For the Emperor! Kido Butai Game Review
Kido Butai 2nd Edition Game Review. Publisher: Dr. Richter Konfliktsimulation Designer: Benjamin Richter Price: $20.00
Passed Inspection: Tense game play; small footprint; easy to learn; exciting; great value for the price
Failed Basic: a few rules need clarifying; US carriers don’t have Wild Cats; counter printing hard to read
The carrier Akagi had been sunk by 6:30 AM on June 4th, 1941. Our carriers had launched an attack on Midway Island but pilots reported no real visible damage even though the islands air fleet was mostly made up of obsolete Buffalos which were no match for our escorting Zeros. The planes from the Akagi had to be ditched at sea but our task force rescued most of the pilots. Starting at 8 AM, our pilots launched a raid on the American group centered around the Yorktown. Our men were out for blood; Midway would wait for a few hours. By noon our planes had returned from sinking the Yorktown and some of its escort ships but we only had a few hours window to finish our attack on Midway Island. By nightfall, our fleet was scheduled to return to Japanese waters. While we were outfitting our Vals to attack Midway, we received a report – another American carrier task force had been sighted by one of our scouts! With time running out, we outfitted seven squadrons of Kate torpedo bombers to find and sink that other American carrier meanwhile our Vals would try and wipe out the base on Midway. I allocated Zero fighters to provide low and high cover over our three remaining carriers and split our remaining planes. We must defend our remaining fleet against the Americans plus try and sink their carrier and take out Midway. The future of the Kido Butai, and of Japan itself, may rest on the outcome of today’s battle!
So went one game of the 2nd edition of the solitaire game Kido Butai and it was a nail biting experience!
Published by the German company Dr. Richter Konfliktsimulation, Kido Butai is a game which comes in a ziplock bag and features a cardboard mounted 8 1/2” x 12” map, an 8 page rule book and 55 full color, die cut, double sided counters. The “footprint” of the game is very compact making it perfect to take on trips or play over lunch in your office. I love games like this as I cut my teeth on zip lock games such as One Page Bulge and Ogre by Steve Jackson Games. That is what Kido Butai reminds me of and I’m sure it will go down as a classic as have the other two games I mentioned.
“Kido Butai” means “Mobile Force” and is used to describe the aircraft carriers, aircrafts and support ships (cruisers, destroyers, etc.) of the Japanese Navy’s First Air Fleet during World War 2. It originally comprised six fleet carriers with over 450 aircrafts (mainly Zero fighters, Val dive bombers, Kate torpedo bombers and float planes which were used for observation and spotting), two battleships, three cruisers, nine destroyers and eight tankers. When this group was sent to attack Pearl Harbor it also included submarines and midget submarines.
The Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942, was a resounding American victory – the US lost the Yorktown but the Japanese lost their four largest, most experienced aircraft carriers plus the planes and crew. The Japanese plans to destroy the Midway Island base were unsuccessful and the Japanese Navy never fully recovered from their defeat. Midway was truly a turning point in the Pacific Campaign. Kido Butai gives the player the chance to try and win the battle for the Japanese.
In Kido Butai, you control 4 Japanese carriers (the Akagi, the Kaga, the Soryu and the Hiryu). Their associated escort vessels are not represented except in abstract and it appears their anti-aircraft fire is factored in to the game. Each carrier has its affiliated air squadrons.
Game play is very easy to learn but very evocative and entertaining. A full game can takes 1 to 2 hours at most.
To play the game, you’ll need a six sided die (not included) and three zip lock bags or cups to put counters in for a blind draw.
The Japanese carriers set up in their respective boxes on the map. Their actual movement is abstracted and the only real aspect of this that the player is concerned with is their launching of aircrafts and the type of aircraft launched. At the top of the map is Midway – the focal point of the original mission. Counters for American carriers, fighters and bombers are put in draw piles, cups or baggies. In to each draw pile are placed “dummy” counters which represent no-contact or misidentified contacts.
You have 16 turns of 1 hour each on June 4, 1942 to destroy Midway’s base and/or defeat the American carrier fleets hunting you down. As darkness falls, you must break off your attack and head back to friendly waters.
Each turn is divided into phases – the Japanese Phase, the Reconnaissance Phase and the American Phase.
During the Japanese phase you can ready your aircrafts to launch (Zeros to either fly combat air patrol at high or low level over your fleet or to escort your bombers, Vals for dive bombing attacks and Kates for torpedo attacks), launch your aircrafts or land the aircrafts or play out attacks on your targets.
During the Reconnaissance Phase, American recon planes try and find you fleet. Conversely, Japanese recon planes will try and spot the American fleets. Once a fleet is found, it remains spotted for the rest of the game. A fleet must be spotted in order to attack it. For the Japanese, when an enemy fleet is found, you draw a counter from the American fleet cup and put it face down on the board. When your aircrafts try and attack the fleet, the counter is flipped to its face up side. It could be an American carrier fleet or just a “dummy” counter which represents a misidentified possible target or possibly the American fleet has moved out of its position and can’t be found. This can seriously draw away much needed aircrafts on a wild goose chase.
During the American Phase, if your fleet is sighted pull bombers out of the American bomber cup or bag. Keep pulling out bombers until you draw a “dummy” counter. These are the air squadrons attacking your carriers. They are made up of Dauntless Dive Bombers and Avenger Torpedo Bombers. The dive bombers come in high and the torpedo bombers come in low. The rules state that there are no mixed attacks so you roll a die to see whether they come in high or low. In practice, I found it more interesting to have the possibility of mixed attacks as happened in real life. This made the game extremely challenging as I had to keep two squadrons of Zeros on both high and low combat air patrol to protect my ships. Also any fighters will have to deal with American fighters before they can attack the bombers.
Aircraft intercept and anti-aircraft fire is handled simply and elegantly. If a Japanese or American carrier is damaged, their capacity to maintain aircrafts is hampered. If a carrier is sunk, all the planes in the air must be rerouted to another carrier or ditched. All aircrafts on a sunken carrier are destroyed.
Ground attack on Midway Island is handled in much the same way but damaging the airfield is much more difficult and there are more any fighters to deal with.
Strangely all the American fighters are Brewster Buffalos. This makes sense for Midway Island but the American carriers should be protected by the superior Wild Cat fighters which are not included in the game.
Each damaged or destroyed unit is worth victory points. Aircrafts are worth quarter points each while carriers and Midway Island installations are worth much more. Possible outcomes include a draw or a Japanese or American major or minor defeat or victory.
Optional rules include the American Navy’s superior damage control, random target assignments for American planes and such.
A full example of play is thoughtfully included.
The counters are functional and sturdy but I found them somewhat difficult to read and had to break out the magnifying glass.
A few of the rules were not as clearly written as I would prefer so I had to refer to the example to get some clarification. An FAQ on the publisher’s website would be nice.
There is an infantry counter included but I couldn’t find what it is used for.
All in all, Kido Butai is a very fulfilling solo game experience and is worth much more than what the list price is – you don’t hear that very often in the gaming world!
For more information on this fine game go to :
Armchair General Rating: 94 %
Solitaire Rating: 5 (1 = low to 5 = perfect for solo play)
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!