Clontarf and Saipan

1 year after releasing Zama and Felix, S&T has produced another twin set in a similar vein.. Neither game will change the way we think about games but neither is a howler and both play straight from the zine, no obvious holes. This is the better of the 2 double issues and is worth punching if you subscribe or cannot resist the urge to buy a zine. I a phrase, if you hated Zama and Felix, you’ll dislike this pair a lot less.

Saipan

Playings; 2, 5 hours (1 walkover, 1 failure).

Saipan has a larger scale and lacks lost the troop landing system of Red Beach 1. Also the rules and counters of Saipan are clearer and more user friendly. In other areas the 2 games are almost identical. For those who have not tried Red Beach 1 (probably just about everyone, it is a Spartan early Decision project). Saipan is a solitaire game with the player controlling the Americans. The Japanese will rarely be seen (high realism factor), units may appear as a result of player actions, attack and then melt back into the map. I have never had to use more than 1 Jap stack at once. Jap presence is represented by a resistance level that starts at 400 and will be reduced by combat (hopefully) to 0. The island is triangular-ish with the 6 compulsory landing sites near the flat bit on the bottom. Parts of the map are marked with clusters of fortifications, unfortunately some of these are slap bang in front of the landing areas.

The player wins by conquering all the fortifications on the map by the end of the game (13 turns), he is well advised to work fast to achieve this. Fortifications are attacked by the usual odds system, their strength is based on a printed rating (1-4) and a multiplayer read from the Jap resistance level (1-5), the weaker the Japanese becomes, the easier forts are to take. Americans arrive in 2 waves of Marines on turn 1 and another of US Army on turn 3. You should aim to clear the bottom part of the island from coast to coast and be forming a line heading up before the army arrives. No replacements are available, units become weaker with time because of Japanese actions and it will take 5 turns for a US unit to get from the beach to the furthest fort if no resistance was encountered. Don’t hang about, crush all forts in a group then move onto the next. No point in heading for (the few) parts of the map that do not contain forts, the Japs ther’in will come down in about 1975 .

US units should be stacked for maximum killing effect, 2 infantry, a HQ, plus a tank is the most that can be crammed in. Start by picking the forts on the beach then weaker forts in preference to stronger ones. Pile on every time for maximum odds. The CRT goes up to 10:1 but terrain and forts will reduce this. No point in attacking at above 10:1, actual odds will work out at 6:1 through 8:1 (reduced by terrain) for forts, those in the mountains are hardest. The player has a range of support points from HQs, artillery, ships, planes and engineers. Pile on all that’s available to give a stack maximum odds. Lots of low odds attacks will not get you off the beaches. Japanese coastal guns, attacks and defensive fire will wear down stacks but lowering Japanese resistance level will reduce the power of forts. It is the balance of Japanese losses against US losses that will decide the game, provided that the player keeps to a regime of rapid advancing. Quite a lot of luck is involved here. The amount of losses before the troops hit the beach is dice dependant, from 0 to 2 steps per stack. Attacks on a fort will always fail on a low roll, regardless of the odds. Most losses will not come from Jap defensive fire but random attacks at low odds caused by US actions. Curiously a goodroll of 11 or 12 will always prompt a Jap response.

US stacks can attack the same Jap defenders any number of times and are well advised to do so. Start with a good strong stack move up to a fort and attack, then keep piling on the support and attacking until the position is taken, then move onto the next. Keep this up until the stack runs out of movement points, available support or combat losses make it too tricky to get good odds. Although high odds attacks are the quickest way to take ground, attacks at 3 or 4:1 result in a faster drop in resistance level and hence reduce the strength of remaining forts. At these odds a 2D6 roll of 9+ will take the fort and a 10+ roll by the defender will damage your stack. Both are fairly unlikely but any US roll above 6 will reduce the resistance level. This adds up to a great deal of dice rolling, verging on wrist cramp. Attacks give the US player the sort of control over combat that his historical counterpart would have wished for. Target a weak point, pile on and move onto the next. Attack at slightly lower odds, tempt the Jap to rush in more troops and burn them off. The game will produce unexpected losses on some attacks and when the troops are advancing to the next objective but the player still has rather too much control on the island. The 1st time a US stack moves onto any hex except a cleared fort it has to check for Jap reaction. This depends on the resistance level, the chance of a reaction dropping as the supply of Nips runs out. Usually these attacks are classified as sniper, machine gun or mortar attacks. This is a clear transplant from the smaller scale Red Beach 1. In Saipan these attacks should be thought of as unexpected counter-attacks. The 1st non-cleared hex rule allows 2 sneaky ploys. If a unit only moves from cleared hex to cleared hex, it will never trigger reaction as a result of moving. This is handy for shifting artillery and rearranging stacks but no good for taking the war to the enemy. Secondly, the stack has the same chance of triggering a reaction whether it moves 1 hex or its whole allowance. Naturally the stack should keep moving and attacking as long as possible.

To keep the game easy to follow stacks are used 1 at a time. Turns represent 2 days (except turn 1, 1 day) so a lot can happen in 1 day but much of it will happen at the same time. This is particularly noticeable with the initial landings where the Marines can land and clear 1 beach at a time, knowing just how much support is left over for the next beach along. Those fond of paperwork could allocate support for stacks before any of them move, allowing some chance of re-allocating unused support. This will make the game more difficult, anyway the combat and reaction charts probably make some allowance for failure of support to arrive, tanks being bogged down and so on. Saipan’s true drawbacks are that it is on the easy side (it must be if I beat it) and is low on replayability, if you find a winning strategy, why change it? Considering this it should be regarded as a puzzle rather than a game. Saipan does not take long to pick up and shows some of the problems in island fighting, as such is worth a couple of goes. Be prepared to roll a lot of dice.

Clontarf Playings; 3 (2 Irish wins, 1 Viking), 3 hours. Half size map, 100 counters, simple rules, on the surface standard tactical quad fare. Digging deeper, Clontarf has a few surprises. Notably the CRT has no retreats, step losses only, with a very slight chance of elimination. Combat units cannot move through other combat units but the map has enough space to avoid much clutter. Clontarf is lucky that it is not a well documented battle (compared to say Hastings), the terrain was pretty open and both sides roughly equal. This gives the designer close to a clean slate. Map terrain is pretty scant, woods on 2 sides, Dublin on 1 and the sea on the last make the edge of the world (or map edge) a more believable barrier than usual. Combat units are much the same on both sides, except Irish units move 3 compared to the Viking 2. All units must be in range of a commander to move above 1/2 speed so no-one is going to zip anywhere. Viking have fewer commanders, further slowing their advance. Set up is guided by lines on the map, there is very little leeway. Having lined them up both sides proceed to bash each other until 1 of them runs out of units. This game has the largest dead piles, for both sides, that I have seen for some time. Half strength units can come back on certain, re-organisation, turns but dead units stay that way. The Irish have more re-organisation turns and can re-build units that are near woods. Viking units have to be near Dublin or 3 ‘‘landing’’ hexes (their boats), there are far fewer suitable hexes than for the Irish. This gives the Irish the edge in re-building, the ease in taking 2 of the landing suites combines to give the them an advantage. Vikings are further hampered by Irish units only being doubled in woods, hard pressed Irish units can head for the woods. Winning is based on units lost and capturing certain hexes. The total needed is weighted to the Viking showing up the previous advantages. Clontarf compares very well with Zama, no more complex but without the push and pull factor of the previous game. Both games are ordered odds counters. No damage can befall the attacker in Clontarf, attacks will occur at 1:2, attacking is voluntary so units will gang up on the weakest adjacent unit for optimum odds. With both sides of similar strength the opponent will attack in the same way in his own time. Considering the game as simple ordered relief it is debateable whether it should be altered. Sure there are faults but adding more ‘‘history’’ could slow down the game and lose the simplicity that is its charm. Clontarf deserves praise for having fewer howlers than your average quaddie. A better approximation to combat would be to force units to attack only to their front, except at the ends of lines. This could be allowed but would greatly increase the number of dice being rolled. Rolling 1 die for an entire line will make the game too random. The hefty dead piles are a worry. The end game turns see the remaining units of both sides dragging themselves together across a now empty battlefield. Large dead piles are a sure sign of scanty moral rules. If 1 side eliminated 10 more units than the other, all its attacks are increased by 1 column. Both sides tend to lose units at a similar rate, preventing this factor from occurring until late in the game. Keeping to the traditional 50% rule, contingents could become demoralised on the following unit loss levels. Viking units, DD (6), L (7), FA (5). Irish units, C (4), M + CV + S (6), D (6). Chaotics could role 2D6 each time a unit from a command is eliminated. The entire command will demoralise on a 2, then a 2 or 12, next a 2, 11 or 12 and so on working in from the 2 ends of the probability curve, steadily increasing the chance of morale breaking. Demoralised units attack and defend with a penalty of 1 odds column against. The game is closer to the legendary dark ages battle if left unchanged, giving truly heroic casualty levels for both sides.

Keith Versey

"I bought the 162 (S&T) mainly for the Clontarf game because my brother has an interest in Viking history, so at least I would have an opponent. Counters very smart but map is quite bland but functional. The game system really could have been designed in the early 70s. So much for innovation and state of the art! Having said that we did enjoy the game, although I don't think that it will get many playthroughs. The common mistake of designers when designing Ancient, Mediaeval and Dark Age tactical battle games raises its ugly head yet again, the superhuman use of leaders. You get the impression in this game of say the Dublin Dane leader on his field radio asking for more troops to cover his flank! As an introductory game it works; and you can always tinker with the rules to make it more historical.

Saipan, only 1 word to describe this game, tedious! I should never have bothered punching out the counters. Not a patch on Iwo Jima.