When Tigers Fight (Command 26)

 

Playings 3, 5 hours (Japanese wins)

 

Three cheers for a Pacific War game without a single ship unit, plus oodles of Chinese ready to stem the yellow peril. Honourable mentions for the usual XTR presentation and an extra half sheet of die cut counters.

 

Having said that this is a Command game all other comments deal with details. XTR's magazine games continue to build on the best of the previous issues with a few new ideas which may or may not work. Alas the replacement counter syndrome is still with us. 4 step units are represented by 2 counters leading to the traditional rummage through the spare pile when a 3rd hit is inflicted. Impatient gamers prefer to eliminate smaller units in preference to hunting for replacements wherever possible. Keeping the maximum number of counters on the map is better tactics (no Zones of Control here, watch those lines) and closer to history but only for those who prefer counter shuffling to game playing. We should club together for a 41p stamp to tell Ty about the single counter units and hit markers used in Afrika (The Gamers).

 

It would not be fair to say that the Chinese get a bad press from World War II writers, they rarely get any press at all. Pacific War games traditionally represent the war against Japan from 1941 to '45 (Carrier War, The Eagle and the Sun, Pearl Harbour, Pacific War) ignoring the earlier fighting in China which had no small part in drawing Japan and the U. S. of A. into conflict. When Tigers Fight covers the wrong half of China to spawn any variants on the China incident. Presumably the tigers are China and Japan, Japan does most of the fighting China the dying. Most Chinese units are 1 step ?s that shuffle in and out of the dead pile. D6 plus the total number of Chinese cities attacked by the Nips last turn, re-appear every game turn. These new units will be lucky to match those removed in combat on the previous turn, advances after combat result in the Chinese front line sliding steadily backwards.

 

The scale chosen to represent Southern China allows Burma and a slice of India to be slotted in. China is a pretty big place, Burma isn't. A weather line divides the game into these 2 theatres, Japanese units can cross West to East (only), as can the very few Chinese units that begin the game in Burma. All other units are stuck where they set up, terrain between the 2 theatres is pretty fierce, very few units will take advantage of the chance to cross the weather line. Japanese units may move along the coast from Vietnam into China, Chinese units might plod along the road (or fly) back to China to help their hard pressed compatriots.

 

Japan is the aggressor with typically XTR strong units. A swift read of the victory conditions illuminates where to aggress. The game can be won automatically by occupying 2 out of 3 specified central Chinese cities or by rolling D6 higher than the number of remaining Allied held transport plane bases in India. An automatic victory on either side of the weather line opens up Japanese play. There is no point in winning twice by attaining both objectives although there is scope for keeping all options open.

 

Historically the Japs attacked in China to eliminate bases that could be used to bomb the home islands. Japan succeeded in this, although island bomber bases soon countered this advantage. A bonus was to colour more of the map in yellow and link Japanese positions by land. Sea communications between Northern China, Southern ports and IndoChina having been constrained by the USN. Japan can win by following this strategy in When Tigers Fight, it has a bonus in removing 1 US fighter for each base captured, this is a big relief in combat.

 

An easier alternative is to go all out for an automatic victory by attacking in the North, much of which is out of range of the US air bases. Japanese units start strongly concentrated in the North, attacking here does not require much planning, pile on and advance, with a solid chance of success. The Nips are limited in the number of attacks they can make in China each turn but the rules allow any number of adjacent attackers and defenders to be combined into a single die-rolling attack. To offset the attack restriction a row of linked attacks can be merged into 1, odds of 200 to 40 are likely (without the nice round figures). A disadvantage gives the defender the best defensive terrain from all that occupied, the Japs are so strong that this is no big hassle. Success blows a big hole in the Chinese line, larger than single attacks where losses of 5 or more steps are lost on single stacks (4 maximum) of 1 step Chinese units.

 

Being much smaller, Burma is cramped compared to China. Japan does not have so far to go to win. The airfields in India are close to Japanese set up hexes, at least 3 are needed to give victory on a 6 (D6 roll) but 2 could be in Japanese hands by turn 2. This Burma ploy puts a heavy strain on history. The airbases in question are North of the Jap start line, to take then the Nips will have to forget about holding a line against India and head "oop North". The western area is beset by monsoons on 5 out of 10 turns, doubling movement costs, slowing units to a hex or 2 per turn along most of the Burma/India border. As the Japs slide North, serious gaps must appear elsewhere, Allied units can slide through and head for the victory hex of Mandalay or supply nexus (for Chinese units) of Myitkyina. They will have little success because of hostile terrain and weather and the need to send some units North to stop the Japs romping home. A Japanese strike towards central India is unlikely because the map stops at Dacca , there are no victory hexes in this area and the Allied main force lies directly in the way. The British fear of a Japanese invasion of India (memories of Malaysia) is not going to happen.

 

A Japanese victory by disrupting supply to the Chinese (capturing the North Burma airfields) is justifiable but to attain this in When Tigers Fight opens up Burma (and its oil) to the Allies. How long the Japs could hold on to the crucial hexes is debatable, it would not be long but would it be long enough to bring the Chinese governments (Nationalist, Communist and Warlords) to the peace table? The automatic victory in Burma ought to be some way linked to events in China. The impossibility of the British blitzing through the (empty) Jap lines to the South and heading for Rangoon is more reasonably explained by weather, terrain and Allied units looking out for Japanese units as they advance (we can see that the hexes are empty but our cardboard chums have to find out the hard way).

 

Although the game can be won on either side of the weather line, the larger map area and greater movement allowances give greatest freedom of action to the China theatre. The Burma area could have been handled by an off-map box or random events roll but since it is covered by the map anyway it is better to have an iffy simulation than none at all. An important aspect of this game is that the Chinese and allies do not have a lot of freedom of action. Horrifically strong Japanese stacks will slice through line after line of Chinese and are still manly enough to hold out against repeated counter-attacks in Burma. Chinese players who attempt attacks more than 5 hexes from their supply cities (attacking at half strength) will balance destroying a few Jap strength points against weakening the line elsewhere. Short term satisfaction will not help to win the game. When Tigers Fight should be considered a solitaire or simulation exercise. There is scope for the Japanese player to choose what to do, good Allied strategy is to re-act and keep an eye on the victory hexes.

More thoughts on When Tigers Fight. My overall favourable view of the game has been lost after 5 or 6 playthroughs (mainly solitaire). In most of my attempts at this game it ends up as a cakewalk for the Nips on the China front and very little activity on the Burma front, especially during the monsoon. I think that the designer contradicts himself by giving the Japs different combat values but the British and Indian Divisions are virtually standard. Also were the RAF on the Burma front? In all the books that I have read of this campaign, which are quite a few (this game really got me digging out books on the subject) the RAF had complete air superiority over et Japanese from March '44. Interesting to see that many of the mechanisms in Tigers appear in Proud Monster. I found the Tigers rules very similar to Commands 1st effort Blitzkrieg '41.