East-side, West-side: Empire of the Sun – Boardgame Review
You command a powerful military force and your energy reserves and logistics chain will allow you to function at full-bore for only a brief time. What do you do? You might go after your most powerful enemy with what you hope will be enough of a killing blow that you can exploit all of the resource-bearing regions between you and that enemy. Such was the situation for Imperial Japan at the outset of World War II. Such is also the situation in the game mechanics of Empire of the Sun (GMT Games). Designed by innovative wargame designer Mark Herman and developed by another groundbreaking wargame designer, Steve Newberg (of Simulations Canada fame), Empire of the Sun is a card-driven game that simulates the potentially drastic reduction in resources that Imperial Japan faced when she initiated hostilities and the tough logistical decisions necessary in keeping one’s war machine viable.
How does it accomplish this? Easily. The most valuable resource in a card-driven game would be the strength of your hand of cards compared to that of your opponent’s. In Empire of the Sun, you begin with 7 cards to your opponent’s 5. After turn 4, you gain cards on the basis of the number of resource hexes you control (out of 14 possible hexes). As the Japanese player, you only get one card for each two resource hexes you control. In other words, lose resource hexes and you start to lose cards (though the Imperial Japanese player does get a minimum of 4 cards per turn, regardless).
Empire of the Sun is simply one of the most playable and elegant games I’ve ever attempted on the Pacific Theater of World War II. While I have enjoyed Pacific Theater games on the PC (Steve Newburg’s Long Lance, Gary Grigsby’s Pacific War, and SSG’s Carriers at War II) because those games handled a lot of the bookkeeping for me, this is the first time I’ve truly enjoyed a board game on the subject.
Nevertheless, my poor knowledge of Pacific Rim geography was quickly exposed by the historical references to specific island groups and locations that I was reading on the cards. To make matters worse, I was playing my first game by PBEM and my opponent was far more knowledgeable about the theater than I was. He would occasionally note the move by mentioning a location instead of the hex number (actually, I did it worse to him). As a result, I decided to create a list of venues by hex numbers so I could print it out and use it as a cross-reference. I offer it here on Armchair General as a courtesy for all of you PBEM gamers who haven’t tried one of the best games available for doing so.
Download the list here.