Sunday, November 19, 2017

Wargame review — The Doolittle Raid

Backward is the New Forward


Designer: Jerry White
Player count: 1
Publisher: GMT Games



PARTING SHOTS

This second entry into the Enemy Coast Ahead series (there’s going to be more, right?) seriously raises the bar when it comes to narrative solo wargaming. The 19-page debriefing manual alone tells a completely different story each time you reach the end of the campaign game—and that’s not taking into account every little detail that’ll pepper your way to that yoke-gripping conclusion.

Naturally, the detailed research baked into the game mechanics means that you’ll learn a boatload of historical facts about that incredible endeavor every time you climb into that B-25 cockpit for another spin. (And keep an eye out for those historical green boxes scattered throughout the rulebook.)

I do lament the lack of an index—and that was also true of the original Enemy Coast Ahead. It will not always be a problem, but once in a while you’ll find yourself cursing under your breath when, in the thick of things, with bullets flying every which way, you try to remember the consequences of switching from high to low altitude…
Still, you can rely on the astounding player aids. Not only do they painlessly teach you the game, but they also vaporize the solo gamer’s main headache: coming back to a solo game after letting it stew on its shelf for an extended period of time. Will you remember how to play that thing? In the case of The Doolittle Raid, it doesn’t matter. All you need to do is just sit down and start playing.

So what’s left to say?  That Operation Chariot would make a great volume III?
(Pretty please…)

FUN FACTOR

The Doolittle Raid is an absolute blast (pun intended).

Don’t be fooled by the early scenarios: they are intentionally facile to ease players into the system and make it possible for them to assimilate basic game mechanics without feeling overwhelmed by chaotic happenstances erupting left and right. After all, you’re just performing the Attack segment, which happens at the very end of the raid. So everything is set up just right for you to enjoy the ride. (By the way, unless you want to take in an extra dose of historical goodness, don’t bother with all of the Attack scenarios: just one or two of them will be enough for you to grok what’s going on.)

However, once you back up and start with the Flight segment, your performance there will affect the subsequent Attack segment: suddenly, you’re not in that perfect, hypothetical shape when you reach Tokyo. Not so easy now, is it?

Then you back up one more step, to play the Naval segment that will bring your bombers into takeoff range—if your aircraft carrier makes it that far. Of course, by then not all of your planes might be fit to fly anymore, which will affect your Flight segment, which will then generate consequences for your Attack segment…

Eventually you’ll tackle the complete, campaign game, moving through Planning, Naval, Flight and Attack segments, even tacking on a Denouement segment at the end to cap the adventure. Only then will you start to fully grasp the repercussions of even the earliest of your decisions, as they cascade out of your control down the game structure.
It is a thing a beauty.

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

We are indeed talking about a 64-page rulebook, here. At first glance, not the faint of heart. But the amazing thing is that you don’t need to read a single page of it.

Just like its sister game, The Doolittle Raid is presented with programmed instructions in a reverse sequence of connected segments (or modules, if you wish). This means that you start by learning the rules to the last chunk of the game: the Attack segment.
“A-ha! So there’s rules reading involved!!” Well, no, not really. Because the Attack segment is summarized in a glorious player aid folder that contains everything you need to get underway. Right now. So you open the box, punch out the components, set up scenario 1 and get going, performing whatever the player aid tells you to do.
I am not using hyperbole to make a cute point—this is exactly how your first game will unfold.
Of course, you can sit down in your favorite armchair, armed with a nice single malt, and plow through the rulebook from cover to cover. But you don’t need to. Know that the book will be there, like a trusty wingman, for when something doesn’t quite make sense to you and you need confirmation.
Other than that, keep your eyes on the target.

Once you’ve learned how to play the Attack segment, the scenario book takes you one step back to the Flight segment, i.e. getting your planes to where they need to attack. Again, the relevant player aid folder takes you through the entire procedure with nary a page of rules to read.
So you fly your way to Japan, trying to make it there in one piece. Then the end of the Flight segment connects to the start of the Attack segment—but you already know how to play that, don’t you?

When you’re comfortable with the Flight and Attack segments, the game takes you back one step earlier, to the Naval segment. This involves navigating treacherous waters with your task force until you bring your carrier far enough into the Pacific for your B-25s to take off. You guessed it—there’s a handy Naval segment player aid folder to guide you, so that you need not touch the rulebook.
And what happens once the aircraft take to the skies? The Naval segment blends seamlessly into the now-familiar Flight segment, which will culminate in the by-now-quite-comfortable Attack segment.

Finally, when you’ve paid your dues and then some, the game takes you back one last step, to the Planning segment. There you are tasked with making the most crucial decisions of the entire game, from negotiating with foreign powers (where do you want your planes to land once they’ve released their ordnance?) to making actual modifications on your aircraft (heavier and better equipped, or lighter but more vulnerable?), setting secrecy levels (provide more information to the troops, enhancing their readiness, but at the price of a heightened security risk…), organizing training, managing transportation, and so on. Again, a jewel of a player aid folder guides you through the entire process and makes sure you don’t forget a single rivet on those B-25s.
And then? You embark on the Naval segment, segue right into the Flight segment, follow up with the Attack segment—and top everything with a Denouement segment that evaluates your entire performance and provides an array of results that mesh together to form an enthralling narrative.

Congratulations! You’ve just played the campaign game, enjoyed one of the best rides of your wargaming life, and can’t wait to just experience it all over again.

Now, while the Attack segment might appear as if its provides few decision points, the more you step back, the more you come to understand how each of your selections blooms into consequences you’ll have to deal with later on. By the time you reach the Planning segment and can envision the entire breadth of the campaign, it becomes absolutely clear (if somehow you still had doubts) that you’re not spending time on some half-baked, harebrained contraption.

WAR PRODUCTION

With a box almost too small to hold all of its gaming goodness, The Doolittle Raid hides behind a cool cover—courtesy of the US Navy Department of Defense!

So you’re armed with a 64-page rulebook (which you don’t have to read, it bears repeating), a 40-page scenario book, a 20-page debriefing manual, and enough player aids to cover a fair-sized table. If you still have some surface left, deploy the immense map sheet and plug whatever hole might remain with the three smaller attack maps.

Errata here was kept to a minimum, and while I ran into a few nomenclature woes (for instance, page 44 calls “Reaction Value” what the map labels “Anti-Sub Value”), there’s really nothing to prevent you from accomplishing your mission.

Oh, and don’t forget your opaque containers: you’ll need ten of them to house the multitude of chits you’ll need to pull as your aircraft make their long, dangerous way to Japan. (To be fair, you’re not expected to use all of them at once, although I did have to resort to seven simultaneous mugs on more than one occasion.)

The components are the usual GMT high quality, and all illustrations (including the main map!) are provided by the designer himself. Talk about a one-man army.

Five six-sided dice round out the package. Will you need them all? Yes. Ooooh yes.
Have fun running out of fuel over Tokyo.

INTRODUCTION

Three quarters of a century after the fact, most people know about the infamous air attack on Japan that brought World War II to an end. But there was another raid on Tokyo, earlier in the war, which did not leave quite the same mark on the public’s psyche. It was the Doolittle Raid.

And now it’s your turn to make it all the way to the Empire of the Sun—and survive to tell the tale.




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