Japan '46 Review05 Nov 2019 0
Japan '46 Review
Released 24 Oct 2019
Early this year I reviewed Wargame Design Studio (WDS) and John Tiller Software’s (JTS) Panzer Campaigns Series: Japan ’45. Japan ’45 brought players a detailed look at the hypothetical invasion of the Japanese home islands by Allied forces. The first game dealt entirely with Operation Olympic, the invasion of southern Kyushu done with the intent of creating a forward base to help with Operation Coronet, the follow up invasion of the Tokyo Bay area.
Back then we knew that a sequel was planned to see Operation Coronet in its full terrible glory. Now, with the release of Japan ’46, I’m here to see how well this second major landing has translated to the venerable JTS system.
I was interested by WDS’s decision to pursue Operation Downfall as a setting for such a granular engine. Putting together Orders of Battle and working out the stages of a campaign are difficult enough for a battle that actually occurred. For a totally hypothetical campaign, and one that would have been the largest naval invasion in history, the issue is compounded. Yet, there is a good deal of research relating to the planning and potential outcomes of Operation Downfall, especially on the American side, and it was good to see that WDS did their research.
I was happy to see some of the most prominent names in Operation Downfall research popping up in their Campaign Notes Bibliography. In fact, I highly recommend reading the entire piece before jumping into the game to better situate yourself in what would have been an extraordinarily terrible invasion.
In May I was pleased with Japan ’45’s rendition and translation into a game, though I noted some issues that I’ll expand upon below. In general, struggling your way onto the beaches and rugged interior of Kyushu was an intense, time consuming, and frankly horrifying fight. For those who enjoyed Japan ’45, I’m happy to report that you will most likely enjoy Japan ’46. The focus is again, entirely on the single campaign, with scenarios encompassing the entire invasion (a whopping 608 turn behemoth) as well as 58 other scenarios, some alternatives bringing in different forces (hypothetical hypotheticals?) Again, WDS has made variants for some scenarios to better reflect single or multiplayer scenarios.
Technically, Japan ’46 has brought some new optimizations to the system and updated Japan ’45 as well to bring it in line. This update ranges from forcing a facing for big Japanese guns, fixing some visuals to make rice paddies more visually distinct, and fixing some graphical errors with Japanese weapons. The rest is pure Panzer Campaigns. I found myself instantly familiar with the controls and after a quick jump through the tutorial, complete with accompanying documentation, I was taking on the 608 turn full operation with ease. The base mechanic consists of selecting units, and ordering them to move to, shoot at, or assault adjacent hexes. Artillery and air are managed easily through pop up boxes, and most other functions of leadership happen behind the scenes, leaving you as the commander to deal with the consequences.
Your assault slowing because C company became disrupted and their support tanks are low on ammo is a real possibility and managing your men’s fatigue and supplies is just as important as reducing casualties. It’s a long campaign after all. Some might find the scale to be overwhelming. Enemy turn resolution, at least in the beginning few turns, was often over 10 minutes of waiting for enemy resolution. Some of the smaller scenarios avoid this issue. If you’ve never played a large Panzer Campaign scenario before, it may take some getting used to, but overall I was happy with the form and function of Japan ’46.
The Panzer Campaigns system is much older than the Japan series, but WDS has done a good job of trying to translate the sometimes inelegant and system defying fighting that characterized the Pacific war while, for better or worse, sanitizing some of its grimmer details. The Kamikaze tactics used by small boats and aircraft stationed close to the landing beaches (some of which could potentially sneak under the radar and past destroyer pickets) are reflected in the casualty calculations on beach hexes. This is to both simplify the Japanese player’s already extensive turns while shying away from the actual use of Kamikaze units. Similarly, the Japanese army’s tendency to avoid abandoning hard points has been translated into a rule where Japanese units will never retreat from bunker hexes. WDS has managed to promote playing Japanese units ‘correctly’, for lack of a better term, without locking players into a set of actions. The extensive militia units that were to be drawn up are also present.
The Allies, for their part, are an accurate representation of the ships and units that would have been present for the invasion, with some scenarios opting to sub in Commonwealth forces where they might have been needed. It is all very well done from a gaming standpoint. I will note that, probably for the best, WDS has opted to avoid some of the more troubling potentialities of Operation Coronet. In this counterfactual, the atomic bombs were not successfully developed, preventing players from having to deal with some plans that called for tactical nukes to strike the beaches before the landings.
Similarly, chemical weapons, which were seriously considered by the allies, are nowhere to be found. Again, I’ve decided this is good. War is hellish enough and the point of gaming it is in part to test one’s skills as a strategist, not engage with the morality of the conflict they are fighting. Yet I couldn’t help feeling, as I saw the casualties climb and climb, that we got the soft version of Coronet. The educator in me is conflicted.
Overall I heartily recommend Japan ’46. I also heartily recommend reading at least a few of the books and articles mentioned in their included campaign documentation. Operation Downfall is a fascinating, terrifying campaign that deserves the attention WDS is giving it. While we’ll never be able to truly recreate what was going to be the largest naval invasion in history, Japan ’46 gives us a way to dip our toes into the operational trials that commanders on both sides faced and hopefully excite some interest in exploring some of the darker, but very real, possibilities of the Pacific theatre of World War II.