Monday, October 18, 2010

Midway = Half Way (The Fires of Midway)

The history of games played at WAGS is peppered with the occasional light wargame because Kozure likes to sneak 'em in once in a while to keep us honest. Although I enjoy some wargames, the card based light wargames (like Zero!, Airwar:Pacific, Naval Battles, etc) tend to have a couple of factors that keep me from enjoying them fully. Often they are highly luck driven and/ or seem somewhat unbalanced, but more often than not it's the fact that they are longer and more complicated than the weight of the game warrants. Still, I'm always happy to try a new game out and it's a time honoured tradition to allow the dictator to select that he/she wants so we came together this week to blow up some boats, planes and strategically significant microscopic islands.
That, and you never know because the next one might be a gem!

The Fires of Midway attempts to recreate the titular battle in a simplified card game, featuring arial combat and bombing/ torpedo runs against enemy ships. There is a central board which identifies the location of the American and Japanese boats, since distance is a very important concept of the game. Players each have a force consisting of boats and aircraft, represented by cards. On their turns, players must make a choice between making an aggressive attack, hanging back and repairing the ship or a mix of both. Once the choice is made, the planes fly to their target and a battle takes place. Players earn VPs for damaging or sinking enemy ships and for shooting down a specific number of enemy planes. As the game progresses, managing between the fires and leaks on your ships and the need for pressing the attack becomes more of an issue.

On my first turn, I took a couple of planes out and found BHarmer's ship hiding behind low cloud cover. My middling squadron had apparently eaten their wheaties that morning because they kicked the tar out of them. He spent the rest of the game fighting fires and watched as my partner Shemp came and did a repeat performance on his other ship. Over the course of the game, many of the casualties the americans suffered were the result of sending short range planes beyond their range more than anything! Things evened up a little before the end but overall it was pretty one sided and we won decisively. Kozure tells us the results mirror history relatively closely.

I had fun playing The Fires of Midway. For whatever reason, I got into it more than I often do and the random elements succeeded in making the game exciting. The game complexity and game length criticisms are valid, though. Our 4 player game wasn't over when we ended it 3+ hours later. There are a number of rules which felt like they could be dropped without sacrificing much in the gameplay, such as an elaborate targeting sub-mechanic which involves card play but ultimately only determines who gets to pick between two attack resolution tables.

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