Comments

The game ended with the Japanese holding Inner Mongolia, Shansi, Hopei, Shantung, northern Honan, most of Anhwei, Kiangsu, Chekiang, and all ports of any importance as far as Canton. The front, where one existed, ran from west of Loyang and south of Chengchow (both in Honan) to forward of Pengpu and Hwaining (both Anhwei) and to the Kiangsi-Chekiang border at the Hangchow-Nanchang rail line. There were guerrilla bases in the Wutai mountains of northern Hopei, the central Honan plain, the mountains in the Big Yangtze Bend, and the Tienmu mountains of eastern Anhwei.

The game ended in a Japanese victory in minimum possible time. However, it would be wrong to conclude that it is imbalanced in favor of Japan. First, at first I overlooked some rules, such as the +1 DRM for Japanese light and mountain infantry attacking in rough or mountains terrain. Second, it took me some time to catch on to some of the possibilities, such as moving units or
replacement points back or forth between the south and north via Hsi river tributary, Kienshui (G5:4213), Yunnan RR, Kunming, and Yangtze (I could have reinforced Canton better using this route in addition to the more direct one via Nanchang). Third, I made mistakes, and my Chinese ones were more serious, among them to be too stingy with bribes at first and not to run a supported division to Woosung when becoming “aggressive.” Fourth, my Japanese were lucky with some critical die rolls, such a getting a relatively early relaxation of all Tokyo mandate restrictions. Fifth, my style of play fits the Japanese better. I enjoy working out a complex move such as taking Gijon the second turn in Bell Tolls, taking Riga and getting to the gates of Minsk the first turn in Fire in the East, or capturing Canton by amphibious assault. My weakness is in not sufficiently foreseeing what the enemy can do. So I probably did a better
job for the Japanese. Lastly, I may still have misinterpreted or misused one or the other rule, and I am certain there are still quite some strategies I haven’t caught on to even now.

Even so, the game was closer than it might seem. At every stability check, the luck of the random die rolls could have kept the stability level as is. If that had happened in at least one check, the final outcome would have been very much in doubt. If the game had gone on, the Japanese would have been hard pressed to avoid a decline of their destabilization points, getting fewer for cities already held and finding it difficult to conquer enough additional ones. Moreover, starting with 1939 they would have faced quite serious supply shortages.

Some Comments on Strategies and Tactics

Priority Number One for the Chinese must be to meet the garrison requirements and establish the supply and production base by rushing KMT units to all supply source cities (I did that). When this has been done, to keep the transportation net (including the RTs) working to bring factional units and, later, replacement points from the south and southwest to KMT home
territory (I didn’t do that as effectively as is possible).

On factional cooperation: Some have complained that factions defect too easily. What the Chinese must do here is be generous with bribes. With 2 ResPts for every faction that matters (an expense they can easily afford if only they accord bribes the priority they deserve) and matching any deductions for “violations” and Japanese counter-bribes (1 Chinese ResPt matches 2 Japanese ones) they can avoid defections.

On Shanghai: This is a crucial city for many reasons. The Chinese can’t tell when the mandate restriction will be relaxed, so they must prepare by moving at least one good division to Woosung to protect that port against amphibious assault and block the Whangpoo River. In any event, they should by all means do so when they become “aggressive” (I failed to do that and my
Chinese paid the price).

On guerrilleros: Wherever possible, the bases should be established in mountains, to gain the -2 DRM even in fair weather. Good places are up north in the Wutai and Taifeng Mountains, soon so far away from Japanese front-line troops that separate security forces must be kept for protection of the cities. Bases there can be set up with some of the CCP regulars that start in Shensi. So as not to be wiped out quickly they should not be activated until they have accumulated respectable strength (say, at least 8 pts). When a CCP base is activated, preferably in poor weather, send two 1-6 guerrilleros to an inaccessible mountain hex, convert them to a 1-6 CCP regular unit that can then establish a new base. If the old base does not survive, the new one takes it place; if the old one does survive, both bases accumulate the replacement points every month.

I believe the tactic of massed Tet-style guerrilla offensives is sound, even if mine in my game had only marginal success. The only chance of active operations (i.e., beyond sabotage) seems to be to swamp the Japanese with more than their security forces can take on at one time.

For the Japanese, do keep the 5 Mountain (and the Formosa when it becomes available) on anti-guerrilla duty where mountain bases exist. Admittedly with amazing luck in die rolls, the 5th almost singlehandedly won the game for the Japanese by crushing the guerrilleros.

For the Chinese, consider eliminating the CCP base in Shensi as soon as the weather turns fair (I waited too long with that). It just ties down too many good KMT divisions as long as it exists, and they will be needed elsewhere. As long as weather is poor, use the base for forming CCP regulars that can then drift eastward into Shansi and spawn new ones.

On Canton: This is by far the most important port save Shanghai and is in danger as soon as all Tokyo mandate restrictions fall. That can happen anytime, so garrison it strongly at start and move at least one or two KMT divisions in from the north (rivers and RR via Kienshui and Kunming, or river and RR via Nanchang).

From spring or early summer 1938 on, the Chinese should no longer have to worry much about losses, except of the supported divisions and artillery. By then the Japanese will by stretched thin having to protect wide areas and will no longer be able to inflict heavy losses. If so, the Chinese can the launch “human waves” to try to engulf Japanese stacks, which can then be attacked when cut off from supply. (Remember, the Japanese can well afford losses when they
attack, but not so when they defend because those losses count for stabilization points.) Where they can afford to give up a bit of ground, the best Japanese counter seems to be to concentrate in a big stack that is too strong to be attacked frontally and then retreats just far enough to avoid envelopment or strong attack from more than one hex. When there is no more
ground to sacrifice, a strong counterattack with good reinforcements is called for to clean up.

Some Comments on Rules

First off: The rules are the best organized and most thoroughly developed I have seen in any game. Moreover, they are extensively cross-referenced (and correctly in every instance!) and illustrated with examples of play that are most helpful. With only one or two entirely unimportant exceptions I never had the least trouble figuring out what a rule said. In the very few instances when I had a slight doubt whether the literal interpretation was really the design intent, Mark Royer kindly confirmed that it was and explained the reason.

On the other hand, this is not a game for the faint-hearted afraid of hard work or for those who just want slam-bang combat, is all. There is a lot of logistic planning (after the first few turns, many attacks will have to go in without attack supply), quite some bookkeeping, and many demands that go beyond combat and territorial gains. That’ just what makes the game so
fascinating!

I was amazed how well the guerrilla rules worked, and they are a very important part of the game (I’d venture to say the Chinese couldn’t win without them). My only hesitation here is that perhaps the guerrilleros could be made a bit more slippery, say, by being allowed to disregard reduced ZoCs upon retreats or to retreat through ZoCs upon success of a die roll. Also, it might have been simpler to declare all guerrilleros in supply at all times (if operating alone they are halved anyway for lack of artillery support) and in compensation to reduce their numbers a bit.

I believe I found a simpler way of bookkeeping for the guerrilleros: When a regular units “enters” a base, place it in the base’s holding box, when a regular unit is eliminated in the base area and the special replacements accruing are to be assigned to the base, place the unit in the holding box but rotated 180 degrees. Then, in the next initial phase, figure the total
guerrilla points accumulated in these ways, move the units to the replacement pool, use points to recruit, and only then enter any left-over points on the Chinese Replacement Chart.

I was not altogether happy with the complications introduced by the Japanese reserve divisions and the substitutions for the 9-11-6 square divisions. The reserve divisions are an important historical fact and affect play, so I’m willing to put up with their rules. The square substitutions are also a historical fact, but may perhaps go beyond the point of diminishing
returns. If a division that has been substituted is to be withdrawn, it becomes a pain in the neck to find its 1-2-4 “tail.” I’ve tried not to use those substitutions. The divisional break-down possibly as far as battalions (eight per square division) was work enough for me.

The one possibly important rule I have not been able to figure out in my mind is Chinese fragile units and, in that connection, the difference between “rebuilding” a division (forbidden) and “equipping” it (allowed). With so slow a Chinese artillery production, do we need that fragility of their supported divisions? Probably I have missed something here.

The new victory conditions: For me they work much better than the old ones and achieve exactly what the designer intended: The Japanese have fair sailing in 1937, an increasingly harder time through 1938, and have little chance of victory once the game has dragged through 1939. What has not worked for me is the effect the stability checks fixed in time have on tactics. To reduce the count of destabilization points, the Chinese may well have to try to topple a regional puppet government the turn before, but not sooner so that it will not have been reestablished by the time of the check (“don’t recapture that reference city now, bypass it and move in later just before the check”). The Japanese in turn know that also and so have excellent information on when the Chinese will launch such an attempt. (The last turns of my game showed exactly that.) This could possibly be fixed in one of several ways: If a provincial puppet falls, have the Japanese roll on the success table to reinstate it (possibly with properly tuned modifiers) so that it might take an unknown number of turns until the government is operative again. Or, have them roll only the first time to determine how many turns that will take (as in some games for a/c arriving inoperative). Even just to give the Chinese a point for any puppet toppled since the previous check would alleviate the problem, though not eliminate it.

In conclusion, I fully realize I have only scratched the surface. I’m sure there are many excellent strategies I haven’t even dreamed of. I can only hope not to have dispensed any nonsense with my reports and comments. If I have, let us hope that Mark Royer, busy man as he is, will be so kind to set the record straight. Lastly, if you enjoyed this replay, play the game or one of its scenarios and recommend it to all your wargaming friends (no axe to grind here, I don’t get a commission on sales).