Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal 1942 Review

How many ships are you willing to send to the bottom to secure Henderson Field? I hope it’s a lot, because Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal 1942 opens the floodgates of naval combat in the south pacific with the question, ‘what if neither side cared about tonnage losses?’ The answer, of course, is that Ironbottom Sound is certainly going to earn it’s name in this tense cat and mouse battle.

Pacific Fury is a 2 player naval wargame from Yasushi Nakagura and published in English by Revolution Games. Players represent the Japanese and US naval forces fighting over Guadalcanal and control of the all-important airfield. Players do this by creating naval task forces and committing them in a strict order to the waters surrounding Guadalcanal, hoping to take or keep control of the sea around the island, destroy enemy ships, and ferry their own troops onto the island to regain control and the initiative.

How Does Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal 1942 Play?

Each turn progresses through the same steps. First initiative is established based on which side has control of Henderson Field. The game begins with US control, giving them initiative. The event phase follows, where the non-initiating player (except on turn one) rolls for some sort of bonus. Both sides then secretly construct task forces using their available ships (they are stacked face down) and place them in sequential operations boxes. When both sides are finished, they will take turns issuing orders to their task forces, either sortieing from their home base onto the main board, or else issuing an order to an already deployed task force. Forces are not revealed until they attack or are attacked, so finding out what the enemy has requires committing some forces. The operations phase is the meat of the game, with both sides trying to outwit the other with the placement and movement of their task forces. The non-initiative player is the only one with access to transports, and getting transports unmolested to Guadalcanal is the only way to shift the Henderson Field track towards their side’s control. When all seven operations are finished, ships return to base and the process is repeated.

When surface ships enter the same space, or when Carrier Task Forces attempt to bomb an enemy task force, combat occurs. The system here is straight forward as well, with each counter prominently displaying a combat value, defense (represented by anchors) and airpower (represented by airplanes). A die is rolled per ship, and hits are scored based on the number rolled as long as it is equal or lower than the printed combat value. So a battleship with 3 combat value might score 0,1,2, or 3 hits, while a cruiser with a combat value of 1 may only ever score 0 or 1 hit. Hits are assigned to enemies, and damaged ships roll to see if they are sunk, with the value compared to their overall defensive value. I like how simply the system handles larger ships’ greater potential for damage. Air combat has some minor additional rules to represent CAP and air superiority, and they do a good job of reinforcing proper task for construction.

The rules are not complicated, there are few counters, and the turn mechanisms become clear after a round or two. A player aid expressly stating Task Force composition rules, what each type of Task Force can do, and how they are allowed to move on the map would have been a handy inclusion, but it won’t take long to figure out the Task Force composition rules and therefore speed up the game.

Mice, Cats…Who is doing the chasing?

The core gameplay of Pacific Fury is trying the mind game of task force composition and placement. Since there are specific rules for placement and actions, deducing what your opponent is doing, and trying to throw them off your own actions quickly becomes the major play. Suspecting a feint only to send your carriers to attack a different task force, uncovering the core of the enemy’s own carrier force can leave you sweating and your opponent cackling.

Actually managing to outmaneuver the enemy and get forces to Ironbottom Sound is rewarding enough, but then having the opportunity to bombard the airfield and land troops to help shift the score in your favour is more than worth whatever had to be sacrificed to get them there. Oh, and there will be sacrifices.

This leads to my only criticism of Pacific Fury, though in practice it just had my wife and I giggling at the absurdity of it. The only victory condition is who controls Henderson Field. That’s it. Neither the Imperial Japanese Navy nor the US Navy cares what it might take to seize the island. Since there are no points attached to ships, both sides are free to absolutely squander carriers, Battleships, and Cruisers to their hearts content in order to achieve victory. One of our games was so ridiculously bloody we couldn’t believe it. The US Navy had lost all but one carrier and 6 cruisers, the Japanese only marginally better off with a damaged Yamato leading the convoy of damaged cruisers back to Truk in defeat. A victory for my wife, but at what cost!?

It’s a minor quibble in what is a great game of bluffing your friends with some light period chrome. The simple mechanics and small counter density might concern some in regards to replayability, but because so much of the game relies on the mind games you’ll engage in with your opponent, the replayability is high. The only thing I really want is a proper player’s aid.

Solitaire Suitability

As with every board wargame going forward on Let’s Talk About Wargames, I’m going to include a small section about solitaire suitability. From the rest of the review, I bet you can deduce that Pacific Fury isn’t really going to cut it as a solitaire wargame. So much relies on composing task forces correctly that even randomizing enemy task forces would pretty much automatically break the rules. As for playing both sides. Unless you have the godlike mental capacity, it just isn’t going to work.

Does It Earn a Spot on the Shelf?

Another new/permanent feature for boardgame reviews. Will each game earn it’s place on my wargaming shelf or be sent along to someone else who might get a kick out of it? Pacific Fury has certainly earned a spot. It’s a nice light game that my wife and I can pick up and play as part of a gaming night. Getting into each other’s heads is always a lot of fun, and Pacific Fury really lets us get into trying to outsmart each other. It’s good fun, and as a ziplock game, takes up very little shelf space anyways. Definitely a keeper, and I’m sure it’ll get brought out from time to time.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

-Joe Fonseca

As requested, here’s a link to purchase the game: Pacific Fury (Let’s Talk About Wargames gets nothing from this, a kind commenter simply asked for links in reviews) Also, I purchased Pacific Fury myself, no review copy sent.