About game:

The Battle of Tarawa was an amphibious landing operation 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.


This engagement 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.

We have the historical background so now some explanation about the game itself – which I hope will be useful both to new fans of D-Day series but also to those who played Omaha Beach and consider the Pacific editions. So Tarawa is based on John Butterfield’s D-Day at Omaha Beach system and presents 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.

Would you stand-up to the task and manage to prevail against odds, leading the US Marines to victory over the Japanese forces?

Number of players:

This is a pure solo wargame and I see almost no possibility to play it multiplayer – other than trying together, cooperatively to devise best strategies for landing plus eventually splitting the command on Division Level.

Playing time:

The Full Campaign scenario will take at least 5-6 hours at first approach; still, there are a lot of scenarios – training one, 1st and 2nd day – which can be played in a very manageable amount of time – like 2-3 hours with set-up and then packing the game back.

Complexity:

That is definitely not overly complex wargame, pretty procedural and scripted. Still, there are a lot of nuances and Japanese actions – which increase in number with time – and have to be carefully executed. But this is good – the too easy / straightforward solo wargame might quickly lose all its appeal and replayability.

What I like:
  • The theme – amphibious landing operation in the Pacific Theater – is depicted in such a fantastic way in that game. The game components, mechanics, additional booklet with historical background – all of this allows you to immerse yourself in the Tarawa battle.
  • The game is tough to win. And I really mean it – you really need to well plan your moves, execute strategy flawlessly, reinforce the important points and have some luck from time to time. With the experience and plays you start to see some weaker Japanese points but it will never be easy. And yeas – I love it as it gives you so much motivation to try one more time!
  • Replayability – each game is completely different – the way LVTs were depicted in the game and the possible drifts means that one time you will be attacking mainly in the East, but on the other occasion in the West. Also, there are like 4 scenarios, which allow to reenacting various stages of battle. All in all, that provides for many hours of enjoyable play!
  • Changes in comparison to the first title in the series (Omaha Beach). The Pacific Theater version brings usage of LVT (Landing Vehicle Tracked) to arrive at the beach, enemy actions from the onset of the game, close combat which significantly changes the flow of the game and many more. This is great to see such a refreshing additions!
What I do not like or would like to see in the game:
  • The components – counters and rulebook / player aids could be of better quality. The map was upgraded to the mounted one in second edition and it is a huge change; the rest of materials would benefit from some lifting too.
For whom?

First and foremost for John H. Butterfield fans, especially of the D-Day series. But any solo wargamer – seasoned or just starting one – will find that game very appealing. The rulebook seems long and daunting but after one reading and one play things quickly click in place.  

More about the game:

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

Just before landing – LVTs ready to rush from corral reef toward the atol!
To take down a tank you really need a significant force; here a well prepared US attack against Japanese armor..
Already during first landings a Close Combats ensued (I love this mechanics in D-Day Tarawa). This one was successful!
The whole game is driven b cards – landings, events, combat, enemy actions.
Look at the map at the end of one of my games – the only one which I managed to finish with succes!

VERDICT:

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 as well as some other titles. Each of his games 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.

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 paths and possible axis of attack. The learning curve is painful but satisfaction even greater once you manage to achieve your goals! Highly recommended!

See you in another game review!