After recently obtaining a copy of the Mini Game Merrill’s Marauders Commandos in Burma 1943-1944 from Decision Games, I decided to play the missions in order historically. The first mission was Operation Longcloth!, which started on February 8, 1943 and lasted through May 20, 1943. This operation was initiated as a part of a larger planned offensive but when the larger offensive was cancelled, the commandos, who were Chindits or Long Range Penetration Groups consisting of British and Indian commandos trained in special operations tactics for insertion behind enemy lines, were inserted into Burma anyway. The mission for these Chindits was to cause havoc behind enemy lines, amounting to a diversion for the larger planned offensive. The commandos were to destroy railways in order to disrupt Japanese troop movements, sabotage airports and eliminate Japanese resistance whenever possible.
Objective Determination and Initial Setup
The Operation Longcloth! mission setup card directs the player to randomly determine the locations of two Real Objectives and two Ambushes. These are determined by drawing out two Real Objective counters and two Ambush counters and then mixing them up in an opaque cup. The player then rolls 2d6 and consults the Random Objective Location Table. My first roll was a 7, which meant I would randomly choose from the opaque cup one of the counters to place in the town of Myitkyina. The other rolls were a 9 (Mogaung), 4 (Bhamo) and 5 (Katha). You may notice in the picture above, I mistakenly placed the Katha objective in Picadilly, which was corrected before play started. Not knowing which of the 4 objectives were real and which were ambushes, I was pleased with the random placement as it kept them all within a few spaces of each other, which would make it easier to hit them. I was really pleased with the Katha and Myitkyina objectives as I could use Airborne units (if I could afford them as they cost 5 RPs) to parachute into nearby Picadilly, White City or Broadway, which are classified as Landing Boxes for Airborne drops, rather than spending significant time having to wade through thick jungle terrain and having to cross rivers. You will also notice that it lists a KIA = 4+ in the mission section. This means that I have to have a score of 4 or higher on the KIA track in order to complete the mission. This is much harder than it seems though as you will receive only 1 KIA point for each Japanese unit you eliminate but will lose 2 KIA points for each Commando unit that is killed and 1 point for each unit that is panicked. This is the only part about the design that I have problems with but that is a topic for my planned review later. [Edit: After my 2nd playthrough, I found a clarifying rule in the Merrill’s Marauders specific set of rules that stated that the Commando system rules would be overruled and that you will only lose 1 KIA on the track for each of your US units that are killed and panicked units will not lose any KIA. This will change the outcome of future games and make it infinitely more possible to win. Sorry for my error!]
My next step was to begin using my Recruit Points or RPs to build my forces to go about capturing the specified objectives. I will say that after my first play, I learned a lot about building my forces and will definitely improve upon my performance in future missions through better builds. The scenario gave me 30 Recruit Points to use and you will also notice at the bottom of the card it states that I will have 1 Leader and that the stacking limit will be 4. This stacking limit doesn’t include Leaders so I would be able to place 4 fighting or supply units in a stack along with the Leader.
I chose to recruit 5 fighting units, including 1 Heavy Weapons team costing 3 RPs, 2 Airborne costing 8 RPS (4 RPs each), 1 Infantry costing 2 RPs, 1 Scout costing 3 RPs, along with 1 Supply Column costing 2 RPs and two Airstrikes costing 10 RPs (5 RPs each) for a total of 28 RPs. This left me with 2 RP that I decided to use to purchase one additional Operation, taking my total Operations from 7 to 8. My goal was to create 2 separate teams, one land based and led by my Leader Merrill and one that would risk an airdrop nearby the chosen objectives. I made these decisions not really understanding the rules for combat or movement, so this would be the seed of my defeat, as I was really unable to survive the numerous encounters I had due to my slow movement speed.
Stiff Japanese Resistance and Poor Choices Would Doom the Mission
I first moved my Airborne units who made up Team #2 via an airdrop operation and attempted to land in the Broadway Landing Box, from which I could either move across land to the south to the objective located in Katha or cross the river at the Irawaddy River Crossing to make for the objective in Myitkyina. This landing was a success as I rolled two 3s and landed with no problem. As you can see from the picture of the Airborne Insertion Table below, on a roll of 3-6 into an area that is not an Airfield, units will land successfully while on a roll of 1 or 2, bad things happen, such as the Op being Cancelled or units being eliminated. Jumping into the jungle can be hazardous and I could really feel the tension in those rolls.
After successfully landing, Team #2 was fortunate and drew as their encounter card the one card that provides the ability to make a river crossing. This was very fortunate and allowed my team to cross at the Irawaddy River Crossing rather than being forced to hump through the bush, drawing the attention of Japanese forces and leading to firefights that would panic or kill my units. When you enter an Objective space, you must draw two encounter cards in order to be able to take a look at the Objective. Team #2’s first encounter card was a bonus as I was able to gain an Operation, which I added to my total to remain at 7. The second card was also a bonus and I was able to avoid battle and was now on top of my first objective. As I reached to turn over the Objective counter, I remarked to myself how easy this had been. Well, I jinxed it and the counter was one of the ambushes. It required me to roll a d6 and then halve the result to find out the number of enemy units I would fight. I rolled a 6, which after halving, meant I would be fighting 3 Japanese units. I reached into the draw cup and pulled out a fairly formidable group of Japanese units, consisting of 6, 4 and 2 fire power units.
Just a brief explanation about how combat works. It is pretty simple and straight forward and consists of each side lining up their units. The Japanese units are lined up from left to right in descending order, so their highest powered units are first. In this case, you can see that they were lined up with the powerful 6 unit first, followed by the less powerful 4 unit and finally the 2 power unit. The Commandos get to choose how their units are lined up and because my units were the same, I didn’t really have a choice. Now comes the most important part of the combat. The Tactical Superiority roll, which is simply a fancy way of saying initiative. Each side rolls off and the highest roll gets to fire first. In the case of a tie, the Commandos go first, which is a really cool benefit and is thematic, as these Chindits were highly trained in ambush and tactical maneuvers to be able to fight off the larger Japanese forces. In this case, I won the Tactical Superiority roll and was able to fire first. My Airborne units get to roll 3 combat dice and on a roll of 5, force an opposing unit to panic and on a 6 eliminate a unit. A unit that is panicked cannot fire so it is as good as an elimination, although you don’t score KIA points for a panic result.
In this battle, I fired first and decided that this first roll was important enough to call in one of my two purchased Air Strikes. This Air Strike gave me a one time additional 3d6 to roll and when added to the 3d6 from the first Airborne unit, meant I would be rolling a whopping 6d6, which resulted in 2 5s and a 6, which meant I got to eliminate one Japanese unit. These extra result don’t carry over, as if it did, that would be very bad for the Commandos as more often than not, Japanese units are rolling 4-8d6 and will hit or panic fairly often. This means that the powerful 6 fire power Japanese unit will not be able to fire back at me. I liked this system for that reason, as it is thematic of a Commando style raid taking advantage of surprise to eliminate units before they can act. The Japanese 4 unit was now able to fire and caused one of my units to panic. Due to the fact that I get to choose the order in which units are affected, I chose to panic my already fired unit, leaving my last unit the chance to fire again, which he did ending in a result of 6 allowing me to eliminate the 4 fire power unit. The final Japanese unit was now able to fire and rolled 2d6 resulting in misses. The combat now moves to the 2nd round and begins with another contested roll off for Tactical Superiority, which the Commandos won again and were able to fire first, eliminating the final Japanese unit resulting in a victory.
When combat is over, you move to calculating the score from the engagement. Remember, that the Commandos gain 1 KIA point for each Japanese unit eliminated, so Team #2 would earn 3 KIA points. Then, they also will lose 2 KIA points for each friendly unit eliminated and 1 KIA point for each unit that is panicked. After this calculation, I netted one KIA point (due to my one lost Airborne unit) and still needed an additional 3 KIA points to gain my minimum threshold for a successful mission. Now that I had discovered that this Objective was a fake, I began to set my sites on the Objective in Mogaung with Team #1.
Team #1 was able to move only one space each turn due to the presence of the slow but powerful Heavy Weapons unit. I was able to utilize my Supply Column to increase the movement speed by one but in so doing, risked losing that unit, as each time a Supply Column is used in action, to either gain the benefit of increased movement or to perform a Full Fire action in combat to gain a +1 to each die roll, you must roll of a d6 after each such use. On an even roll (2, 4 or 6), the Supply Column remains with the group but on an odd roll (1, 3 or 5), the Supply Column is eliminated. I used the Supply Column effectively and was able to avoid several encounters on my way to Mogaung because I was moving more quickly through the jungle and was more difficult to locate. My first encounter with Team #2 came just outside of Mogaung when I ran into a small Japanese search team consisting of a 4 fire power unit and a 2 fire power unit.
This battle would end up being very costly as I failed the initial Tactical Superiority roll and the Japanese 4 unit would eliminate my Heavy Weapons team before they could even fire. I regretted so badly including this slow moving unit in my team as I could have avoided more trouble without it. Oh well, next time I will know better. The remainder of the fight went my way though as I was able to panic the Japanese 4 unit, so it was never able to return fire and outright killed the Japanese 2 unit. After the battle, I calculated my KIA standing and it would drop by 1 to a score of zero (-2 KIA for my lost Commando unit and +1 KIA for the killed Japanese unit but no score for the panicked unit)! Ugh, this was going to much harder than I realized.
With that, I had my two teams within striking distance of the Objective located at Mogaung. Due to Team #2 being down one of its 2 Airborne units, I decided Team #2 was in the best shape to attack the Objective to see if it was real or simply another ambush. Merrill led Team #1 into Mogaung and on the first Encounter card, drew a Banzai! Attack. Luckily, I rolled a 2 so it would mean I would only be fighting 1 Japanese unit. With that, I reached into the cup and was sure that I would draw out the 8 fire power unit but instead, drew out a measly 2. Yeah, I might actually win this one without any losses….famous last words!
I once again lost the Tactical Superiority roll and the Japanese fired first and would roll 2d6 resulting in a 6, which meant I would have to eliminate a unit. I chose to get rid of my Scout and returned fire with the Infantry unit and its 3d6, but rolled terribly! Combat moved to my Leader who rolled only 1d6 and missed as well. Not good. If I lost this next Tactical Superiority roll, I was almost sure that I would lose another unit and be left with only my Leader and one Airborne unit in the next village. Sure enough, that is what happened and the Japanese 2 unit, all of a sudden with all the rage and fury of a legion of Samurai warriors, rolled a 6, killing my remaining Infantry unit, leaving only Merrill to fire back. He was lucky and rolled a 5 leading to the Japanese unit panicking and the combat coming to an end. I was able to survive the next draw as it was a disease card and I found the Objective that I needed to win the game. But with a KIA score of -4, I would not meet the required KIA threshold of 4+. I also had no more Recruiting Points left to be able to recruit an Engineer unit and build a Forward Base, which was required by the scenario. This was my biggest mistake to date and would cause me to lose the game, even though I had found the real objective and had 3 Operations still left.
I lost, plain and simple. Running out of units to fight, while still having Operations points. Not how I thought this would end up. All in all though, a fun little solitaire game that I was able to play in about 20 minutes. The rules are good, albeit somewhat vague at times, and the only problem I really had was with not understanding how to build a good team. Not having played, I had no real idea of what units are the best and what units are absolutely necessary to succeed. My only other concern with the game is the required KIA score threshold that is given in each scenario. It seems like it will be really hard to meet this score each time as remember, each time a Commando unit is killed you lose 2 KIA points and each time a Commando is panicked you will lose 1 KIA point. That is brutal and with no ability for defense or to make the rolls more difficult to hit my units, it really is just the luck of the dice. [Edit: After my 2nd playthrough, I found a clarifying rule in the Merrill’s Marauders specific set of rules that stated that the Commando system rules would be overruled and that you will only lose 1 KIA on the track for each of your US units that are killed and panicked units will not lose any KIA. This will change the outcome of future games and make it infinitely more possible to win. Sorry for my error!]
I do look forward to playing again and using better judgment, based on my limited experience gained from only one play, to assemble a more effective team to be able to survive the battles. Ultimately, my team building and recruitment killed me. I don’t know if I should focus solely on fast moving units, as remember that each time you finish your allotted movement points, you must then pull an Encounter card. So, if I am able to move 2-4 spaces (by utilizing Supply Column units), this will mean I will cut my battles in half and will have less chance of losing units. But, on the flip side of that argument, it will give me less opportunity to kill Japanese units and gain KIA points. Either way it appears to be damned if I do, damned if I don’t! I did really like the Supply Column and will definitely use more of those in the future. I also overbought on the Air Strikes and would rather use the Advanced Rule that allows you to spend an Operation point and an RP to perform an Aircraft Turnaround once an Air Strike or Air Supply counter is used to get it back. That would have been a better use of my scarce points than spending 10 RPs on two Air Strike counters. Until next time, I have some thinking to do.