SGS Operation Hawaii: The Invasion of Oahu Review

Counterfactuals can be a lot of fun if done well. SGS Operation Hawaii is one of those interesting ones that takes a reasonable, if unlikely, premise and explores the what-if through its gameplay. The result is a tight, entertaining game that I really wish had a physical board game release!

Counterfactual: Invading Hawaii

There was talk between the Japanese Army and Navy about the potential of landing ground forces on Oahu, but never really within the timeframe of the December 7 1941 air attack on Pearl Harbor. SGS Operation Hawaii does a clever thing in positioning the landing as a small scale operation, carried out by only 2 regiments, to wreak as much havoc as possible in the limited time they can be supplied. There was never really the cooperation this kind of invasion needed between both branches of the Japanese military. The army was reluctant to do anything to support a Naval led Southward Strike, and the Navy had to fight tooth and nail for the army support it did get for its invasions in South East Asia. Operation Hawaii supposes that the army could be convinced to give up a regiment for what could be a forlorn hope. This is reflected in how Operation Hawaii lays out its objectives and the overall shorter structure of the game. The key is to destroy as many military instillations as possible as the Japanese player.

What Makes Operation Hawaii Stand Out

First and foremost, SGS games are great for their exploration of less well known military campaigns. Operation Hawaii, as a counterfactual exploring an interesting what-if, fits into that mold. There are plenty of well researched and reasonable cards in both sides’ decks that highlight the interesting confines of this potential campaign. From the Japanese potential use of ships of the Kido Butai to support attacks near the coast, to the US organization of citizens to dig trenches and build defenses, there are a lot of great cards that really sell the atmosphere.

There are also a good amount of strategic decisions for both sides to take at the beginning of the game. The Japanese player can choose where to focus their attack, and at the cost of victory points, how much support to commit to the attack. The US forces can choose their disposition (without knowing where the Japanese are coming from) and can influence their starting resources. There is a good bit of replayability as a result.

The actual action is fast and tight. There will be a lot of quick skirmishes followed up by a solid battle or two as the American forces form up to meet the Japanese attack. Therefore it becomes quickly apparent that this is a game of speed and deception. If the Japanese player can get around the US forces, they have a better chance of carrying out their objectives, if the US forces can react to and stop the Japanese, they can preserve their island and blunt the attack. It plays well.

Downsides

This is a shorter game, on average, than most of the other SGS titles I played. My first campaign took 3 hours and my second 2. I do believe there is good enough replayability to make it worthwhile, and as I see this as a digital version of a board game, the heart of it is multiplayer, but be warned about campaign length.

I also encountered a few bugs in my pre-release version. Sometimes enemy planes wouldn’t be grounded during rain turns when the game states they should be, and I was unsure if a couple cards failed to have the desired effect, or if it was merely a missing graphical indication. I did see, at the time of writing, that a decent sized patch has gone out for release, so I hope that these issues are resolved.

Final Thoughts

Operation Hawaii is an interesting, entertaining, and simple wargame that touches on a fascinating what-if and presents it in a playable fashion. I enjoyed both of my campaigns and will definitely play more. But buyers must be aware of the short time to play of each game. I think it’s worth it, but ultimately I can’t make that decision for you.

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

SGS Operation Hawaii is being released today. You can check it out here. LTAW was given a code for the purposes of this review. We get nothing if you click the link.

SGS Heia Safari Review

Heia Sofia does several things for me right out of the gate. One, it’s another of SGS’s boardgame-like wargames that carry on the spirit of my beloved AGEOD series. Two, it’s set in an interesting and underdone theatre of war. Three, the barrier to entry is tiny comparative to a lot of other wargames on the market. In short, it’s a very particular style of wargame, but it works for me in a way that makes it easy to play game after game.

For the First Time Into Africa’s Great War

There may be others, but as far as my experience goes, this is the first digital wargame to focus entirely on the East African Campaign of the First World War. Focusing mainly on the exploits of German General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, the narrative of this campaign sees a small but determined force of German colonial and native soldiers fighting an expansive and successful guerrilla war against the overwhelming forces of the British Empire and their allies, Belgium and Portugal. It is a fascinating campaign not only because of the totally different nature of combat in East Africa, but also because of the difficulty in maintaining supply lines, dealing with disease, and the impact of the war on local populations.

One of the first lectures I listened to from Dr. Timothy Stapleton, a colleague at the University of Calgary, was about the societal impact of this campaign on the peoples who’s homes it was fought over. Most striking to me was the absolutely brutal toll inflicted on porters and carriers. While British army personnel suffered approximately 10,000 casualties from all sources, though mostly from disease, their porters suffered around 100,000. While the German forces kept worse records, research points to around 300,000 civilians dying in the region as a result of disease and famine brought on by both sides requisitioning food and supplies during the fighting.

It is a sobering thought, but one that makes it all the more important that there be any media that touches on this subject. I wish that SGS Heia Safari probed a little deeper into this side of the war, but I do appreciate that unrest, disease, and resistance to occupation in the relevant colonies is worked into events and action cards.

How Does SGS Heia Safari Play?

Those familiar with the SGS series of games will feel right at home. There is a certain comfortable boardgamey feeling to the overall play of SGS games. Tokens represent forces comprised of multiple units that can be split and merged. Movement is area to area with terrain playing a role in battles, movement cost, and Heia Safari’s case, attrition. Cards are central, with their use governing historical events, replacements and special circumstances. Battles are fought over several rounds, where units roll dice trying to score low enough to deal damage to the enemy force. Breaking the enemy may allow for pursuits, and there are special considerations for artillery, ambushes, and fortifications. Really, everything one would expect in an operational game is present, from supply to replacements to naval and ground combat.

Overall, the Heia Safari is very quick to learn. Play advances through a set of phases, first for one player then the other, with turns comprising of one month increments. It doesn’t take very long to figure out which units are reliable, which need to be protected, and where the war is likely to turn hot. The only really learning curve is figuring out what kind of cards might come up, but managing your deck is an important part of play. There is nothing really revolutionary here besides the setting, but a good wargame is good regardless of whether or not it reinvents the wheel.

The Good, and the Not So Good

I loved my time with Heia Safari. I should get that out of the way. I love board wargames as much as digital wargames, and this title, like most SGS games I’ve played, fit nicely into that niche of digitized wargames that simplify the hassle while presenting a clean, fun, and easy game to get lost in.

The setting is the star of the show. The campaign forces very different play styles for the Entente and the German forces. The Entente player must use their resources to capture German territory without overcommitting. The fact that the commitment level is a game mechanic with meaningful impact on the Entente victory conditions is an excellent step towards forcing the player to consider exactly how important a measured advance is to a long term victory. The German player must husband scarce resources and protect a vast territory. With the game pointing to key settlements and a railway to make sure the German player can’t get comfortable running forever.

The enemy AI has so far been pretty good with tactical decisions, but less so with strategic. Playing as Germany, I was pleasantly surprised at the Entente AI’s ability to keep me on my toes and, most importantly, keep me from running roughshod over their borders. They continually applied pressure where I was weak and forced me to fall back into my own territory whenever I got greedy. Strategically, it was difficult for them to get a toehold in my territory in the first couple years of the war. British forces continually attacked near Kilimanjaro, making it relatively easy for me to set up a defense in depth to meet their attacks. The AI was competent enough to give me a run for my money in that campaign eventually, but I wish it was a little more situationally aware of the wider strategic goals. As always, Player versus player will be the best choice, but I thoroughly enjoyed the AI’s ability to punish my mistakes and to present difficult tactical situations, especially around the southern border where they were freer to maneuver.

Final Thoughts

I know I’m predisposed to like these games, but I really do think that Heia Safari presents an interesting enough campaign to warrant diving in. That is, of course, if one is alright with the boardgame style and use of cards. The game is significantly different enough to warrant two playthroughs before moving on to multiplayer.

SGS Heia Safari is dynamic, colourful, simple to learn, and an eye opening look at an important but underrepresented battle.

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Let’s Talk About Wargames received a free game code for the purposes of this review. You can check out the game’s website here.

SGS Afrika Korps: Tunisia Review

Going into this review I must admit something important. Something that some of you may find disturbing and unnatural. I am a HUGE fan of the classic AGEOD series of wargames. I mention this because SGS Afrika Korps: Tunisia comes to us from Philippe Thibaut, designer of the original Europa Universalis and the AGEOD series, and his team. The AGEOD legacy is clearly evident, and while I’m about to go in depth as to how Tunisia differs, it’s best to remember that I have a personal attachment to this game’s forbearers.

How does SGS Afrika Korps Play?

Afrika Korps: Tunisia is a turn based operational level wargame where players take command of either side of the 1942-43 Battle for North Africa during the Second World War. Players take control of American, Commonwealth, and French forces or their German and Italian enemies, moving brigades, air support, and supplies around a colourful area map of the region.

Gameplay is more regimented than most wargames, with several distinct phases controlling the flow of a turn. These phases cover reinforcements, the play of special strategic cards, air attacks and movement, ground movement, battles, and any post-fighting shuffling that might happen. Personally, I enjoyed this structure because it helped minimize some of the analysis paralysis I know was a problem with older AGEOD titles. Being presented with a giant blank canvas full of units and options made those classic games a challenge to approach. Here I found the familiar ground presented to me in a clearer and more concise format.

Secondly, the structured turns, in addition to the card play mechanics and transparent dice mechanics, gives SGS Afrika Korps a distinct board game quality, one that is reinforced by the overall presentation of the game. As my wall of board wargames will attest, I like the feel of a good board wargame and found SGS did a solid job of presenting itself as such. This is an aesthetic and gameplay choice that some might not mesh with, but those who appreciate board wargaming and like the transparency and simpler rules that a board game-like PC game provides will be happy with SGS Afrika Korps.

Battles, whether they are air bombardments or conventional ground based attacks, operate along similar lines. Both sides will take it in turn to attack the other in rounds. Units like artillery will fire first, and certain special units, like Panzer Brigades or scouts, have special rules that will alter the standard flow of battle. I appreciate that a lot of the obfuscated information that hindered AGEOD games is now out in the open in SGS. Each unit’s roll of the die will be laid out during the battle to fly by as quickly or slowly as players like.

The importance of unit composition, like including artillery, air support, and scouts in most fighting formations gives players clear goals to strive towards, highlighting the supply and reinforcement issues that plagued this campaign. It will often be difficult to bring a balanced force to bear against your opponent, but when it happens, it really feels like you made it happen.

The cards may put some people off, but I enjoy what they add to the game. Like with board wargames, cards with special situational events on the help to simulate the wider war without bogging down players by forcing them to learn a million extra rules. Just know that the skillful use of tactical cards during battle and strategic cards during a turn will be an important part of SGS’s wider strategy.

Visuals and Feel in SGS Afrika Korps

Visually, I like what Tunisia has to offer. It is a relatively standard tabletop set up, but the unit graphics and photographs on the cards are nice. The only complaint I have here is that some unit art appears to be recycled, and I found myself highlighting units to remind myself if this indistinct French infantryman was a Zouave unit or a mechanized brigade. It’s odd because so many units have their own art, but not all.

There are several ways to control units, and that seems like a nice accessibility feature. moving stacks can be done by dragging and dropping or by right clicking, which brings up a coloured radius of areas that the stack can reach. A lot of information can be toggled on and off including supply maps and area stacking limits. There are a few video tutorials, but for those unfamiliar with the old AGEOD games, a few turns of trial and error will probably be necessary to come to grips with how Tunisia flows.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed my time with SGS Afrika Korps: Tunisia. It felt like a natural evolution of the AGEOD formula into something more accessible, understandable, and perhaps enjoyable for those who might have been put off by that series’ complexity. I appreciate the board game feel and aesthetics, but understand that some might be put off by the transparently game-y aspects of Tunisia. I think it’s worth exploring and am looking foward to more from SGS.

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A fun, accessible, and pretty game that carries the AGEOD feeling into a new era. Definitely not for everyone, but for board wargame lovers or those who liked the concept, if not the execution, of the classic AGEOD titles.

A Steam Code was provided to Let’s Talk About Wargames for the purposes of this review. The game is available on Steam and through the SGS website. LTAW doesn’t get anything if you click that link.