Often when I talk about digital wargames I think about how can I classify them to help give readers a quick sense of what to expect. Sometimes trying to pinpoint the right word or phrase is difficult, sometimes I have no trouble at all. Warplan: Pacific falls into the latter camp. This is a digital board wargame. Think of everything you like and don’t like about pulling out your favourite larger than average board wargame and Warplan: Pacific has it. All of it.
Ok, It’s A Boardgame, But Really What Is It?
Warplan: Pacific is an operational level wargame covering the Pacific Theatre of the Second World War. This includes every major nation involved from December 1941 to September 1945. There is also a good Second Sino-Japanese War scenario that ends where the Pacific War begins. The map is large, with 80km per hex, and units generally at the division level. The object of the game is as grand as its scale. The Allies must force Japan to surrender, and Japan must hold on until the clock runs out.
With a game of this scale players are covering pretty much everything, from island hopping, to trade interdiction, to jungle fighting in Burma, and the massive slog across China. There are a number of generic units for each land, sea, and air, with the ability to customize some as the game goes on, giving units engineering or dedicated anti-tank attachments, for example.
On each turn, players will be spending their unit’s operation points to move and fight, track trade routes and logistics, and manage resources to build new units for later in the war. Battles can happen on land, in the air, or at sea and the factors that influence combat are fairly straight forward, and an odds calculator helps keep things in perspective.
Warplan: Pacific has pretty much everything I expect a game like this to have, but for some reason, it just didn’t really click with me. When playing for this review, I found myself doing a few turns and then saving and quitting. There was nothing overtly wrong or uncomfortable with the game. In fact I like most of its systems. But for some reason the spark was just never really there. I’ll try to get into it below. But be assured that I spent a long time thinking about why that might be for me personally, and it may not apply to you.
Warplan: Pacific Is Good, But Maybe Not Great?
First and probably most importantly for something reading this and considering picking Warplan: Pacific up. It is a good game, and an understandable one, but it requires work.
There is no proper tutorial in Warplan: Pacific, instead the Second Sino-Japanese War scenario doubles as an intro scenario. But the truth is, this is a game for which the manual is required reading. No reasonable amount of play will allow you to divine that attacks under 4:1 odds are risky, that DD units placed on convoy routes have a 12 hex radius for protection, or the tricky system for committing and supporting naval landings. I know I’m not a genius tactician by any stretch, but it took me three restarts at the Second Sino-Japanese War scenario, reading the manual to figure things out as I went, before I was comfortable with jumping into the main scenario. I don’t really think that is a good intro to any game.
Now that isn’t to say that Warplan: Pacific is needlessly obtuse. Once you learn what everything means and how it interacts (again, a lot of front-loaded reading) almost everything is there in game for your consideration. The information on each token is digestible. There are a variety of settings for what information is displayed on counters. The Build, Convoy, Report, and Combat Log tabs have pretty much everything you’ll need to understand what’s happening on a given turn. The map is readable, and moving units and attacking is a piece of cake. I even think that Warplan: Pacific has one of the nicer systems for visually displaying enemy movement and combats in the previous turn, supplemented by the very handy Combat Log.
The AI is competent, at least on the defensive. The game recommends playing the full campaign as the allies because the AI struggles to manage all the Allies’ units late in the war. While I have encountered the AI make some overly aggressive plays, like throwing tons of units into my entrenched and supported units along the Irrawaddy or getting their subs sunk in well protected convoys, for the most part they are a worthy adversary. They try to make encirclements and cut supply lines on land at least, and know when to push against tiring or weakening units along the line. I’m perfectly content playing against it, at any rate.
The boardgame qualities shine through with the simplicity of the overall system and what players can do on a turn. There is no counter stacking, HQ units automatically give a bonus to friendly units. Naval counters are just organized by their lead ship type (so a CV counter instead of counters for each ship that would normally accompany a carrier) and aircraft can be on either Mission mode or Support mode. Supply and Logisitics are just as important, but they function like boardgame supply, with units tracing a line that is reduced over rough terrain back to a supply zone. This means a turn is completeable in a decent amount of time. No three hour turn one here. Things are abstracted yes, but not in a way that I feel hurts the game.
So…What’s my problem? Why doesn’t it click for me? I love the setting, I have several actual boardgames that cover this period. It just… doesn’t do it for me. It’s good. It does everything I want a game like it to do. I was nonplussed that I had to read the entire manual cover to cover to feel like I could make the most of the game, but that generally ends up happening for most wargames these days still. (Still don’t think it should!)
I think Warplan: Pacific is exactly the right game for some. Perhaps I need to give it another shot after some time away, but for now I’ll be taking a break from Warplan: Pacific. I think it’s good. I really do. Maybe you’ll think it’s great?
Warplan: Pacific is a solid operational wargame with a good boardgame-like feel. There is a lot of required reading, but afterwards the game flows well and players have a lot to work with. It’s definitely a good game.
Slitherine provided a review copy of Warplan: Pacific. You can find the game here: Warplan: Pacific. LTAW earns nothing if you buy Warplan: Pacific from this link.