Empire of the Sun
In this post we’ll discuss some of the generalities of the game, and just introduce my thoughts on what is in my opinion a war gaming power house. I’ll be writing a follow up article to this one where we talk in more specific terms about some of the crunch and chrome to this game, as well as strategy and tactics, so watch out for that in the future. But for now, here goes:
Empire of the Sun, by Mark Herman, is one of those games that you hear about all the time, but you don’t play because it’s just so big and so daunting. Well, I picked it up a while back having played a few GMT games and deeming myself ready for the plunge. How wrong I was. I had no idea of just how deep this game is. Previously I’d played TS, Labyrinth, Churchill and Grant’s copy of Wilderness War. So yeah, I was not prepared to wrestle with the beast in a small box that is Empire of the Sun.
Jumping into the deep end
The rule book is only (only) 45 pages long, but it’s fill of great examples, that really helps to walk you through things and to start to understand the physical game on the table. On top of that there’s a ton of other supplements and summaries available on BGG. Hyperbole aside the rules are actually reasonably accessible, for how complex they are. The hardest part of the rules is that there are a lot of them. There’s not one individual item that’s going to blow your mind, but there’s just a lot of moving pieces to remember, and omitting one of those can be a big deal. For this reason we only got through about four cards on our first ever play through [which you can read here] because we basically read every single rule to every action we took to make sure we did it right. And we still didn’t. But it still felt so good to play, everything in the game has a reason to be there, and everything also has consequences which brings meaning and strategy to everything you can do in the game.
There are other games that may cover a larger geographical portion of WWII, and there are again other games that may have a larger breadth of scale, but for me there are few games that cover an entire theatre of war, and that are at the same time as detailed and nuanced as Empire of the Sun is. I’ve played a few different war games over my time now, and each one has either a focused directive for each faction, or there’s a very specific objective and set of parameters to it.
Rarely have I played a game that, whilst there are specific goals and things to achieve, is just so open. The Japanese have to take the majority of the land hexes on the map, and then the Americans have to take them back. But how you go about doing that is entirely up to you. The Japanese need to execute their takeover of the Dutch East Indies and beyond, by the beginning of 1943, otherwise things will turn sour for them very quickly. Conversely for the Americans, as of the same time have incentives to take ground from the Japanese to keep favour with the American population, to show they are making progress back home and the lives of their young men aren’t just being thrown away.
Mark Herman and many others have put out hints and historical points that can help guide you in going about achieving your goals, but this is where Empire of the Sun shines so brightly [and scares so many people] the choice is entirely up to you. You conduct this war how you want to.
What’s in the box?
For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding this game, it comes in a small and unassuming package. The mounted board is a thing of beauty and the artwork is easy on the eye. There are two counter sheets which are extremely well done and then it’s just the rulebook, playbook, and then player aid cards. The player aids also contain something called the solitaire Erasmus Bot system, which is a way to play the game by yourself that can help you teach yourself the game as well as just getting it to the table more.
So, should you get this game..
Emphatically yes. We’ve played this only a couple of times but each time we do the experience is unbelievably rewarding. Even though the game is at its heart a CDG, there is so much freedom to conduct operations in your own way. Rarely do you sit there with a power stack or two and there’s an obvious move we can all see coming; something that many other games suffer from. You’ll find that through the HQ activation system you can bring units from a large quadrant of the map together in unforeseeable surprise attacks and formations that will dynamically change the face of the war in the pacific. This keeps you on your toes at all times and you’ll find wildly different uses for each card, each time that you play.
So find a friend, and find a table, and then find a healthy block of time to get Mark Herman’s Grail Game to the table. You won’t regret it.