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.
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.
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.
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.