP each, then reinforce them to full strength at the start of turn 7 for the final push.

The New Britain hex (4022) is both a blessing and a curse for the allies. A blessing because the hex has no air base so is not eligible for a Special Reaction (Rule 6.27), a curse because it has no air base so any ground unit there subject to a air/naval attack requires a successful inteligence table roll in order to react allied air/naval forces there to defend them. I have seen some Japanese players deploy reduced strength naval marine units into that hex to foil this allied play. By doing so it forces the allied player to declare a battle hex which the Japanese can then react into to either turn back the invasion or send additional ground forces from Rabaul to cause additional allied ground step losses.

Much that is written about the War in the Pacific mainly discusses the air and naval aspect. In this game it is ground units that both sides will decry they lack. In the final analysis, you have to capture and hold terrain, and you need ground units to make that happen. And the ground combat CRT is bloody.

Dutch East Indies

For both sides, this is a peripheral theater of operations. The Japanese control it and have no VPs to gain there. The allies can reduce the VP total by 1 for each Resource hex they control at the end of the game, plus control of 2 of them will reduce the Japanese card draw by one. In a close game the allies should consider stationing a carrier group with a marine unit at Darwin (3023) to at least threaten a landing somewhere. The Japanese will rarely have enough units to cover ALL the resource spaces and will have to count on a successful intel roll to intercept.

The main point to remember here is that any resource space you capture has to be in supply at the end of the game for the -1VP to take effect. The Japanese air unit at Makassar (2620), on the island of Celebes, is the major obstacle to this. Unless the Japanese have relocated an HQ to provide an alternate path, this unit’s supply from South HQ must pass through Balikpapan (2517). Allied occupation or control of Balikpapan will put this unit OOS, which will negate its air ZoI and open supply lines for the allies. If the Japanese deplete the defenses of this area too much, the allied player could cause a lot of trouble by redeploying a carrier task force and a ground unit or two to this area. The command range of Southwest HQ can be a limiting factor, but usually it is a dearth of ground units to spare from the higher priorities that restrict operations here.


Other Things that Both Sides Must Consider

Both sides start the scenario under Inter-Service Rivalry (ISR), which prevents army and navy units from participating in the same operation. This is rarely a major problem for either side, but is certainly a limiting factor. The Allied player likes to use the 6 hex range of the LRB to pin enemy reaction forces at long range when conducting major naval operations, and this won’t be possible under ISR. The Japanese like to pair up reduced armies with naval units as a reaction force against allied naval landings, which won’t be possible under ISR. Drawing an ISR ender event is a bonus that must not be passed up. For the Japanese, and occasionally the allies, this offers the chance to discard a non-playable event (anything that directly affects the US Political Will) and return a good card from the discard pile. The allies have the very valuable “Heroic Repair” event in their discard pile, while the Japanese have several excellent operational events they will want to use in the first couple of turns.

Empire of the Sun Board Game

While a special scenario rule allows you to discard an OC3 card to remove ISR, it is rarely done. The main reason for this is that each side is going to have 7 action rounds per turn, or 21 total for the scenario. The Japanese may well have fewer since they can expect to lose at least 1 card and ASP to Allied Strategic Warfare. Both sides have a lot to accomplish in this scenario, and every one of those 7 actions per turn has to be productive. The more productive player will usually win. Other than the dreaded 0/9 die roll that goes against you in a major air/naval battle, there is little worse than discarding an OC3 to remove ISR only to have your opponent play an ISR event to put you back under ISR then drawing a replacement card!

Empire of the Sun Board Game

And a final word regarding the War in Europe (WiE) Level. This level has no effect on the VP total. The Japanese would need to move it 3 spaces to increase the possible delay of allied reinforcements, but there are so few of them in this scenario that it would be wasteful. The real battle here is the allied attempt to drive the WiE level above 0 which will allow his turn 7 reinforcements to enter the game. As the Japanese player you should consider playing any Major Victory in Europe for the event, keeping in mind that the allies need only a single event card to procure those four naval units. For the allies, any Victory in Europe event is probably better used for the event than the OC2 unless the WiE level is already above 0.

But the “Card Gods” have a sense of humor, and even the allied player lucky enough to drive the WiE level above 0 can run afoul of a turn 6 Submarine Launched Air Attack on the Panama Canal event, which puts those turn 7 units out of the game and allows Japan to draw a replacement card.


Got some feedback for us? Email your opinions and comments to Tom Thornsen.

Empire of the Sun: Review

A long overdue review of Mark Herman’s Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun Board game review


Overview

Empire of the Sun, designed by Mark Herman and published by GMT Games, is a card driven, strategic level board game of combat in the Pacific theater during World War II. It’s basically a two player game although it plays well as a four player game. The map covers the entire extended theater of operations, from China, Japan and Alaska in the north to Australia and Fiji in the south; from India on the western part of the map to Hawaii on the eastern end. It is a hex-based game which is unusual in that most card driven games tend to be “area movement” type games.

The game contains ground, air and naval units. The ground units are mostly Corps or Army sized units with the occasional division or regimental sized unit thrown in (e.g. US Marines, Japanese special naval infantry units, etc.) Air units represent large formations such as air wings and regional air forces. Naval units may represent either a small mix of capital ships, battleships and carriers (which generally bear the name of a single ship) or larger groups of cruisers, light cruisers, destroyers, etc.

Combat is an interesting game sub-system where luck plays a significant role, but not a dominant one. Proper force composition prevents an unlucky roll of the dice from becoming a disaster. Carriers and ground-based air assets are given the weight they deserve and air Zones of Influence (ZOI) are a key concept to be grasped before this game can be played well.

The number of strategic and tactical options, coupled with a variety of paths to victory, are what give this game its extensive replay value. I’ll address Political Will and victory conditions later in the article.

As I contemplated this review, it was hard to decide where to begin. Each scenario I played revealed another aspect of the game that I wanted to cover in my review. Rather than risk paraphrasing the entire rule book, I decided to focus on elements that a game consumer would want to know about when deciding whether or not to purchase the game. Not a lot of detail but a good, solid overview. Over the next few months, we’ll be following up with articles that address specific facets of the game in more detail.


The Setup

I realize that setup instructions may not be high on every gamer’s priority list, but confusing setup instructions are one of my pet peeves so I have to mention it. I need to know that when I get my newly purchased game home, I can set it up quickly and begin the learning process immediately. Empire of the Sun scores very highly in the setup department. There is a Master Scenario Setup List in the rule book that lists the complete setup locations for each yearly scenario as well as the full campaign scenario. Perfect.


The Rules

When the game was first released, I heard quite a bit of complaining about the rules; how confusing and disorganized they were. My first play of the game was with the version 2.0 rules, so I can’t comment on the early “confusion”. But I must say that some parts of the v2.0 game rules can, with some justification, be considered “fiddly”. Now “fiddly” is an adjective that’s difficult to define… but I know it when I see it. Let’s just say you will find yourself flipping back and forth through the rule book quite a bit until you get fully comfortable with the game system.

Overall, when considering the number of moving parts that must (and mostly do) mesh seamlessly to make the game work, I’d have to say the rules do a decent job of making it all digestible.


The Cards

Empire of the Sun

Each side has its own deck of approximately 80 playing cards which drive the game’s action, hence the “card-driven” moniker. Besides a unique card identification number and a general card “type” (informational), each card displays three important pieces of information:

  • Operations Value
  • Events
  • Intelligence Values

When a card is played to conduct an offensive (the term used in Empire of the Sun for a player action or operation), it may be played as an Event Card (EC) or as an Operations Card (OC).

Operations Value

Empire of the Sun

When played as an OC, the operations number in the upper left corner determines (or partially determines) how many units you may activate and how far they may move. For example, if the U.S. player played a 2 Ops card and designated the ANZAC HQ as the “activating” HQ, he would be able to activate 3 units total: one for the Efficiency Rating of the HQ (1) and two more for the 2 Ops value of the card. The distance these three units could be moved is determined by multiplying the base movement allowance of each unit by the Ops value of the card. So, naval units could move 10 hexes (base movement allowance of 5 x 2 Ops), ground units could spend 2 movement points (base movement allowance of 1 x 2 Ops). All air units have differing ranges and (possibly) extended ranges, both of which would be multiplied by the 2 Ops value to arrive at their final range.

The Ops value of the card played by the offensives player also governs the number of units that the reaction player may be allowed to activate, as well as the movement allowance of reaction units.

Events

If played as an EC, the instructions in the card’s event text drive the action. If it is a Military type event card, the event text may supersede the number of units that can be activated, how far they can move, and may influence the battles themselves. It may also impose other restrictions or grant some type of bonus to the activating player. Political type cards generally instruct the player to perform some type of action not directly related to unit movement or battle activities. Resource type cards will normally provide some unexpected resource or reinforcement. And Reactiontype cards are used by the defender to oppose an action by the offensives player. As in most card driven games, the event text on the card may supersede standard rules.

Intelligence Values

At the core of the Empire of the Sun combat sub-system is the notion of an Intelligence Condition, which may be either Surprise AttackAmbush, or Intercept. The Intelligence Condition has a huge impact on combat resolution. The Surprise Attack condition benefits the attacker, the Ambush condition benefits the defender, and the Intercept condition benefits no one.

The small numbers near the top left of the card (i.e. “OC:2 EC:4”) are the target numbers that the reaction player must roll (e.g. that number or less) in order to change the Intelligence Condition from its default level of “Surprise”. So, for example, if the offensives player plays a card as an OC (for the Operations value) and the card shows “OC:2 EC:4”, the reaction player must roll 2 or less (on a 10-sided die) to change the intelligence condition to “Intercept”. If the offensives player had played the same card as an EC (for the event), the reaction player would have had to roll 4 or less in order to change the intelligence condition.

The underlying idea is that EC offensives are generally larger operations that would be harder to keep secret. In game terms this means that offensives initiated by EC may declare multiple target hexes, whereas those initiated by OC can only have one target hex (or, more properly, Battle Hex).

The only way that a reaction player can achieve an “Ambush” intelligence condition is via reaction card play; it cannot be accomplished via roll of the dice.


Playing the Game

There’s no better way to get the basic feel of a game than to run through a typical game turn or action segment, so here goes…

Empire of the sun

It is the Japanese player’s turn to play a card. He announces an offensive using the Event of card #10, 2nd Operational Phase:Solomon Island Expansion, and identifies the “South Seas” HQ as the activating headquarters. The card title and sub-title are there just for flavor. It does not govern where or when the card can be used. The important information on this card is as follows:

  • Ops Value of 3 – Governs the movement limits for all units, both offensive and reaction. If the card was played as an OC, it would also govern the number of units that could be activated.
  • EC value of 7 – Since the card is being played as an Event, the EC number takes precedence over the OC number, and is the number the Reaction player must roll in order to change the Intelligence Condition to “Intercept” (otherwise it remains at “Surprise Attack”).
  • Activation – Any HQ. Some cards restrict the HQ that can be used to activate units, but not this card.
  • Logistic Value – Add this number (6) to the HQ’s Efficiency Rating of 2. Therefore, up to 8 Japanese units may be activated.

Offensives Player Unit Activation

The 8 units designated for activation are:

  • Eniwetok (hex 4415) – Ryuho CVL and Aoba CA naval units; 1SN Naval Infantry unit.
  • Truk (hex 4017) – Kongo 2 Battleship; Soryu CV
  • Kavieng (hex 4020) – 27th Air
  • Baka (hex 4221) – 27th Air; 19th Army

All of these units are well within the South Seas HQ activation range of 12 hexes. All hexes of the Solomon Islands and New Guinea that are not physically occupied by Japanese units are considered to be US controlled hexes.

Movement

Movement allowance for all naval units, and any ground units being amphibiously transported, will be 15 hexes (5 base movement x 3 for the Ops card value). The Ryuho CVL escorts the Aoba CA, which is allowed to carry the 1SN Naval Infantry unit. They move together to New Georgia (hex 4322). Since the CVL has an Air Zone of Influence (ZOI – a two-hex radius around all ground-based air units and carrier units), it neutralizes the ZOI exerted by the US air units over this hex and its approaches. Without this neutralization, the ground unit would not be allowed to be transported through the US Air ZOI.

The Kongo 2 battleship moves from Truk to Bougainville (hex 4222) and the Soryu CV moves to hex 4219 (where it can provide air support to any battle hex within its 3-hex range).

The 27th Air (on Kavieng) and 22nd Air (on Baka) don’t actually need to move because the hexes they intend to target (not revealed to the US player yet) are already within their movement ranges (numbers on the lower right corner of air units). If they needed to move, their movement allowance would be 3x their printed movement allowance, staging from friendly airbase to friendly airbase. The 3x allowance is, again, due to the 3 Ops card that was played.

The final unit to be accounted for is the 19th Army unit on Baka. This unit performs an Amphibious Assault on Bougainville. There are no actual naval units involved in this move. Instead there are abstract “Amphibious Shipping Points” (ASPs) that are used to transport ground units in this manner. When being transported this way, ground units move like naval units, but must never come under an un-neutralized enemy Air Zone of Influence. The air unit on Baka, as well as the Ryuho CVL now on New Georgia, both provide this neutralization, so the amphib assault proceeds.

Declare Battle Hexes

Since the card was played as an EC, more than one Battle Hex may be declared. The Japanese player declares Gili Gili (4024) and Bougainville (4222) as Battle Hexes. He also declares that Ryuho and Aoba are committed to supporting the landing of the 1SN infantry unit on New Georgia, the Soryu and 22nd Air will support the amphibious assault on Bougainville, and the 27th Air will attack the US fleet at Gili Gili. In other words, he lays out all the battles and the participants in each. Note that since there are no US units on New Georgia (4322), there is no Battle Hex declaration, even though the hex is US controlled. The US player, during reaction, may have an opportunity to intervene and turn it into a Battle Hex, however (called a “Special Reaction Move”, which we won’t cover in this article).

Intelligence Condition Determination

Unless the US player has a special Reaction card that changes the Intelligence Condition (in our example, he does not), he must roll a die to see if he has caught wind of the pending Japanese operation (Intercept) or if it remains undetected (Surprise Attack). The EC # on the card is 7, the US player must roll 7 or less. This roll is modified by -2 since Japanese units did pass within the ZOI of an American air unit during the course of movement. The US player rolls an 8. With the -2 modifier, the net roll is 6 which is sufficient to have the Intelligence Condition changed to Intercept.

“Intercept” essentially means that the combat will be simultaneously. In the “Surprise” condition, the attacker gets to fire and apply hits first. With an “Ambush” condition, the reaction player has that advantage.

Empire of the Sun Board Game

Reaction Move

Because the Intelligence Condition is “Intercept”, the reaction player is allowed Reaction Movement, if there is a friendly HQ within range of any of the Battle Hexes. The US player’s SW Pac HQ fulfills this requirement. The US player may now activate a number of units equal to the HQ’s Efficiency Rating plus the OC value of the offensives player’s strategy card (even if he played it as an EC). In this example, that would mean that 5 American units can react.

Consider the situation here. Bougainville is under attack by a powerful invasion force. The US fleet in Gili Gili is being attacked by a Japanese air group. And the island of New Georgia is being occupied by a smaller invasion force. Any or all of these attacks can be opposed. The only restriction placed on the reacting player is that any unit which is currently being targeted in a declared Battle Hex may not be used to react into another battle. The Japanese player has wisely used his air unit to “pin down” the US fleet, making in ineligible for supporting other battles.

The Reaction player is allowed to use only one Amphibious Shipping Point (ASP), and the US Army corps costs 2 ASP to move. So no ground reinforcements will be coming to help the Marines on Bougainville.

The sole remaining eligible reaction unit is the 11th AF on Guadalcanal. The US player decides to commit it to the defense of Bougainville. Again, the 11th AF unit does not actually need to move, as it’s already within its 2-hex range of Bougainville, but it is verbally identified as being committed to the battle.

Battle

There are potentially two steps to every battle: first, if opposing air or naval units are present, Air & Naval Combat is resolved, followed by Ground Combat if opposing ground units share the hex. Since the US player did not oppose the Japanese 1SN Naval Infantry landing on New Georgia, there will be no battle there and the Japanese player will simply assume control of the island during the Post-Battle Movement phase.

Empire of the Sun Board Game

Let’s do the smaller battle on Gili Gili. The odds are heavily against the Japanese 27th air unit, but he’s done his job of preventing the US fleet from lending aid to the main battle brewing on Bougainville. Air/Naval Combat is resolved like this:

Each side sums up their total Attack Strengths (the number in the lower left corner). The total Attack Strength for the US is 37. Because the Battle Hex is 4 hexes away from the Japanese air unit, forcing it to use Extended Range (the red number 5 near the bottom right corner), the Air unit’s Attack strength of 10 is halved to 5 for this battle.

eots_rv1_ancrt_large

Next, each player determines the Combat Effectiveness of their units by rolling on the Air Naval Combat Results Table. The Japanese player rolls a 6, and there are no modifiers to the die roll, indicating that his combat strength multiplier will be x 1. So, 5 x 1 = 5, and the Japanese may inflect 5 total “hits” on the US units. The US player rolls a 2, which quarters his attack strength to 9.25 which rounds up to 10.

Combat is simultaneous so both players apply hits at the same time. The US compares the number of hits he has earned against the Defense Strength of the Japanese unit(s). He has 10 hits to apply and the Japanese air unit’s Defense Strength is 10, so he flips the air unit to its reduced side. If the US player had scored 20 hits, he’d be able to inflict another hit on the Japanese air unit and eliminate it.

Because the lowest Defensive Strength of any US naval unit is 8 (Northampton) the Japanese player does not have enough hits to do any damage. All US units remain undamaged.

The larger battle on Bougainville has both Air/Naval and Ground elements involved. If the Japanese player wins the Air/Naval portion of the battle, he may proceed with the ground assault. If not, the assault will be turned back.

Empire of the Sun Board Game

As in the last battle, the Attack strengths of the each side’s Air and Naval units (only) are totaled. Don’t forget to include the Soryu CVL because, although it is not directly in the battle hex, the hex is within its range and therefore it can participate in the battle. In this battle, the US has a total attack strength of 16 (11AF = 10, MAW1 = 6), and the Japanese have a total attack strength of 53. The Japanese roll on the Air/Naval CRT is 5 and the US roll is 7. The Japanese 5 roll means that the attacking strength points are reduced to half value (27). The US 7 roll indicates that the US attack strength retains its full value of 16.

The US has 16 hits to apply and decides to apply these hits against the Japanese Kongo 2’s 14 defensive strength. The Kongo 2 is flipped to its reduced side. The remaining 2 hits simply are lost. The Japanese player has 27 hits to inflict. Both air units have a defensive strength of 10 so the first 20 Japanese hits are spent flipping them both to their reduced sides. The rules prohibit you from killing off a unit until all units involved in the battle have been “reduced”, so all 20 hits could not legally be applied to a single air unit. Note that although the US air units have weaker attack strengths on their “reduced” sides, their defensive strength remains at 10, so the remaining 7 Japanese hits are insufficient to do any further damage.

The official procedure for determining the winner is as follows: Each side adds up the attack strengths of all remaining units, and the side with the higher total is the winner. Flipping the Kongo 2 naval unit to its reduced side only lowered its attack strength by 6 points, so the Japanese still have 47 attack strength points (not halved), and the US player now only has 8 attack strength left. Therefore the Japanese player has won the Air/Naval battle, the amphibious assault has not been turned back, and the ground combat may proceed.

Empire of the Sun board game

Ground combat is similar to Air/Naval combat in the sense that a die is rolled, a Ground Combat CRT is consulted to determine the effectiveness of the respective ground units, attack strength points garner hits which are applied against enemy unit defense strengths. So first we consult the Ground CRT for modifiers that need to be applied.

There are two modifiers that apply to the Offensives player…

  • +2 If only the Offensives player has naval units in the battle hex
  • -2 Defender in “Mixed” hex (terrain modifier)

… for a net modifier of zero. The Japanese player rolls a 4 which means that his ground strength will remain at x1 for a total of 18.

Empire of the Sun Board Game

One modifier will be applied to the reaction player’s combat effectiveness die roll…

  • +3 Offensive uses Amphibious Transport

… for a net modifier of +3. The US player rolls a 3 which is modified up to 6. His ground strength will also be x1 for a total of 12.

The Japanese player’s 18 hits are sufficient to inflict a hit on the US Marines defensive strength of 12, but there are insufficient hits remaining to cause the destruction of the Marine division, so the Marine unit is flipped to its reduced side and the remaining 6 hits are lost.

Now it’s the US player’s turn to inflict hits and the Japanese player does not fare so well. First of all, the rules state that an Offensives ground unit that enters a battle hex via amphibious assault has its defense strength halved for calculating hits. Halving the Japanese defensive strength drops it from 12 to 6. The US Marines attack strength is 12, which allows it to inflect two hits on the invader, eliminating it completely.

Between the reaction player’s +3 die roll bonus and the offensive player having to halve his defense strength, you can see why amphibious assaults are a risky proposition and must only be attempted with proper planning and support. The invasion of Bougainville has failed!

Post Battle Movement

The final stage in EOTS combat is Post Battle Movement. This is when ships return to ports, air units fly to friendly airfields (if not already on one), and ground units retreat if necessary. The Japanese player returns Ryuho and Aoba to the port at Eniwetok, although with 15 movement points to spend, they could have gone to Truk or any other friendly port within range. The damaged BB Kongo 2 returns back to Truk. The 22nd Air and damaged 27th Air are both based at friendly airbases, so no movement needs to take place. Finally, the Japanese 1SN Naval Infantry unit on New Georgia remains on the island and a Japanese control marker is placed there.

Empire of the Sun Board Game

As the US won the battle for Bougainville, there is no need to retreat during Post-Battle movement. Although damaged, the 2nd Marine Division and 1st Marine Air Wing remain in possession of Bougainville. The 11th Air Force is also damaged but is based safely on Guadalcanal so no movement is necessary there either.

This concludes the Offensive initiated by the Japanese player playing the “2nd Operational Phase” event card.


Winning the Game

Empire of the Sun Board game

The Empire of the Sun Campaign game has the following victory conditions:

  • If during the Game Turn 12 End of Turn Phase, Japan has been successfully strategically bombed on four consecutive turns, has one or less Resource Hexesand a B29 is in range of Tokyo, the US player wins immediately (The “A-Bomb Victory”).
  • If the US player controls all hexes on the Japanese Home Island of Honshu, the Japanese player surrenders (The “Invasion of Japan Victory”).
  • If the US Political Will marker ever reaches the “Negotiations Box” (level zero), the Japanese player wins immediately.
  • If the US does not win by the conclusion of Game Turn 12, the Japanese player wins.

I’m not going to discuss most of the victory conditions listed above in any detail since I think they’re pretty self-explanatory. They involve the US player controlling territory close enough to the Japanese home islands to allow for a sustained bombing campaign or, failing that, an actual invasion of Japan proper. And, obviously, survival itself is a victory for Japan.

Also, Resource Hexes will not be addressed in detail except to say that they represent locations on the map that Japan requires to secure its supply of oil and other natural resources. The inability of Japan to control all of these hexes will reduce the number of strategy cards that the Japanese player may draw each turn. Not good for the Japanese player.

Where things really start to get interesting is in the tracking of US Political Will. The campaign game begins with US Political Will at 8 (after Pearl Harbor). This level can get higher or lower (but mainly lower, in the early stages of the game). There are a plethora of events and conditions that affect US Political Will:

  • Burma surrenders (-1)
  • Dutch East Indies surrenders (-1)
  • Malaya surrenders (-1)
  • Philippines surrenders (-1)
  • Occupation of Alaska (-1; continuously occupied by Japan for three consecutive turns)
  • Occupation of Hawaii (-1; continuously occupied by Japan for two consecutive turns)
  • India Unstable/Surrenders (-2; if “Unstable” for two consecutive game turns)
  • Chinese Government Collapses (-2)
  • Australia surrenders (-2)
  • US Casualties (if the US, as attacker, loses an entire attacking force of division or corps size)
  • Strategic Naval Situation (no US carriers on the map at end of any Game Turn)
  • Progress of the War (-1 per turn; from Game Turn 4 on, US must recapture a certain number of Japanese controlled hexes each turn)
  • Strategic Warfare (+3 one time; Japan controls 3 or less Resource hexes between turns 5 and 12)
  • Strategic Bombing (+1 per turn; If bombing reduces Japan’s hand by one or more cards)
Note that these same events/conditions accrue Victory Points in the shorter scenarios, rather than using the Political Will Track. But the events described are exactly the same as in the campaign game (i.e. the surrender of the Philippines requires Japanese control of Manila and Davao, no matter which scenario you’re playing, or whether you’re rewarded with Victory Points or changes in Political Will).

This puts you squarely in the military commander’s seat, as you attempt to make the best decisions on how to prosecute the war. You can go after the “big fish”, like Australia, India or China, but bringing about the desired result in those locations is as difficult as you’d expect such feats to be.

Bringing Australia to heel is a straightforward military operation; the Japanese must control specific real estate in the “Land Down Under”. But to do the same for China and India would triple the size of the game. So, some clever abstractions were invented.

China

Empire of the Sun Board Game

There is a whole process that governs the abstract Japanese operations in China, but the basic concept is as follows. The Japanese player is considered to have x number of divisions in China and may conduct Chinese Offensives either via specific event cards, or via OC with play of a 3-Ops card. Each successful Chinese Offensive moves the China marker one space closer to Chinese “Govt Collapse”. The payoff for Chinese Govt Collapse is the loss of 2 US Political Will points. Meanwhile, the focus on China will surely have a deleterious effect on operations elsewhere in the Pacific. Is the prize worth the pain? That’s for you to decide.

Of course, the Japanese player is free to ignore China and trade the abstract divisions in China for real divisions that can be put to work on the main map. Again, your choice.

India

Empire of the Sun Board Game

The Japanese objective for India is to shift the India Status marker into the “India Unrest” box and retain it there for two consecutive National Status Segments, which occur near the end of each Game Turn. Then, the status marker can be moved to the “India Unstable” box where, if it can be retained there for an additional two consecutive turns, will force an Indian Surrender. Shifting the Status marker can be effected by either conquering territory in northern India, or by play of special event cards. Any time the US player regains control of any conquered portion of India, or plays an upsetting India event card, the India Status marker is moved back to the “India Stable” box and the Japanese player must begin the whole cycle again. It can be quite frustrating for the Japanese and quite satisfying for the US player who, tired of getting his slats kicked in on the main map, needs some revenge to balance things (however abstract).

All of the smaller countries and territories have their own triggers for National Surrender; mostly control of certain cities or resource hexes. Standard military conquest is the order of the day for these countries.

Progress of the War

I’m going to mention just one more interesting game mechanic that’s linked to Political Will because it’s my favorite: the Progress of the War directive imposed on the US player. I suppose that, for some US players, there might be a temptation to play it safe. Just hang back, building up an overwhelming military machine while the Japanese run wild in the Pacific. Then unleashing the accumulated might of the US Pacific Fleet in a massive burst of energy. The Progress of the War restriction discourages the American player from doing this. It kicks in on Game Turn 5 (1943, in earth time) and requires the US player to recapture x number of Japanese controlled hexes (named locations, resources, ports or airfields) every turn (where x is equal to 4, or the number of ASPs available to the US after the reinforcement phase). It becomes quite challenging to keep up that pace, and the Japanese often cash in on the mistakes made by an opponent trying to keep up!


Summary

The options and variations just go on and on. I didn’t even touch on the War in Europe abstraction which draws off scheduled reinforcements to go fight in Europe (the European theater always got the lion’s share of men and materiel), or US submarine warfare, or the Burma Road, or the Nationalist Chinese troops, or Inter-Service Rivalry, etc. As I said in the overview, I didn’t want to just re-hash the rule book, but I feel I’m getting dangerously close to doing just that, so I’ll end the feature enumeration right here.

The game is so varied and so wide open that you just don’t know where to start sometimes. You know all the rules, you set up the pieces and then you say, “OK, what do I do now?” Not in the sense that you don’t understand the game’s rules, but in the same way that the actual historical commanders agonized over decisions about assigning means to objectives. I believe you could play this game every day for a year and not see the same situation twice. Mastery of Empire of the Sun is not just the result of repetition and memorization.

When you play EOTS, you are totally engaged, whether you’re the offensives player or the reaction player at the moment. The game system does not allow for slacking off in between turns! The reaction player must constantly evaluate the situation for opportunities to reduce the effectiveness of, or totally preempt, the attacker’s offensive either by card play or judicious Reaction Movement. Both players must stay focused on their game plan but learn to identify, and react to, threats that cannot be ignored.

Mark Herman wrote an article in GMT’s C3I magazine (Issue #17) back in 2005 titled, “Strategy Concepts in Empire of the Sun” that is the definitive strategy article for this game. And may be the best strategy article I’ve ever read. (thanks to Scott de Brestian for providing the link to Mark’s article) After reading it, everything totally clicked. It helped deepen my understanding of the game’s design, and imparted a few essential strategies and tactics that helped advance my EOTS competence. I highly recommend his article to anyone really interested in learning more about this fine game.

Bottom line:

  • Challenging game? …check
  • Play balance? …check
  • Competitive scenarios? …check
  • High replay value? …check
  • Innovative game mechanics? …check
  • Fun to play? …double check

Do yourself a favor; buy this game. You’ll enjoy it for years to come.