South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier 1942-1943 is an operational level look at a portion of the Pacific Theater of WWII designed by Mark Herman. South Pacific is a stand alone game based upon Empire of the Sun, also designed by Mark Herman and published by GMT Games. The stand alone scenario was the main headline in C3i Magazine Nr 30 produced by RBM Studio and Rodger MacGowan. This stand alone game uses the same basic rules as it’s parent Empire of the Sun but the focus of the game changes from the width and breadth of the entire Pacific Ocean to a much smaller operational area focusing on the Southeast Pacific. The scope of the full game is breathtaking, and it includes not only operational combat and strategic movement but also delves into such issues as Inter-service Rivalry between the Army and Navy, the effect of the War in Europe on replacements and US Political Will just to name a few.
South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier 1942-1943
The Overall Feel of South Pacific
The game is played on a small bi-fold paper map that depicts the Southeast Pacific including the north coast of Australia, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. You’ll play as either the Allies, controlling both British, American and Australian troops, or the Empire of Japan trying to control the Pacific and set up plans to invade Australia (probably not realistically possible in the game). The Empire of the Sun system is a very deep and complicated game that can be very difficult to get comfortable with due to its massive scope and detailed rules. But South Pacific, using the same system as EotS, is much more approachable and user friendly as your focus is only on a small portion of the entire Pacific Theater. Due to its depth, EotS is more suited for players with a 30,000 foot perspective of grand strategy and tactics and rewards players who can think in this way and martial forces to proceed in a structured fashion to take objectives. While South Pacific has just as
many difficult strategic choices and options as EotS, due to its limited gaming area, these choices become a little bit more clear and obvious to players of both sides. From the get go, the setup forces Japan to be on the defensive as the Allies will undoubtedly try to attack three major areas, including Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, Gili Gili and Port Moresby on New Guinea. These three ports not only count as part of the end game victory conditions but allow for a strategic command of the Coral and Solomon Seas creating a funnel or chokepoint where all Japanese forces will have to move toward and through to bring the fight to the Allies. I love a chance to try out a different approach in any game and this game provides that opportunity perfectly (more on this below).
On the opposite side, the Japanese are forced to focus on New Guinea and in slowly pushing the Allies out of this area in order to setup bases from which to launch devastating Air-Naval attacks on US flotillas to whittle them down to a level that they can be easily picked off and defeated. In fact, a majority of Japan’s more powerful naval units (including BB Yamato, CV Shokaku) start in the isolated port of Truk located on the very northern edge of the game board. These units cannot participate until later in the game and have great power which can change the battlefield when brought to the fight.
In the above picture, you can see a great representation of the many counters included in the game. These counters are generally of the same quality as Empire of the Sun, including in their thickness, color and clear text, and represent the same units as no new units were added to the stand alone game. My only concern with the counters was that some of them were not totally centered and parts of the information was trimmed off.
Where South Pacific Shines
The game really shines in two areas in my opinion. South Pacific and Empire of the Sun is a Card Driven Game (CDG) meaning it uses cards in your hand either for the printed event, that usually is really good and can provide you a significant advantage in an attack, or by using the printed Ops value in the upper left hand corner to take actions such as move or attack. South Pacific came with only 48 cards (24 for both the Allies and Japan), which is less cards than it’s parent game. This is a good thing as you are able to focus on that small group of cards to take actions that move your strategy forward. You also will only have 4 cards in your hand during each turn, as compared to the usual 7 cards, so this helps you stay focused as well. I liked the reasoning behind this limited number of cards as it is assumed that at least 3 of those normal 7 cards will have been used to wage the war in the rest of the theater and not in this isolated spot.
This stand alone game also does a great job of forcing the players to focus on a different part of the game board than you normally would in Empire of the Sun. I am not saying you shouldn’t focus on the southeastern Pacific in EotS but in my experience, play usually focuses on Indochina, Burma, India and the Philippines the most, with only minor conflicts happening in the area of the board portrayed in South Pacific. I love that this took the game in that direction as it deepens the play experience and offers the chance for some new strategies and challenges. The game also starts both sides in Inter-service rivalry between the Army and Navy, which is a problem as it prohibits the use of both types of units in a combined invasion. If this wasn’t the case early in the game, the Japanese would have the ability to run the Allies off the map in New Guinea and get an advantage that most likely would make victory nearly impossible for the Allies. We have not experienced this impediment often in our games of EotS, so this was a great opportunity to try to deal with that handicap in our planning of attacks. There is a card in each deck that allows for Inter-service rivalry to be ended but it doesn’t always come up.
I also really liked the amended Victory Conditions in South Pacific. The game requires that at the end of game turn 4, the winner controls at least 3 more ports/resource hexes than their opponent. To make matters even more interesting in this area, the Japanese actually start the game in a winning position, as they control 11 ports and 1 resource hex for a total of 12 while the Allies only control 9 ports. This setup was very interesting and helped me to formulate my strategy very well. I played as the Empire of Japan while Alexander controlled the Allies. I knew that while I started in a winning position, I wouldn’t be able to hold several of those starting ports (I’m looking at you Guadalcanal!) and would have to be on the offensive to try and take the fight to the Allies for control of Port Moresby, Gili Gili and to somehow defend Guadalcanal.
I had a great time playing South Pacific, and I would recommend it as a fantastic gateway into the larger Empire of the Sun system. It has great potential to teach the concepts of the game, including the more difficult parts to get such as Air Naval Combat, the use of Ops Value Cards, etc. and offers great opportunity for some grand strategy to be practiced in the movement of great flotillas of warships. However, in my opinion you will quickly out play this game after a couple of tries and be yearning for a greater challenge which will ultimately lead you to try Empire of the Sun. Remember that South Pacific is only intended to be a simulation of a small part of the overall Pacific Theater of Operations and there is lots more to explore in the grander game including the Phillipine Islands, the Indochina Burma Theater as well as China and Australia. This game is not intended to provide you with innumerable plays and normally that’s not a great thing in a board game, but the next step is to just dive right in and get Empire of the Sun. I will say that I promise you EotS is totally worth it and if you were able to get the concepts of South Pacific, they translate to the larger game and you will be one step closer to being able to pick that up and start playing. So, if you are on the fence about whether or not to buy such a grand strategy game such as Empire of the Sun, do yourself a favor and pickup a copy of C3i Magazine Nr 30 and try it out through playing South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier 1942-1943, it’s a fantastic system and you’ll figure that out for yourself very quickly. Also even if you aren’t necessarily interested in South Pacific, it’s C3i Magazine there’s so much other great stuff in the issue, such as War in the South Scenario for Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection, counters for Operation Dauntless as well as many strategy articles and inside looks at several other games. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again….C3i is the best $35 your going to spend, I promise you that!
For more information about C3i Nr 30, check out our unboxing video and you can also watch our video review of South Pacific. I also like to do what we call Action Points after our plays of new wargames by creating fake headlines using an online headline generator to share insights into our play with highlights of certain gaming mechanics and strategy. Here are Action Point 1 and Action Point 2 for South Pacific.