The Battle of Midway is one of the most famous naval battles, not just of WWII, but also the entirety of history. In the wake of Pearl Harbor, the US launched a secret and daring raid to strike back at the Japanese war machine. The Doolittle Raid would spark a retaliatory fire in the Japanese who launched a full-force assault on Midway to try and cut the throat of the US Navy in the Pacific. Expecting to walk onto the beaches of Midway with little resistance, the Japanese were planning to be able to set up strong defenses in preparation for a counter attack. Little did they know that US code-breakers were decoding every IJN message and prepared a trap that would go down in history and signal that the US Navy wasn’t going to back down.
The Battle of Midway
Grant did an unboxing video of this game, which comes from the ‘Twenty Decisive Battles of the World’ series from Turning Point Simulations. I would consider this a mid weight war game, the rules aren’t overly complex, but there’s enough detail, exceptions, and asymmetry that make playing the game rewarding as well as more than just routine.
The game’s action divides up nicely between the player boards, the strategic board and the tactical display. On your player board you’ll be organizing all of the different named individual vessels, as well as the grouped Cruiser and Destroyer divisions into Task Forces. The Task Forces (TF) are represented by a single counter on the strategic display so you don’t have to worry about massive stacks on the board that could get knocked over. That being said it’s kind of a mess to see everything and keep having to check what’s in each TF, I wish the holding boxes were a little bigger for those as this would allow you to spread those counters out for easy reference.
The strategic display is your classic hex map, its entirely blue except for the two island hexes of the Midway Atoll, you’ll be positioning, very slowly, your TFs and trying to spot the enemy TFs whilst keeping your own ones hidden. As soon as your fighters are in range of the enemy, all hell breaks loose, and you get to launch waves and waves of fighters, dive bombers and torpedo loaded aircraft at enemy TFs to destroy ships and gain VPs. You’ll then engage in surface combat where your ships will shell each other which is done on the tactical display which is one of my favourite parts of this simulation.
This is a combat simulation. There’s no political agenda, no diplomacy, not even any resources or supply management to worry yourself with. It’s just ships and aircraft duking it out. As such, you learn the movement rules, which are fairly simple, a TF moves one hex per activation, and may activate a number of times each round equal to the movement value of the slowest ship in the Task Force. At most it’s 2, but often it’s only 1. Movement gets you into Air strike range, and then the fun begins.
Aircraft Carriers launch waves of fighters that target spotted TFs. The squadrons have to survive 2 defensive die rolls before they can attack their target ships though. The first is a die roll that represents defensive Combat Air Patrols (CAP), which is calculated by the number of defending undamaged carriers in the TF. Then those fighters with dive bomb or torpedo loadouts that will specifically target ships will have to survive an AA barrage. Low flying torpedo bombers are more susceptible to this, which is just one of the small details that really evokes the theme of this game.
I loved this part of the game, sending wave after wave of aircraft through the clouds of AA flak and doing bombing runs gave me a similar feeling to Jerry White’s Enemy Coast Ahead. There’s a lot of dice to roll during combat, which is fun, but is also extremely random. There’s strategy in the composition of your TFs and their movements, but outside of that the DRMs can be very unforgiving at times – both for the defender and for the attacker. For a game that has no random card draws and comes with a ton of strategic and tactical decision making, you will be rolling buckets of dice over the course of this one. At first I was fine with that, but after I rolled 22+ dice straight and not a single 6, I was kind of dismayed. I get it, it’s the random element, and if you destroy a carrier or two you’ll have a massive swing in the game, but just know that this game can be very swingy on the D6s.
The other great aspect was then you’d get into close quarters surface combat using shells and ship borne torpedoes to try and blow each other out of the water.
Firstly, I love having a separate battle board to keep track of the multitude of units in a combat. It’s reminiscent of Axis & Allies, in which you take everything off the board line them up in unit types against a board which contains all the DRMs and To-Hit rolls, and you just blow each other up. The Battle of Midway is similar to an extent, each ship has to be paired up with a target in a battle line, there’s no focus firing, unless of course you have an excess of ships (which you will always want to try and take advantage of). Again, thematically, I loved having a long line of ships and imagining the smoke billowing from the cannons and hearing that deep thunderous roar.
The tactical display however isn’t just static, there’s range increments, and you can also move around, in order to close in or run away. Towards the end of our game I ended up chasing down Grant’s Task Force in order to finish it off, and that added element of the chase really cranked the combat up a notch. There was palpable tension as he and I rolled off to see who would get to move, and I kept rolling well and caught up to him in order to get better and better shots on target.
The game isn’t without it’s faults however. The rule book, as written, is not great. There’s a lot of vagueries that leave you with more questions than answers, and it’s not laid out particularly intuitively. With no examples of play, there’s some pretty head scratching moments, and a 2 hour game that requires me to refer to consim for the rules is a little frustrating. Most of this can be remedied by a solid player aid, but this game didn’t really have one. Other titles in this series, such as The Invincible Armada, have fantastic player aid cards, but this one had nothing.
Other’s have talked about the disparity in the scale of the units, but my major gripe with the unit make-up was that all of the Japanese carriers had the same combat strength, and almost identical load outs. I felt like there was a missed opportunity to make these key ships stand out a little more, and add a little more detail to the game without extra rules.
Should I Get This Game..?
The Battle of Midway showed me, in greater depth the furious and unrelenting nature of air-naval combat in the Pacific. I mean that on a much more personal level, than Empire of the Sun, which focuses on the strategic use of carrier placement, for example. Midway launches many, many squadrons that each have to fight through enemy air craft, flak, AA, and then still try to somehow find their targets. Planes and ships alike generally have a 1:6 chance of hitting their target (unless they are radar equipped or are attacking during a surprise round), which are pretty poor odds. The simulation of the fury and chaos of battle inherent in that very difficult die roll makes everything quite tense at times. Chucking a bucket of dice and coming up short every time is both massively frustrating, and massively relieving for each respective side of the combat.
That being said if you like very tactical and low random games, then steer away from this one. You will throw so many dice through the course of a single round, let alone the whole game, that even though on aggregate that randomness should even out, there’s nothing as disappointing as seeing your flag ships go down to lucky rolls and having invincible transports. The Battle of Midway is a fast playing wargame with some really interesting aspects of naval warfare and should be added to everyone’s list who is searching for a game where aircraft carriers, battleships and waves of planes can duke it out.
I really enjoyed this game a lot, once we could actually figure out the nitty-gritty of the rules, but now I want even more. We have not played many naval games focused on this type of combat during WWII and it was really interesting and refreshing. I also really want to try the ground invasion of the two islands as we didn’t get that far in our game. I now want to find a game with more detailed searching rules, and ways to keep those spotted TFs on the board from turn to turn. The spotting just seemed arbitrary, and I would happily sacrifice simplicity and game length for a more detailed simulation in a slightly better system.