Pacific Go Review09 Mar 2020 0
Pacific Go Review
Released 24 Feb 2020
The name 'Pacific Go' may conjure images of a sleek wooden board, black and white playing pieces laid out under the warm sun and the swaying palm trees of an island getaway. You sit with a friend, sipping a tropical cocktail and marvel at the elegance of a 2,500 year old boardgame as you take turns placing pieces and capturing territory. Well, with Pacific Go, a new import from Big Cat Games and designer Horiba Wataru, you’ll definitely be pushing black and white pieces around in a facsimile of Go; but replace the relaxing breeze with a tense game of resource management, logistics, and difficult decisions as you fight out the Pacific Theatre of WWII, and you’ve got an idea of what to expect.
Pacific Go is an abstract wargame that sheds a lot of strategic density in favour of an elegant supply system. This system is the core to the tug of war at the center of Pacific Go. Japan starts with a sizable resource reserve, and for the first 2 turns, the Allies will not be in a position to retaliate effectively. After that the Allies resources begin to grow exponentially. While a careful Japanese player can husband resources, there is a fundamental asymmetry. Japanese units must pay for every space they travel through, while Allied units only pay to activate. This leads to a tense and thoughtful game that manages to give almost every action weight. Commit incorrectly, and it could doom your defense or stall your attack. Pacific Go isn’t a very forgiving game. But I think that’s the point.
Pacific Go does a good job of simulating, in an abstract manner, the very real logistical issues facing both the Empire of Japan and the Allies fighting in the Pacific. In my experience playtesting, I appreciated that the systems in place encouraged ‘historical’ play. A friend with little knowledge of the Pacific War opted for an island-hopping strategy, isolating my armies on Truk in one game. Where another time too many resources were bled into the Burma Campaign, keeping Britain (a separate, smaller resource pool for the Allies) from contributing anything all game. The Japanese can strike at Attu and can invade Northern Australia. The British (and a single Dutch unit) can hold like they did historically and most likely die, or they can retreat and attempt to regroup. The strategic choices aren’t endless, but there is enough going on under the surface of Pacific Go to keep players (even non-wargamers) going for quite a while.
Visually, Pacific Go has a simple and clean style. Fleets are represented with discs, armies with cubes. The map is divided into sea regions, islands/bases, and the land region of South Asia. Everything is quite easily discernible and information like victory points, basing, and starting forces are right on the board. Aside from the resource tracker, upon which both sides place cubes to keep track of how many resources remain for the turn, everything is contained on the map. I like this kind of concise structure. It may not be as simple as Go, but you’re fitting a lot of game onto a relatively little map. Some may find issue with the fact that, while most of the game contains both Japanese and English writing, some important tracks are written only in Japanese. A sheet filling in the missing English is available online, but it probably would have helped to include it with the package. The rules themselves could have used an editing pass. I found nothing egregious, but a second or third pass for consistency and concise language could have removed some head scratching around what counted as a base for retreat purposes. It is all there, it just takes a couple reads. Overall, I’m happy with the package. The map, tokens, and counters are clean and pretty, and the components don’t feel cheap at all.
The 'Go' in Pacific Go emerges through alternative player activation. The player with initiative, decided through control of the most naval bases, will select a single army or navy and move them from sea area to sea area until they encounter an enemy or enter an enemy controlled area. The other player will then move a piece. After players have moved all their chosen pieces (and hummed and hawed about how many resources to save) naval combat occurs. Areas with fleets from both sides roll one die per fleet, as long as the player pays a resource point. Problem is, that die will only succeed on the roll of a 1. If you want to improve your odds, you’re paying an additional resource point per pip, to a maximum of 4. So if you want your fleet to succeed on a 1-4, that’s 5 resource points. Some battles can be incredibly expensive as multiple fleets converge. After naval combat, control of sea zones is updated, and armies can invade adjacent islands/bases if they’re in friendly water. The navy-army balance is fascinating as players try to use their armies to bluff potential invasions or else mass for a sure thing. Just remember to keep enough resources so they can all fight well! Just kidding. There’s never enough.
Pacific Go forces some intense decision making and interesting competitive play. Not only are you trying to push towards victory points, but you’re trying to push your opponent into unfavourable situations. Bluffing is a major element, and an interesting way to simulate a kind of fog of war. Alternate activation and movement of single units can really work mind games into play. On the other hand, initiative becomes incredibly important. An early move to block a critical pass will force a fight. In practice, early in the game Japan tends to have the initiative and can dictate how the allies will react. After a few turns, when American industrial power rears its mighty head, the initiative tends to switch, and the Japanese are forced on the defensive. It does a good job of simulating both Japan’s first six months of expansion and success and the inevitable growth of the allies over time.
Victory is decided by counting up all the Japanese areas controlled by the allies and subtracting all Allied areas controlled by Japan. The Japanese therefore just have to hold on to pull a win. In my games the final result tended to be fairly close, with mainland Japan invaded only once. The Allies can claim instant victory if Japan is invaded, and Japan can do so if Northern Australia and Hawaii are occupied.
As a work exploring a historical conflict, I appreciated the focus on resource management, the dramatic cat and mouse game, and its semi-‘realistic’ outcomes. Most games clocked in at around an hour, sometimes a little more. So there was plenty of time for a couple runs. The Allies and Japan play very differently. The Japanese will have to rush to capture as much as possible in the first few turns, the Allies can decide how quickly to respond, but the game will probably flow the way the war did. The Victory conditions account for that, but if you’re looking for a sandbox you won’t find it here. Rather Pacific Go is a straightforward and deeply engaging abstract simulation of the logistical nightmare of the Pacific theatre of operations in a tight and visually pleasing package. I’m impressed with how well the simple systems work to create a believable and entertaining game and I’m happy to see it work as an educational experience. Definitely give it a try.