Today seemed as good a day as any, ahem, to give Day of Infamy: The Attack on Pearl Harbor from High Flying Dice Games a try. I've had it in the stash a while, but just hadn't gotten to it. This is one that seems particularly suited for solitaire, so I gave that a whirl first, though I hope to try with a live opponent soon.
Pearl Harbor is one of those events that at first glance seems impossible to wargame in any meaningful way. As some astute readers from years past may have noted, I have successfully gamed small, individual plane-on-plane actions as part of the Pearl Harbor attack using Check Your 6 miniature rules. Having P-40s and P-36s scramble to do what they can against individual formations of Zeroes, Vals and Kates is one thing, replicating the entire attack is another.
And yet, this game manages to do it in a reasonably convincing way. I admit I had my doubts, but it managed to hold my attention, offer me options (as the Japanese attacker, anyway, though the Americans do have some choices of their own to make), and leave the outcome in doubt. Well, relatively in doubt. Let's make no mistake here, the Japanese are going to "win." But with an interesting set of victory conditions provided, the American player can more than hold his own. In fact, in the end, my game ended in a US "victory." As an interesting aside, each victory level states that ultimately the US wins the war.
As for game play, rather than a hex map, the map features an overview of Pearly Harbor, with five attack zones delineated: Battleship Row, Hickam Field, Ford Island and two tank farms. The game is card driven (I sprung for the special set of cards from HFD, which I think greatly add to the level of enjoyment of the game), with each card indicating how many actions a player gets, or whether there is a special event, etc. Players use actions to move forces onto the board, conduct attacks, etc.
A very clever system allows for the US awareness level to increase throughout the game, meaning its defense capabilities increase throughout the game. In effect, this means that the Japanese player is likely to enjoy his greatest success on turn one, then find the going more difficult with each successive turn. (The game lasts six turns.)
Indeed, that's how it worked for me. A wave of Kates really hit Battleship Row on turn one, but had only a few hits after. Same with Hickam and Ford; I used Vals to hit those, but all the damage was done early. By the time I turned to the tank farms, I only managed one hit. It should be noted the US player can exercise a "repair" option to reduce damage levels. I was able to that a few times with Hickam.
As for fighters, the Japanese player can escort bombers to minimize the effects of AA fire or take opportunity attacks to minimize repair capabilities. It's done abstractly, but very effectively. US fighters have a difficult go of it - I was never able to do a lot, and found it virtually impossible to hit the Zeroes. Probably accurate!
Other features included that didn't play into my game are Japanese midget subs, the possible escape of the USS Nevada and even the arrival of a flight of F4Fs from the Enterprise. What that adds up to for me is replayability potential!
One production note, the included game tracker has one line that is supposed to be used to keep track of the level of everything: damage, alertness, victory points and all. That got very cluttered very quickly and was difficult to use. I quickly whipped up another sheet that broke them all out into individual tracks, and it was much easier to follow. Other than that, counter quality/readability and the map are very nice. Some rules concepts a bit difficult to grasp when just reading the rules, but make much more sense when actually playing.
Kudos to game designer Paul Rohrbaugh for tackling a difficult subject and yet making it work and an abstract, streamlined fashion that still yields believable results.