About game:

Empire of the Sun (EotS) is Mark Herman’s strategic level look at the entire War in the Pacific from the attack on Pearl Harbor until the surrender of Japan. EotS is the one of the Card Driven Games (CDG) which moves the system closer to a classic hexagon wargame, while retaining all of the tension and uncertainty people have come to expect from a CDG. Players will play roles of MacArthur, Yamamoto, Nimitz, or Mountbatten and direct their underlying forces across the breadth of the globe from India to Hawaii and from Alaska to Australia. The game is represented on a single map based on a 1942 data, spanning the entire theater of conflict.


As always in CDG system, players try to maximize the impact of their cards even as they hide their intentions and traps from their opponent – and believe me, the space for bluffing is really vast here! The player is always faced with a pretty wide set of strategic choices. The focus of EotS is on directing major offensive axes of advance – which might result (bear in mind) in strategic level amount of causalities! The Japanese early in the game are challenged to achieve their historical expansion as Allied forces battle the clock to react with their in-place forces trying to achieve maximum damage to the hard-to-replace Japanese veteran units.

Combat in EotS is based on successfully bringing superior combined land, air, and sea forces to bear in a two-level combat system. The first tier is the resolution of air-naval combat, the second tier covers ground combat. The culmination of both tiers results in one side prevailing in battle with ground battles being especially gruesome.

What I would like to specifically underline is the way of determining strategic victory – based on the level of US political will. The Japanese win the game by forcing the U.S. into a negotiated peace, which was not achieved historically. The Japanese achieve this by knocking countries like India, China, and Australia out of the war, while inflicting massive casualties on the United States. The delivery of the A-bomb on its historical schedule is not a guarantee, often necessitating Operation Olympic and the invasion of Japan. It is often in its darkest hour that the Japanese find victory in EotS.

Would you stand-up to the task and manage to prevail against your opponent, securing Pacific for your nation?

Number of players:

In my opinion, this is one of the best 2-player wargames ever created and should be primarily played like this. That does not mean that we do not have solo mode – there is such, and it can be used for rules training, familiarization with map, forces deployment, etc. Still, due to the depth of the game, the true beauty will be best visible only against human opponent.

Playing time:

That title could take enormous amounts of time if played “end-to-end”. However, multiple scenarios provide more digestible chunks of history, easily fitted into 2-3 hours time-frame and making for a very enjoyable and balanced game-play.

Complexity:

There are many rules in that game – some of them only applicable for specific theaters of war (like China, Burma or India). Still, the core Card mechanics are pretty straightforward – you play event or execute operations. Of course, when you first sit down to the map and look at multitude of opportunities that might be a little daunting, but soon you will identify the best spots to put your plans and agendas into practice!

What I like:
  • Theme – this title is a fantastic lesson of the World War II Pacific Theater struggle between Allies and Japan. The cards events are very much attached to the historical incidents, the rules depict in fantastic way all the complexities of the Naval and Land warfare. I especially appreciate how the CBI (China/Burma/India) topic was handled.
  • Scenarios – as said before, full campaign can take many hours. But the scenarios make this game so much more accessible and enjoyable. Let us analyse the 1943 scenario – this is a perfect example of a 2-3 hours set-up, with both sides commanding reasonably large forces and giving a lot of fun and joy to the belligerents.
  • Balance – in reality, there was not a moment of doubt who will win the war in the long term. In the game Mark Herman went to great lengths to create position which is enjoyable for both sides. The concept of Political Will – so important in this war – allows for both sides to achieve victory in the game terms – Allies to crush aggressors, or Japan to sign a favorable peace which will allow them to keep control of at least some of the occupied territories.
  • Cards mechanics – I love Card Driven Games. The concept of being able to utilize your resources (=cards) for various uses and in various manners gives so much choice, options, strategies – shall I play event with long-lasting effect or rather focus on immediate gains of the Operation? And what if my Operation will be intercepted? And so on, and so forth. Tough and tense decisions!
  • Re-playability – a good game allows for hours of joy and fun by being as much replayable as possible! Empire of the Sun excels in that dimension for at least couple of reasons. In the full game the number of options and variables is so huge that you really very quickly – after couple of Rounds into the game – start to create path you never before explored. And if you have wish for something extra experience, you can use any of the year scenarios or variety of add-on set-ups from C3i RBM Studio magazine.
What I do not like or would like to see in the game:
  • There are a lot of rules to digest at the beginning which may put-off some of the potential players – still, this is an effort worth taking!

  • The Combat Resolution table might sometimes produce very varied results, resulting in disproportionately big losses between the sides.
For whom?

I would strongly recommend that game to all wishing to learn more about Pacific Theater of operations in WWII. This should not be an entry game for new wargamers; some relatively experienced players also can be put-off by the amount of the rules; but the most persistent will learn the game, appreciate it and in the end – fall in love! 

More about the game:

And now let us have a look at the components – all pictures taken during my plays:

A very congested situation near Solomon Islands in South Pacific scenario
The whole game is driven by cards, which can be used for various purposes – like Events or Operations
Decisive battles are not so common as both sides usually try to preserve their assets. But when it finally comes to a combat, it can be very brutal.
The game depth and breadth can only be appreciated once you see the whole map full of forces. What to do? Where to move? That is usually the first question from New Players.

VERDICT:

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What can I say? This is another timeless classic by Mark Herman which each fan of hobby should try and play at least once. A “must play” wargame – which depth, design genius and variety can be learned only after couple of sessions. But be not overwhelmed with its span – the scenarios will nicely guide you through the game basics.

Again, I can wholeheartedly recommend that title to any player wishing to familiarize himself with WWII on Pacific – not only as pure US vs Japan combat, but also opportunity to replay other theatres like CBI (China, Burma and India), Malaya, Indochina, etc.

Strongly recommended! See you in another game review!