Battlegroup: 1939-45 – Boardgame Review
Fourth, the mechanic of comparative dice rolls is extremely useful. Nearly every action requires both players to roll dice appropriate to their decision/situation. The high die wins out of an assortment of three dice so one wants the maximum number of dice possible. So, it requires one to consider the implications of ship dispositions. For example, the U.S. carrier Enterprise has the green (d8) and blue (d10) available for CAP but the full complement of white (d6), green (d8) and blue (d10) for offensive air strikes. On the other hand, the Yorktown has all three dice available for both CAP and offensive air strikes. It is obviously better to send the offensive aircraft from the Enterprise and hold the Yorktown for CAP than vice-versa. Naturally, the gamer quickly learns the value of those extra 10 aircraft on the Yorktown over the Enterprise.
SHELL SHOCK The Intrepid sends planes against the Zuikaku (after the screen is gone). The Intrepid rolls all three dice for its offensive mission against the two dice allotted for the Japanese ship’s CAP (if played with an additional action card) and/or two dice allotted for the Zuikaku’s defense. Each time, the highest die on each side is compared and the difference determines the amount of damage inflicted (not a one-to-one correspondence).
Finally, as in Brawling Battleships, some of the action cards feature options that offer some historical flavor. Using Flying Boat Scouting to remove two random cards from an opponent’s hand and add them to your own is terrific for players who like "card control" but also reminds one of the importance of reconnaissance. Radio Triangulation lets one draw the top two cards from the discard pile and reflects the historical application of improving technology.
TRI-STRANGULATION In a two-player game where one player has both Radio Triangulation cards in his/her hand at the same time, the game’s balance goes quickly out of whack.
NOTE: In rare instances, the Radio Triangulation card can completely break the game. If one player draws both instances of the Radio Triangulation card and the other player does not have enough cards to break the pattern, the player of the RT can use one of the cards and then, use the other to draw it back-over and over again. As unlikely as it seems, we did experience this absurd situation in one of our two-player games.
So, the answer to the questions with which this article began would be a qualified "Yes!" If a person wants to recreate the Leyte Gulf conflict, it would be hard to do so with the current set of cards. To be sure, one can create a fast two-player scenario based on the decisive battles that took place in 1944 by separating out the following Japanese ships (Fuso, Haruna, Ise, Kongo, Musashi, Nagato, Yamashiro, Yamato, Zuikaku, and Zuiho) and the following U.S. ships (Enterprise, Intrepid, Iowa, Lexington, Maryland, Mississippi, and New Jersey). Shuffle these mini-decks (the U.S. has less ships but more carriers) and draw the initial six ships from those decks (the U.S. only has one reinforcement). This will not offer a pure historical treatment since all of those ships did not fight together at the same time. But, it will provide (again) an intriguing introduction to the conflict where Japanese Admiral Kurita thought he had engaged a major portion of the U.S. fast carrier task force, but "Outfought by pygmies, he yet thought he had conquered giants."1 Unfortunately, the escort carriers like Gambier Bay and the destroyers that Kurita misidentified as cruisers2 are either not present in the game or merely abstracted on the action cards.
In spite of the limitations of the game for historical gamers, BG plays fast, plays well and offers an intriguing challenge for 2-4 players. Though I prefer the 4-player game, I find it is a great game to pull out at the end of a longer game when two of us are just not through with gaming or to play as a quick game while we’re waiting for others to show up for a multi-player game. At any event, Battlegroup: 1939-1945 moves us beyond the level of Naval War and its pure "sink the most ship" clones. And, since LBG has already expanded their flagship game, Brawling Battleships, there is always hope that they will eventually offer battle or campaign sets so that one could actually play less-limited versions of historical conflicts.
Armchair General Score—83%
34/40 — Gameplay
11/15 — Components
16/20 — Rules/Documentation
15/15 — Replay Value
07/10 — General’s Rating
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Johnny L. Wilson is the former editorial director of Computer Gaming World and publisher of Dragon, Dungeon, Star Wars Gamer, Star Wars Insider, TopDeck and Undefeated magazines. He is the author of The Sim City Planning Commission Handbook and co-author of Sid Meier’s Civilization or Rome on 640K a Day. His most recent game-related book is High Score: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games, written with Rusel Demaria. Today, he balances his game playing with his work as a freelance novelist and author of multimedia study guides for the books of the Bible. His passion is any game that causes him to study more history. Not the strongest player, he is nonetheless an avid player. Johnny and his wife live on the shore of Castle Lake in Tyrone, Georgia.
1 James A. Field, Jr., The Japanese at Leyte Gulf: The Sho Operation (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1947), p. 126.
2 Ibid, p. 102.
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