I will not deny it – I am huge fan of John H. Butterfield creations. I had pleasure to play D-Day at Omaha Beach & SpaceCorp, also spent some times at Enemy Action: Ardennes. Each of those titles is different but one thing you may find in common – very well designed solo system, pretty procedural but with minimal amount of algorithms and flowcharts, quick to learn and to play. I am enjoying those games be it a full-heavy wargame or light space-exploration type – you can always count on challenging AI opponents.

So when finally there was a chance to get at reasonable price (in Poland) another of his games – D-Day at Tarawa – I did not hesitate for a moment. And as we shall see in below article, that was a very good choice.

My D-Day series articles:
D-Day at Omaha Beach – “Easy Fox” scenario
D-Day at Omaha Beach – yet one more time “Easy Fox” scenario
D-Day at Omaha Beach – “The First Waves” scenario

Battle of Tarawa

Marines storm Tarawa. Gilbert Islands. November 1943

Let me provide couple of words of historical background. The Battle of Tarawa was a battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II that was fought on 20–23 November 1943. It took place at the Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands, and was part of Operation Galvanic, the U.S. invasion of the Gilberts. Nearly 6,400 Japanese, Koreans, and Americans died in the fighting, mostly on and around the small island of Betio, in the extreme southwest of Tarawa Atoll.

The Battle of Tarawa was the first American offensive in the critical central Pacific region. It was also the first time in the Pacific War that the United States had faced serious Japanese opposition to an amphibious landing. Previous landings met little or no initial resistance, but on Tarawa the 4,500 Japanese defenders were well-supplied and well-prepared, and they fought almost to the last man, exacting a heavy toll on the United States Marine Corps.

The Game

Time to tell something more about the game itself. It is based on John Butterfield’s groundbreaking D-Day at Omaha Beach system and presents the critical days of fighting at platoon and company scale in solitaire mode. You command the invading American forces against dug-in Japanese defenders, which are controlled by the game system. Tarawa covers the landings on Betio Island in November 1943, and the operations of the US 2nd Marine and 27th Infantry Divisions to clear it — the first heavily contested landing of the Pacific War. The battle for the tiny Island raged for four days and, when it was finally over, fewer than 200 of the 5,000 Japanese defenders remained alive.

I of course decided to start from the training scenario. The First Waves covers the first five hours of the invasion (Turns 1-10) and takes up to three hours to play. This scenario is recommended for new players and uses only part of the rules sections. This is similar to what we had in its predecessor, Omaha Beach.

Session 1 & 2

Well, there will be no pictures here, no beautiful maps with arrows of attack 🙂 Why? Because even after extensively reading rules, in both initial attempts I made critical errors in the game-play – for worse and for better of my forces. To such an extent that I decided it is fair just to restart game.

My common errors / overlooked rules (in my favor / against my forces) – be careful of those:

  • you cannot move two hex with US unit and attack in close combat; only Japanese units can!
  • although your units have 2-3 hex movement allowance, you need to stop in intensive fire and when adjacent to the enemy unit
  • major Ryan gives free action only to units stacked with him, not 1 hex around
  • tanks do not stop in water, they go straight to the beach even on “Water” results of landing; the same for “Reeef” result – they land on beach. A painful overlook for me.
  • HQ can ignore Drift and treat “Inland 1/2” as “Beach”
  • two units in a stack can perform the same action at the cost of 1 – of course I forgot it!

As you can see, there are some important things you better remember, otherwise it might be too difficult / too easy to play!

Session 3

Well, the third session was finally a fulfilling attempt – as far as my fluency with rules is concerned but also the game-play and final result – I lost but the victory was close! Let me present short session report in form of slide-show:

  • Ready, steady go! Turn 1 - US Marines ready to land!
  • Already during first landings a Close Combats ensued (I love this mechanics in D-Day Tarawa). This one was successful!
  • Sargent Ryan was envy of progress on the other flank and lead his troops to two, successful melee attacks!
  • Japanese forces were eager to counter attack - above Tank attacking my forces.
  • Mid-game situation on right flank - a strong presence established.
  • Mid-game situation on left flank - first positions taken, but it will be really hard to push forward (although reinforcements are "Wading in the water")
  • Ok, let us try to push on the left and try to neutralize that tank!
  • Turn 10 - End-scenario situation on the map
  • Turn 10 - Left-flank close-up
  • Turn 10 - Right-flank close-up
  • Japanese losses
  • US losses

Should you be interested in close-ups of the final situation, I am attaching two – first, presenting the picture of the map after turn 10 – just open this in new window and watch the details:

End of game picture – click to enlarge

I am also presenting grey-scale map with clear extent of my forces penetration, marking the occupied positions – those giving VPs and those which are not (as they are in Field of Fire of enemy):

Extent of American successes, with Green points secured (VPs), and Red ones in Field-of-Fire of Japaneses positions (no VPs)click to enlarge

Yes, I love presenting the games I play with picture-rich reports 🙂


Playing D-Dat at Tarawa is very enjoyable experience although do not expect easy wins. The game is tough, you need to be prepared to get a lot of casualties but in the end – once you are more familiar with the map – you see the path and possible axis of attack. The learning curve is painful but satisfaction even greater once you manage to achieve your goals!

Highly recommended! More session reports will come!